The ‘double cross system’
On the 2nd of July, 2010 Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, signed a confidentiality agreement with WikiLeaks.
I hearby undertake that, in return for access to the material known as Package 3 [U.S. diplomatic cables], the Guardian will observe the following conditions:
1. The material is for review only, and is not to be published without the express consent of Julian Assange or his authorized representatives.
2. The material will be held in conditions of strict confidence within the Guardian and will not be shown to any third party.
3. The material will not be viewed at any time on any computer terminal which is open to the Internet.
Signed, Alan Rusbridger
The confidentiality agreement stemmed from the Guardian’s investigations editor, David Leigh, who had become concerned that if he didn’t physically possess the historic ‘scoops’ contained within “Package 3”, they might slip away: “What happens if you [Julian Assange] end up in an orange jumpsuit en route to Guantánamo before you can release the full files?” Nevertheless, Julian Assange would not release the cables to the Guardian until the agreement was signed. David Leigh received “Package 3” from WikiLeaks in October 2010. However, when he subsequently passed the Cablegate archive to Bill Keller, the editor of the New York Times, he broke this agreement. The reasons behind this betrayal are complex.
After reviewing numerous journalistic failures by the New York Times, such as downplaying the extrajudicial killings by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) Task Force 373, and hit pieces aimed at Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as an organization, WikiLeaks planned to drop the newspaper and instead partner with the Washington Post (a paper also not immune to the need to placate Washington) and the McClatchy Group for the diplomatic cables releases. The publication began on the 28th November 2010 with the release of 220 cables. Julian Assange:
We saw the New York Times as influential within its market, but on the other hand so corrupting of the material that we were trying to get out, and so hostile to us as an organisation in order to save itself, in order to distance itself, that we were not only betraying the impact of the material, but we were shooting ourselves as an organisation every time we work with the New York Times because the way they try to save themselves from the lash-back by military apologists in the United States was by attacking us, and therefore increasing the perceived separation. So for self-preservation and to achieve greater impact we decided the New York Times would have to go.
According to WikiLeaks, in October 2010 the Guardian was specifically told not to share “Package 3” with the New York Times and that discussions were underway with two other American news organizations. WikiLeaks has also stated that one of the reasons for the betrayal was to “keep their business alliance with the New York Times strong”.
Throughout 2010 and 2011, both the Guardian Media Group (GMG) and the New York Times Company (NYT) were in financial peril. For the three years running up to June 2012, the GMG was losing £100,000 a day. Andrew Miller, the chief executive of GMG, announced a “digital-first” strategy in 2011. This “major transformation” is the last chance for GMG. If a revenue leap from £47 million (2011) to £91 million (2015/16) is not achieved, the group’s cash reserves of £197.5m – currently being drained at a rate of £38 million per year – will soon be exhausted. Facing a similar crisis, the NYT opted (in March 2011) for the pay wall solution. A Barclays Capital assessment has projected that the pay wall could generate around $70 million per year across the company. A series of assets sales has also been used to buttress the company’s cash reserves.
It is possible that the “links” between the two papers revolve around the Guardian’s attempts to recover from its failed U.S. edition (GuardianAmerica.com), which was wound down in 2009. The paper is currently investing hundreds of thousands of pounds in stateside advertising in an attempt to increase its U.S. readership (29.7 percent of the paper’s web traffic comes from U.S. readers) in hope of generating much needed U.S. business advertising dollars. The Guardian has also re-launched its U.S. front page with a new URL (GuardianNews.com) and there is talk of following the New York Times’ model of imposing subscription fees.
Another element mentioned by WikiLeaks is that the Guardian considered that if the New York Times published the diplomatic cables first, it might help deflect accusations of “espionage activity” through acquiring the protection of the United States Constitution’s First Amendment. Alan Rusbridger:
The lawyers were quite worried saying they could lock you up they could extradite you, you could be you know forbidden from ever going to America, they could do you under the espionage act, they could do this, this and this.
For these reasons, and to pursue U.S. advertising dollars, it could only be helpful to the newspaper to distance itself from Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Contrary to this notion, and highlighting the duality of interests found within newspapers, WikiLeaks has reported that it took a practical view of the Guardian’s betrayal and that discussions took place with the Guardian (with the sole condition that David Leigh would not be involved) on a further partnership for a release of 15,000 Afghanistan War Logs that had been held back for a more detailed redaction review from WikiLeaks’ initial Afghan War Logs publication. However, several events occurred between WikiLeaks and the Guardian that turned the delicate process of ‘distancing’ and ‘conciliation’ into outright mutual hostility.
When Julian Assange learned of the Guardian / New York Times double-cross from a Der Spiegel journalist, he confronted Alan Rusbridger (who refused to confirm or deny the transfer of the cables to the NYT) and, although mutual interest might have compelled Assange and Rusbridger to at least consider working together again, other forces seem to have swamped this possibility.
Within weeks, the Guardian had begun its now infamous attack campaign upon both Julian Assange and WikiLeaks (this will be explored later). At this point, Alan Rusbridger and his brother-in-law David Leigh might have assumed that WikiLeaks was close to being obliterated, Julian Assange faced sex crime allegations in Sweden; WikiLeaks had suffered a failed internal coup attempt which had resulted in the sabotaging of its servers and submissions systems, and it seemed very likely that at any moment the United States would act decisively to silence the flow of leaks. Surely this was a prudent time to bury Julian Assange, write a book, make a fortune in movie deals and talk about what the next WikiLeaks would look like.
The attacks plastered onto the pages of the Guardian and David Leigh’s cash-in book (which will soon be plastered onto thousands of cinema screens in Hollywood’s fictional movie “The Fifth Estate”, based in part on Leigh’s book) were part of a crude public relations message that can be distilled into the following: Julian Assange is a mentally unstable, ideologically driven narcissist who cannot be trusted.
The mainstream media’s reasoning behind this distortion: When Julian Assange published the cables he went too far. WikiLeaks’ releases helped fuel the Tunisian uprising, which then inspired powerful revolutionary movements across the Middle East. It stands to reason that the next release might hurt us (the powers that control Western governments) further, perhaps even at home, perhaps deeply. If Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks cannot be persuaded to stay within the press’s regime of unspoken censorship, either one or both must go.
