An entry in something the government calls a “Manhunting Timeline” suggests that the United States pressured officials of countries around the world to prosecute WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, in 2010.
The file—marked unclassified, revealed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and published by The Intercept—is dated August 2010. Under the headline, “United States, Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Iceland” – it states:
The United States on 10 August urged other nations with forces in Afghanistan, including Australia, United Kingdom and Germany, to consider filing criminal charges against Julian Assange, founder of the rogue WikiLeaks Internet website and responsible for the unauthorized publication of over 70,000 classified documents covering the war in Afghanistan. The documents may have been provided to WikiLeaks by Army Private First Class Bradley Manning. The appeal exemplifies the start of an international effort to focus the legal element of national power upon non-state actor Assange and the human network that supports WikiLeaks.
Another document—a top-secret page from an internal wiki—indicates there has been discussion in the NSA with the Threat Operations Center Oversight and Compliance (NOC) and Office of General Counsel (OGC) on the legality of designating WikiLeaks a “malicious foreign actor” and whether this would make it permissible to conduct surveillance on Americans accessing the website.
“Can we treat a foreign server who stores or potentially disseminates leaked or stolen data on its server as a ‘malicious foreign actor’ for the purpose of targeting with no defeats?” Examples: WikiLeaks, thepiratebay.org). The NOC/OGC answered, “Let me get back to you.” (The page does not indicate if anyone ever got back to the NSA. And “defeats” essentially means protections.)
GCHQ, the NSA’s counterpart in the UK, had a program called “ANTICRISIS GIRL,” which could engage in “targeted website monitoring.” This means data of hundreds of users accessing a website, like WikiLeaks, could be collected. The IP addresses of readers and supporters could be monitored. The agency could even target the publisher if it had a public dropbox or submission system. NSA and GCHQ could also target the foreign “branches” of the hacktivist group, Anonymous.
An answer to another question from the wiki entry involves the question, “Is it okay to query against a foreign server known to be malicious even if there is a possibility that US persons could be using it as well? Example: thepiratebay.org.” The NOC/OGC responded, “Okay to go after foreign servers which US people use also (with no defeats). But try to minimize to ‘post’ only for example to filter out non-pertinent information.”
WikiLeaks is not an example in this question, however, if it was designated as a “malicious foreign actor,” then the NSA would do queries of American users.
In fact, this is how the NOC/OGC would respond to allegations that Americans who visit WikiLeaks had been illegally or inappropriately targeted:
Those living outside the US have no protections. Though there is no “terrorism” being investigated here, US intelligence agencies believe they would have the authority to collect data on any person who visits these websites, like WikiLeaks and The Pirate Bay. Of course, since the US partners with intelligence agencies (for example, the “Five Eyes Club”), that data could easily make it back to the government of the country where the targeted foreigners live and the government could use that data against those persons.
Assange, who was granted asylum from Ecuador and has been living in the country’s embassy in the UK for over 600 days, said on “Democracy Now!”, “Finally we have some proof we can present to the public for what we’ve long suspected.” He said this was espionage against a publisher, and he was surprised at how someone could be added to a “foreign malicious actor” list so the government could avoid checks and target a “human network” of people in the US.
The NSA, when asked by the Intercept, explained the entry on prosecuting Assange as a “summary derived from a 2010 article” in the Daily Beast. This article quote anonymous US officials who said, “The Obama administration is pressing Britain, Germany, Australia, and other allied Western governments to consider opening criminal investigations of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and to severely limit his nomadic travels across international borders.”
It does not use strong language like focus the “legal element of national power.” This is a convenient statement to obfuscate involvement in an act of targeting the editor-in-chief of a media organization, which was engaged in by numerous US government agencies in 2010. After publication of the Afghanistan war logs (US military incident reports from Afghanistan), the US government wanted to shut WikiLeaks down.
There is no real evidence that the US government has indicted or secretly charged Assange or any other staffers from WikiLeaks, however, that does not mean that Assange’s fear of prosecution has not been further validated by these documents.
