WASHINGTON — Barely two months have passed since Donald Trump’s inauguration, and the new administration has been plagued by a series of scandals and controversies directly related to a flood of unauthorized leaks to the press.
The most damaging among these involved a leaked phone call between Trump’s first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and a Russian diplomat, which ultimately led to Flynn’s resignation.
This leak, as well as several subsequent leaks, was first reported by the Washington Post, a newspaper known for its past publication of famous leaks including Watergate and Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency leaks. More recently, however, the Post has dedicated much reporting to foment hysteria over alleged Russian “interference” in the 2016 election and U.S. political process. This has also led the outlet to target the Trump administration for its alleged ties to the Kremlin and a softer stance on Russia compared to the elements of the U.S. political establishment determined to revive the Cold War.
For this and other reasons, the Post today is a far cry from what it once was, largely due to the drastic change in ownership it underwent in 2013. That year, billionaire Jeff Bezos, the owner and founder of the Amazon empire, purchased the Post for $250 million, making him the newspaper’s sole owner. Bezos took the newspaper private, meaning that he no longer had to report quarterly earnings or be subjected to investor demands.
Four months after his purchase of the flagship newspaper, Bezos landed a $600 million contract with the CIA for Amazon Web Services. AWS now serves all intelligence agencies in the United States and has a documented history of “currying favor” with the U.S. government and intelligence community. In August of 2013, for example, media watchdog FAIR noted that, following WikiLeaks’ publication of State Department cables, “WikiLeaks was booted from Amazon’s webhosting service AWS … So at the height of public interest in what WikiLeaks was publishing, readers were unable to access the WikiLeaks website.”
While the Post maintains that nothing has changed regarding the newspaper’s coverage of events — citing Bezos’ “laissez-faire” approach to managing the paper’s affairs, the publication’s coverage of certain topics has fallen more in line with views supported by the intelligence community since Bezos became its sole owner. For instance, last year, the Washington Post openly called for the prosecution of Snowden, despite having used the whistleblower’s leaks for their Pulitzer Prize-winning report exposing a vast, illegal NSA surveillance program. In addition, the Post was the first to come into possession of a “secret CIA assessment” which suggests that Russia intervened in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. It has also been alleged that Bezos’ clear financial stake in “playing nice” with the CIA is apparently having an effect.
As former Post reporter John Hanrahan told Alternet in 2013:
“It’s all so basic. Readers of the Washington Post, which reports frequently on the CIA, are entitled to know — and to be reminded on a regular basis in stories and editorials in the newspaper and online — that the Post’s new owner Jeff Bezos stands to benefit substantially from Amazon’s $600 million contract with the CIA. Even with such disclosure, the public should not feel assured they are getting tough-minded reporting on the CIA. One thing is certain: Post reporters and editors are aware that Bezos, as majority owner of Amazon, has a financial stake in maintaining good relations with the CIA — and this sends a clear message to even the hardest-nosed journalist that making the CIA look bad might not be a good career move.”
This conflict of interest has taken on some interesting connotations in the Trump era, particularly as some elements of the U.S. intelligence community claim to be “at war” with the new president. On Feb. 15, former NSA intelligence analyst John Schindler tweeted, “Now we go nuclear. [Intelligence community] war going to new levels.” He wrote that a “senior [intelligence community] friend” told him that Trump “will die in jail.”
Now we go nuclear. IC war going to new levels. Just got an EM fm senior IC friend, it began: "He will die in jail."https://t.co/e6FxCclVqT
— John Schindler (@20committee) February 15, 2017
Further, the intelligence community, which overwhelming backed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the election, has allegedly worked to undermine Trump’s authority by withholding intelligence information from the commander-in-chief due to concerns about his relationship with the Russian government.
On a personal level, Bezos has plenty of reason to be worried about a Trump presidency. Trump’s numerous criticisms of the Post, for example, frequently mention Bezos. “Every hour, we’re getting calls from reporters from The Washington Post asking ridiculous questions, and I will tell you, this is owned as a toy by Jeff Bezos, who controls Amazon,” Trump told Sean Hannity in May. “He’s using The Washington Post for power so that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed,” he added.
With Bezos’ Amazon as the webmaster of the entire U.S. intelligence community, it begs the question if some of these explosive leaks — particularly those first leaked to the Post — are part of an unspoken relationship of mutual benefit. The leaked phone call between Flynn and the Russian diplomat, for example, gave the Post an “exclusive story” while also helping to rid the CIA of a political enemy.
Prior to the leak and his subsequent resignation, Flynn had been extremely critical of the CIA, accusing the agency of becoming a tool of the Obama administration. In November of 2015, Flynn told The New York Times: “They’ve lost sight of who they actually work for […] They work for the American people. They don’t work for the president of the United States.”
Meanwhile, sensitive documents continue to leak to the Post despite the Trump administration’s efforts to curb the leaks. On Feb. 20, the Post, yet again, was privy to a leaked State Department directive in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned of the dangers of leaking by State Department employees.
While the relationship between the Post, the U.S. intelligence community, and the Trump leaks remains speculative, it’s noteworthy that the clear conflict of interest between the Bezos empire and elements of the U.S. political establishment has been absent from mainstream media coverage of the leaks. Indeed, this glaring omission seems to suggest that this connection, at the very least, is worth investigating.