While describing Julian Assange as a “quite deranged” “Frankenstein monster” to his journalism students at City University, David Leigh also inadvertently explained why he opposed Julian Assange’s stewardship of WikiLeaks and why such ad hominem attacks were necessary: “[Julian Assange] doesn’t understand the parameters of conventional journalism. He and his circle have a profound contempt for what they call the mainstream media.” Here David Leigh is, in effect, stating that because most people have a “profound contempt” for “conventional journalism” he has decided it might be better not to argue in its defense but instead to use a ‘straw man‘ argument, framed in the distortions and lies that cause so many people to feel revulsion towards his profession. His argument for and against WikiLeaks is similar to the one expressed above: WikiLeaks is fine in theory, the problem is the person and the philosophy that guides it. (If it is to be of use to ‘us’, it must practice pragmatism and make concessions, while appearing revolutionary).
Obviously this is a nonsensical position – WikiLeaks is founded upon the principles and philosophy held by its creators; without these ideals, it is just another “mainstream media” outlet producing “conventional journalism”. The rationale behind mainstream media attacks is to create an opaque atmosphere where the public will witness – without seeing – the decoupling of WikiLeaks from its founding principles, in order to enfold it into the establishment press camp.
A straw man and Lukashenko
After the Cablegate betrayal and before the contents of David Leigh’s book were known came an event that sparked the Guardian’s assault upon WikiLeaks into life. Once again, the Guardian sought (using the contents of the yet to be published book) to disguise the reality of the conflict (redacting cables for political reasons) behind a straw man. In this case, the man was real and his name was Israel Shamir.
The Guardian, 31st January 2011: Holocaust denier in charge of handling Moscow cables. Extract from WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy discloses the antics of Israel Shamir, who pilloried the Swedish women who complained of rape. • Buy WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy by David Leigh, Luke Harding here
According to one insider, he also demanded copies of cables about “the Jews”. This WikiLeaks associate was better known as Israel Shamir. Subsequently, Shamir appeared in Moscow. According to a reporter on Russian paper Kommersant, he was offering to sell articles based on the cables for $10,000 (£6,300). He had already passed some to the state-backed publication Russian Reporter. He travelled on to Belarus, ruled by the Soviet-style dictator Alexander Lukashenko, where he met regime officials. The Russian Interfax News Agency reported that Shamir was WikiLeaks’ “Russian representative”, and had “confirmed the existence of the Belarus dossier”.
This was to be the beginning of what became an extensive, year-long smear meme focusing on Julian Assange’s supposed ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘secret support for brutal dictators’. The meme quickly took hold and fanned out worldwide but it was actually driven by the Guardian and a small coterie of London-based liberal publications. It perhaps reached its apogee a year later with a much-criticised New Statesman article. While the Guardian depicts the events described in its report as fact, the New Statesman report makes it clear that they are allegations.
New Statesman, 1st March 2012: Julian Assange and Europe’s Last Dictator. The former WikiLeaks chief [Assange] will moderate a public discussion about Belarus, despite damaging the cau, by Kapil Komireddi
In December 2010, Israel Shamir, a WikiLeaks associate and an intimate friend of Julian Assange – so close, in fact, that he outed the Swedish women who claim to be victims of rape and sexual assault by Assange – allegedly travelled to Belarus with a cache of unredacted American diplomatic cables concerning the country. He reportedly met Lukashenko’s chief of staff, Vladimir Makei, handed over the documents to the government, and stayed in the country to “observe” the presidential elections.
Israel Shamir (an independent journalist who has worked with the BBC and Tel Aviv’s Haaretz newspaper) never had “a role” in WikiLeaks, any more than any of the other dozens of journalists who received a selection of the cables to work on. He had a total of one or two meetings with WikiLeaks, in the same way that other freelance journalists did. He was handed an additional batch of cables on “the Jews” by James Ball [“the Jews” is James Ball’s wording for the Minsk and Moscow cables]. James Ball is a former City University student of David Leigh’s, he then became a WikiLeaks intern for two months and, one month later, a full-time Guardian journalist. James Ball is very likely the “insider“ mentioned as the source for elements of David Leigh’s Israel Shamir story seen above. Israel Shamir has said that James Ball handed him the ‘Minsk / Lukashenko cables’ of his own volition, contradicting Ball’s much-delayed (May 2012) claim that he “was only following orders“.
“Naturally, as a son of Jewish parents and a man living in the Jewish state and deeply intimately involved with Jewish culture, I harbour no hate to a Jew because he is a Jew. […] As for the accusation of “Holocaust denial”, my family lost too many of its sons and daughters for me to deny the facts of Jewish tragedy, but I do deny its religious significance implied in the very term ‘Holocaust’; I do deny its metaphysical uniqueness […] However, I did and do criticize various aspects of Jewish [Zionism] like so many Jewish and Christian thinkers before me, or even more so for I witnessed crimes of the Jewish state (against Palestinians) that originated in this worldview.
As for [the] “giving unredacted files” topic, this is a rather silly claim to be published in the Guardian, since this newspaper published the password to the whole lot. Moreover, their “redaction” of the cables distorted the meaning and safeguarded interests of British companies and American officials.”
James Ball described WikiLeaks’ response to the questions raised about Israel Shamir as “a mealy-mouthed statement“. However, the link he attaches to this phrase in his article goes to a Swiss WikiLeaks’ mirror site; wikileaks.ch, not to wikileaks.org. It does not look like an authentic WikiLeaks’ statement and it is also completely unrelated to the issues surrounding Israel Shamir. WikiLeaks’ actual statement about Israel Shamir is very easy to find:
Tuesday 1st March 2011, WikiLeaks statement that was given to, but not used by, the UK satirical current-affairs magazine, Private Eye:
Israel Shamir has never worked or volunteered for WikiLeaks, in any manner, whatsoever. He has never written for WikiLeaks or any associated organization, under any name and we have no plan that he do so. He is not an ‘agent’ of WikiLeaks. He has never been an employee of WikiLeaks and has never received monies from WikiLeaks or given monies to WikiLeaks or any related organization or individual. However, he has worked for the BBC, Haaretz, and many other reputable organizations. It is false that Shamir is ‘an Assange intimate’. He interviewed Assange (on behalf of Russian media), as have many journalists. He took a photo at that time and has only met with WikiLeaks staff (including Assange) twice. It is false that ‘he was trusted with selecting the 250,000 US State Department cables for the Russian media’ or that he has had access to such at any time. Shamir was able to search through a limited portion of the cables with a view to writing articles for a range of Russian media. The media that subsequently employed him did so of their own accord and with no intervention or instruction by WikiLeaks. We do not have editorial control over the hundreds of journalists and publications based on our materials and it would be wrong for us to seek to do so. We do not approve or endorse the writings of the world’s media. We disagree with many of the approaches taken in analyzing our material. Index did contact WikiLeaks as have many people and organisations for a variety of reasons. The quote used here is not complete. WikiLeaks also asked Index for further information on this subject. Most of these rumours had not, and have not, been properly corroborated. WikiLeaks therefore asked Index to let us know if they had received any further information on the subject. This would have helped WikiLeaks conduct further inquiries. We did not at the time, and never have, received any response.
