by Carlos Fazio
With its singularities and in the era of cyberspace, the case of Julian Assange is intertwined with that of Flores Magón 100 years later, both being accused by the United States of espionage and sedition. In 2010, Assange and his WikiLeaks colleagues humiliated the US Cyberspace Command by leaking more than 250,000 secret official documents from the State Department and the Pentagon, which showed the thin line between diplomacy and espionage -that is, the use of US embassies to gather useful information for the CIA-, and videos from 2007 of US helicopter pilots shooting Iraqi civilians, including children, and two journalists from the British agency Reuters. Also 2,080 thousand cables sent from the US Interests Section in Havana on the practice of torture of prisoners in Camp X-Ray at the Guantanamo naval base.
Partnering with five major newspapers: The New York Times (NYT), The Guardian, El País, Le Monde and Der Spiegel –and using leaks as a strategy–, Assange and WikiLeaks’ blow to US imperial policy was devastating, eroding its ability to tame and silence the mainstream media, a power on which its hegemony and domination has always been based. WikiLeaks then won the first great battle of the information age against the propaganda mechanisms that the US and its allies had used since the Cold War era to influence, control and coerce the entire planet.
Faced with the global tsunami of commentary around cablegate (the Watergate of cables), the US attacked the messenger so that everyone would forget the message and turned Assange into a villain. Since then, the US has tried to silence, extradite and eliminate Assange, accusing him of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, in collusion with Chelsea Manning, because he agreed to get the password of a US government computer to obtain classified documents, an accusation for which Assange could be sentenced to 175 years in prison.
After publishing the documents, the NYT, The Guardian and the other three media joined a smear campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks, according to the guidelines set out in a leaked Pentagon document prepared by the Cyber Counterintelligence Assessment area. The document instructed the U.S. government to destroy the sense of trust that was – and is – the center of gravity of WikiLeaks, with the aim of silencing and criminalizing the media and Assange. The Justice Department drew up charges of espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, theft of state property and fraud and information abuse (hacking of files),” and in 2015, a federal court in Washington blocked the dissemination of any information about the WikiLeaks investigation on national security grounds.
In addition to exposing the war crimes and criminal lies and manipulations of George W. Bush’s administration, Assange drew the wrath of the Democratic Party by publishing 70,000 hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and officials of Barack Obama’s administration, such as John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. The emails revealed the donation of millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and Qatar –two of the main financiers of the Islamic State– to the Clinton Foundation; the 657 thousand dollars that Goldman Sachs paid to Clinton to give conferences (a sum that can only be considered a bribe), and emails that exposed her as the main architect of the war in Libya. With the intention of blaming Russia for her electoral loss to Donald Trump in 2016, the Democratic leadership accused that Podesta’s emails were obtained by hackers from Moscow, although James Comey, former FBI director, admitted that they were probably delivered to WikiLeaks by an intermediary.
WikiLeaks also disclosed the hacking tools used by the CIA and the National Security Agency and their interference in foreign elections such as the French one. Another WikiLeaks contributor, Edward Snowden, exposed the general surveillance of the U.S. public by U.S. intelligence agencies. His leaks also revealed that Assange was on a US hit list. That is, he was a military target for extermination by the Pentagon and the CIA. In 2021, Yahoo News revealed a CIA and White House plot (in 2017), to kidnap or kill Assange, which was ratified by WikiLeaks director Kristinn Hrafnsson. In August 2022, journalists and Assange’s lawyers sued the CIA and its former director Mike Pompeo for spying on them during their conversations with him at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. They alleged that their conversations were recorded and the contents of their phones and laptops secretly copied.
In the Assange case, truth plays an important role. When former defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg handed over to 17 U.S. newspapers the so-called Pentagon Papers – a top secret report by the Johnson administration related to the Vietnam War – the NYT claimed that they showed, among other things, that the administration had systematically lied to the public and Congress about a major and important issue of national interest. The Supreme Court allowed the newspaper to publish the Pentagon Papers, a ruling that has been called a modern pillar of the First Amendment rights of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the creation of any law that abridges freedom of speech or infringes on freedom of the press. The Assange case is almost identical.
After seven years of asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Assange was arrested in 2019 by the British police and transferred to Belmarsh prison (the English Guantanamo), where he has been subjected to psychological torture. In 2022 the British Court accepted the US pleas for his extradition, and if it is consummated he will have to face espionage charges. As in the case of Flores Magón, the Assange case shows the use of the US and British judiciary to persecute, imprison and condemn rebels and critics of the system of capitalist domination. In both cases freedom of expression was criminalized.
This piece was published in La Jornada on November 28, 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/11/28/opinion/024a1pol English translation by Schools for Chiapas.