Media

Assange cuts strange deal, walks free and will bore us in the podcasts

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is expected to officially plead guilty this week and then be allowed to go home. For a decade he was in prison or in an embassy building in Britain, protesting his innocence with hackneyed phrases about “truth” and “freedom of the press.” Instead, he is now considered guilty of conspiring with others to obtain and distribute classified documents.

For the US, Assange was simply not worth it. Although he had made the decision to hand over mountains of stolen, secret American files to the mass media without any professional expertise on his part, the US authorities no longer want him. A lengthy trial would give him the ultimate martyr status, while the two major parties would not really score any popularity points for themselves. Nobody wants to reopen the issues of the old wars that began in the Bush era. The political left saw him as a kind of poster boy who was damaging the Republicans. Later, he seemed to support Donald Trump more and cultivated more Russian contacts, so right-wing conspiracy activists then also saw him as their poster boy. If Democrats and Republicans don’t want to upset their own supporters, then they make a deal and get rid of the Assange problem. But how much do they “get rid of” him really?

Assange himself became notorious even in activist circles as a narcissistic guru with a very poor perception of reality and terrible decision-making. His former close comrade Daniel Berg from Germany wanted to make Wikileaks a kind of institution like Amnesty International; with offices full of paid employees. Assange wanted the fame, whatever the cost. We will probably never really know how much damage he caused and who in the US he collaborated with. Roger Stone perhaps? Steve Bannon? Other people from the Trump campaign? Democrats? Front organizations? Russians?

Some Assange fans may now wish that the deal is celebrated as a great victory and that he goes on the great martyr media tour and performs great miracles in the future. But a lot has happened since the old glory days of Wikileaks. NATO is on the brink of war with Russia. Politically motivated individuals have been arrested in the US for distributing secret documents online or simply trying to sell them to the Russians. “Alternative” media are now just primitive talking heads for MAGA and Russians.

Who in their right mind would want to deal with Assange now, apart from meaningless podcast interviews? Wikileaks was a chaotic, dysfunctional bunch and could not keep secrets themselves. The top source Bradley/Chelsea Manning was quickly burned and imprisoned. Adrian Lamo died under mysterious circumstances. Uncensored documents became available online. A young employee at Wikileaks turned traitor and handed over hard drives to the FBI.

The US authorities probably have ways and means of controlling him permanently. In theory, they can always pretend they just got hold of new evidence or new information that would justify a new charge. He will either retire or start a irrelevant podcast after he has gone through all the other podcasts and became boring to everyone.

Most influencers are attention whores and the moment they can’t bring in significant viewers through Assange anymore, they will forget him in a heartbeat.

Assange became world famous almost a decade and a half ago when he posted a video from the Iraq War and passed on huge US military databases to the mass media.

On July 12, 2007, two attack helicopters in Baghdad spotted a group of people with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The mission was flown because gunfire could be seen from a nearby house. The coalition troops were repeatedly attacked sporadically by Iraqi insurgents in the area.

Two employees of the Reuters press agency were in the middle of it all, carrying cameras that were mistaken for weapons. The helicopters fired and killed several people. The journalists Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen were not clearly visible on the helicopter crew’s small screens.

Julian Assange hoped that his leaks would speed up the US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. In the years that followed, however, the so-called “Islamic State” and the new Taliban regime emerged, two psychopathic regimes with international connections.

Logs

Assange’s big hit was the field reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As with the helicopter video, the source was the young US soldier Bradley Manning. According to Al Jazeera English, some of the leaked documents describe how almost 700 civilians were killed by US troops because they came too close to checkpoints. Blackwater mercenaries fired on random people nearby after a bombing raid. The US military handed over prisoners to Iraq’s Wolf Brigade, which was accused of beating prisoners, using drills to torture them, and executing suspects. According to The Guardian, the logs also show that “US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers.”

These specific incidents could have been filtered out and published by Wikileaks. In context, it would have been clear that the Saddam regime had previously been a nightmare and that a hasty withdrawal of US troops threatened to make things even worse by local groups. And then there was Iran’s involvement: According to Wired Magazine, “WikiLeaks may have just bolstered one of the Bush administration’s most controversial claims about the Iraq war: that Iran supplied many of the Iraq insurgency’s deadliest weapons and worked hand-in-hand with some of its deadliest militias.”

