The simultaneous escalation of censorship of Julian Assange’s support base, alongside the latest wave of fact-free attacks on Assange and WikiLeaks‘, raises concern about a coordinated effort to smear Assange while silencing those who counter such dubious reporting.
By Elizabeth Vos
Special to Consortium News
Consortium News was under attack on Monday, days after the premiere episode of the outlet’s live-streamed show, CN Live! The malicious attempt to shut down the website, according to the site’s web host, followed on the heels of the suspension of pro-Assange account Unity4J from Twitter.
Consortium News wrote via Twitter on Monday regarding the cyberattack:
“Our website is completely down. Our media host said we have been attacked by malware. They actually tried to blame ‘the Russians’! Every article published since 2011 now gets a 404 Not Found. They are working on it. Problem started slowly on Friday first day of CN Live!”
Our website is completely down. Our media host said we have been attacked by malware. They actually tried to blame "the Russians"! Every article published since 2011 now gets a 404 Not Found. They are working on it. Problem started slowly on Friday first day of CN Live!
— Consortium News (@Consortiumnews) July 15, 2019
The hack of Consortium News sparked concern regarding what appears to be an escalating wave of attacks on the independent press, as well as censorship of activists who support independent journalists, including WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Consortium News was restored by 10:44 pm EDT on Monday, but issues related to publishing new material persist.
As news of the attack on Consortium News spread, some Assange supporters connected the event with Twitter’s suspension of the Unity4J movement’s Twitter account. Christine Assange, Julian Assange’s mother and an activist in her own right, Christine Assange tweeted:
ANOTHER Censorship attack on the truth!
This time respected investigative journalism media @ConsortiumNews!
CN hosted highly informative #Unity4J online Vigils, where prominent professionals exposed political persecution of journalist Julian Assange
They just launched CNLIVE! https://t.co/dfUVfxxH11
— Mrs Christine Assange (@AssangeMrs) July 15, 2019
Christine Assange also wrote on Sunday that she had lost “over 8,000 followers overnight.”
CNLive!‘s inaugural live-stream included an interview with Nils Melzer, the UN rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, who “discussed his work on the condition of imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.“
Consortium News had previously conducted the Unity4J online vigils over a period of months. The Unity4J Twitter account was suspended last Thursday for no known reason. The ban sparked a backlash including independent media coverage from a number of outlets, as well as an impassioned statement from Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who called Twitter “Big Brother” for permanently removing the account. To date, no explanation for Unity4J’s suspension has been made public.
Caitlin Johnstone wrote of the suspension via Medium:
“Speaking for myself as a vocal Assange supporter on Twitter, I can say that I’ve been following the @Unity4J account closely since its earliest days and I’ve never once seen it post anything other than highly professional-looking advocacy for Julian Assange. I’ve certainly never seen it post anything that could be construed as abusive, misleading, or otherwise in violation of any of Twitter’s posted rules.”
Unity4J was far from the only account targeted recently. Additional Unity4J activists, including many of those associated with running the Unity4J Twitter profile, were also either suspended or locked out of their accounts. One Unity4J admin, Aaron Kesel, who also writes as an independent journalist, said in an interview that they were locked out of their accounts within minutes of publishing an article covering the Catalonian public’s celebration of Assange’s birthday. Activist Post, the site on which the article was published, was likewise reportedly hacked in recent weeks.
On the same day that Consortium News fell under attack, CNN published a conspiracy-theory-laden article accusing Assange of having conspired with “the Russians” to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election from within the Ecuadorian embassy, which CNN described breathlessly as a “command post.” (Little irony that Consortium News was also told that their website being attacked had had something to do with “The Russians.”)
Spanish newspaper El Pais on July 9: "Spanish security company spied on Julian Assange’s meetings with lawyers"
Add little security state propaganda and 6 days later you get from CNN: "How Julian Assange turned an embassy into command post for election meddling" pic.twitter.com/7sOIKCTxTG
— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) July 15, 2019
The CNN piece rapidly garnered criticism from journalists including Caitlin Johnstone, Kevin Gosztola, and Aaron Maté. The documents at issue in CNN’s article were previously described in a totally different light by Spanish paper of record El Pais:
“The security employees at the embassy had a daily job to do: to monitor Assange’s every move, record his conversations, and take note of his moods. The company’s drive to uncover their target’s most intimate secrets led the team to carry out a handwriting examination behind his back, which resulted in a six-page report. Company employees also took a feces sample from a baby’s diaper to check whether Assange and one of his most faithful collaborators were the child’s parents. This intelligence work had nothing to do with protection duties.”
Gosztola wrote of CNN’s piece: “If one reads CNN’s report, it is clear, like the CIA, they do not view the work Assange was doing as journalistic bur rather the work of an ‘enemy’ of the United States.”
Black Agenda Report Editor and Senior Columnist Margaret Kimberly wrote via Twitter:
The Unity4J account was suspended just before CNN claims to have proof of Assange contacting Russians. @consortiumnews website hacked too. What a coincidence that people who have been Assange's staunchest defenders are kicked off their platforms at the same time.
— Margaret Kimberley (@freedomrideblog) July 16, 2019
The simultaneous escalation of censorship when it comes to Assange’s support base, alongside the latest wave of fact-free attacks on Assange and WikiLeaks‘ reputation, raises concern regarding the potential of a coordinated effort to smear Assange while also silencing those who might counter such dubious reporting.
Elizabeth Vos is a freelance reporter and regular contributor to Consortium News. She co-hosts CN Live!