Michael Ratner, a lawyer from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) who represents WikiLeaks, said on “Democracy Now!”, this shows he has every reason to fear what would happen if he set foot outside of the embassy. The files show some of the extent to which the US and UK have tried to destroy WikiLeaks.
CCR added in a statement, “These NSA documents should make people understand why Julian Assange was granted diplomatic asylum, why he must be given safe passage to Ecuador, and why he must keep himself out of the hands of the United States and apparently other countries as well. These revelations only corroborate the expectation that Julian Assange is on a US target list for prosecution under the archaic “Espionage Act,” for what is nothing more than publishing evidence of government misconduct.”
“These documents demonstrate that the political persecution of WikiLeaks is very much alive,”Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish former judge who now represents the group, told The Intercept. “The paradox is that Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks organization are being treated as a threat instead of what they are: a journalist and a media organization that are exercising their fundamental right to receive and impart information in its original form, free from omission and censorship, free from partisan interests, free from economic or political pressure.”
Government personnel in spy agencies in GCHQ and the NSA spent some of their time in at least 2010 monitoring the movements and activities of Assange as they would a terrorist or drug trafficker. He was subject to resources and personnel who commit themselves to “manhunts” in which people are located, prosecuted, captured or killed. (Alarmingly, Palestinian leaders are included in this “Manhunting Timeline” too, which Palestinians might like to know more about.)
The government’s investigation into WikiLeaks has been ongoing and still continues. Despite the claims of anonymous government officials, if the government does not intend to prosecute Assange or any other member of WikiLeaks, why is there a grand jury investigation still ongoing in Alexandria, Virginia? Why are people like Jesselyn Radack, one of Snowden’s lawyers, interrogated by Heathrow Airport Border Force agents about their meetings with Assange?
The Obama administration has been content to maintain a cloud of fear over WikiLeaks. That the government believed WikiLeaks had committed crimes enabled companies like PayPal, Visa and MasterCard to enact a blockade that cut off donations to WikiLeaks. Individuals like Tor software developer Jacob Appelbaum have been stopped multiple times by Homeland Security agents while traveling because of his ties to Assange and WikiLeaks. Laptops have allegedly been stolen from Assange. The US government’s surveillance and harassment of these people has convinced various others to distance themselves from the organization. (More documents published yesterday by journalist Alexa O’Brien show aspects of this effort.)
James Goodale, former New York Times legal counsel who argued the Pentagon Papers case, has argued Obama has tried to succeed where Richard Nixon failed by making the “news gathering entities in this country and reporters criminally liable for what they do when they gather the news. This would mean that the government will define the terms in which reporters and publishers can gather and publish the news, and we will lose that ability to do that ourselves or publishers will lose the ability to do that under the First Amendment.”
There is no appreciation in intelligence agencies of the fact that WikiLeaks is a publisher—deserving of the same protections as The New York Times or The Washington Post.
Furthermore, one might ask if it was a crime for WikiLeaks to hold documents that are a product of unauthorized disclosures on a server, what is happening now with the Times or Post? Has the NSA and GCHQ targeted their servers to see if they could somehow unearth some of the documents from Snowden that might soon be published?
As Ratner said, the “Manhunting Timeline” seems to implicate individuals in a manner reminiscent of the FBI’s COINTELPRO. They understood they had to prosecute leaders of the black civil rights movement in any way they could to neutralize it and maintain the status quo of Jim Crow laws and other policies of segregation. Today, the NSA and other partnered intelligence agencies are working to neutralize (evidently, in addition to Palestinian leaders), key people involved in the information and Internet freedom movements—those who are willing to engage in varying acts of civil disobedience or nonviolent resistance to challenge gross secrecy concealing massive corruption—as well as publishers of this material.
WikiLeaks has always known that in operating its media organization it would have to deal with powerful organizations like the NSA, which do not adhere to the rule of law. These files from Snowden simply affirm the posture of the organization as one very wary of what the US might do next to stifle its ability to operate.
Julian Assange on “Democracy Now!” this morning: