The Yahoo! report provides important new details of facts reported a year ago, but contains several errors, including a fabricated story about Russian operatives exfiltrating Assange from the Ecuador embassy, writes Joe Lauria.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
The Yahoo! News report that is mistakenly being credited for breaking the story of a CIA plot to assassinate or kidnap WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange is filled with crucial errors, while at the same time providing important new details about inside-Washington deliberations on how the plot came about.
Consortium News, along with other outlets, reported a year ago, on Sept. 30, 2020, of a CIA plot to kidnap or poison Julian Assange, based on sworn testimony in Assange’s extradition hearing in London. Max Blumenthal of The Grayzone was the first to report the story back in May 2020.
The September 2020 testimony made first in a Madrid court came from a former partner, and an employee of UC Global, the Spanish security firm paid by the CIA to spy on Assange inside Ecuador’s London embassy, including on Assange’s privileged conversations with his lawyers and doctors.
One of the witnesses testified that in December 2017 “the U.S. was desperate” to get Assange out of the embassy, and that “more extreme measures should be used.”
“Leaving the embassy door open to allow Mr. Assange to be kidnapped and even poisoning was under consideration,” a witness testified that UC Global CEO David Morales told him. Both witnesses approached an attorney who contacted a Madrid court which ordered an arrest warrant, a search of Morales’ home and issued charges against him for spying on Assange.
The reaction to the 7,000-word piece by Yahoo! News on Sunday proves the axiom that until something appears in the mainstream media, it didn’t happen. That’s because establishment media largely ignored the story a year ago when it was revealed in court. The Yahoo! piece has now been covered by CNN, MSNBC, The Guardian and other corporate outlets, making a larger audience aware of it for the first time and potentially putting pressure on the Biden administration to drop the case.
Neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post have reported on it so far and did not cover the UC Global employee’s testimony in September 2020. The Guardian was one of the few big outlets that reported it when it first emerged in court. Yahoo! buried deep in its story that The Guardian covered it back then (they weren’t the first or only ones), allowing an impression to form that Yahoo! was breaking the story for the first time.
While the Yahoo! article does advance the story by providing Washington confirmation of the UC Global witnesses’ testimony and fleshes out crucial details from U.S. intelligence sources for the first time, especially then CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s role in the plot (discussed below), it contains a number of factual errors.
- Yahoo! uncritically reports a made-up story about Russia trying to extract Assange from the Ecuador embassy.
- Yahoo! falsely reports that the Obama administration took no action against Assange until WikiLeaks helped whistleblower Edward Snowden escape Hong Kong in 2013, when the Obama FBI actually ran a sting operation against Assange in Iceland in 2011, and empaneled a grand jury the same year, facts not mentioned in Yahoo!‘s report.
- Yahoo! takes as fact that Russia hacked the Democrats and gave its emails to Assange, though these are only allegations in a U.S. indictment and ignores congressional testimony from CrowdStrike’s CEO that there was no concrete evidence of a hack resulting in data being taken.
The thrust of the Yahoo! article is that the Obama administration was good to Assange while elements of the Trump administration plotted the assassination or abduction before taking the acceptable path of making a legal case against Assange. But the legal case is also troubling.
The article also sets up a misleading idea that the CIA’s extrajudicial methods, such as assassination and abduction, sometimes as freelance acts without a presidential directive, are rare in the agency’s history. That history is littered with criminal acts, scores of which were uncovered by mid-1970s congressional investigations.
What the CIA plotted to do with Assange is one more criminal act in a sordid history. It should produce no shock to anyone who knows that history. There has never been a time when the CIA was not willing to break the law in the service of U.S. elites, nor has the U.S. ever been a nation predominately ruled by law and not men, as many Americans believe.
Stopping the ‘Russian Exfiltration’
The article’s most sensational disclosure is not the assassination or kidnapping plots, which had already been disclosed, but that the CIA discussed with British counterparts stopping Assange — with the use of firearms if necessary — from being exfiltrated from the Ecuador embassy by “Russian intelligence” operatives.
The article says:
“In late 2017, in the midst of the debate over kidnapping and other extreme measures, the agency’s plans were upended when U.S. officials picked up what they viewed as alarming reports that Russian intelligence operatives were preparing to sneak Assange out of the United Kingdom and spirit him away to Moscow.
“The intelligence reporting about a possible breakout was viewed as credible at the highest levels of the U.S. government. At the time, Ecuadorian officials had begun efforts to grant Assange diplomatic status as part of a scheme to give him cover to leave the embassy and fly to Moscow to serve in the country’s Russian mission.
“In response, the CIA and the White House began preparing for a number of scenarios to foil Assange’s Russian departure plans, according to three former officials. Those included potential gun battles with Kremlin operatives on the streets of London, crashing a car into a Russian diplomatic vehicle transporting Assange and then grabbing him, and shooting out the tires of a Russian plane carrying Assange before it could take off for Moscow. (U.S. officials asked their British counterparts to do the shooting if gunfire was required, and the British agreed, according to a former senior administration official.)”
“We had all sorts of reasons to believe he was contemplating getting the hell out of there,” said the former senior administration official, adding that one report said Assange might try to escape the embassy hidden in a laundry cart. “It was going to be like a prison break movie.”
