I look forward to the upcoming trials of Julian Assange on charges of hacking and probably ultimately to include rape. Joe Gandelman has a small link round-up.
The only other observation I have to make is that Mr. Assange appears to be an obnoxious son-of-a-gun.
The editors of the Washington Post argue that Assange is no journalist:
Mr. Assange is not a free-press hero. Yes, WikiLeaks acquired and published secret government documents, many of them newsworthy, as shown by their subsequent use in newspaper articles (including in The Post). Contrary to the norms of journalism, however, Mr. Assange sometimes obtained such records unethically — including, according to a separate federal indictment unsealed Thursday, by trying to help now-former U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning hack into a classified U.S. computer system.
Also unlike real journalists, WikiLeaks dumped material into the public domain without any effort independently to verify its factuality or give named individuals an opportunity to comment. Nor, needless to say, would a real journalist have cooperated with a plot by an authoritarian regime’s intelligence service to harm one U.S. presidential candidate and benefit another.
That’s very much what a trial will determine and why I support that. However, their remarks are not without irony: the WaPo is presently being sued for a failure to verify the factuality of reports they made.
In his Washington Post column David Ignatius remarks:
Because Assange hasn’t shown “calibrated judgment” about what information to share with readers, he isn’t acting as a journalist, Kendall told me. As for the prosecutors’ allegation that Assange facilitated Manning’s hacking of classified information, Kendall added: “People in the press typically are not burglars.”
Lincoln Caplan, a Yale Law scholar who has written widely about journalism, said in an interview that there’s an important distinction between “curating” information, as reporters do, and “dumping” it, as has often been WikiLeaks’ practice.
An intriguing footnote to the Assange case is that as part of a failed plea-bargain negotiation with the Justice Department in 2017, he offered to help vet some highly classified CIA files that WikiLeaks was publishing in a document dump known as “Vault 7.” As I wrote last September, this “risk mitigation” discussion collapsed after WikiLeaks revealed some especially sensitive CIA hacking techniques.
Perhaps Mr. Assange’s trial will shed some light on who is and who is not a journalist.
The editors of the Wall Street Journal point out:
The single-count federal indictment charges that he conspired with then-Army intelligence analyst Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning to commit computer intrusion. The indictment says he offered to help Ms. Manning crack a password stored on Defense Department computers connected to a “U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications.”
It’s notable, and welcome, that Mr. Assange isn’t being charged under the Espionage Act of 1917. Journalists including those at the Wall Street Journal sometimes feel the duty to disclose information in the public interest that governments would rather keep secret. Indicting Mr. Assange merely for releasing classified information could have set a precedent that prosecutors might have used in the future against journalists.
It’s not clear when Mr. Assange will answer to an American court. On Thursday after his arrest, a British court found him guilty of jumping bail, which could land him in jail for a year. There also remains a rape allegation in Sweden. The woman who accused him is now asking Swedish prosecutors to reopen an investigation they dropped in 2017 on grounds that there was nothing Sweden could do given that Mr. Assange was holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy.
Despite his many apologists, Mr. Assange has never been a hero of transparency or democratic accountability. His targets always seem to be democratic institutions or governments, not authoritarians. If he really is such a defender of transparency, he should have no fear of a trial to defend his methods.
I don’t know that the various journalists commenting on this case recognize what thin ice they are skating on. Conspiracy covers a lot of territory.
I also find it rather bizarre that we’re talking about trying someone when the sentence of the individual found guilty of the overt act has already been commuted.