Anything on this website containing the word Assange is handily gathered here. There’s quite a lot.
But my musings are as naught compared to the new piece on Mr A by Raffi Khatchadourian in the New Yorker. Fair’s fair. When American journalists are let loose on a big subject they deliver BIG. This piece weighs in at comfortably over 22,000 words. Anyone in decades to come who is minded to ponder the life and times of Assange and Wikileaks will struggle to find a better place to start.
The piece grapples with issues that are painfully contentious and contentiously painful for the liberal-left elite who read the New Yorker. Notably these:
Assange plunders and releases important US national secrets? Good!
But he doesn’t plunder and release important Russian/Chinese secrets? Hmm – hard to say. But marginally more good than bad, as Moscow and Beijing stand tall against patriarchal Western neo-imperialism!
Assange plunders and releases all sorts of Democratic Party and Hillary emails, but not Republican/Trump emails? Bad!
Assange is somehow in cahoots with the Russians? Good if he’s releasing vital US state secrets to expose imperialism! Bad if he’s doing it to help Trump!
Assange is wanted in Sweden for assaulting a woman? Good! All women alleging male assault must always be believed! Bad! It’s a Western imperialist set-up!
But it also touches on unpleasant dilemmas for US Republicans:
Assange leaks key US secrets? VERY BAD!
Assange hurts Hillary? Wait … VERY GOOD!
The article tries to tip-toe through this minefield. It reaches two notable conclusions:
Is Sweden’s extradition request all part of a US plot? No.
If you did not want to see Assange involved in an ugly sex-crimes investigation, the idea that the real issue was geopolitics had an immediate appeal; in 2010, the British journalist and activist Jemima Khan, an early celebrity supporter, noted that the allegations were “highly suspicious.”
But Assange’s argument made little sense. The Swedish extradition process requires the approval of the nation’s Supreme Court; thus, the scenario that Assange was proposing—a geopolitical plot to use his sex-crimes case as a pretext to deliver him to the United States—would require at least three high justices to act as conspirators.
If this were not reason enough for skepticism, under the rules governing European arrest warrants Sweden could not extradite Assange to the U.S. without British approval; in other words, shipping him to Stockholm would only add a layer of bureaucratic obstacles for Washington….
Another one of these [US] officials told me, “The allegation swirling out there that somehow this was dreamed up by the Americans to get him to Sweden, so he could end up back in America—”. He stopped and exhaled.
“Think about where this was happening. He is in the U.K.—our absolute closest partner with respect to all things intelligence-gathering. And the perception that somehow Sweden was a place that American officials would want him, as opposed to the U.K., is on its face so ludicrous. The first link that people are making in this argument, which is not true, falls apart right there. It really was not a thing.”
Strip away all the blather and propaganda from the Assange/Wikileaks position on Sweden’s extradition request, and it does indeed come down to this: Is there any good reason to think a malevolent Washington bent on getting its hands on Assange would rather have him in Sweden than London? No.
Is Assange in cahoots with the Russians? Probably.
The article’s analysis of this issue runs on at formidable if not wearying length, drilling down into lots of detail about the sequence and mysterious origins of successive leaks of Democrat material and who said what about it all at the time. Eventually it gets down to the meat of the thing:
In our many conversations about the election, the most striking thing was Assange’s emotion: the frustration he expressed when faced with suggestions that his material was linked to Russian intelligence, or the way he shook his fist when he insisted that he had been robbed of credit. But his protestations that there were no connections between his publications and Russia were untenable…
The phishing attacks that targeted all of the staffers in the spring, and that targeted Podesta, are forensically linked; they originated from a single identifiable cybermechanism, like form letters from the same typewriter. SecureWorks, a cybersecurity firm with no ties to the Democratic Party, made this assessment, and it is uncontested. Speaking with Assange, I explained that I would have to acknowledge this. He nodded, and said nothing…
Assange once told me that he did not “accept” the allegation that Russia had provided him e-mails through a third party, which of course was different from saying that the allegation was untrue. I asked if he was even able to know the chain of custody of his election material before it came to him. He declined to answer.
