Journalists Are All Julian Assange

As Ecuador threatens to expel Julian Assange, CN Ed. Joe Lauria will speak in a 50-hr. online vigil for Assange on Sat., 8pm EDT. In 2010, Bob Parry, late CN founder & editor, wrote this incisive essay on Assange’s vital work. 

By Robert Parry
Originally published Dec. 16, 2010.

Whatever the unusual aspects of the case, the Obama administration’s reported plan to indict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for conspiring with Army Pvt. Bradley Manning to obtain U.S. secrets strikes at the heart of investigative journalism on national security scandals.

That’s because the process for reporters obtaining classified information about crimes of state most often involves a journalist persuading some government official to break the law either by turning over classified documents or at least by talking about the secret information. There is almost always some level of “conspiracy” between reporter and source.

Contrary to what some outsiders might believe, it’s actually quite uncommon for sensitive material to simply arrive “over the transom” unsolicited. Indeed, during three decades of reporting on these kinds of stories, I can only recall a few secret documents arriving that way to me.

In most cases, I played some role – either large or small – in locating the classified information or convincing some government official to divulge some secrets. More often than not, I was the instigator of these “conspiracies.”

My “co-conspirators” typically were well-meaning government officials who were aware of some wrongdoing committed under the cloak of national security, but they were never eager to put their careers at risk by talking about these offenses. I usually had to persuade them, whether by appealing to their consciences or by constructing some reasonable justification for them to help.

Assange: Doing what journalists do.

Other times, I was sneaky in liberating some newsworthy classified information from government control. Indeed, in 1995, Consortiumnews.com was started as a way to publish secret and top-secret information that I had discovered in the files of a closed congressional inquiry during the chaotic period between the Republicans winning the 1994 elections and their actual takeover of Congress in early 1995.

In December 1994, I asked for and was granted access to supposedly unclassified records left behind by a task force that had looked into allegations that Ronald Reagan’s campaign had sabotaged President Jimmy Carter’s hostage negotiations with Iran in 1980.

To my surprise, I discovered that the investigators, apparently in their haste to wrap up their work, had failed to purge the files of all classified material. So, while my “minder” wasn’t paying attention to me, I ran some of the classified material through a copier and left with it in a folder. I later wrote articles about these documents and posted some on the Internet.

Such behavior – whether cajoling a nervous government official to expose a secret or exploiting some unauthorized access to classified material – is part of what an investigative journalist does in covering national security abuses. The traditional rule of thumb has been that it’s the government’s job to hide the secrets and a reporter’s job to uncover them. 

In the aftermath of significant leaks, the government often tries to convince news executives to spike or water down the stories “for the good of the country.” But it is the news organization’s ultimate decision whether to comply or to publish.

Historically, most of these leaks have caused the government some short-term embarrassment (although usually accompanied by exaggerated howls of protests). In the long run, however, the public has been served by knowing about some government abuse. Reforms often follow as they did during the Iran-Contra scandal that I was involved in exposing in the 1980s.

A Nixon Precedent

Yet, in the WikiLeaks case – instead of simply complaining and moving on – the Obama administration appears to be heading in a direction not seen since the Nixon administration sought to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers secret history of the Vietnam War in 1971.

In doing so, the Obama administration, which came to power vowing a new era of openness, is contemplating a novel strategy for criminalizing traditional journalistic practices, while trying to assure major U.S. news outlets that they won’t be swept up in the Assange-Manning dragnet.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that federal prosecutors were reviewing the possibility of indicting Assange on conspiracy charges for allegedly encouraging or assisting Manning in extracting “classified military and State Department files from a government computer system.”

The Times article by Charlie Savage notes that if prosecutors determine that Assange provided some help in the process, “they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them.

Among materials prosecutors are studying is an online chat log in which Private Manning is said to claim that he had been directly communicating with Mr. Assange using an encrypted Internet conferencing service as the soldier was downloading government files. Private Manning is also said to have claimed that Mr. Assange gave him access to a dedicated server for uploading some of them to WikiLeaks. 

Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker in whom Private Manning confided and who eventually turned him in, said Private Manning detailed those interactions in instant-message conversations with him. He said the special server’s purpose was to allow Private Manning’s submissions to ‘be bumped to the top of the queue for review.’ By Mr. Lamo’s account, Private Manning bragged about this ‘as evidence of his status as the high-profile source for WikiLeaks.’” 

