Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Friday the Pentagon stands ready to dispatch more troops to the border region if President Trump follows through with his pledge to increase the military presence along the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
Trump said after touring a section of recently upgraded border fencing in Calexico, Calif., last week, “We’re going to bring up some more military” to deal with what he said were more than 70,000 illegal migrants rushing the border.
Shanahan said the Pentagon has had conversations with the Department of Homeland Security but has yet to receive a formal request.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’ll provide more support to the border,” he said in response to a reporter’s question as he prepared to meet with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. “Our support is very elastic, and given the deterioration there at the border, you would expect that we would provide more support.” Shanahan said he anticipates the support will be similar to what the military has already provided with several thousand troops, barrier construction, transport, and surveillance.
Shanahan will meet with a planning team at the Pentagon over the weekend to prepare for the potential request, he said.
“It will follow up with where are we on barrier construction, where do we stand on troops deployed, and then in the areas we anticipate, what type of preliminary plans should we be doing prior to receiving a request for assistance,” he said.
Democrats have been highly critical of the deployment of active-duty troops to the border, and many have cited a leaked internal memo the Marine Corps commandant sent to the Navy secretary warning that unexpected expenses, such as hurricane damage and border operations, could force him to cancel routine training and degrade combat readiness.
But in Senate testimony this week, Gen. Robert Neller insisted his memo was being misconstrued. “To say that going to the border was degrading our readiness is not an accurate statement,” Neller told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.
Neller’s March 18 memo listed eight categories of unfunded and unexpected expenses. Hurricane recovery was at the top of the list, but a number of expenses were included, such as the raise for civilian employees, which was not in the budget.
“We have a shortfall of just under $300 million, of which the border mission is less than 2 percent,” Neller said. “So my intent was to just simply lay out for my boss what these were and ask for support in trying to figure out how we might fund them.”
Pressed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Neller conceded some Marines, who are not doing the jobs they would normally do, could see a small degradation in their unit readiness, but he said it depended on the unit.
“Some of the units have gone down there and they’ve done tasks that are more in line with their core mission. Like engineer units or MP units. Aviation units that were assigned to that early on have actually improved their readiness because they are able to fly certain profiles and things,” he testified.
Neller reports to his civilian boss, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, who requested the memo and jumped to Neller’s defense at the hearing.
“The main stress that we were dealing with at the time, senator, was the hurricane, which was imposing the greatest cost on the Marine Corps,” Spencer told Warren. “Five hundred men for a month at the southern border is $1.25 million. In my mind, is that affecting my readiness stress? No, it’s not.”
Neller said so far border operations have cost the Marine Corps $6.2 million.
LONDON (AP) — What is expected to be an epic legal and political battle over whether to extradite Julian Assange to the U.S. began to take shape, with Britain’s opposition Labour Party urging the government Friday not to hand the WikiLeaks founder over to the Americans.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that the U.S. is prosecuting Assange because he exposed “evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Diane Abbott, Labour’s spokeswoman for domestic affairs, said the case is about the “embarrassment of the things he’s revealed about the American military and security services.”
On Thursday, British authorities dragged the 47-year-old Australian native from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had taken refuge for nearly seven years, and U.S. authorities announced charges against him of conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer.
The politicization of the case reflects the clashing views of Assange as either a heroic whistleblower standing up to the mighty United States or a willing stooge who helped the Russians boost Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by publishing emails that embarrassed his rival, Hillary Clinton.
The battle to fend off extradition could take years and involve several layers of appeal. Assange could also face a second extradition request if Sweden decides to pursue a rape case against him that was dropped in 2017, when he was holed up in the embassy, beyond the reach of the law.
His arrest became possible after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, complaining among other things that he was a messy and disruptive houseguest.
If found guilty of the U.S. charges, Assange could get five years in prison. His next court appearance was set for May 2 via a prison video link.
Extradition lawyer Ben Keith said the court will not assess the evidence against Assange to determine his guilt or innocence but will scrutinize whether the offense he is accused of in the U.S. would be a crime in Britain.
“The most likely outcome is that he will be extracted to the United States,” he said.
Britain is bound by law not to extradite a suspect to a country where he or she could face execution for the crime, but that’s not the case here.
Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, stressed when he revoked Assange’s asylum that he had received assurances from Britain that Assange would not be exposed to capital punishment.
If Sweden also makes an extradition request, it would be up to Britain’s Home Secretary to determine which would take priority. Typically the first request made — in this case, the U.S. one — would be acted on first, but officials have some leeway, Keith said.