A detailed look at the genesis and back-story of the Guardian’s “Assange is anti-Semitic and has helped Lukashenko’s regime” smear reveals some surprising discoveries.
The exaggerated role of Israel Shamir in WikiLeaks is an invention of the Guardian, originally kicked off in an article by the Guardian’s Sweden-based religious affairs correspondent Andrew Brown at 4 pm on the 17th December 2010. This allegation / distortion originated in that article and was then placed on the Index on Censorship‘s website, in the New Statesman, and elsewhere. Later on the same day that Andrew Brown opened the Guardian’s attack on Israel Shamir at around 7 pm, the paper published six WikiLeaks cables stories on Belarus and Cuba. The Guardian then uploaded its redacted versions of the cables to a WikiLeaks website. This was the procedure agreed between WikiLeaks and its media partners across the whole Cablegate project: the partner newspaper writes a story it thinks its readers will be interested in, takes care of any necessary redactions, then immediately after the article is published in the newspaper they upload the redacted version of the cable to the WikiLeaks website for publication there (whether the newspaper chooses to publish the cable in full along with their article or not – many didn’t). One of the Guardian’s 17th December cable stories concerned Alexander Lukashenko and is based on three cables: MINSK 000311, TALLINN 000317 and MINSK 000641, the last of which had been so heavily redacted by the Guardian that it removed this list in its entirety: 3. (C) Belarus’ top 50 oligarchs are (Embassy comments on the individuals follow some names in brackets):
Within weeks Israel Shamir would become the first journalist to write about the Guardian’s cable cooking. When WLCentral explored the cable cooking issue, David Leigh responded with a tweet: “@wikileaks Another stupid lie from #Assange alleging ‘cable censorship’ by #Guardian, (stuck with UK libel laws as he knows). What a liar!” In the comments section at the bottom of the WLCentral article, Heather Marsh, David Leigh and Israel Shamir engaged in a discussion of libel, censorship and distorting source material. Heather Marsh: “Anyone reading your version of the cable is left with the absolute impression that this, in the eyes of the world’s most sophisticated intelligence gathering country, is the extent of Bulgarian organised crime. I would also really like to know why your lawyers felt that the Bulgarians were a libel risk but not the Russians? Your readers deserve to know, at the very least, what you have redacted [and] why you have redacted it. As to WikiLeaks being able to publish what it likes, so can the Guardian if they, like WikiLeaks, are willing to suffer the consequences. True journalism has never been for the faint of heart.”
The Moscow Times also behaved in a similar manner when writing their Cablegate stories, except rather than redact politically difficult cables, they simply chose not to publish them at all. One of several sources (inspirations) for Andrew Brown’s attack on Israel Shamir, but which doesn’t distort his role in WikiLeaks, comes from a Moscow Times article which sought to hide the content of the cables published in the Russian Reporter by focusing instead on Israel Shamir’s anti-Israeli government stance. When David Leigh and Luke Harding (the Guardian’s Russia correspondent 2007 – 2011) picked up the Israel Shamir story from Andrew Brown, they suffered a deliberate amnesia of Russia’s post-Soviet political and economic landscape in order to damage WikiLeaks’ reputation. Indeed, their article returned its readers to the days of Brezhnev and falsely described the small and fiercely independent magazine, Russian Reporter (a WikiLeaks partner who Israel Shamir had given cables to) as being “state-backed“. This was done to imply that Israel Shamir was in effect passing the U.S. cables directly to the Russian authorities. And yet it was the Russian Reporter that had dared to publish accurate WikiLeaks cable stories and Andrew Brown’s and David Leigh’s “corporate media” source, the Moscow Times (owned by Sanoma), that had sought to obscure the nature of the U.S. cables.
For context on Israel Shamir’s views about the Israeli State, it is worth noting that the former head of Shin Bet (the Israeli intelligence service akin to a combined CIA and FBI), Avraham Shalom, has compared his own government’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazis: “[We’ve become] a brutal occupation force similar to the Germans in World War II.” And every other living former head of Shin Bet has similar concerns.
A few hours after the six cable stories are published in the Guardian, Nick Davies publishes, at 9.30 pm, the notorious “10 days in Sweden: the full allegations against Julian Assange” Guardian hit piece based on a leaked copy of the Swedish police file. Bella Magnani of WLCentral: “Here’s the riddle, Nick: why an award-winning investigative journalist couldn’t see the many, many holes in the police investigation sitting on the desk in front of him. The personal and political association of the first investigative officer with one of the complainants; the disturbing news that she was allowed to sit in on the other woman’s interview; the tampering with statements on the police computer; the two women being allowed to produce revised statements on September 2 in the light of the so-far still secret SMS messages; the police asking a witness about a victim’s prior sex life (WTF?); the failure of police forensics to find DNA on the torn, supposedly used condom presented to police 12 days after the event. And that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg – there’s plenty more beneath the surface. So, Nick Davies, why did you choose to publish an article based on only one side of the story? In an alleged rape case? Would you consider that good journalistic practice? Or a disgrace to your profession?” Nick Davies’ article was the start of the character assassination of Julian Assange in the English-speaking media.
17th December 2010 is an interesting date for Nick Davies’ article (his reaction to criticism of the article is also interesting), it is the date when WikiLeaks discovered that the Guardian’s redactions went far beyond what was necessary. The redaction of the Alexander Lukashenko cable, MINSK 000641 – information that would have been picked up by many other media outlets, assisting the plight of the Lukashenko opposition by providing further external pressure upon the regime – days before the Belarus election, is highly damaging to the Guardian’s reputation.
Many media entities who did not have direct access to the raw cables re-published the Guardian’s redacted cables that had been uploaded to and re-posted by WikiLeaks, without being aware of the extent and validity of the Guardian’s redactions. Major media organizations and highly regarded journalists such as the Italian newspaper L’Espresso’s Stefania Maurizi were caught out by the cable deception in a series of important articles. Stefania Maurizi: “I’ve worked PERSONALLY on ALL @wikileaks cables releases for @espressonline NEVER EVER published cables cutting huge chunks” 9:50 AM – 27 Nov 12; “NOT EVEN @repubblicait censored it, as the cable was released in that HEAVILY redacted form by Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/230036” 12:28 PM – 27 Nov 12; “@StjarnaFranfall in Dec2010 @repubblicait DIDN’t have access to database cables, so it couldn’t know what had been redacted” 6:18 AM – 28 Nov 12.
There is absolutely no evidence that Israel Shamir gave inappropriate cables to Lukashenko. David Leigh and Luke Harding’s ‘sources’ for their allegations, the Russian newspaper Kommersant (owned by the oligarch Vladimir Yakovlev) and the Interfax News Agency (created by officials from the Voice of Russia), might well have every reason to attack someone handing highly damaging cables to Minsk and Moscow’s mainstream and opposition media outlets, but why doesn’t the Guardian mention this?
There are two Interfax articles that act as the Guardian’s source material for these allegations, both dated 19th December 2010. The Interfax-West one does not mention Lukashenko, let alone the so-called “Belarus dossier” being handed over to “regime officials”. The other, Interfax-Russia, does:
Minsk. December 19. INTERFAX.RU – Head of Administration of the current president of Belarus Vladimir MacKay met with attorney website WikiLeaks founder Israel Shamir.
Photojournalist portal http://www.interfax.by managed to photograph on the steps of the presidential administration, the only Russian-speaking accredited journalist at the site WikiLeaks Israel Shamir, who had come to Belarus to observe the presidential elections in the country on December 19. The presidential administration declined to comment on the substance of a conversation Mackey and attorney Assange. However, given that the Russian media has already started to spread information about the location on the website WikiLeaks data secret correspondence of the U.S. State Department regarding Alexander Lukashenko’s position on the war in Georgia and the gas pipeline “Nord Stream”, we can assume that the conversation was about WikiLeaks Belarusian dossier. In an interview to “Interfax-West” Shamir confirmed the existence of the “Belarus dossier”. According to him, the website WikiLeaks has several thousands of classified documents, which are to some extent related to Belarus. He added that “the Belarusian dossier is written by Americans. There may be some interesting things.”
While the INTERFAX.RU article hopefully makes more sense in Russian, what can be clearly understood, is that it is full of inaccuracies and littered with basic errors of fact. This photo is Interfax-Russia’s ‘evidence’. It shows Shamir on the steps of the Belarus Presidential Administation Building in Minsk (Israel Shamir’s family comes from Minsk, his mother, Minsker, lived there until 22nd June 1941 and then moved to Siberia). This is the totality of the evidence against Israel Shamir. Despite there being no evidence or sources of any kind contained within Interfax-Russia’s ‘exposé’, it is reported in the Guardian as fact. Perhaps the pro-Israeli blog by Adam Holland is Interfax-Russia’s and the Guardian’s actual source: ‘Meanwhile in Belarus..‘ 19th December 2010?
President Alexander Lukashenko’s controversial re-election also occurred on the 19th December 2010, making it an interesting date for these stories to emerge. What happened to Israel Shamir’s “Belarus dossier” which the Guardian says was given to Vladimir Makei, chief aide to Lukashenko, who they claim used it to arrest protesters in the aftermath of the 19th December? The cables had already been disseminated to numerous media outlets weeks before the election, so everybody had already seen the cables that WikiLeaks had authorized to be released; journalists, readers and therefore, obviously, also the security services. The whole “Belarus dossier” affair is nonsense. Charter 97, a Belarusian citizens’ human rights organization had been publishing the cables throughout this period. Indeed, they were publishing them while under attack from Lukashenko’s government, whose State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus raided their office on the 21st December.
What story was Charter 97 running on the same day as the Adam Holland blog article that we speculate might be the Guardian’s real ‘source’? ‘Makei afraid of Assange’s files‘. Other “Belarus dossier” cable stories published by Charter 97 were: ‘WikiLeaks describes Belarus as a virtual “mafia state”‘ (2nd December); ‘WikiLeaks: Lukashenko can’t be corrected‘ (18th December); ‘WikiLeaks: Lukashenko’s fortune estimated at 9 billion USD‘ (18th December). All of these articles came out before Israel Shamir travelled to Belarus.
Moscow Times journalist Vladimir Shpak has also confirmed that Israel Shamir was not Russian Reporter’s and other outlets’ only conduit to WikiLeaks cables. However, Shamir was the most visible and, with his often hyperbolic pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli rhetoric and controversial style, he made a compellingly easy target upon which to redirect the cables story. Both Minsk and Moscow (Putin Bristles Over Leaked U.S. Cables, 10th December 2010, The Moscow Times) would have been increasingly keen to counteract the flow of bad publicity stemming from the cables and in the Belarus post-election crackdown – destroying the reputation of the cables could prove critical to the regime’s aim to shatter hopes of reform.
It is informative that the sister of Andrei Sannikov’s (the opposition leader jailed by Lukashenko), Irina, who is also the main spokesperson of the Free Belarus campaign, invited Julian Assange to the screening and audience Q&A of the campaign’s film “Europe’s Last Dictator”. According to the director, Julian Assange helped facilitate the making of the film and has been helping the Belarusian dissidents behind the scenes for a number of years. All this is verifiable but you won’t find anything about it in the Guardian, the New Statesman or Index on Censorship.
The New Statesman, BBC’s Panorama, the Jerusalem Post, Boing Boing and a couple of other blogs all recited the same ‘Minsk / Lukashenko cables’ story but none of those articles pre-date the 31st January 2011 Guardian piece by David Leigh and Luke Harding.
The London left / liberal mainstream media is a clique. Smears are passed from media outlet to media outlet, “article hat-tip” style. By the 1st of March 2011, James Ball was already employed at the Guardian and fully capable of writing up Ian Hislop’s ‘A Curious Conversation With Mr Assange’ (which built upon Julian Assange’s exaggerated ‘close links’ to Israel Shamir) in his own newspaper, but chose instead to slip the story to a widely read UK liberal blog:
Liberal Conspiracy, 1st March 2011: Assange goes off deep end – blaming Jews and the Guardian in Private Eye, by Sunny Hundal
This is published in the latest edition of Private Eye (buy a copy!). The article is titled ‘A Curious Conversation With Mr Assange’ and it is the phone version of a horrible car crash. (hat-tip James Ball @jamesrbuk)
Unabashed by this error [Assange] went on to say that we were part of a conspiracy led by the Guardian which included journalist David Leigh, editor Alan Rusbridger and John Kampfner from Index on Censorship – all of whom “are Jewish”. I pointed out that Rusbridger is not actually Jewish, but Assange insisted that he was “sort of Jewish” because he was related to David Leigh (they are brothers-in-law).
The links between Private Eye and the Guardian are close. Ian Hislop is a good friend of David Leigh’s (as is John Kampfner, CEO of Index on Censorship) and the Guardian and Private Eye share an annual awards ceremony, set up in memory of journalist Paul Foot. The Liberal Conspiracy article went viral on the Internet and received hundreds of follow-up articles. This is a favorite method of the Guardian: they drop a story they wish to push but don’t want to be the first to print (because their agenda would then be too obvious) into other friendly media – the New Statesman, Liberal Conspiracy, etc – and then use the resulting articles and spin-offs in those outlets as ‘sources’ for follow-up articles in the Guardian on the same subject.
Regarding Ian Hislop’s Private Eye / Liberal Conspiracy / Guardian smear, Julian Assange responds: “Hislop has distorted, invented or misremembered almost every significant claim and phrase. In particular, ‘Jewish conspiracy’ is completely false, in spirit and in word. Rather than correct a smear, Mr. Hislop has attempted, perhaps not surprisingly, to justify one smear with another in the same direction.”
While the liberal “conventional” media employed the overused but ever useful ‘anti-Jewish smear’ to attack Julian Assange, they openly displayed a pro-Israeli bias in their reporting of the plight of Palestinians. A perfect example of this bias occurred on the 15th August 2012, when the Guardian announced the hiring of Joshua Treviño as a correspondent with the paper’s U.S. politics team, an individual who likes to tweet “Dear IDF: If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla – well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me.” And, “Not morally different from a Nazi convoy, is it? RT @KurtSchlichter: Sink the #flotilla. Enough screwing around with these psychos.” And so on, – ad infinitum. When questioned about this matter, the Guardian put out a statement: “We look forward to the open and robust debate that we are sure will follow between Josh and Guardian readers.”
David Leigh’s ‘encryption key fiasco’
For a period of seven months, despite the New York Times double-cross, the ‘cooked’ cables and the publishing of a book composed of a litany of distortions and outright lies, outwardly the feud between WikiLeaks and its ex-media partner the Guardian seemed to have reached an equilibrium. The Guardian attacked and WikiLeaks tried to ignore them. Behind the scenes, however, a crisis was unfolding.
During the Iraq War Logs release (beginning 22nd October 2010) the WikiLeaks web server came under an unprecedented level of denial-of-service attacks (DDoS attacks), which shut down the organization’s main wikileaks.org page. Around the same time, the then ostracized, now sacked, WikiLeaks spokesman for Germany, Daniel Domscheit-Berg removed a section of WikiLeaks’ compressed data-set from its server. According to Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s wife, Anke, he only took the “most recent, unchecked submissions”. Looking at the files Domscheit-Berg has admitted taking (and also later claimed to have deleted), it is apparent that he took almost everything submitted by whistleblowers that had not yet been published. While the files taken did not include the encrypted U.S. diplomatic cables file (cables.csv), Domscheit-Berg’s actions had an almost immediate effect upon those files. WikiLeaks supporters moved quickly to protect them; first of all they set up dozens of mirror WikiLeaks sites, all of them housing copies of WikiLeaks now reduced data-set, including the diplomatic cables. Secondly, at some point soon after the mirrors were in place, a compressed file of the data-set was quietly placed onto the Internet via the filesharing protocol BitTorrent.
The cables were loose, but their position and the encryption key (also known as a passphrase) were hidden. The first of these elements to fall was the location.
Daniel Domscheit-Berg had a book to sell (Inside WikiLeaks: my time with Julian Assange at the world’s most dangerous website), but to ensure that his improbable claims appeared credible, and not solely stemming from a baseless personal animosity towards Julian Assange, he had to prove that Julian Assange could not be trusted. It is alleged that Domscheit-Berg elicited the URL to an unlisted root directory hidden within an obscure Croatian server (probably a host for a WikiLeaks mirror site), which contained the diplomatic cables file from one of his former WikiLeaks colleagues. Domscheit-Berg decided to tell anyone that would listen, that there was an issue with WikiLeaks’ security. Literally, anyone. In interview after interview, mainstream media outlets that felt commercially and conceptually threatened by the new media model inherent in the WikiLeaks project, gave Domscheit-Berg a platform to make vague criticisms of Julian Assange and the security of WikiLeaks.
Before long, Daniel Domscheit-Berg was also informed (by Herbert Snorrason, a one-time WikiLeaks volunteer) that, in their book ‘WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s war on secrecy‘, David Leigh and Luke Harding had inexplicably published the passphrase for a file containing the cables. Was this passphrase authentic and did it fit the Cablegate file placed online? It is likely that Domscheit-Berg used either the URL to the server’s hidden /wiki/ directory, or a torrent file (that could be used to download the Cablegate files – see below) to check the passphrase’s legitimacy.
Ever since the book’s publication on 1st February 2011, WikiLeaks had been silent about the passphrase that David Leigh had foolishly chosen to use as a subheading to Chapter 11. They dared not even point it out to the Guardian in case the security breach leaked. Due to the impenetrable properties of the encryption used to secure the Cablegate files, without the passphrase the contents were safe. However, when the passphrase was published in an electronic pdf format through the e-book version of David Leigh’s book, it was searchable by those seeking to unlock copies of the Cablegate file downloaded via BitTorrent. An inevitability was forming. The WikiLeaks data-set was ‘out there’ and the keys to one file, the cables.csv file, were sitting on Amazon. The unredacted cables could potentially cause real damage to activists fighting for justice across the globe. The only thing to play for was time. WikiLeaks held its breath.
The story of David Leigh’s breach didn’t break around the BitTorrent, as one might have expected, it broke on the Croatian URL. Again, enter Daniel Domscheit-Berg. After he learned of the existence of the passphrase and likely confirmed that it unlocked the Cablegate files, he decided to give the German press enough details to ensure the whole affair unraveled. Eager for a scoop, the relatively small German newspaper Der Freitag was the first to publicize Domscheit-Berg’s revelation. Despite WikiLeaks’ frantic requests for the press to be careful about how much they revealed, Der Freitag, TechCrunch and Der Spiegel all published stories based on Domscheit-Berg’s information about the cables and the passphrase.
