Testimony for the Belmarsh Tribunal, DC, as delivered by Kevin Gosztola, author of Guilty of Journalism: The Political Case Against Julian Assange
The political case against Julian Assange is primarily composed of a conspiracy theory that comes from the Central Intelligence Agency.
In April 2017, during his first speech as CIA director, Mike Pompeo not only labeled WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service” but he also asserted: “[WikiLeaks] directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information.”
Part of my book, Guilty of Journalism: The Political Case Against Julian Assange, focuses on unraveling this conspiracy theory. Manning was not directed by WikiLeaks to make submissions. She tried to share documents with the New York Times and the Washington Post. She maintains WikiLeaks was a last resort because the prestige media in the US failed her.
Thanks to the work of Yahoo! News reporters, we now know that the label Pompeo affixed to WikiLeaks stemmed from CIA policy. The CIA did not want to brief Congress or have President Donald Trump looped into their plans to target WikiLeaks with a disruption campaign. They treated WikiLeaks as a rival spy service to mount “offensive counterintelligence” operations free of any oversight.
Actions undertaken, according to Yahoo! News, included the targeting of WikiLeaks’ “digital infrastructure.” Agents had a green light to provoke “internal disputes within the organization by planting damaging information.” They could steal the electronic devices of WikiLeaks staff. The CIA also allegedly sketched out plans to kidnap or poison Assange.
Much of the pressure campaign to force Assange out of the Ecuador embassy was carried out by a Spanish security company called UC Global. Its director David Morales has been accused of crimes in a Spanish court, and this arrangement—formal or informal—gave the CIA the ability to deny involvement, which was typical. Recall how the CIA has developed arrangements with right-wing Cuban exile groups.
UC Global planted microphones throughout the embassy. They targeted Stella Assange, their baby, and Assange’s attorneys. Audio and video feeds kept them under surveillance. All visitors who entered the embassy were forced by security to leave their electronics. Security contractors tampered with and copied the contents of many of the devices. They also compiled dossiers on visitors.
When former CIA director Leon Panetta was asked by a German public broadcaster about the CIA-backed spying operation, he let out a belly laugh. “That doesn’t surprise me. That kind of thing goes on all the time,” and, “In the intelligence business, the name of the game is to get information any way you can, and I’m sure that’s what was involved here.”
For what it’s worth, the US Justice Department did not indict Assange after Manning was convicted in a US military court-martial. CIA discussions about putting Assange on a rendition flight stirred panic among senior officials in both the Trump administration and Justice Department. As the Yahoo News report indicated, there were no charges under seal, and if Assange was abducted, as the CIA did with Khaled el-Masri and Abu Omar, there would be no “legal basis to try him in the United States.”
Justice Department officials accelerated the drafting of charges against Assange, and by December 2017, within the first year of Trump’s presidency, the DOJ had a sealed indictment.
The CIA’s actions are motivated by revenge. WikiLeaks exposed their arsenal of cyber warfare capabilities through files published in March 2017. It was embarrassing for the CIA. By April, the CIA were hellbent on neutralizing Assange one way or another.
Going back to Pompeo’s April 2017 speech, Pompeo said, “We’ve had administrations before that have been squeamish about going after these folks under some concept of this right to publish.” Pompeo proclaimed that Assange had “no First Amendment freedom” because “he is not a US citizen.” The gloves were off.
We barely know the extent of the CIA’s operations against Assange and WikiLeaks. Despite a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York brought on behalf of attorneys and journalists allegedly targeted, the US Justice Department’s prosecution, along with the CIA’s influence over the judiciary, ensures that the full truth of their actions may not be known for several years or even multiple decades.
What can be stated confidently: largely as a result of the CIA, Assange languishes in detention, punished by a draconian process that takes a greater toll on him every day and leaves other dissident journalists, particularly foreign journalists, fearing that they may be next if they follow Assange’s example and challenge the US national security state.