Julian Assange has long been a thorn in the side of the United States Government, almost as bad a thorn as NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
The one major difference between the two is that Snowden worked from inside the system, while Assange worked from the outside. Snowden was a whistle-blower who wanted to let the American people know that the NSA was spying on US citizens, and breaking the law to do so. He chose to give up his job, his reputation and his freedom in the pursuit of that goal.
In the end, he was forced to flee the country and is currently living in Russia under political asylum.
The government’s case against Snowden seems to be solid, as he clearly broke the law in leaking classified information. But that’s not the case with Assange. There is a fairly clear argument that Assange was acting in the office of a journalist, merely publishing government information. It has been firmly established that the First Amendment protects reporters who publish any government information, even classified information.
Because of that, the only real charge the United States has against Assange is a rather shaky one that Assange is alleged to have “encouraged” Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), a US Army intelligence specialist, to leak classified information. But what evidence does the government have?
The government might claim that Assange encouraged Manning to commit the crime of espionage, but unless they can prove it, it really doesn’t matter. His encouragement may have been nothing more than receiving the documents and asking for more. If so, then he acted in good faith as a journalist. It’s just too bad that the government doesn’t like what he published.
Assange is concerned that this initial charge could merely be the means to open the door and arrest him. Once arrested, the government would move him to a black site, where he could be tortured and even killed out of the public eye.
The key to this all is what exactly Assange has done. Did he actually offer Manning any assistance in her actions. The warrant for his arrest accuses him of possibly hacking, based upon an offer of assistance to her, and assuming that he materially helped Manning in breaking in to systems so that she could retrieve classified records. But it doesn’t say that there is any real evidence, beyond his offer.
While hacking can be prosecuted as a felony, it is not normally considered a major felony case. But the real concern is a charge of espionage. Assange is concerned about the government trying him for espionage, which carries a life sentence.
The timing of this arrest is interesting, although it may be coincidental. Chelsea Manning has already spent several years imprisoned for espionage and was just recently found guilty of contempt of court, for refusing to testify against Julian Assange. Without such testimony, it is doubtful that the federal government is going to be able to get a grand jury indictment against Assange, let alone a conviction.
Assange was not arrested by any US law enforcement agency. Rather, he was arrested by the British. For the last seven years, he has been living in the small Ecuadorian embassy in London. Apparently Assange’s self-imposed confinement has created a severe mental and emotional strain. Living and working in one room, with little outside contact, would be much like being imprisoned. That has apparently taken its toll.
Officials from the Ecuadorian embassy have reported having problems with Assange, including erratic, antisocial behavior and breaking of the agreement which allowed him to stay in the embassy. President Luis Moreno of Ecuador released a statement, explaining his country’s decision to withdraw Assange’s asylum status. In it, he stated that Assange had become discourteous, aggressive, hostile and threatening. In addition, he accused Assange of installing electronic devices, including devices to block security cameras, which was not allowed.
Together with revoking his asylum status, the Ecuadorian embassy contacted UK officials, letting them know that they would be expelling Assange from the embassy. This led the British to arrest him, under the US hacking charge.
However, our British cousins aren’t immediately releasing Assange to US custody. Rather, the DOJ (Department of Justice) has until early June to prove to the UK courts that they have sufficient evidence against the founder of WikiLeaks to prosecute him. Whether they can marshal that evidence in time is yet to be seen.
After his arrest, a sealed indictment was opened in federal court, mentioning only the 2010 publishing of the information that he received from Manning. There is apparently no further indictment against him for the many other leaks he has published, including the ones about secret CIA hacking tools and the release of Democrat e-mails before the 2016 presidential elections. This is not to say that the government won’t seek further indictments against him; just that they haven’t done so yet.
The fact that there is a Grand Jury indictment against Assange indicates that they do have some real evidence against him. However, whether that evidence is dependent on Manning’s testimony or whether it is enough to convince a UK court is yet to be seen.
How Will this Affect the US?
The real question here isn’t what’s going to happen to Julian Assange, although I’m sure that the story will be interesting and many will be following it. His trial will be interesting, to say the least, as a defense of the First Amendment, if the case ever comes to trail.
But that trial is really a side-show to the bigger picture; how Assange’s arrest is going to affect WikiLeaks and the United States.
