By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
During a September 2017 U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee debate on an intelligence bill a line was inserted that said WikiLeaks “resembles a non-state hostile intelligence service” and that the U.S. “should treat it as such.”
“This language would help investigators secure the authorization needed to surveil those U.S. citizens thought to be associated with WikiLeaks,” a McClatchy report quoted a government lawyer as saying.
““You need to show that someone is an agent of a foreign power,” said the lawyer, Robert Deitz, who held senior legal positions at the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Agency.
“It’s possible that Assange has colleagues in this country that they need to focus on,” McClatchy quoted Deitz as saying, “noting that such action can only be done under court order.”
The non-state hostile agency phrase was directly lifted from a scurrilous speech by Mike Pompeo in his first address as CIA director.
The language survived the committee and made it into the bill voted on by the full Senate. But before it did two senators raised objections to it. One was Ron Wyden of Oregon.
The other was Sen. Kamala Harris of California, the presumptive Democratic vice presidential candidate in November’s election.
According to the McClatchy report,
“Harris declared that she is ‘no supporter of WikiLeaks,’ which she said had done ‘considerable harm’ to the United States. But the clause on the group is ‘dangerous’ because it ‘fails to draw a bright line between WikiLeaks and legitimate news organizations that play a vital role in our democracy,’ according to her remarks for the record.”
Harris left no doubt that she is an enemy of WikiLeaks, as is her running mate, Joe Biden, who agreed it was more like a high-tech terrorist organization that Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers.
Harris made clear she cared only about establishment media (which almost universally undergirds aggressive U.S. foreign policy) and was worried about it getting caught up in a WikiLeaks dragnet.
She said she wants a “bright line” between publications such as The New York Times and WikiLeaks.
Except, there can be no such legal line drawn as both establishment papers, like the Times, and WikiLeaks have done the exact same thing: possessed and published classified material.
Because there is no legal distinction, the Obama administration, which desperately wanted to indict WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, backed away citing its “New York Times problem.” The Trump administration had no such qualms and had Assange arrested in April 2019 and indicted on conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and 17 counts of the Espionage Act.
The only bright line that can be drawn is political: a decision by the Department of Justice to not prosecute big media but to prosecute WikiLeaks for the same “crime”, which conflicts with First Amendment press freedoms.
This is what Harris was calling for: Protect the state-managed corporate media but go after a serious publication that dares to reveal crimes of the U.S. government, which Harris wants to protect. In other words, for the same activity, the Times is afforded First Amendment protections, but WikiLeaks is not.
In an answer last year to this question from The New York Times about the Trump administration’s prosecution of Assange: “Are these charges constitutional? Would your administration continue the Espionage Act part of the case against Assange?” Harris said:
“The Justice Department should make independent decisions about prosecutions based on facts and the law. I would restore an independent DOJ and would not dictate or direct prosecutions.”
If she stuck to that, it would mean Harris would be in favor of also prosecuting the “facts and the law” as it applies to the Times for publishing the Iraq War Diaries, just as WikiLeaks did, and for which its founder faces 175 years—the rest of his life—in a U.S. super-max prison.
That it was a political decision by the Trump administration, and not a legal one, to go after Assange but not the Times, further bolsters the argument of Assange’s lawyers that the U.S. extradition request is for a political offense, and thus forbidden by the U.S.-UK Extradition Treaty of 2006.
Not that his extradition for a political offense would much bother Kamala Harris, judging from her remarks.
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former UN correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional career as a stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @unjoe .