Recent statements by U.S. government officials seem to indicate that leaks published by WikiLeaks warrant persecution of the leaks’ publisher, while those leaks published by the Washington Post or the New York Times are evidently not worth prosecuting over.
MINNEAPOLIS– In his first speech as CIA Director, Mike Pompeo delivered a strong invective against the pro-transparency organization WikiLeaks, accusing the group of acting as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” The aggressive rhetoric came amid Wikileaks’ latest series of releases, known as “Vault 7,” which detail how the CIA has lost control of its cyber-warfare arsenal, as well as outline the agency’s attempts to infect consumer technology products with spyware.
While Pompeo’s statements regarding WikiLeaks have made headlines since he took the CIA position, much has happened in the two weeks since his remarks. Within a week, CNN – citing anonymous “intelligence community” sources – announced that the Justice Department, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was seeking the arrest of Wikileaks editor Julian Assange. According to the report, the department had found a way to legally charge Assange for the publishing of classified information.
Sessions all but confirmed the CNN report soon after stating that arresting Assange was a “priority.” Trump, who only six months ago stated his “love” for WikiLeaks during a campaign speech, told the Associated Press a day later that arresting Assange is “OK with me.”
Assange had yet to fully respond to the charges until just recently, responding to the Trump administration’s stance on WikiLeaks only in tweets. But on Tuesday, Assange gave voice to his position on the increasing aggressiveness of the Trump administration in a full-length op-ed for the Washington Post titled “The CIA director is waging war on truth-tellers like WikiLeaks.”
With his editorial, Assange seeks to remind American citizens that they have a constitutional right to receive honest information about their government – information that is provided by WikiLeaks and hidden by government authorities. Assange notes that such attempts to keep the public in the dark are similar to “attempts throughout history by bureaucrats seeking, and failing, to criminalize speech that reveals their own failings.”
Assange paid particular attention to Pompeo’s assertions that WikiLeaks is “hostile” for focusing on the “democratic” United States as opposed to “autocratic regimes in this world that actually suppress free speech and dissent.” Assange noted that this statement was quite ironic, comparing the U.S. to autocratic regimes that stifle free speech.
“In fact, Pompeo finds himself in the unsavory company of Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey (257,934 documents published by WikiLeaks); Bashar al-Assad of Syria (2.3 million documents); and the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia (122,609 documents),” Assange wrote.
The greatest warning within Assange’s editorial, however, focuses on the “Pompeo doctrine” laid out in the CIA director’s speech, a doctrine that “ensnares all serious news and investigative human rights organizations,” as these groups, like WikiLeaks, seek to expose government wrongdoing and incompetence. Assange concluded “the world cannot afford, and the Constitution does not permit, a muzzle placed on the work that transparency organizations do to inform the American and global public.”
Assange’s editorial largely focused on Pompeo’s speech, skimming over the recent statements by Attorney General Sessions and President Trump. But Session’s comments reveal that leaks of classified information in general are not necessarily as problematic as leaks published specifically by WikiLeaks.
“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” Sessions said at a news conference last Thursday. “This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious,” he added.
However, many of these “unprecedented” leaks that have taken place since the Trump administration came to power were given not to WikiLeaks, but to the Washington Post and the New York Times, organizations that have not been targeted for legal action by Sessions.
The leaks published by the Post and the Times resulted in major controversy for the Trump administration and cost former National Security advisor Michael Flynn his job while also putting Sessions himself in the crosshairs. WikiLeaks’ “Vault 7” releases, which have exposed negligence and wrong-doing on the part of the CIA, are the only releases they’ve provided this year that have explicitly targeted the U.S. government. But they are the only organization that has come under threat.
Perhaps what Sessions meant to say last Thursday was that the Justice Department is stepping up its efforts to contain leaks published by WikiLeaks. Leaks published by other media outlets, like the CIA-connected Washington Post, are apparently not worth their time.