If we were to try and describe Julian Assange, we would have to call him a true citizen of the world, not of any one country. He isn’t a US citizen, but is rather from Australia. That is bound to affect the charges brought against him, as well as the manner of his prosecution. While we tend to pay more attention to the material his organization has posted about the United States, we are not the only country that WikiLeaks has revealed the secrets of. They started by exposing the Kenyan government; we’re just the biggest target.
How will it affect WikiLeaks?
Julian Assange is a brilliant man, who has had years to prepare for his eventual arrest. With that looming over him every day of his life, it seems likely that he would do whatever he could, to make sure his namesake organization survived him.
WikiLeaks is a far-flung organization, with their main server in Sweden. Yet shutting down that server would not be enough to stop the organization. Normal security precautions would dictate having mirror sites in other countries, around the world, some of which will be in countries that would not readily accept a request from the USA to shut them down.
At a minimum, we can expect the data which is currently on WikiLeaks to remain on the internet, readily accessible to friend and foe. But what of future leaks, will the organization continue to exist?
The answer to this question is a resounding yes. While Assange is usually credited with being its founder, in reality he isn’t. He has served as its editor-in-chief and spokesperson, but he is not the founder. All the organization needs to do is put someone else in change, and they can continue operating as if nothing had happened.
But there may be more than that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Assange, himself a brilliant programmer and hacker, has prepared a number of Easter Eggs, to be released in the event of his capture. What these Easter Eggs might contain is up for grabs, but I’m sure they will be at least embarrassing to a number of high officials, probably in a number of different countries.
Many of the documents that WikiLeaks has released are redacted. What is being redacted has been determined by the five news agencies that WikiLeaks works with; le Monde, El Pais, the Guardian, Der Spiegel and The New York Times. These organizations received the documents, before they were posted on the WikiLeaks websites, and apparently WikiLeaks has been following their redactions in his releases.
Assange reached out to the US State Department, asking for guidelines in redacting the documents, putting the State Department in a quandary. Were they to offer those guidelines, they would be legitimizing the organization, so they chose to deny the request, thereby leaving it up to Assange and his organization’s discretion.
So where are the original unredacted documents? They are apparently floating around the internet in a bit torrent that contains the word “insurance.” The file is 1.4 gigabytes of text, encrypted with AES256, a very robust encryption standard. Supposedly this can’t be broken, unless one knows the password. I guess the real question here is whether the NSA has broken the code; and I’d bet on them succeeding in that, as the NSA is the world’s premiere code-breaking organization.
How will it affect the USA?
Assange has not been secretive about the existence of this insurance file, apparently believing that once it is out there, no government or organization can stop it. There is no question that it has been widely spread and has probably been downloaded by over 100,000 people who are awaiting the day when the password is provided.
When will that be? According to public statements by Assange, either his death of the dissolution of WikiLeaks will trigger the release of that file. Assuming that he is telling the truth, and there is no reason to doubt him on this, we might soon see the release of that password and the information locked away in that bit torrent file.
As a secretive, decentralized organization, it is hard to say whether the CIA or other intelligence services know who holds the dead man switch to this file. Even if they know everyone who is part of the organization’s small staff, is it conceivable that they could arrest them simultaneously, all around the globe, so that the file can’t be released? It is doubtful.
But the problem is even worse for the government. WikiLeaks also depends on several thousand volunteers. Who knows how many of them might have access to the dead man switch? It would make sense that some of the trigger holders are well hidden, disassociated with the organization in any obvious way, so that they would remain outside of any potential investigation and could still send out the password file, if that became necessary.
Of course, none of us know what that file contains. It clearly includes the unredacted version of many documents that have been uploaded to the WikiLeaks website. But it probably contains more than that. Assange has alluded to the file containing a vast number of documents which they never released. It would seem that those documents are potentially more damaging to the US government and other world governments than what we’ve already seen.
Herein lies the true danger to the United States of America. Depending on the type of information released, it could be extremely damaging to our government, perhaps even damaging enough to bring down the government. I’m not talking about bringing down President Trump here, I’m talking about bringing down the whole government; creating a revolution.
That’s the danger our government faces right now. They are playing high-stakes poker with a master poker player. The game may very well be fixed and it is yet to be seen if the back room magicians at the NSA and the CIA can overcome the method by which it is fixed.
You place your bets and you take your chances. Regardless of how it comes out, it will be interesting. But it might be dangerous too and we might make fatal mistakes. The potential damage to our government could very well affect every American. So they aren’t just playing high-stakes poker with their own chips, they’ve thrown ours on the table too.