It probably did not matter. When he was at Ellingham Hall, a guest once asked what he would do if he learned that intelligence agencies were using WikiLeaks as “laundry” for information warfare. “If it’s true information, we don’t care where it comes from,” he said. “Let people fight with the truth, and when the bodies are cleared there will be bullets of truth everywhere.”
Ah, now you’re talking! What if Assange leaks things that are (a) true and (b) highly embarrassing about one US political party but not the other? Is that Good because the revelations are true/accurate, or Bad because it’s not fair or otherwise part of some murky agenda?
Such an assertion, made so blithely, should be troubling to any WikiLeaks supporter. Standing up to the powerful is one thing. Facilitating conflicts among the powerful is another. To argue that it makes no difference is a license for impunity.
Assange created WikiLeaks to diminish institutional abuse. But there is no way to be certain that a broker for geopolitical influence campaigns among states would not increase the over-all levels of abuse (augmenting, in this case, the Kremlin’s power at the expense of Washington’s). Or start a war. Or provide states that are more powerful, more skilled in secrecy, with a way to become even stronger.
State-sponsored information warfare is nothing like what activist hackers and whistle-blowers do. The latter take personal risks—with their freedom, and their reputation—to release information that matters to them.
For a state, there is no personal risk, no courage, and the content may not even be terribly important. The release of a huge archive filled with arcana and gossip carries its own symbolic weight, especially during a moment of political volatility: an institution that seems permeable does not seem strong—and an institution with secrets looks duplicitous, no matter how benign the secrets may be. This is something that Russian intelligence appeared to understand: the leak is the message.
Maybe. But the Russians are strolling through an open door thanks to the banal e-security of almost anyone who moves in Washington. And it’s not easy for the Democrats/Hillary to hoot that it’s just not fair that their misdeeds have been revealed but not the other side’s. That sounds like (and of course is) a clumsy ploy to deflect attention from the embarrassing substance of the revelations, using school playground logic: I’ve been naughty but they were naughty too so you can’t blame me! ‘Snot fair!
Assange’s provocations—his indifference to facilitating information warfare, his willingness to pay for secrets, his encouraging millennials to take C.I.A. internships as “whistle-blowing opportunities”—were recasting the difficult moral act of exposing institutional abuse as something that began to look like espionage.
When the Trump Administration’s Justice Department began a campaign to crack down on leaks, Assange had so politicized his position that he had lost the authority to speak convincingly on the matter—even though he had in many ways redefined the conversation about whistle-blowers. “He has done damage to the whole movement of digital rights,” a former supporter told me, asking for anonymity out of fear of reprisal, like many others who did not want to identify themselves…
The more his public influence took on the features of populism, the more Assange was forced to accept the support of people no matter their views.
George Gittoes told me about seeing an Australian newspaper headline announcing that Pauline Hanson, a politician known for anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views, had declared her support for Assange. “She’s a monster,” Gittoes said. “I got onto Julian real fast. I said, ‘This is no good.’ And he said, ‘But she’s the first politician to support me! I don’t like going against my one supporter.’ ”
Later, from Afghanistan, Gittoes explained the complexity of his own support for Assange: “His thinking on Trump is beyond my comprehension, but I can give him the benefit of the doubt on that because the whole Trump phenomenon is so fluid. The reason why I support Julian and see him as an inspiration is very simple. He proves that one individual can still stand up against the powers we all feel oppressed by.”
Thanks to Julian Assange we puny Western members of the public now have an acute problem.
Are we oppressed by our own governments that are at least in some ways practically accountable, and are paid by us to uphold our interests?
Or even if that’s true, perhaps we are even more oppressed by non-Western governments meddling with our public life by slipping our own state secrets to a manipulable fanatic armed with nothing but a laptop and his own monstrous vanity?