Though some elements of this suspected Assange-Manning collaboration may be technically unique because of the Internet’s role – and that may be a relief to more traditional news organizations like the Times, which has published some of the WikiLeaks documents – the underlying reality is that what WikiLeaks has done is essentially “the same wine” of investigative journalism in “a new bottle” of the Internet.

By shunning WikiLeaks as some deviant journalistic hybrid, mainstream U.S. news outlets may breathe easier now but may find themselves caught up in a new legal precedent that could be applied to them later.

As for the Obama administration, its sudden aggressiveness in divining new “crimes” in the publication of truthful information is especially stunning when contrasted with its “see no evil” approach toward openly acknowledged crimes committed by President George W. Bush and his subordinates, including major offenses such as torture, kidnapping and aggressive war.

Holder’s Move

Holder: Prepared Assange indictment

The possibility of an indictment of Assange no longer seems to me like rampant paranoia. Initially, I didn’t believe that the Obama administration was serious in stretching the law to find ways to prosecute Assange and to shut down WikiLeaks. 

But then there was the pressure on WikiLeaks’ vendors such as Amazon.com and PayPal along with threats from prominent U.S. political figures, spouting rhetoric about Assange as a “terrorist” comparable to Osama bin Laden and a worthy target of assassination.

Normally, when people engage in such talk of violence, they are the ones who attract the attention of police and prosecutors. In this case, however, the Obama administration appears to be bowing to those who talk loosely about murdering a truth-teller.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he has taken “significant” steps in the investigation, a possible reference to what an Assange lawyer said he had learned from Swedish authorities about a secret grand jury meeting in Northern Virginia.

The Times reported, “Justice Department officials have declined to discuss any grand jury activity. But in interviews, people familiar with the case said the department appeared to be attracted to the possibility of prosecuting Mr. Assange as a co-conspirator to the leaking because it is under intense pressure to make an example of him as a deterrent to further mass leaking of electronic documents over the Internet. 

By bringing a case against Mr. Assange as a conspirator to Private Manning’s leak, the government would not have to confront awkward questions about why it is not also prosecuting traditional news organizations or investigative journalists who also disclose information the government says should be kept secret — including The New York Times, which also published some documents originally obtained by WikiLeaks.”

In other words, the Obama administration appears to be singling out Assange as an outlier in the journalistic community who is already regarded as something of a pariah. In that way, mainstream media personalities can be invited to join in his persecution without thinking that they might be next.

Though American journalists may understandably want to find some protective cover by pretending that Julian Assange is not like us, the reality is – whether we like it or not – we are all Julian Assange.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortiumnews in 1995. 

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20 comments for “Journalists Are All Julian Assange

  1. Catherine
    August 15, 2018 at 9:54 am

    Should journalists be above the common law? Behind all the high flying talk of extradition to the USA for righteous and heroic journalistic endeavor against the Evil American Empire lies the mundane facts. Assange used the Ecudaor embassy in London to dodge extradition to Sweden to progress the case against him for sexual assault. Then remained there to dodge facing English law for breaking bail.

    • August 17, 2018 at 8:21 pm

      “Though some elements of this suspected Assange-Manning collaboration may be technically unique…”

      This is something I do not understand. If a citizen of Australia collaborates in disclosing American state secrets, is it criminal under British law? UK has some intelligence agencies that try to learn secrets of other government, and it is legal. What Mr. Skripal did against Russia was legal in UK. So who is allowed to learn secrets of other governments, and of what governments?

  2. christina garcia
    August 6, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    All true about journalists. Some wind up dead or incarcerated. One fact is that very few, if anyone except Assange, wind up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. I don’t know of any other journalist who was/is in his situation. Does the Ecuadoran government now hold journalists in such high esteem? How come the USA has such a problem with Ecuadoran refugees and migrants?

  3. Mathew Neville
    August 6, 2018 at 7:06 pm

    Journalists Are All Julian Assange — should be — yes — but unfortunately they are not.

  4. August 6, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    I can just imagine in the UK Assange being handed over to the tender mercies of the CIA and a universal cacaphony of liberal journalists intoning:

    ”I am not Spartacus.

  5. Skip Scott
    August 6, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    Great letter Sam F. I notice you mention “the stick”, but not “the carrot”. I suspect that Moreno is being bribed, and that being an amoral person, he cares not a whit for Julian.

  6. Stephen P
    August 6, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    Good interview: Chris Hedges and Barrett Brown.

    https://www.rt.com/shows/on-contact/435140-wikileaks-assange-barrett-brown/

  7. Yahweh
    August 5, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    He said, She said, They said….The confusing subjective world. Unless you rise above the drama triangle….the victim , the bad guy and the rescuer….someone else is controlling your life

  8. Sam F
    August 5, 2018 at 7:14 pm

    The embassy and consulate email addresses for Ecuador are in moderation.