Within days, the location was found, and every file within every directory of the data-set was checked against David Leigh’s published passphrase. The first to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together was Nigel Parry:
In the directory, date-stamped 9 June 2010, were 4 files, all encoded with Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encoding, the files names with *.gpg suffixes. I started at the bottom of the list, putting in the David Leigh password. It unzipped z.gpg into a file called z.7z. Opening that file and extracting it using the Ez7z compression / decompression program, the file spat out a file called cables.csv, dated with a creation date of April 12, 2010 at 9:22PM. It was a 1.61GB file but it had been reported in the German press to be 1.73GB.
Many of the world’s more sophisticated security agencies would have had access to the unredacted cables due to the lax security of the media organizations that worked on them. Now, anyone could access all of them. WikiLeaks published the entire data-set itself on the 1st September 2011. As former U.S. State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said: “Any autocratic security service worth its salt” that had not already accessed the data “will have it in short order.” WikiLeaks had notified the U.S. government of the impending publication of Cablegate so that protective measures could be taken by them. And WikiLeaks had also asked for “any specific instances (record numbers or names) where it considers the publication of information would put individual persons at significant risk of harm that has not already been addressed” without receiving a useful reply. The ‘architect’ of the WikiLeaks’ leak, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, had said that “[He would] only return the [stolen whistleblowers’ submissions] to Julian [Assange] if and when he can prove that he can store the material securely and handle it carefully and responsibly.” However, after Domscheit-Berg had caused the Cablegate files to be disseminated, he then revealed his understanding of treating whistleblowers’ submissions, “carefully and responsibly”. First, under the guise of “ensuring that sources are not compromised“, he deleted their submissions, apparently heedless of the risks taken by the whistleblowers in obtaining their information and despite the fact that he knew that WikiLeaks’ submission process does not record or collect any source-identifying information. Domscheit-Berg’s next illustration of “carefully and responsibly” handling whistleblowers’ submissions involved informing Der Freitag of his acquisition of the Cablegate file location and his discovery of David Leigh’s passphrase blunder. The strange truth is that Daniel Domscheit-Berg was correct all along, WikiLeaks did have a security problem, and that problem was Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Before Der Freitag published Domscheit-Berg’s information, Julian Assange again acted to protect individuals named in the cables. Julian Assange:
We found out that Freitag is going to publish this information and we implore upon them to not publish it, because once this combination is revealed then [that all] reveals and all our redaction work is in vain, not our publishing work but all our redaction work is in vain. We also asked the State Department how their warning program has been going along and could they speed that up, they started in November and December last year. It took us 36 hours to get a proper interaction with the State Department, the State Department having a policy of refusing to communicate with us, so we had to reach a high enough level for that to be undone.
I spoke to Crowley and a number of others and their top lawyer. They were of the view “well, we can’t do anything more than we’ve already done back then, we’ve informed all these people”. Then our lawyers instructed this Domscheit-Berg character to stop telling people, this was a dangerous activity and to stop doing it. Freitag then prepared another article, much more explicit, and we asked them that they do not publish that, but they did. And then Spiegel published more information, and that was then enough for anyone interested in the subject to go and find it and decrypt it, and that is what happened, and it started spreading via Twitter, and eventually started appearing on websites.
Despite these efforts to balance the public interest with the safety of individuals, Daniel Domscheit-Berg and the Guardian had forced events. Later that day (1st September 2011), the Guardian decided the most effective method of defense against the damage their reputation would receive over David Leigh’s gross negligence would be to blame WikiLeaks for his actions:
The Guardian, 1st September 2011: Unredacted U.S. Embassy cables available online after WikiLeaks breach, by James Ball
A security breach has led to the WikiLeaks archive of 251,000 secret US diplomatic cables being made available online, without redaction to protect sources. WikiLeaks has been releasing the cables over nine months by partnering with mainstream media organisations. Selected cables have been published without sensitive information that could lead to the identification of informants or other at-risk individuals. The US government warned last year that such a release could lead to US informants, human rights activists and others being placed at risk of harm or detention.
A statement from the Guardian said: “It’s nonsense to suggest the Guardian’s WikiLeaks book has compromised security in any way. “Our book about WikiLeaks was published last February. It contained a password, but no details of the location of the files, and we were told it was a temporary password which would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours. It was a meaningless piece of information to anyone except the person(s) who created the database. No concerns were expressed when the book was published and if anyone at WikiLeaks had thought this compromised security they have had seven months to remove the files. That they didn’t do so clearly shows the problem was not caused by the Guardian’s book.”
This Guardian statement posing as an article is deliberate nonsense. The Guardian could have checked whether the ‘passphrase’ was expired on their own Cablegate files. They could have simply asked WikiLeaks whether it was safe to publish it. They could even have checked the facts printed in their own newspaper. In an article entitled ‘Julian Assange answers your questions’ published in the Guardian on the 3rd December 2010, Julian Assange responded to one reader’s question: “The Cable Gate archive has been spread, along with significant material from the U.S. and other countries, to over 100,000 people in encrypted form. If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically.” So much for David Leigh’s claim that the Guardian wasn’t to know the ‘files’ were still online when he published his book. Perhaps he should have checked his own newspaper first? Further, as James Ball knows, once a file has been ‘released’ as a torrent, it cannot be ‘recovered’. The file can be spread and hosted anywhere and its torrent file used to locate and disseminate it. That James Ball would suggest otherwise is astonishingly dishonest and presupposes that his readers have an extremely limited knowledge of file sharing technology, to say the least.
nigelparry.com, 31st August 2011: Guardian Investigative Editor David Leigh publishes top secret Cablegate password revealing names of U.S. collaborators and informants.. in his book, by Nigel Parry
On a basic security level, revealing any information about how Julian Assange formulates his passwords could have implications in any of the other myriad of sensitive areas WikiLeaks deals with. Any files encrypted by Assange at the same time – or before – the cables, and in the possession of any entity hostile to WikiLeaks, are now more vulnerable since Leigh’s book gave up its clue about how Assange formulates passwords. And anyone who has access to the original file David Leigh was given, could now decrypt it. Unless the original file was carefully protected throughout its entire life, decrypted and unzipped, then destroyed after the data was released, that password will work on copies of it for ever. So regardless of how David Leigh & Co. imagine computer security works – and right now they are desperately trying increasingly ridiculous arguments to blame WikiLeaks for Leigh’s actions – there’s no reason to publish any password this sensitive – ever.