If Assange loses in extradition court, he could appeal several times and ultimately try to have his case heard at the European Court of Human Rights.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said the UK government should not extradite Julian Assange to the US, where he faces a computer hacking charge.
The Wikileaks co-founder was arrested for a separate charge at Ecuador’s London embassy on Thursday, where he had been granted asylum since 2012.
Mr Corbyn said Assange should not be extradited “for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
Meanwhile, Ecuador’s leader expressed anger at how Assange had behaved.
Australian-born Assange, 47, sought refuge in the Knightsbridge embassy seven years ago, to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that has since been dropped. But Ecuador abruptly withdrew its asylum and invited the police to arrest Assange on Thursday.
After his dramatic arrest, he was taken to Westminster Magistrates’ Court and found guilty of a British charge of breaching bail. He spent Thursday night in custody and is facing up to 12 months in prison for that conviction.
The Met said it cost an estimated £13.2m to police Ecuador’s London embassy between June 2012 and October 2015, when the force withdrew the physical presence of officers.
The Swedish authorities are now considering whether to reopen an investigation into the allegations of sexual assault, which Assange denies.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “this is all about Wikileaks and all of that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military and security services that was made public”.
But she said Assange should also face the criminal justice system if the Swedish government charged him.
In a tweet, Mr Corbyn shared a video said to be of Pentagon footage – which had been released by Wikileaks – of a 2007 air strike which implicated US military in the killing of civilians and two journalists.
The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale said backing Assange is not without political risk and will not find universal favour among Labour MPs – but Mr Corbyn’s intervention “means the battle over Assange’s future will now be as much political as it is legal”.
The editor of Wikileaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson, has expressed fears that the US could file more serious charges against Assange, and that if he was convicted he could be behind bars for “decades”.
Mr Hrafnsson added that Assange had been thrown “overboard” by Ecuador – and the country was “horrible” to treat him like that.
‘He was a problem’
Meanwhile in Ecuador, President Lenin Moreno criticised Assange, claiming that after spending seven years in the country’s embassy he had dismissed Ecuador by describing it as an insignificant country.
“We had treated him as a guest,” he said. “But not anymore.”
Ecuador’s ambassador to the UK, Jaime Marchan, also previously said Assange had been “continually a problem” while he was living in the embassy.
Meanwhile, a man who is alleged to have links with Assange has been arrested while trying to leave Ecuador, the country’s officials said.
The man – who has been identified by supporters as a Swedish software developer called Ola Bini – had been trying to board a flight to Japan.
Assange is due to face a hearing over his possible extradition to the US on 2 May.
During a briefing at the White House following Assange’s arrest, US President Donald Trump was asked by reporters if he stood by remarks that he made during his election campaign when he said he loved Wikileaks.
“I know nothing about Wikileaks,” said Mr Trump. “It’s not my thing.”
He added: “I’ve been seeing what happened with Assange and that will be a determination, I would imagine, mostly by the attorney general, who’s doing an excellent job.”
Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said they would be fighting the extradition request. She said it set a “dangerous precedent” where any journalist could face US charges for “publishing truthful information about the United States”.
She said she had visited Assange in the police cells where he thanked supporters and said: “I told you so.”
Assange had predicted that he would face extradition to the US if he left the embassy.
Meanwhile, Australia said it had received a request for consular assistance after Assange was taken from the embassy.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Assange will not get “special treatment” and will have to “make his way through whatever comes his way in terms of the justice system”.
The arrest was welcomed by the government on Thursday. Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons: “This goes to show that in the UK, no-one is above the law.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the arrest was the result of “years of careful diplomacy” and that it was “not acceptable” for someone to “escape facing justice”.
Assange set up Wikileaks in 2006 with the aim of obtaining and publishing confidential documents and images.
The organisation hit the headlines four years later when it released footage of US soldiers killing civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.
Former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was arrested in 2010 for disclosing more than 700,000 confidential documents, videos and diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy website. She said she only did so to spark debates about foreign policy, but US officials said the leak put lives at risk.
She was found guilty by a court martial in 2013 of charges including espionage. However, her jail sentence was later commuted.
In the end, the man who reportedly smeared feces on the walls of his lodgings, mistreated his kitten, and variously blamed the ills of the world on feminists and bespectacled Jewish writers was pulled from the Ecuadorian embassy looking every inch like a powdered-sugar Saddam Hussein plucked straight from his spider hole. The only camera crew to record this pivotal event belonged to Ruptly, a Berlin-based streaming-online-video service, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of RT, the Russian government’s English-language news channel and the former distributor of Julian Assange’s short-lived chat show.