  9. PETER W Johnson
    August 5, 2018 at 8:38 am

    Government forces, when run by plutocrats rather than honestly elected popular officials will forever behave as we see here.
    The US is no democracy. The powers that be fully intend to keep it that way. I am hopefull that enough people realize this and by loudly protesting force the state powers to back off and leave Assange alone.

  10. Sam F
    August 5, 2018 at 7:47 am

    Thanks to Joe Lauria for continuing Bob Parry’s work and speaking out for Mr. Assange.

    I sent the following email to the embassies and consulates of Ecuador, email addresses below, and suggest that others send a note indicating support for Mr. Assange:

    “Esteemed Ecuadorians,

    You made yourselves heroes of the majority of the informed people of the United States by protecting Julian Assange from the extreme right-wing oligarchy that has come to control the US government.

    Almost no one the United States, other than opportunists of the military and large business, and the most deceived TV-watchers, wishes anything but a secure future for Mr. Assange. I do not know any educated person outside of government who does not honor Mr. Assange as a benefactor of the United States.

    We are dismayed that Ecuador has been pressured by the tyrants who have corrupted our government, to threaten the removal and arrest of Mr. Assange from your embassy in London.

    If the US is secretly threatening your country to silence and arrest Mr. Assange, you should reveal this to the world. The secret agencies and actions of the US are the curse that has destroyed its former democracy. Ecuador can show the world that humanity strongly disagrees with US secret actions.

    If Ecuador coordinates with any group in London, or by its own diplomatic initiative, to remove Mr. Assange to Ecuador under the diplomatic protection of Ecuador, you will again be heroes of humanity.

    If you wish me to assist your lawful actions in any way, I will be pleased to help.

    Thank you”

    Email addresses:
    embassy@ecuador.org; cecuatlanta@cancilleria.gob.ec; cecuboston@cancilleria.gob.ec; cecuchicago@cancilleria.gob.ec; ;cecuhouston@cancilleria.gob.ec; ceculosangeles@cancilleria.gob.ec; cecumiami@cancilleria.gob.ec; cecuminnesota@cancilleria.gob.ec; cecuconnecticut@cancilleria.gob.ec; cecunewyork@cancilleria.gob.ec; cecunewjersey@cancilleria.gob.ec; cecuarizona@cancilleria.gob.ec; cecuqueens@cancilleria.gob.ec; cecuwashington@cancilleria.gob.ec

  11. butch
    August 5, 2018 at 7:43 am

    Never thought I’d see the day when when we’d devolve back into the dark ages, yet a steroid version surely seems upon us.

  12. john wilson
    August 5, 2018 at 6:33 am

    The emphasis seems to be on what the Americans will do, but surely, the real snake is my own stinking government over here in the UK. We are the ones intending to hand Assange over to the Yanks like some kind of modern day Judas. We could so easily fine Assange for skipping bail which is a misdemeanor at best and is now irrelevant anyway. What the stinking, corrupt British government has done to Assange is the same as what we have done to other people in the past and its called RENDITION on behalf of the Yanks.

    • mike k
      August 5, 2018 at 6:46 am

      Both the US and the UK are deeply corrupt and evil snakes. The US is the greater snake, only due to it’s having more power to do harm.

    • Sam F
      August 5, 2018 at 7:54 am

      It appears that a demonstration in UK could spirit Mr. Assange to safety. It should have a core of tough persons able to protect and move him swiftly through the crowd. A government able to move him by diplomatic means could coordinate shelter and transport. Perhaps Bolivia, which is quite supportive. Turkey would be amusing. Likely many others. Security services in UK should really consider having a security lapse. This would be an excellent show of disrespect for the corrupt US government and its secret operations to betray its own people.

  13. padre
    August 5, 2018 at 6:12 am

    I only wish, they were!

  14. mike k
    August 4, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    If Assange is arrested by the US, then free speech is limited to things that do not displease our Rulers.

    • john wilson
      August 5, 2018 at 6:37 am

      He won’t be arrested Mike, he will be handed over like a piece meat by the corrupt British government who have held him rendition style on behalf of the Americans.

  15. mike k
    August 4, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    It is not only journalists who are all Assange now, but the rest of us truth hungry citizens too.

  16. Dunderhead
    August 4, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    Julian Assange Will go down in history as something between Cicero and Spartacus.

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