A 10th September 2011 Economist article states “Mr Assange’s file management looks sloppy, but Mr Leigh’s blunder seems bigger: since digital data is easily copied, safeguarding passwords is more important than secreting files.” In the comments section David Leigh finally admits that the ‘passphrase fiasco’ was his fault after all, while still blaming Julian Assange:
“Yes, I understand the archive with z.gpg somewhere in it was posted by Assange or his friends in an obscure location around 7 December 2010, the day Assange was arrested for alleged sex offences. No-one told us this had been done [Julian Assange had told Leigh’s newspaper and its readers precisely that information 4 days previously]. Assange apparently re-used the password he gave me earlier (although the file title – z.gpg – was different.) Obviously, I wish now I hadn’t published the full password in the book. It would have been easy to alter, and that would have avoided all these false allegations. But I was too trusting of what Assange told me.”
In the months that followed, the Guardian continued its endless attack on WikiLeaks. It has now become the greatest assault upon a person and an organization in the history of the UK press. Members of the public writing in support of WikiLeaks in the Guardian comment section found their posts ‘disappeared’ and accounts deleted.
A pattern of reporting
The two examples above (the manufactured Israel Shamir smear and David Leigh’s ‘passphrase fiasco’) are typical of the lack of journalistic integrity generally found when the Guardian reports on either WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. Of course there are exceptions – both John Pilger, who contributes occasional articles to the Guardian, and Glenn Greenwald, who has his own column with full editorial control, support WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, along with a few other Guardian writers. However, they do not let this support overwhelm their writing, and they do not invent or skew facts. They cover the subject and the issues it raises carefully and, objectively.
Below are four further examples of the Guardian’s reporting. These examples are important because they are all found in David Leigh’s and Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s books, both of which have been used as the primary source material for two Hollywood-funded films: Alex Gibney’s documentary ‘We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks’ (2013), and ‘The Fifth Estate’ (2013) directed by Bill Condon.
In the first example below, Guardian journalist Nick Cohen mentions “David Leigh and Luke Harding’s history of WikiLeaks”, but what kind of a history are they trying to project and why?
The Guardian, 18th September 2011: The treachery of Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder, far from being a champion of freedom, is an active danger to the real seekers of truth, by Nick Cohen (published in the Guardian’s sister paper the Observer and then re-published in the Guardian).
David Leigh and Luke Harding’s history of WikiLeaks describes how journalists took Assange to Moro, a classy Spanish restaurant in Central London. A reporter worried that Assange would risk killing Afghans who had co-operated with American forces if he put U.S. secrets online without taking the basic precaution of removing their names. “Well, they’re informants,” Assange replied. “So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.” A silence fell on the table as the reporters realized that the man the gullible hailed as the pioneer of a new age of transparency was willing to hand death lists to psychopaths.
However, an independent witness – John Goetz, a journalist with Der Spiegel – states that the events related above are simply not true:
“I was at dinner at the Moro restaurant in London, along with Marcel Rosenbach from Der Spiegel, David Leigh and Declan Walsh of the Guardian, and Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. Patrick Forbes asked me specifically if Julian Assange had made the remark “They’re informants, they deserve to die” at the dinner, as has been alleged by David Leigh, and I told him that Julian did not say that at the dinner.”
When considering which of the two parties is telling the truth, perhaps the best indicator available is to look for a pattern of behavior, a pattern of systematic dishonesty. One aspect of the pattern is seen above. It is slanted journalism through the deliberate omission of opposing view points. John Goetz, a Der Spiegel journalist and witness to the alleged remarks, puts forward both the allegation and the rebuttal (which in this case is his own testimony). The Guardian only puts the allegation forward, which it frames as fact.
In the second example, the Guardian’s WikiLeaks reportage concerns the arrest of Bradley Manning, which was used by David Leigh and James Ball to attack WikiLeaks. Indeed, David Leigh and Luke Harding’s ‘WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy’ related as fact rather than allegation (1st February 2011) that Bradley Manning was WikiLeaks’ source – this while he was still being tortured at the Quantico Marine Corp Base, and before the U.S. government had even put him in front of a court for his first pre-trial hearing. Here is a tweet (30th January 2011) where David Leigh again names Bradley Manning as WikiLeaks’ source without modifying his assertion (that it is speculation and has not been proven) by adding the word alleged. David Leigh then blames Julian Assange for Bradley Manning’s arrest:
David Leigh finally admitted (15th March 2011) that it was the actions of Adrian Lamo (an informant who at the time owed the U.S. federal government 60,000 dollars from a previous conviction) that caused Manning’s arrest, but he still tries to blame WikiLeaks somehow:
Three months later David Leigh’s former student James Ball was still distorting the basic facts of Manning’s arrest:
The Guardian, 16 July 2011: All the encryption in the world wouldn’t have kept Bradley Manning safe. The story of Manning’s exposure shows how sources aren’t protected by the kind of security measures WikiLeaks takes, by James Ball
But perhaps the Lamo / Manning chatlogs offer WikiLeaks an opportunity to simplify their thinking. What matters is whether public interest whistleblowers are protected, and stay anonymous – not who reveals them. WikiLeaks’ greatest source is currently in prison. Instead of stressing no one has been caught through WikiLeaks actions, or boasting of security, WikiLeaks – and everyone else working in that world – should take a long look at what they can do better, and put the results into action. If not, Manning may not be the last whistleblower to face the consequences.
In contrast to the above, the Wired magazine’s ‘unspun’ coverage makes it absolutely clear where responsibility lies for Manning’s fate: in his own brave decision to leak classified information he felt revealed crimes the public needed to know about, and with his ‘careless talk’:
WIRED magazine, 6th October 2010: ‘I Can’t Believe What I’m Confessing to You [Adrian Lamo]’: The WikiLeaks Chats, by Kevin Poulsen and Kim Zetter
On May 21, 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning initiated a series of online chats with former hacker Adrian Lamo after a story on Lamo was published at Wired.com. The chats continued over several days, during which Manning claimed that he was responsible for leaking classified material to the whistleblower site WikiLeaks. Lamo tipped off the FBI and the Army about Manning’s claims, and on May 26, Manning was seized by Army authorities and put into pre-trial detention in Kuwait. He remains in Kuwait while the Army Criminal Investigation Division and other agencies investigate whether he leaked classified information and determine if he should be charged with any crime.