What actually happened was that the Ecuadorian government devised a plan to give Assange diplomatic immunity and then send him to a third country, with Russia among the possible destinations. However, when Assange was told about the plan he rejected Russia. In the end, Britain refused to recognize Assange’s diplomatic status, putting an end to the entire affair. But Yahoo!, quoting three unnamed former officials, uncritically repeats the fantastic story that Russian operatives would extract Assange from the embassy and try to spirit him onto a Russian plane in London.
This so-called 2017 Christmas Eve plot was first reported in The Guardian by Luke Harding, known for his anti-Russian and anti-Assange reporting. But even Harding did not report that Russian intelligence would be involved in the extraction. He wrote that Ecuadorian and Russian diplomats met in London to discuss the transfer of Assange with diplomatic immunity to Russia, which would naturally have happened in the plan Ecuador had devised.
According to Stella Moris, an Assange lawyer and his fiancée, the story of a Russian extraction from the embassy is false and was devised by UC Global to satisfy the CIA and keep the $200,000 a month contract going, a not uncommon tactic of informants to make stuff up to please their paymasters. The fabricated story was presumably revealed in testimony in the Spanish case.
Impossible to overstate significance of exposé of CIA plans to kill #Assange.
But "Russia exfiltration" claims are false. Corrupt security contractor UC Global admitted fabricating Ru claims to keep $200K/month US bribes coming. CEO is charged over plots & obstructing justice. pic.twitter.com/cguJz2RLET
— Stella Moris #FreeAssangeNOW (@StellaMoris1) September 26, 2021
Yahoo! acknowledges that UC Global informed on the so-called Russian plot. “… testimony in a Spanish criminal investigation strongly suggests that U.S. intelligence may also have had inside help keeping tabs on Assange’s plans.”
It is impossible to know whether the CIA knew it was lied to. According to Yahoo! it was taken seriously:
“’It’s not just him getting to Moscow and taking secrets,’ [former U.S. counterintelligence chief William Evanina] said. ‘The second wind that Putin would get — he gets Snowden and now he gets Assange — it becomes a geopolitical win for him and his intelligence services.’
Evanina declined to comment on the plans to prevent Assange from escaping to Russia, but he suggested that the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance between the United States, the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand was critical. ‘We were very confident within the Five Eyes that we would be able to prevent him from going there,’ he said.”
Obama Took Action in 2011
The Yahoo! story says Obama took no action against Assange until he helped Snowden in 2013:
“ … the Obama administration, fearful of the consequences for press freedom — and chastened by the blowback from its own aggressive leak hunts — restricted investigations into Assange and WikiLeaks. ‘We were stagnated for years,’ said [William] Evanina, [a retired top counterintelligence official]. ‘There was a reticence in the Obama administration at a high level to allow agencies to engage in’ certain kinds of intelligence collection against WikiLeaks, including signals and cyber operations, he said.
That began to change in 2013, when Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor, fled to Hong Kong with a massive trove of classified materials, some of which revealed that the U.S. government was illegally spying on Americans. WikiLeaks helped arrange Snowden’s escape to Russia from Hong Kong.
In the wake of the Snowden revelations, the Obama administration allowed the intelligence community to prioritize collection on WikiLeaks, according to Evanina, now the CEO of the Evanina Group. Previously, if the FBI needed a search warrant to go into the group’s databases in the United States or wanted to use subpoena power or a national security letter to gain access to WikiLeaks-related financial records, ‘that wasn’t going to happen,’ another former senior counterintelligence official said. ‘That changed after 2013.’
From that point onward, U.S. intelligence worked closely with friendly spy agencies to build a picture of WikiLeaks’ network of contacts ‘and tie it back to hostile state intelligence services,’ Evanina said.
It is untrue that the Obama administration “restricted investigations into Assange and WikiLeaks.” U.S. prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia investigated Assange and empaneled a grand jury in 2011 seeking to indict him for WikiLeaks publication of the Iraq and Afghanistan war diaries as well as the Diplomatic Cables in 2010, which were an embarrassment to the United States. Though the Obama Department of Justice ultimately decided against an indictment against Assange because of First Amendment considerations, the grand jury was resumed by the Trump administration in 2017.
Also in 2011, the Obama DOJ’s Federal Bureau of Investigation ran a sting operation against Assange in Iceland until the FBI was kicked out of the country. The word “Iceland” appears nowhere in the Yahoo! report. The FBI’s informant has recanted, saying what he told them about Assange was made up. Nonetheless, his testimony stills forms an important part of the U.S. superseding indictment of Assange.
The Yahoo! article also makes a cryptic comment, not fully developed, that indicates the idea of abducting Assange began in the Obama administration. “While the notion of kidnapping Assange preceded Pompeo’s arrival at Langley, the new director championed the proposals, according to former officials,” the article says.
Yahoo!, in addition, wrongly states that WikiLeaks’ intention was to get Snowden to Moscow. It says: “WikiLeaks helped arrange Snowden’s escape to Russia from Hong Kong. A WikiLeaks editor also accompanied Snowden to Russia, staying with him during his 39-day enforced stay at a Moscow airport … ” It uncritically quotes Evanina, the former head of U.S. counterintelligence, as saying:
“… the United States and the U.K. developed a ‘joint plan’ to prevent Assange from absconding and giving Vladimir Putin the sort of propaganda coup he had enjoyed when Snowden fled to Russia in 2013, Evanina said.”
In fact, WikiLeaks booked Snowden on a flight to Ecuador via Cuba with a change of planes in Moscow. The United States had canceled Snowden’s passport so he was unable to board the connecting flight to Havana. Yahoo! also fails to make clear that it was the U.S. that enforced his stay in Moscow, where Snowden never had any intention of staying.
