ROBERT PARRY: All Investigative Journalists Do What Julian Assange Did

The U.S. has indicted Julian Assange for encouraging his source to give more information and for trying to protect his source’s identity, what all journalists routinely do, said one of the greatest investigative journalists of our time.  

Parry is writing here about the Obama administration’s attempt to indict Assange for simply doing what all investigative journalists, including Parry, do all the time: namely encourage their sources to turn over secret information even if the sources have to break the law to do so. While the Obama DOJ eventually decided against indictment because it would cross the red line of criminalizing journalism, the Trump administration has crossed that very line on the very same evidence the Obama administration rejected. This is an especially prescient and relevant article from the late founder of Consortium News, written just eight months after the release of the Collateral Murder video.

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News
First 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: Did what journalists do.

Other times, I was sneaky in liberating some newsworthy classified information from government control. Indeed, in 1995, 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. 

“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.”

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.

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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.

“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.”

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 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 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.”

“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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35 comments for “ROBERT PARRY: All Investigative Journalists Do What Julian Assange Did

  1. kelebek etkisi
    April 25, 2019 at 14:41

    if (hackers4SocialJustice() == true) {

    System.out.println(“Julian Assange is our hero!”);

  2. April 19, 2019 at 09:40

    It seems that NYT once again collaborated with a law violation by collecting the data about confidential and privileged meetings between CIA director and POTUS. As a result, Haskell looks like dishonest manipulator and Trump, well, sentimental fool — readers here should be familiar with the facts, if not, search “Trump ducks” in “News” gives the relevant stories from NYT and The Guardian.

    BTW, USA has a number of fairly draconian laws, Bill of Rights notwithstanding. If NYT and The Guardian are correct, Gina Haskell should be prosecuted for lying to government officials, Trump in this case, and do it in a way that interfered with their duties.

  3. christina garcia
    April 18, 2019 at 22:00

    Julian Assange and Donald trump do indeed have something in common. Both are notorious women -seekers, by that I mean, they both love sex with women other than their wives, or girlfriends, see tiger woods, Harvey wientstein, , JFK, . Where Assange might have done some good, DJT is a destructive and vindictive individual. Ironic how Assange feared Clinton and it is now Trump Trying to haul his ass in the Good ole USA

  4. Mrs. Debra L. Carr de Legorreta
    April 18, 2019 at 15:01

    Crimes are not state secrets and can not be legally be covered up using the secrecy apparatus. Yet that’s exactly what happened here. Manning and Assange leaked evidence of a crime. That crime should not have been classified. To have classified as secret was a crime as well. Assange broke access into the secrecy chambers and that’s the violation the US holding against them. That claim does not hold water because what was inside that secret chamber was there illegally. Manning and Assange had no other way to expose the crime and so under the necessity argument are not committing any crimes.

    • April 19, 2019 at 09:06

      I really think that it is a good defense of Chelsea Manning who disobeyed illegal secrecy order. I surmise that at his position he was ordered not to disclose any facts he learns outside the chain of command and “need to know” basis, but in the case of evidence of crimes ignored by the military, this order was as illegal as the crime themselves.

      One can debate if disobeying illegal orders is a duty, but most definitely it is not a crime.

  5. Lily
    April 18, 2019 at 14:38

    Catherine, you are sadly wrong! Anybody who really wants to know the truth could do so. The smearing of the Main Media had it’s effect on you as on much too many people all over the world. One might think that telling the truth on Anerican war crimes would be welcomed by millions. One wants to think that this is more important than the lies spread by a few people who can’t bear the truth and want to hide it at all costs. It is the general smallness of the mind which does not allow another person being whole. Especially if he is so emminent as Assange is. The smallness of the mind can not tolerate a complete human being with lighter and darker sides as the creator has made us. We are only human. All of us. And there is of course a lot of projecting going on.

    Julien Assange is an exceptional human being. He is a hero and at the same time he is so human. As always this will be realized only when it will be too late. The dumbness of the masses is rather saddening and causes a certain loneliness. One starts to feel like an emigrant having lost his land of birth. One wishes one could do something to help. My only hope are the British people taking to the streets like they did before the war on Irak or even a general strike.

    By the way the accusations made in Sweden were ridiculous and had long been dropped but the Brtish Police did not want him to know to make sure he stayed in the Embassy. It is all a perfect plot by the US there most obedient british vassals and of course the digusting Moreno.

  6. April 18, 2019 at 11:57

    What’s truly tragic is that U.S. public opinion is against us. According to a recent YouGov poll, 53% of Americans wish to see Assange prosecuted. This shows the awesome power of mass media repetition like nothing else, drill it into enough heads that Assange is an unhinged egomaniac and it starts to stick. We’ve seen this movie before.