Extract from the Adrian Lamo / Bradley Manning chat log:
(1:52:54 PM) firstname.lastname@example.org: i’ve been considering helping wikileaks with opsec (security measures)
(1:53:13 PM) bradass87: they have decent opsec.. i’m obviously violating it
WikiLeaks guarantees that it will never reveal the identity of a source. Nothing can pressure WikiLeaks to reveal a source’s identity and it is pointless to infiltrate them to find out. This is because nobody within WikiLeaks knows or has the means to discover a source’s identity. Their system of submitting information has been designed to make that impossible. However, WikiLeaks clearly cannot guarantee anonymity if the source itself chooses to ignore security measures.
Another distortion pushed by the Guardian relates to the onward extradition of Julian Assange from Sweden to the United States:
The Guardian, 19th August 2012: Julian Assange: the balcony defence. Miss A and Miss W are at the heart of this story, however inconvenient it may be for the WikiLeaks founder’s supporters. Editorial
And ultimately there is the repeated suggestion from Mr Assange’s supporters that if he goes to Sweden he will face extradition to the US to be prosecuted for treason. Yet there is no serious evidence that Washington plans to start such proceedings; and if it ever did, the political and public opposition in Sweden as well as Britain and across the world would be massive.
The Guardian, 16th August 2012: Julian Assange case: stay patient and do the right thing. Refugee protection does not apply to the WikiLeaks founder and it is wrong of him to claim it. Editorial
Most of these were based on the claim that the United States wants to get its hands on Mr Assange because of WikiLeaks, that it may torture him, that his deportation to Sweden by the UK would bring this closer, and that Ecuador has a right to protect him.
No one should be naive about the US, but this is a fallacious chain of reasoning. The US has not said whether it wants to detain Mr Assange, though it has had plenty of time to do so. If it wanted his extradition, the US might logically be more likely to make use of Britain’s excessively generous extradition treaty with the US – which has not happened – rather than wait until he was in Sweden, when both Sweden and the UK would have to sign off on any extradition application.
The Guardian makes these claims despite credible evidence from a source with close connections to Washington’s national security powerbase – Fred Burton of Stratfor, who is ex-Deputy Chief of Counterterrorism of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service – that a sealed indictment for Julian Assange has been in place since January 2011, as was revealed when Stratfor’s emails were hacked and passed to WikiLeaks, who later published them as the GIFiles. The fact is that it is a criminal offense for any U.S. government official to reveal the existence of a sealed indictment before it is unsealed, which only happens once the indicted person is taken into custody. Furthermore, if Julian Assange is held incommunicado (except for limited communication with his defense lawyers) in a Swedish remand center and then a prison, his ability to exercise his legal right to seek asylum – a basic human right available to any person in fear of persecution – or to properly defend his case (doubly difficult when presented with hundreds of pages of evidence in an unfamiliar language with only two weeks until trial) or to rally support and fight a critical public relations campaign would be non-existent. Once held in prison, he can be held there throughout any onward extradition proceedings after either the Stockholm allegations proceedings or jail term ends.
Support for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in the UK remains substantial and stubbornly resilient to the propaganda and distortions surrounding the ‘Stockholm affair’ (unlike the situation in Sweden). It is in London, where the world’s most formidable civil rights legal community resides, that resistance to an extradition to the U.S. would be greatest. An extradition attempt from London would be a seemingly unending public relations nightmare for the UK government, with political capital being expended day after day, into the teeth of an astute public who always favor an underdog. The argument of where it would be more viable to extradite legally is an obvious misdirection (Sweden is likely the easier option due to ‘temporary surrender’). The pertinent question is where it would be politically feasible. Statements that the U.S. doesn’t want Julian Assange to face ‘justice’ and that there is “no evidence” that they desire this, are absolute nonsense – the evidence is compelling and overwhelming.
The final example concerns a tactic which is to be found woven between the distorted facts of almost all of the Guardian’s coverage of Julian Assange. The ‘tactic’ is to attack the person rather than his argument. In an article about the mainstream press coverage of Noam Chomsky, Glen Greenwald writes:
One very common tactic for enforcing political orthodoxies is to malign the character, “style” and even mental health of those who challenge them […] The New York Times [has] led the way in depicting both Bradley Manning and Julian Assange as mentally unstable outcasts with serious personality deficiencies. The lesson is clear: only someone plagued by mental afflictions would take such extreme steps to subvert the power of the US government.
What is at play here is this destructive dynamic that the more one dissents from political orthodoxies, the more personalized, style-focused and substance-free the attacks become. The goal is not merely to dispute their claims but to silence them. That’s accomplished by demonizing the person on personality and style grounds to the point where huge numbers of people decide that nothing they say should even be considered, let alone accepted. It’s a sorry and anti-intellectual tactic, to be sure, but a brutally effective one.
In the article below, the ‘tactic’ or ‘canvas’ has become the main substance of the piece. Almost every topic raised is done so, solely to set up the next ad hominem attack, there is no attempt to debate the issues of Julian Assange’s predicament or his work:
The Guardian, 7th December 2012, Julian Assange: the fugitive, by Decca Aitkenhead
It all looks and feels like an ordinary interview. But when Assange appears, he seems more like an in-patient than an interviewee, his opening words slow and hesitant, the voice so cracked as to be barely audible. If you have ever visited someone convalescing after a breakdown, his demeanor would be instantly recognizable.
My point was that there is a theme of his relationships turning sour. “There is not!” he shouts. I don’t blame Assange for getting angry. As he sees it, he’s working tirelessly to expose state secrecy and save us all from tyranny. He has paid for it with his freedom, and fears for his life. Isn’t it obvious that shadowy security forces are trying to make him look either mad or bad, to discredit WikiLeaks? If that’s true, then his flaws are either fabricated, or neither here nor there. But the messianic grandiosity of his self-justification is a little disconcerting.
Decca Aitkenhead’s statements clearly do not stand up to the actuality, filmed 29th November 2012, nine days earlier:
Are the readers of the Guardian really supposed to be so helplessly uninformed as to be unaware of this ‘discrepancy’? Or is this an attempt to change the public’s perception of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks through saturation? This, in itself, is a propaganda technique and it is generally referred to as the ‘big lie‘. The idea was first expressed by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf and 16 years later by Joseph Goebbels: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”.
In Part Two of this post we will explore how the Guardian’s attempt to rewrite history is fighting to embed itself deeper into the fabric of public perception through its adoption of the powerful medium of film. We will also explore the ‘WikiLeaks coup’ looking at how the Guardian was a critical factor in its genesis and how those on the losing side of the coup have also sought to influence history by projecting a wholly one-sided narrative, as an objective account of events.