Accepting the Russian ‘Hack’
The Yahoo! story breaks a fundamental rule of journalism by reporting an indictment as fact, rather than allegations that need to be proven in court. Throughout the piece we read sentences like this:
“In 2018, the Trump administration granted the CIA aggressive new secret authorities to undertake the same sort of hack-and-dump operations for which Russian intelligence has used WikiLeaks.” [Emphasis added.]
In a follow-up Yahoo! piece published Tuesday, headlined, “5 big takeaways from an investigation into the CIA’s war on WikiLeaks,” the language is even more direct: “As U.S. intelligence officials later concluded, these emails were stolen by hackers from the GRU, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, who then provided them to WikiLeaks as part of an effort to help elect Donald Trump president.”
The indictment against the agents from the GRU (Russia’s defense intelligence agency) will never be proven because the GRU agents will never be extradited to the U.S., for one thing, because there is no extradition treaty between the two countries. The prosecutors knew this, so their indictment in effect became a political instrument to be used against Russia by a willing media. Yahoo! is still at it.
The Democratic National Committee refused to allow the FBI to examine their computer server to find out how the emails were removed. Instead the DNC hired a private firm, CrowdStrike, which was given a disc image of the server and not direct access to it. In a closed-door hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Dec. 5, 2017 Shawn Henry, president of CrowdStrike, admitted under oath that his firm had no firm evidence that the DNC emails were hacked — by Russia or anyone else — and data removed.
House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff was able to keep Henry’s testimony hidden until May 7, 2020.
Asked by Schiff for “the date on which the Russians exfiltrated the data”, Henry replied, “We just don’t have the evidence that says it actually left.”
Though the emails were damaging to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, WikiLeaks was practicing journalism in publishing them.
This was not a case of a foreign power sabotaging a U.S. election with disinformation. The emails were true, resulting in the resignation of several top DNC officials. It was a matter of information given to American voters about one of the candidates. To have had possession of the emails and not to have published them would have been journalistic malpractice.
Assange also tried to get Trump material. In the 2017 film Risk, by filmmaker Laura Poitras, Assange is filmed on the phone in early 2016 saying WikiLeaks had obtained emails on Hillary Clinton and “we hope to get something on Trump.” As journalist Stefania Maurizi has written for Consortium News, WikiLeaks did obtain Trump documents but discovered they had already been published.
There is zero evidence that WikiLeaks had material on Trump and suppressed it, a widely believed falsehood. Assange favored neither candidate and before the election said the choice between the candidates was like choosing “cholera or gonorrhea.”
Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, told Consortium News’ CN Live! that had WikiLeaks had damaging information on Trump, they certainly would have published it, especially before an election when voters need to be informed about the candidates.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report alleges that Assange communicated online with Russian GRU defense intelligence agents posing as “Guccifer 2.0” to obtain the leaked Democratic Party emails, an allegation reported as fact by Yahoo!. Even if it were true that Guccifer 2.0 was a cover for Russian intelligence, Mueller declined to prosecute Assange because there was no evidence Assange would be aware of it.
If it were the Russians who provided the material to Assange, the emails were still accurate, meaning it is irrelevant who the source of the leak was. The Wall Street Journal‘s, CNN’s and other major media’s anonymous drop boxes prove that. They don’t need or want to know the source if newsworthy documents are authenticated. Theoretically Russia could send documents to CNN’s anonymous drop box and if they checked out, CNN could publish those documents without ever knowing Moscow provided them.
When a journalist gathers oral evidence from a source, that source’s motive needs to be scrutinized. But if documents are verified and are newsworthy, the motive of the source providing the material is not relevant. Prosecutors work all the time with some of the worst elements of society but use their credible evidence if it can catch a bigger fish.
Though it’s irrelevant if Russia gave the Clinton emails to WikiLeaks, a big part of the Russiagate mania was based on mere allegations of a WikiLeaks-Russia connection, an allegation amply amplified by Yahoo! as truth. Yahoo! takes as flat fact that Guccifer 2.0 was an online persona of the Russian GRU agents and that NSA intercepts show Guccifer communicating with WikiLeaks about the transfer of the Democratic emails.
” … the NSA began surveilling the Twitter accounts of the suspected Russian intelligence operatives who were disseminating the leaked Democratic Party emails, according to a former CIA official. This collection revealed direct messages between the operatives, who went by the moniker Guccifer 2.0, and WikiLeaks’ Twitter account. Assange at the time steadfastly denied that the Russian government was the source for the emails … “
Assange still denies Russia was the emails’ source, not just “at the time,” which implies he’s changed his tune. The identity of Guccifer 2.0 as a front for the Russians has also been challenged, including by Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). The Yahoo! article confirms that the CIA has fake online personas in its arsenal, but decided against using it to disrupt WikiLeaks a year later. “Inventing a cyber persona to gain the group’s confidence, was quickly dismissed as unlikely to succeed because the senior WikiLeaks figures were so security-conscious, according to former intelligence officials,” the article says.
“The events of 2016 ‘really crystallized’ U.S. intelligence officials’ belief that the WikiLeaks founder ‘was acting in collusion with people who were using him to hurt the interests of the United States,’ … said [Robert] Litt [the intelligence community’s senior lawyer during the Obama administration.]”