The documents show that Iran was a major player in the Iraq war, with its elite Quds Force training Iraqi Shiite insurgents and importing deadly weapons like the mold-loaded explosively shaped penetration bombs into Iraq for use against civilians, Sunni militants and U.S. troops.”

So WikiLeaks could have published individual, relevant bits and provided context as would be normal for actual “journalism.” But Assange wanted the hype, he wanted to have the impressive number of files mentioned in the press and become the man who “ended two wars.” Had it been journalistic reporting, Assange would never have gotten into so much trouble. But he wanted the hype, no matter what the consequences might be for him, for coalition troops, for Iraqis and Afghanis.

The mass media, which apparently saw it as a compromise: They gave some gory details from the logs and focused heavily on the involvement of Iran and Pakistan.

The New York Times was particularly concerned about the extent of the collusion with the Taliban, concluding that Pakistan “allows representatives of its spy agency to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups fighting American soldiers in Afghanistan” and even hatch plans to assassinate Afghan leaders.”

The Taliban’s official spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the Taliban would examine the released documents to discover and punish informants. Assange responded by saying:

You know, this picture is disturbing, but that’s the way it is in war, spies or traitors are investigated.

Real journalists would have acted very differently. Guardian journalist David Leigh claimed that Julian Assange initially refused to redact the names of sources for the troops. In his book “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy”, co-authored with Luke Harding, Leigh claimed that when asked whether the names should be redacted, Assange said:

“Well, they’re informants. So if they get killed, it’s their fault. They deserve it.”

In response to the book’s publication, WikiLeaks posted on Twitter:

“The Guardian book contains malicious slander. We will take action.”

But no lawsuit was filed. It is clear that Russia was already interfering behind the scenes at the time and the suspicion is growing that Moscow was interested in making a sensation out of Wikileaks. Wikileaks refused to publish interesting data about Russia and Assange was given his own show on Russia Today (RT).

Assange’s source, the young US soldier Bradley Manning, was mentally unstable, overwhelmed and completely unclear about the moral issues of war. He thought the security arrangements at his base were a joke, downloaded secret databases (according to the prosecution, he was advised by Assange) and burned them onto a CD labelled “Lady Gaga”.

It is likely that secret software embedded deep into the system was installed on the army computers that reported unusual events. It is quite possible that Manning was exposed from the very first moment. Next he confided in the well-known hacker Adrian Lamo, who worked for government security projects and had once gotten into serious trouble himself for hacking. Lamo reported the incident and Manning was arrested. Lamo later died under very strange conditions. The autopsy showed things that are impossible under normal circumstances.

In the first few years, Wikileaks was very nebulous and gave the impression of a huge organisation. According to Assange’s close partner, the German Daniel Berg, Wikileaks essentially consisted of just “two people and an old server”. A third programmer, known as “the architect”, helped set up the anonymous digital mailbox. The technology used, the TOR network, however, dates back to the US military and contained all sorts of vulnerabilities. Daniel Berg was associated with the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), which was fairly left-wing and even communist. A renegade had once sold stolen data to the KGB. At the annual CCC event in Berlin, Assange and Berg presented their new project Wikileaks and so it was child’s play for national and international authorities to identify the two from the first moment.

The Obama administration was looking for reasons to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan and Assange seems to have provided a perfect opportunity for this. At the height of the leaks, fans of Wikileaks thought Assange had gone into hiding or was constantly changing his location under the greatest of precautions. But he traveled to Great Britain, of all places, the USA’s closest partner. Why did he make this bizarre decision?

In and of itself, it was easy for the USA to discover Manning and Assange’s plans in good time and intervene. But had people from the Obama administration decided to let the matter go further? This would have created the hype to initiate the withdrawal of US troops and, as a bonus, it would have become clear over time that Assange acted completely irresponsibly and that the US government would therefore have to monitor and possibly punish its own people more in the future. Instead of ushering in a new era of whistleblowing, Assange caused irreparable damage to whistleblowing.