    Here’s a guy who went to the mattresses for us, exposing imperialist cover-ups of massive crimes against humanity and this is the thanks he gets.

  7. Sam F
    April 18, 2019 at 06:54

    Indeed “the public has been served” by exposure of government abuses because “reforms often follow.” But right wing tyranny has consolidated since the 1970s to prevent reform. The DemReps now systematically “divine” crime in the publication of truth, while ignoring their own “openly acknowledged crimes” of surveillance and aggressive wars.

    Truthtellers are indeed isolated as “outliers” to induce others to join in persecution without fear that they might be next. But the mass media no longer need persuasion because they are tribal conformists who seek only personal gain. The honorable and patriotic need not apply.

  8. Catherine
    August 15, 2018 at 09:54

    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 20:21

      “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?

    • Anna
      April 18, 2019 at 07:23

      Wikipedia: “The investigation into the allegation of rape (of two grown and consenting women), as of 19 May 2017, has been dropped by Swedish authorities.”

      Do you understand the word “allegation?”

      In comparison, Bill Clinton, the perspective First Husband, has been implicated in the rape of children on Lolita Express and Lolita Island:

      You have asked for this reminder, Catherine

    • Anna
      April 18, 2019 at 07:31

      As for the vigilant UK government that has broken all international laws as well as all rules of decency re Asssange, the Brits must be reminded tirelessly about certain Lord Jimmy Savile and the role that Theresa May has been playing in covering for the pedophile ring: “British PM Theresa May has blocked evidence relating to a Westminster pedophile ring involving high-level government ministers on the grounds of ‘national security.”

    • john wilson
      April 18, 2019 at 09:13

      No, Catherine, you are so wrong. Assange sought refuge in the embassy precisely to avoid extradition to the US. One of the women who cried rape has in fact said it never happened and by all accounts she was coerced into doing the bidding of the US. Yes, that’s right, you can be sure the US was involved in the Sweden affair. Anyhow, Assange AGREED TO GO TO SWEDEN provided the Swedish authorities would assure Assange he would not be extradited to the US. He received no such assurance, so he did the next best thing and invited the Swedish prosecutors to visit him in the embassy which they did. The result of this meeting was that the charges against Assange were dropped. Assange was NOT putting himself above common law, he was protecting himself from the most UNCOMMON LAW. Basically, kidnap, and torture in the US.

    • incontinent reader
      April 18, 2019 at 09:18

      You obviously haven’t closely followed the Swedish case or its politicization by the Swedish and British authorities.

    • Ray Raven
      April 18, 2019 at 10:58

      There was no effen “case against him for sexual assault”.
      There were accusations whilst he was in Sweden, that he cooperated with the investigations thereof; resulting in the prosecutor dismissing the allegations.
      He then moved on to the UK, while back in Sweden another prosecutor reopened the investigation into the allegations.
      You are knowingly casting lies.

      • April 19, 2019 at 09:54

        “An assault is the act of inflicting physical harm or unwanted physical contact upon a person or, in some specific legal definitions, a threat or attempt to commit such an action. It is both a crime and a tort and, therefore, may result in either criminal and/or civil liability.” There were no allegation of assault as it is normally defined. In one of the cases he was accused of surreptitiously perforating a condom, which prima facie is not an assault as normally understood, and there was simply no physical evidence. The other case was similar. It really looks that Swedish prosecutor abused her discretion, and British legal authorities failed to consider if the prima facie allegations constituted crimes according to the English law.

  9. christina garcia
    August 6, 2018 at 22:33

    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?

  10. Mathew Neville
    August 6, 2018 at 19:06

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

  11. August 6, 2018 at 13:20

    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.

  12. Skip Scott
    August 6, 2018 at 13:15

    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.

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

    Good interview: Chris Hedges and Barrett Brown.

  14. Yahweh
    August 5, 2018 at 21:18

    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

  15. Sam F
    August 5, 2018 at 19:14

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

  16. PETER W Johnson
    August 5, 2018 at 08:38

    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.

  17. Sam F
    August 5, 2018 at 07:47

    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:
    [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; ;[email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]

  18. butch
    August 5, 2018 at 07:43

    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.

  19. john wilson
    August 5, 2018 at 06:33

    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 06:46

      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 07:54

      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.

  20. padre
    August 5, 2018 at 06:12

    I only wish, they were!

  21. mike k
    August 4, 2018 at 19:35

    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 06:37

      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.

  22. mike k
    August 4, 2018 at 16:41

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

    • Lily
      April 18, 2019 at 15:05

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

      Well said, thank you so much. That is exactly how i feel.

  23. Dunderhead
    August 4, 2018 at 16:31

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

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