The CIA now considered people affiliated with WikiLeaks valid targets for various types of spying, including close-in technical collection — such as bugs — sometimes enabled by in-person espionage, and “remote operations,” meaning, among other things, the hacking of WikiLeaks members’ devices from afar, according to former intelligence officials.”
This came at the height of Russiagate. Publishing accurate information critical of the U.S. was portrayed as coming from a pawn of a hostile foreign power, a McCarthyist smear that Yahoo! repeats.
It is interesting to note that the Yahoo! article first appeared on Aol. at 2 am last Sunday, curiously with just the single byline of Zach Dorfman. It then appeared on Yahoo! itself 20 hours later at 10 pm with two other bylines added, including Michael Isikoff’s.
Isikoff was one of the most prominent media promoters of the Russigate conspiracy theory, writing a March 2018 bestseller with Mother Jones‘ David Corn called Russian Roulette. After Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that there was no evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, Isikoff slightly backtracked in December 2018, coming close to admitting that he was wrong. Russian Roulette was nevertheless re-released as a Special Impeachment Digital Edition in 2020. And as the Yahoo! article indicates, Isikoff still clings to elements of Russiagate.
The Important Yahoo! Revelations
There are a number of disturbing revelations in the Yahoo! report that deepen our knowledge of the U.S. government’s war against Assange and WikiLeaks.
It fills out the already known plot against Assange by reporting that CIA and Trump administration officials requested “options” and “sketches” for how to kill Assange. Plans to kidnap or assassinate the WikiLeaks publisher were discussed at the “highest levels” of the administration.
The piece offers confirmation of what always appeared obvious: that then CIA Director Mike Pompeo was the mover behind efforts to snatch or kill Assange in retaliation for WikiLeaks‘ 2017 Vault 7 release, the biggest leak of CIA materials in its history.
Pompeo and other top CIA officials were “completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7. They were seeing blood,” the article quotes a former Trump national security official as saying.
Pompeo’s description of WikiLeaks as a “non-state, hostile intelligence service” was crafted to allow the agency to aggressively act against the organization as if it were a foreign intelligence agency, a Spy vs. Spy scenario, which some officials believed freed the CIA from a presidential directive and congressional oversight, Yahoo! reports.
Yahoo! tells us this approach was also taken because within the walls of CIA headquarters there was private doubt about whether WikiLeaks was really working for the Kremlin, though in public, officials told a different story.
“’There was a lot of legal debate on: Are they operating as a Russian agent?’ said the former official. ‘It wasn’t clear they were, so the question was, can it be reframed on them being a hostile entity.’”
Some Trump officials were alarmed enough to contact staffers at the congressional intelligence oversight committees about what was going on. Yahoo! reports that President Donald Trump asked about killing Assange.
“One of those officials said he was briefed on a spring 2017 meeting in which the president asked whether the CIA could assassinate Assange and provide him ‘options’ for how to do so.”
Trump denied to Yahoo! that he had discussed killing Assange, who he said was being “treated very badly.”
The plot to kill or abduct Assange never got off the ground because of the objections from White House lawyers and other Trump administration officials who alerted the House and Senate intelligence committees of Pompeo’s designs. “There were serious intel oversight concerns that were being raised through this escapade,” a Trump national security official is quoted as saying.
The piece says these extrajudicial plans spurred the eventual indictment against Assange:
“Some National Security Council officials worried that the CIA’s proposals to kidnap Assange would not only be illegal but also might jeopardize the prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder. Concerned the CIA’s plans would derail a potential criminal case, the Justice Department expedited the drafting of charges against Assange to ensure that they were in place if he were brought to the United States.”
On Dec. 21, 2018, the Justice Department secretly charged Assange.
Perhaps the most important revelation is that the CIA also targeted WikiLeaks “associates” with possible assassination.
“U.S. spy agencies developed good intelligence on WikiLeaks associates’ “patterns of life,” particularly their travels within Europe, said a former national security official.
Proposals began percolating upward within the CIA and the NSC to undertake various disruptive activities — the core of ‘offensive counterintelligence’ — against WikiLeaks. These included paralyzing its digital infrastructure, disrupting its communications, provoking internal disputes within the organization by planting damaging information, and stealing WikiLeaks members’ electronic devices, according to three former officials. … agency executives requested and received “sketches” of plans for killing Assange and other Europe-based WikiLeaks members who had access to Vault 7 materials, said a former intelligence official.”
We also learned that Assange was so important to the CIA that updates on him were frequently included in Trump’s President’s Daily Brief. The CIA assembled a “group of analysts known unofficially as ‘the WikiLeaks team’ in its Office of Transnational Issues, with a mission to examine the organization, according to a former agency official.”
The article shows the lengths the CIA went to try to get around the First Amendment issues in Assange’s case.
“Still chafing at the limits in place, top intelligence officials lobbied the White House to redefine WikiLeaks — and some high-profile journalists — as ‘information brokers,’ which would have opened up the use of more investigative tools against them, potentially paving the way for their prosecution, according to former officials. It ‘was a step in the direction of showing a court, if we got that far, that we were dealing with agents of a foreign power,’ a former senior counterintelligence official said. …
‘Is WikiLeaks a journalistic outlet? Are Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald truly journalists?’ the former official said. ‘We tried to change the definition of them, and I preached this to the White House, and got rejected.’
The Obama administration’s policy was, ‘If there’s published works out there, doesn’t matter the venue, then we have to treat them as First-Amendment-protected individuals,’ the former senior counterintelligence official said.”
