The Department of Justice has unsealed new charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Unlike the previous indictment—which focused narrowly on an apparent offer to help crack a password—the 17 superseding counts focus instead on alleged violations of the Espionage Act.
Yes, the same Espionage Act that was clearly violated by Hillary Clinton — a crime this same DoJ twisted itself into pretzels to ignore— is now being enforced in a way that any sober-thinking person recognizes as a legitimate threat to a free press.
The indictment alleges that Assange published classified information over a dozen times, an act expressly forbidden by the Espionage Act, which Congress first passed in 1917. But the Espionage Act has only rarely, and never successfully, been applied to the recipient of a leak. This is, in fact, the first time in the history of our country the government has gone after a publisher as opposed to a leaker, which makes sense seeing as how the leaker is the one sworn to protect the information.
The Trump administration’s position that the Espionage Act should apply here would have immediate and broadly-felt repercussions far beyond WikiLeaks. Because regardless of one’s personal feelings on Assange, the acts at the heart of this latest indictment are ultimately acts of journalism, albeit reckless acts in many cases.
Today’s charges deal specifically with incidents that occurred in 2009 and 2010, during the Obama administration. The attorney general at the time, Eric Holder, passed on these same charges for specifically because of the precedent it would set, although one should be hesitant to hand him a freedom award for doing so. The fact is, these types of situations have arisen several times over the course of our nation’s history, pertaining to everything from the PRISM program to the Pentagon Papers, and prosecution was withheld because of what it could mean for journalism moving forward. Holder was merely following tradition.
John Demers, who leads the Justice Department’s National Security Division, attempted to justify the departure from First Amendment protections by drawing a distinction between Assange and traditional media outlets. “Some say that Assange is a journalist, and that he should be immune from prosecution for these actions. The department takes serious the role of journalists in our democracy,” Demers said. “It is not and has never been the department’s policy to target them for reporting. But Julian Assange is no journalist.”
The DoJ is focusing on Assange’s release of government sources as the predicate for their prosecution, specifically the lives he endangered in China, Iraq and Syria. My regular readers probably recall my calling out Assange for reckless acts such as these. Let me be clear: I am no fan of Julian Assange. He’s very anti-American and often plays around with information for which he can’t begin to understand the consequences of throwing around.
But there is a bigger picture at play here, one far more important than the schadenfreude of seeing karma visited upon someone who wouldn’t lose sleep over my brothers and sisters being killed.
Intelligence is an inherently dangerous business. It deals with information that is by its very nature sensitive, and thus those tasked with its protection must be disciplined, competent and loyal to the country they serve. While it no doubt drives government officials crazy to see classified info released into the ether, it is ultimately the responsibility of the government to safeguard it.
If messages are to be sent regarding tightening our security, they must be sent to the intelligence community, not the recipients of leaks. Whistleblower protections must be robustly maintained so that corruption can be exposed with relative efficiency while illegal and reckless leaks are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
But once information escapes the SCIF, we simply have to accept that it will be published and work to mitigate whatever damage is to come. Because while it may be easy for some to applaud Assange’s comeuppance —especially those of us in the intel community— what is left to protect the work of a John Solomon or Sara Carter? Who at the DoJ should be declared the arbiter of whether they are “journalists”?
The slippery slope is clear for anyone to see in this case, but I would argue that it’s not a bug of these indictments, but a feature. The truth is, the government isn’t trying to thread a needle between prosecuting Assange and avoiding a bad precedent that endangers future journalists. The truth is, this is meant to set that very precedent, and one need to look no further than their current target to understand why.
Assange isn’t being prosecuted for endangering the lives of sources. The government couldn’t give less of a damn about those people, especially not a decade later. Assange had to be taken out because he went after politicians. He gave a peek behind the curtains of people we already knew were corrupt, but just didn’t have the documentary evidence to show it. Assange presents a unique sort of threat that those in power shudder to contemplate; a way to present the naked emperor in a way and time completely out of their control.
And what of those mainstream journalists who have spent the last three years screaming from the top of their lungs about the threat President Trump poses to a free press? Their condemnations of these indictments have been milquetoast at best, despite the threat level reaching imminence they’d only fear-mongered about on nightly cable news shows.
And why is that, exactly? For the same reason, of course. So-called journalists were among those exposed by WikiLeaks in 2016 and beyond. As we’ve seen from the Russia narrative and countless other propaganda operations, the legacy media is little more than a bureaucratic partner of what has come to be known as the “Deep State.” When Jim Comey put a fake dossier into an official Presidential Daily Brief, CNN reported on it the same day. It’s that type of partnership that stands to be exposed by the likes of Julian Assange, and it must be protected at all costs.
I’m certain that PDT hasn’t played an active role in what is happening with Assange, but it would behove him to reverse that trend. If he truly wants to drain the swamp, he must understand that the first step is to combat its monopoly on information. Trump and Assange are on the same team whether he likes it or not, as the DoJ has targeted them both for the same reason — they both represent existential threats to the corrupt machine.
I love my country more than I despise Julian Assange, and that is why he must be left alone.
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