His history

The Australian mainstream newspaper The Age reported years ago on the revelation by a court in Melbourne that in 1993 Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had actively cooperated with the police in the state of Victoria as a technical advisor, among other things, in investigations into suspected owners of child pornography.

In the early 1990s, Australian police investigated Assange and two of his hacker colleagues from the group “International Subversives” for numerous computer crimes that were directed against various companies and government agencies such as the American NASA and are said to have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. They were arrested at the end of 1991. Surprisingly, after a very slow trial in 1996 despite an overwhelming burden of evidence, all three received only a small fine of 2,100 Australian dollars each.

Judge Jeanette Morrish has now released part of the transcript of Assange’s 1996 court hearing, which she had placed under special seal earlier out of concern for Assange’s “safety”. In the relevant section, Assange’s lawyer Grace Morgan states, among other things, that her client had “provided assistance to police authorities”. When the press discovered this information, the court and Assange’s lawyer were quick to provide details to avoid creating the “misleading impression” that Mr. Assange was an informant:

“In 1993, when Mr. Assange was in his early 20s, he assisted investigators from the Victoria Police Child Abuse Unit,”

said Ms. Morgan’s statement

“My client assisted in two investigations. His role was limited to providing technical assistance and support and assisting in the prosecution of persons suspected of distributing child pornography on the Internet.”

“Mr. Assange’s involvement ended in the mid-1990s. He does not know the final outcome of the investigation, but he is aware that his technical expertise had been of value.”

“Mr. Assange received no personal benefit from this assistance and was happy to be able to help.”

Judge Morrish seemed concerned that the judiciary could be accused of handing down a lenient sentence and concealing the recruitment of Assange as an informant. She asked:

“How long would he last if he had a reputation for being an informant?”

Assange’s small fine was explained at the time with consideration for his difficult childhood. Otherwise, 10 years in prison would have been due for the almost 30 counts of computer crimes. Did Assange “earn” his lenient sentence through his cooperation with the Victoria Police and possibly other similar activities? Had he also agreed to support American authorities, whom he himself had once attacked via hacking, in their efforts to better protect government information? A 1994 email exchange between Julian Assange and NASA award winner Fred Blonder can be found on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website:

Date: Fri, 18 Nov 1994 03:59:19 +0100
From: Julian Assange <[email protected]>
To: Fred Blonder <[email protected]>
Cc: [email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
In-Reply-To: <[email protected]>

On Thu, 17 Nov 1994, Fred Blonder wrote: [EXCERPT]
> From: Julian Assange <[email protected]>
>
> .
> Of course, to make things really interesting, we could have n files,
> comprised of n-1 setuid/setgid scripts and 1 setuid/setgid binary, with
> each script calling the next as its #! argument and the last calling the
> binary.
>
> The ‘#!’ exec-hack does not work recursively. I just tried it under SunOs 4.1.3
> It generated no diagnostics and exited with status 0, but it also didn’t execute
> the target binary….

> Proff

Assange’s email to Fred Blonder was sent to an address ending in “nasirc.hq.nasa.gov,” or NASA. A copy was also sent to Michael C. Neuman, a computer expert at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, one of the U.S.’s premier national security facilities under the U.S. Department of Energy. At the time, Fred Blonder was working on a cybersecurity program called “NASA Automated Systems Incident Response Capability” (NASIRC), for which he won the NASA Group Achievement Award in 1995. According to a June 2, 1995 article:

NASIRC has significantly increased agency-wide awareness of serious, growing threats to NASA’s computer/network systems through ongoing briefings and in-depth workshop sessions, as well as communication and cooperation to rapidly and immediately share information about incidents, tools, and techniques.

(Valerie L. Thomas, “NASIRC Receives NASA Group Award,” National Space Science Data Center, June 2, 1995)

Is there a connection between Assange’s hacking conviction and this email exchange? Did he collaborate with these organizations? For example, Assange updates his counterpart on his work and refers to “other platforms that I haven’t tested yet,” suggesting that he has collaborated with the NASA employee.

Was Assange actually helping Victoria Police investigate other hackers? Is the heartbreaking story about hunting down online child pornography purveyors just a cover for informant activity?

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