Trying to a smear serious journalists critiquing American power, like Assange, (and Greenwald and Poitras) as “agents of a foreign power” demonstrates that a vindictive U.S. government was exposed with clear evidence of committing war crimes, meddling in other nations’ internal affairs and spying on adversaries, allies and citizens alike and in response imprisoned and charged the journalist who revealed this wrongdoing.
The indictment of Assange is an attack on press freedom usually associated with the most aggressive totalitarian regimes, going to the core of how the West defines itself: as a democracy that upholds the right to criticize government, or authoritarianism that crushes dissent.
Why Didn’t the Assassination Happen?
In the end, the assassination discussions “went nowhere, said former officials,” Yahoo! reports.
“The idea of killing Assange ‘didn’t get serious traction,” said a former senior CIA official. “It was, this is a crazy thing that wastes our time.” Inside the White House, Pompeo’s impassioned arguments on WikiLeaks were making little headway. The director’s most aggressive proposals were “probably taken seriously” in Langley but not within the NSC, a former national security official said.
Even [then Attorney General Jeff] Sessions, Trump’s “very, very anti-Assange” attorney general, was opposed to CIA’s encroachment onto Justice Department territory, and believed that the WikiLeaks founder’s case was best handled through legal channels, said the former official.
The more aggressive the CIA’s proposals became, the more other U.S. officials worried about what the discovery process might reveal if Assange were to face trial in the United States. Eventually, those within the administration arguing for an approach based in the courts, rather than on espionage and covert action, won the policy debate.”
The Missing Context of CIA History
Consideration of the law won out in the end, but that the CIA seriously discussed assassinating or renditioning Assange should come as a surprise to no one as it neatly fits into the 74-year history of the Central Intelligence Agency. Many of these crimes were revealed in the Rockefeller Commission and the Senate’s Church Committee hearings and final report of 1975.
The committees uncovered scores of abuses, including Operation MKULTRA, in which the CIA, without presidential authority and illegally operating on U.S. soil, drugged and tortured U.S. citizens as part of a mind control experiment. Also revealed were Family Jewels, a CIA secret program of assassinating foreign leaders, and Operation Mockingbird to infiltrate U.S. and international media to spread propaganda masquerading as news.
The CIA has a long history of freelance covert operations in which the White House lost control of the agency. Arthur Krock, the legendary New York Times journalist, in an Oct. 3, 1963 column referred to a Scripps-Howards newspaper dispatch from Saigon which said that the CIA in Vietnam refused to carry out State Dept. instructions because “they disagreed with it.”
“The C.I.A.’s growth was ‘likened to a malignancy’ which the ‘very high official was not sure even the White House could control … any longer,'” Krock wrote. “‘If the United States ever experiences [an attempt at a coup to overthrow the Government] it will come from the C.I.A. and not the Pentagon.’ The agency ‘represents a tremendous power and total unaccountability to anyone.'”
Krock wrote that it was incumbent upon President John F. Kennedy to get the CIA under control. “Mr. Kennedy will have to make a judgement if the spectacle of war within the Executive branch is to be ended and the effective functioning of the C.I.A. preserved.” The column was written seven weeks before Kennedy’s assassination.
A month later, in December 1963, former President Harry Truman wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post titled, “Limit the Role of CIA to Intelligence,” in which Truman advocated an end to covert operations. “I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations,” he wrote. “Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue—and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.”
As a result of the Rockefeller Commission and the Church Committee, certain reforms were instituted, including the formation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court; a prohibition on assassinations, and the creation of the House and Senate intelligence oversight committees. They have all become virtual rubber stamps for the CIA, as witnessed when the agency spied on the Senate committee over the torture report in 2014, and suffered zero consequences for it.
Just a year after these reforms, the CIA under Director George H.W. Bush got around oversight by running off-the-books, covert operations as part of the Safari Club, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, France and the Shah’s Iran. The club was financed by money laundered through the corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) and was involved in covert operations, mostly in Africa.
So Pompeo was acting in a long tradition when he wanted to move against Assange without presidential authority. Pompeo himself in a widely-viewed video clip admits that the CIA “lies, cheats and steals,” and oddly adds that it reminds him of the “American experiment,” a bizarre admission that the U.S. is built on falsehoods, deception and theft.
“Without a presidential finding — the directive used to justify covert operations — assassinating Assange or other WikiLeaks members would be illegal, according to several former intelligence officials,” Yahoo! reported. “In some situations, even a finding is not sufficient to make an action legal, said a former national security official.”
Except for two named sources, the entire story relies on unnamed former and current U.S. intelligence officers and Trump national security officials. Yahoo! says the article is “based on conversations with more than 30 former U.S. officials — eight of whom described details of the CIA’s proposals to abduct Assange.”
Pompeo said the 30 officials should be prosecuted for revealing classified CIA information. One can only speculate what made these former officials speak anonymously to Yahoo! But the piece makes clear that they were on the side of opposing the extreme measures proposed against Assange and WikiLeaks.
The named source most often quoted is William Evanina, described as the “U.S.’s top counterintelligence official” until his retirement earlier this year. Evanina was also head of the CIA’s counterintelligence division, an FBI agent, a SWAT team member and certified sniper for the bureau, according to his LinkedIn profile.
As head of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center he made statements about alleged Russian attempts to meddle in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by denigrating Joe Biden’s activities in Ukraine.
Evanina displays clear animus towards WikiLeaks, complaining that “We were stagnated for years” by the Obama administration, which was reluctant to allow signals and cyber operations against WikiLeaks.