RT’s tagline is “Question more,” and indeed, one might inquire how it came to pass that the spin-off of a Kremlin propaganda organ and now registered foreign agent in the United States first arrived on the scene. Its camera recorded a team of London’s Metropolitan Police dragging Assange from his Knightsbridge cupboard as he burbled about resistance and toted a worn copy of Gore Vidal’s History of the National Security State.
Vidal had the American national-security establishment in mind when he wrote that polemic, although I doubt even he would have contrived to portray the CIA as being in league with a Latin American socialist named for the founder of the Bolshevik Party. Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno announced Thursday that he had taken the singular decision to expel his country’s long-term foreign guest and revoke his asylum owing to Assange’s “discourteous and aggressive behavior.”
According to Interior Minister María Paula Romo, this evidently exceeded redecorating the embassy with excrement—alas, we still don’t know whether it was Assange’s or someone else’s—refusing to bathe, and welcoming all manner of international riffraff to visit him. It also involved interfering in the “internal political matters in Ecuador,” as Romo told reporters in Quito. Assange and his organization, WikiLeaks, Romo said, have maintained ties to two Russian hackers living in Ecuador who worked with one of the country’s former foreign ministers, Ricardo Patiño, to destabilize the Moreno administration.
We don’t yet know whether Romo’s allegation is true (Patiño denied it) or simply a pretext for booting a nuisance from state property. But Assange’s ties to Russian hackers and Russian intelligence organs are now beyond dispute.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 cyberoperatives for Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate for the General Staff (GRU) suggests that Assange was, at best, an unwitting accomplice to the GRU’s campaign to sway the U.S. presidential election in 2016, and allegedly even solicited the stolen Democratic correspondence from Russia’s military intelligence agency, which was masquerading as Guccifer 2.0. Assange repeatedly and viciously trafficked, on Twitter and on Fox News, in the thoroughly debunked claim that the correspondence might have been passed to him by the DNC staffer Seth Rich, who, Assange darkly suggested, was subsequently murdered by the Clintonistas as revenge for the presumed betrayal.
Mike Pompeo, then CIA director and, as an official in Donald Trump’s Cabinet, an indirect beneficiary of Assange’s meddling in American democracy, went so far as to describe WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” For those likening the outfit to legitimate news organizations, I’d submit that this is a shade more severe a description, especially coming from America’s former spymaster, than anything Trump has ever grumbled about TheNew York Times or TheWashington Post.
Russian diplomats had concocted a plot, as recently as late 2017, to exfiltrate Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy, according to The Guardian. “Four separate sources said the Kremlin was willing to offer support for the plan—including the possibility of allowing Assange to travel to Russia and live there. One of them said that an unidentified Russian businessman served as an intermediary in these discussions.” The plan was scuttled only because it was deemed too dangerous.
In 2015, Focus Ecuadorreported that Assange had aroused suspicion among Ecuador’s own intelligence service, SENAIN, which spied on him in the embassy in a years-long operation. “In some instances, [Assange] requested that he be able to choose his own Security Service inside the embassy, even proposing the use of operators of Russian nationality,” the Ecuadorian journal noted, adding that SENAIN looked on such a proposal with something less than unmixed delight.
All of which is to say that Ecuador had ample reasons of its own to show Assange the door and was well within its sovereign rights to do so. He first sought refuge in the embassy after he jumped bail more than seven years ago to evade extradition to Sweden on sexual-assault charges brought by two women. Swedish prosecutors suspended their investigation in 2017 because they’d spent five years trying but failing to gain access to their suspect to question him. (That might now change, and so the lawyers for the claimants have just filed to reopen the cases.) But the British charges remained on the books throughout.
The Times of London leader writer Oliver Kamm has noted that quite apart from being a “victim of a suspension of due process,” Assange is “is a fugitive from it.” Yet to hear many febrile commentators tell it, his extradition was simply a matter of one sinister prime minister cackling down the phone to another, with the CIA nodding approvingly in the background, as an international plot unfurled to silence a courageous speaker of truth to power. Worse than that, Assange and his ever-dwindling claque of apologists spent years in the pre-#MeToo era suggesting, without evidence, that the women who accused him of being a sex pest were actually American agents in disguise, and that Britain was simply doing its duty as a hireling of the American empire in staking out his diplomatic digs with a net.
As it happens, a rather lengthy series of U.K. court cases and Assange appeals, leading all the way up to the Supreme Court, determined Assange’s status in Britain.