This reluctance ended after the Snowden incident, he says, and U.S. spy agencies worked with foreign intelligence to tie WikiLeaks “back to hostile state intelligence services,” something that has never been proven beyond government allegations.
As a former FBI agent and counterintelligence officer, Evanina is in no way qualified to judge what journalism is. Yet Yahoo! allows him to uncritically say about WikiLeaks: “They’re not a journalistic organization, they’re nowhere near it.”
Will the Yahoo! Story Help Free Assange?
The Yahoo! article’s possible impact on the Biden administration would be for the White House and the DOJ to cave to the pressure of these revelations and drop the U.S. appeal against a magistrate’s decision not to extradite Assange to the U.S. The substantive appeal hearing takes place at the High Court in London on Oct. 27 and 28.
The appeal was initiated by Trump but continued so far by Biden. It is narrowly focuses on Assange’s health as the U.S. challenges the magistrate’s ruling that he is not well enough to endure a U.S. prison. Assange’s lawyers could argue that his mental health was affected by the kinds of American threats that have now been confirmed.
It might take creative lawyering to introduce the Yahoo! findings into the appeal court. The High Court normally does not permit new evidence. But evidence of the kidnapping and assassination plot was already introduced into the extradition hearing by the UC Global witnesses.
The U.S. has “promised” not to put Assange under Special Administrative Measures (SAMS), or the harshest solitary confinement. However, it emerged at Assange’s extradition hearing last September that the CIA would play a role in determining the imposition of SAMS. In light of the CIA plot to kill or abduct Assange, a defense argument could be made on these grounds against the U.S. appeal.
Barry Pollack, Assange’s U.S. attorney told Yahoo! that if Assange were extradited, “the extreme nature of the type of government misconduct that you’re reporting would certainly be an issue and potentially grounds for dismissal.”
However, it would be easy for Biden officials to keep the appeal going by saying that these CIA extrajudicial attempts were planned by the hated Trump regime, not by us, that there is now a legal process and it must continue. In other words, unlike Trump, we are doing it the right way. The tone of the Yahoo! piece is in this vein.
Biden was vice president when the Obama administration decided against indicting Assange in 2011. Biden himself told Meet the Press in December 2010 that only a computer intrusion charge was on the table and not the Espionage Act. So what changed that is making Biden go ahead with the Trump administration’s indictment?
Though Assange was only indicted for publishing activity in 2010 and not for the release of Democratic Party emails in 2016, there can be little doubt that the embarrassment of Clinton and damage to her campaign (because of her own and her campaign’s exposed actions) is behind the Democrats continuation of the prosecution.
The Yahoo! piece ends with a feel good quote from an unnamed Trump official condemning Pompeo’s motive against Assange.:
“For a former Trump national security official, the lessons of the CIA’s campaign against WikiLeaks are clear. ‘There was an inappropriate level of attention to Assange given the embarrassment, not the threat he posed in context,’ said this official. ‘We should never act out of a desire for revenge.’”
Which is exactly what Biden’s motive appears to be.
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 work as a stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe
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Board Member Alumni + VIPS Associates.
American cits fortunate imdeed4 access2 such heretofore covert stuff!
Thank you, but reading this makes me sad. America seems to be a farce composed of strange people who, as the awful Pompeo said so happily , “We lie, we cheat, we steal… What happened to America—-or was there ever a real one? Perhaps Congress members must stand and recite the Preamble and then verify that what was promised has actually been put into practice FOR THE PEOPLE.
By golly it’s great to hear from Ray McGovern!!
Gosh it’s great to see Joe pounding truth into the heads of haters and those in denial. Beat the hell out of them Joe and good for you.
This should have been humiliating to the U.S. and U.K. governments. A totally irrational response to what should have been a teachable moment.
Again our government’s response fails the American pubic. These people are morons.
This is a wonderful piece, Joe, setting the record straight on so many of the distortions and falsehoods in the recent Yahoo News story. I do have to quibble with the section you inserted later however, namely the claim that:
“The identity of Guccifer 2.0 as a front for the Russians has also been challenged, including by Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).” Now this first sentence is clearly a fact.
The opening of the second line, too, “The Yahoo! article confirms that the CIA has fake online personas in its arsenal” is also true, such fake personas are used routinely.
But the continuation; “but decided against using it to disrupt WikiLeaks a year later.” is far from obvious. In fact it seems more plausible to me that it was indeed the CIA that created “Guccifer 2.0” precisely to provide some highly visible means whereby the GRU could have fed Wikileaks with the DNC data and thereby insinuating Russia as the source of the materials as required to render the key link in the otherwise cockamamie “Russiagate” narrative credible.
The claim that the CIA did not create the “fake persona,” Guccifer 2.0, to incriminate Wikileaks by associating it with the GRU is in turn backed only by the claim:
“Inventing a cyber persona to gain the group’s confidence, was quickly dismissed as unlikely to succeed because the senior WikiLeaks figures were so security-conscious, according to former intelligence officials,” the article says.”
This is a HIGHLY speculative claim! Who are these “former intelligence officials” and how could they possibly have known whether Wikileaks had sufficient security — and frankly also intelligence gathering — measures to foil the fairly typical use of a CIA generated “fake persona”? And why should we believe that these “officials” prevailed over those others who might have found the plan well worth pursuing? Certainly we can observe that the CIA had very good reason to try such a deception, since, as mentioned, the plausibility of their alleged links between Trump and “Russia” were hanging by this single thread, a thread which had already been weakened by statements by Assange himself and several reporters, albeit almost exclusively “alternative” journalists.
The account you give, Joe, also has another preterition which strikes me as quite significant. The VIPS team investigating the alleged “hack” of the DNC computer did much more than challenge the link between Russia and Guccifer 2.0, a link which was even at that time already seen to be quite tenuous, they also established that the DNC data could not have been “hacked” at all because the materials retained evidence that they were downloaded at speeds too fast to have been done anywhere offsite, and especially anywhere as far away as Russia. They must therefore have been downloaded directly from the DNC server by someone who had access to it.
That this was in fact the case was also confirmed, first by Assange himself, who claimed explicitly that the materials were “not hacked but leaked and then delivered” to him, presumably via a thumb drive, as well as by a woman who visited Assange at the time — whose name unfortunately escapes me at present — who also made a public statement that Assange had told her during her visit to the embassy that the actual source of the leaked materials was indeed, — as many of us had suspected from the large Wikileaks rewards for the capture of his murders alone, — Seth Rich, which, of course, would also nicely explain why Rich was murdered, namely, to ensure that he could never refute the CIA/DNC lies that the Russians had fed the DNC materials to Wikileaks via Guccifer 2.0 to help Trump defeat Clinton in the then upcoming presidential election.
All in all, then, I see my account of what happened, which, of course, is shared by many others who have examined the matter, is much more plausible than the one provided in the new Yahoo News account, which, just as Joe shows in detail, is replete with other inaccuracies and falsehoods as well.
The Yahoo piece says the CIA decided against using a fake online persona in 2017. The Guccifer 2.0 incident was in 2016. So the question of whether Guccifer 2.0 was a CIA construct in 2016 or not is left open. Your comment is thus based on a misreading of that section. The woman who visited Assange was Margaret Ratner Kuntsler, who in no way named Seth Rich, another error in your comment. She said Assange told her someone within the DNC was the source, but never named that person. There is absolute no proof about who killed Rich or why.
Excellent write up, Joe. Now if only someone in power would pay attention to it.
Surely Mr. Lauria must know that this article will appear to most readers as a CIA gaslight to discredit the Dorfman et al. article in Yahoo. He surely understands that most Americans view CIA’s efforts to persecute Assange as being as unjustified as military drone strikes on innocents. Elberg, Assange, and Snowden have ripped the curtain off the CIA Oz machine and made it clear that it and DOD and FBI operate outside the laws they are supposed to abide by. In other words, I doubt that this article has achieved anything besides validating the Yahoo article regardless of inaccuracies and other warts. Sometimes it is better to let a sleeping dog lie.
If one reads the article and not just the headline they won’t get the impression you are talking about.
To the Editor,
Thanks to Joe Lauria for this much appreciated piece.
On Friday, 10/1/21 I faxed Merrick Garland my concerns over how this country treats whistleblowers/journalists and why the Yahoo/Pompeo revelations impel the Justice Dept to withdraw the charges against Assange.
Merrick B. Garland
Attorney General of the United States
Dear General Garland,
According to a recent Yahoo article, former CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, embarrassed by Wikileaks revelations of government crimes, used (abused) his office to go after journalist, Julian Assange, apparently with no holds barred. Assange exposed criminal wrongdoing done in our name with our tax dollars. Those “hidden” crimes have been excused as “necessary” by our government, in the fight against “terrorism”.
But that wasn’t true from the beginning. And people are beginning to catch on, I think. The welcome light shone by Assange and other whistleblowers who have been wrongly punished along with the evidence from our recent military pull out from Afghanistan, leaving that unfortunate country in shambles after 20 years of bombing and droning, have, I think increased public awareness that $trillions have been diverted into the pockets of the war machine away from the critical issues here at home – pandemic preparedness, climate stabilization, a functioning healthcare system, a functioning infrastructure and other critical needs of the working people of this country, many of whom cannot afford the necessities of life.
When the JFK School at Harvard withdrew Chelsea Mannings honorary degree, a few years back, I emailed about 200 associates there with my concerns over their buckling to the threats of Pompeo and Moran.
I heard back from only one, a woman who tried to shut me up with the words “National Security”…..hmmmm…..
This country is in trouble.
Retired CIA intelligence analyst, Ray McGovern who gave the PDB to JFK through GHWB has perceptively renamed Eisenhower’s MIC: the “MICIMATT” – military, industrial, congressional, intelligence, media, academia, think tank complex. I got a taste of the “academia” part with their shameful treatment of Chelsea Manning.
The shift away from the New Deal economy diverting excessive wealth to the top is the domestic side of the two pronged siphoning of wealth away from the vast majority of working people in this country. The evidence creeps out – recently two Federal Reserve Bank CEO’s resigned when they were caught trading $millions in financial contracts, including highly leveraged S&P 500 futures while they were privy to non public information. I wasn’t a Vice CHM at Goldman, like the president of the Dallas Fed, but just an SEC Series VII authorized broker at a regional firm and well aware of the rules on “insider trading” and “know your customer”.
Julian is not being hounded for his exposure of domestic crimes but the crimes that expose the wrongdoing of secretive , rogue, government agencies who operate under the cover of “national security” as defined by those who benefit from a self-serving definition of what it means because the way it’s used has not served the vast majority of the people of this country very well at all. The profiteers and the institutions that serve them have been the benefactors, IMO.