The New Statesman’s legal correspondent, David Allen Green, expended quite a lot of energy back in 2012 swatting down every unfounded assertion and conspiracy theory for why Assange could not stand before his accusers in Scandinavia without being instantly rendered to Guantanamo Bay. Ironically, as Green noted, going to Stockholm would make it harder for Assange to be sent on to Washington because “any extradition from Sweden … would require the consent of both Sweden and the United Kingdom” instead of just the latter country. Nevertheless, Assange ran and hid and self-pityingly professed himself a “political prisoner.”
Everything about this Bakunin of bullshit and his self-constructed plight has belonged to the theater of the absurd. I suppose it’s only fair that absurdity dominates the discussion now about a newly unsealed U.S. indictment of Assange. According to Britain’s Home Office, the Metropolitan Police arrested Assange for skipping bail, and then, when he arrived at the police station, he was further arrested “in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States.”
The operative word here is provisional, because that request has yet to be wrung through the same domestic legal protocols as Sweden’s. Assange will have all the same rights he was accorded when he tried to beat his first extradition rap in 2010. At Assange’s hearing, the judge dismissed his claims of persecution by calling him “a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests.” Neither can his supporters.
A “dark moment for press freedom,” tweeted the NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden from his security in press-friendly Moscow. “It’s the criminalization of journalism by the Trump Justice Department and the gravest threat to press freedom, by far, under the Trump presidency,” intoned The Intercept’s founding editor Glenn Greenwald who, like Assange, has had that rare historical distinction of having once corresponded with the GRU for an exclusive.
These people make it seem as if Assange is being sought by the Eastern District of Virginia for publishing American state secrets rather than for allegedly conniving to steal them.
The indictment makes intelligible why a grand jury has charged him. Beginning in January 2010, Chelsea Manning began passing to WikiLeaks (and Assange personally) classified documents obtained from U.S. government servers. These included files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and U.S. State Department cables. But Manning ran into difficulties getting more documents, owing to the limitations of her modest security clearance.
At this point, Assange allegedly morphed from being a recipient and publisher of classified documents into an agent of their illicit retrieval. “On or about March 8, 2010, Assange agreed to assist [Chelsea] Manning in cracking a password stored on United States Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Networks, a United States government network used for classified documents and communications,” according to the indictment.
Assange allegedly attempted to help Manning do this using a username that was not hers in an effort to cover her virtual tracks. In other words, the U.S. accuses him of instructing her to hack the Pentagon, and offering to help. This is not an undertaking any working journalist should attempt without knowing that the immediate consequence will be the loss of his job, his reputation, and his freedom at the hands of the FBI.
I might further direct you to Assange’s own unique brand of journalism, when he could still be said to be practicing it. Releasing U.S. diplomatic communiqués that named foreigners living in conflict zones or authoritarian states and liaising with American officials was always going to require thorough vetting and redaction, lest those foreigners be put in harm’s way. Assange did not care—he wanted their names published, according to Luke Harding and David Leigh in WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. As they recount the story, when Guardian journalists working with WikiLeaks to disseminate its tranche of U.S. secrets tried to explain to Assange why it was morally reprehensible to publish the names of Afghans working with American troops, Assange replied: “Well, they’re informants. So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.” (Assange denied the account; the names, in the end, were not published.)
James Ball, a former staffer at WikiLeaks—who argues against Assange’s indictment in these pages—has also remarked on Assange’s curious relationship with a notorious Holocaust denier named Israel Shamir:
Shamir has a years-long friendship with Assange, and was privy to the contents of tens of thousands of US diplomatic cables months before WikiLeaks made public the full cache. Such was Shamir’s controversial nature that Assange introduced him to WikiLeaks staffers under a false name. Known for views held by many to be antisemitic, Shamir aroused the suspicion of several WikiLeaks staffers—myself included—when he asked for access to all cable material concerning ‘the Jews,’ a request which was refused.
Shamir soon turned up in Moscow where, according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, he was offering to write articles based on these cables for $10,000 a pop. Then he traveled to Minsk, where he reportedly handed over a cache of unredacted cables on Belarus to functionaries for Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, whose dissident-torturing secret police is still conveniently known as the KGB.
Fish and guests might begin to stink after three days, but Assange has reeked from long before he stepped foot in his hideaway cubby across from Harrods. He has put innocent people’s lives in danger; he has defamed and tormented a poor family whose son was murdered; he has seemingly colluded with foreign regimes not simply to out American crimes but to help them carry off their own; and he otherwise made that honorable word transparency in as much of a need of delousing as he is.
Yet none of these vices has landed him in the dock. If he is innocent of hacking U.S. government systems—or can offer a valid public-interest defense for the hacking—then let him have his day in court, first in Britain and then in America. But don’t continue to fall for his phony pleas for sympathy, his megalomania, and his promiscuity with the facts. Julian Assange got what he deserved.
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