And I think that the disillusioned people who voted con man Trump into office had lost trust in the establishment of the two major parties. Some of them would have voted for Sanders because they trusted him to tell them the truth. Trump “borrowed” Sanders’ rhetoric to trick voters into believing he represented their interests. People are understandably discouraged.
If you put your foot down and withdraw the self serving, Pompeo initiated charges on Assange, I believe it would help restore confidence in our government, proving that our Justice Department has the courage and integrity to hold wrongdoers to account while protecting those who serve the public interest. It will give the people of this country confidence that our justice system serves all of us.
Thanks very much.
Retired institutional municipal bond salesperson
Retired Democratic election judge and precinct chair
chorush1 (at) gmail.com
Added to the piece:
The identity of Guccifer 2.0 as a front for the Russians has also been challenged, including by Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). The Yahoo! article confirms that the CIA has fake online personas in its arsenal, but decided against using it to disrupt WikiLeaks a year later. “Inventing a cyber persona to gain the group’s confidence, was quickly dismissed as unlikely to succeed because the senior WikiLeaks figures were so security-conscious, according to former intelligence officials,” the article says.
This is by far the most complete analysis of the ‘Big Exposure’ from Yahoo. And while I am thrilled to see that finally the mainstream media is publishing some truths, they still (Yahoo) haven’t received crucial facts as you perfectly and systematically point out.
Thank you Joe Lauria for publishing this urgent read! And for continuing to speak truth to power in the righteous and necessary format!
Why isn’t this superb piece published on The Guardian’s website? Oh… obviously… that’s why not. Imagine The Guardian admitting its own central role in getting Assange arrested and imprisoned!
Thank fuck! The always reliable Consortium News unpacks the disinformation in the YAHOO story that everyone is raving about – the message to supporters is, always always read critically. Compare many sources … look for proof.
I must say I was shocked at the way so many of our respected alternative news sources and individuals lauded this ‘breaking news’ article so enthusiastically without pointing out the obvious flaws – because these ‘flaws’ leave intact the idea that Assange IS a criminal, they just should not have gone after him illegally – ‘legally’ is quite ok however.
Thank you, Mr. Lauria. This is a very meaty article – Russia(shmussia)gate, CIA assassination plots, the irrational hatred of some Dems for Mr. Assange. Thank you very much!
A worthy piece — the bullshit in reporting on Assange needs to be exposed in detail.
Yahoo is obviously compromised as a journalistic outlet, even if its revelations are useful.
This review was very informative to me. It sounds like the case against Julian might be dropped, in line with what happened with the Meng Wanzhou deportation case and the war in Afghnistan. Then Biden hopefully will focus on positive and useful projects at home.
Upon reading the Yahoo piece, I immediately grokked a lot of what you have written here. But not all, and you put it together so well. A huge applause to ConsortiumNews. Geez, I thought I was going to have to write something along the lines of what you wrote, not nearly as detailed and solid, but nobody would print it if I did . Thank you.
Great article, Joe. Thank you for enduring the suffering and privation an honest journalist must endure just to work in these neo-feudal United States.
I know it’s not a journalistic tenet to discuss ones own experience, but could you write an article about what it’s like being an actual journalist in a nation where the Fourth Estate is wholly owned by the absolute worst and wealthiest segments of society, and where the vast bulk of your peers operate as mercenaries for the powerful and against the public interest, where telling the truth is a financial death sentence because Silicon Valley oligarchs engage in systematic algorithmic censorship and are now performing outright censorship of factually correct information?
I can’t presently think of any other profession in which most workers are providing the exact opposite of what their duties are purported to be. US news media have become almost exclusively paid public relations and thus the manipulation (or outright fabrication) of facts to produce falsity of opinion.
Maybe Consortium News will get a condemnatory Wikipedia page filled with false accusations, updated by the minute, like The Greyzone has.
?Without a Free Press there can be no Democracy”
Masterfully done, Joe L. Or should I say undone? The undoing of the latest yahoo narrative being an opportunity to set the record straight, work-in new puzzle pieces plus advance CN’s fine reporting on these issues.
I still wonder though whether Justice has been un-blindfolded only to have both eyes stabbed out. Some lawyers in the upper echelons saved the day by refusing to countenance the Agency’s plots and thus hewing to the legal route? To preserve the integrity of a bogus indictment?
It seems bizarre that Truman raised the specter of an intelligence agency gone rogue as a “symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue”. Wasn’t that the actual basis of its founding under Dulles ferreting Nazis into the “homeland”? Not to mention its domestic meddling over the decades. Still waiting for the JFK papers.
Are mob-like hit-man fantasies Agency grist for the Hollywood mill to further deceive the public? Or does film-world so infect Spookdom that its darkest plots are rife with schlock & predictable banality? So many chickens & eggs to sort.
“Without a Free Press, there can be no Democracy”
We can therefore obviously conclude that there is NO democracy anywhere in the ‘west’.
In the UK the Craig Murray case, and subsequent jailing, was based on the ‘legal’ ruling that alternative news sources are NOT journalistic and therefore not protected by law in the same way as the MSM. This means that CN, for example, is not considered part of the ‘real’ press.
“‘EVERYTHING the filthy Press publishes is a lie.’, Emile Zola, 1898”
Thank you for this.
Bravo, Joe. A terrific piece. ray
Absolutely brilliant piece Joe thank you.
An excellent analysis which deserves wide readership.