Category Archives: WikiLeaks

Limits of Dissent

When we think of prisons, we tend to think of Alcatraz, Bang Kwang and Belmarsh with their guard towers, iron bars and concrete. But in his forthcoming book, 33 Myths of the System, Darren Allen invites us to imagine a prison with walls made entirely of vacuous guff:

Censorship is unnecessary in a system in which everyone can speak, but only those guaranteed not to say anything worth listening to can be heard.

Is this true? For example, how easy is it to encounter genuinely uncompromised analysis locating the Guardian within a propaganda system designed to filter news, views and voices to serve powerful interests?

It is a key issue because the Guardian is the best ‘centre-left’ newspaper we have. If The Times and Telegraph define the limits of thinkable thought on the ‘mainstream’ right, then the Guardian does the same at the other end of the ‘spectrum’. In other words, the Guardian defines corporate media limits in accepting left views and voices. If it’s not in the Guardian, it’s not going to be anywhere else in the ‘mainstream’.

Are the Guardian‘s famous in-house dissidents willing and able to address this crucial issue? How about leftist firebrand Owen Jones? In November 2017, Jones lamented on Twitter:

I’m barred from criticising colleagues in my column. Weirdly this doesn’t seem to work the other way round.

Jones can tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the corporate media, as long as he doesn’t dish the dirt on his employer. Ironies inevitably abound. Last April, Jones commented:

The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.

Even as Jones was speaking out on this ‘suffocating groupthink’, his comment was being suffocated by his obligation to spare his colleagues’ blushes.

In December 2014, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook challenged George Monbiot:

@GeorgeMonbiot Guardian, your employer, is precisely part of media problem. Why this argument [on the need for structural reform] is far from waste of energy. It’s vital.

Monbiot brazenly stonewalled:

@Jonathan_K_Cook that’s your view. I don’t share it. Most of my work exposing corporate power has been through or with the Guardian.

The Guardian: ‘Solid And Reliable’

The first rule of Guardian club, then: you do not criticise the Guardian. The second rule of Guardian club… etc.

Far greater hope for the kind of serious criticism we have in mind seems to lie with renowned dissident Glenn Greenwald who worked for the Guardian for more than a year and who helped secure a Pulitzer prize for the paper’s reporting on the NSA story. After all, unlike Jones and Monbiot, Greenwald certainly is willing to criticise the Guardian.

The latest example is his response to the paper’s recent, front-page claim that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange met former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort at least three times in the Ecuadorian Embassy. The Guardian article, which appears to be a stellar example of ‘fake news’, was apparently intended to bolster claims that Assange had conspired with Trump, and with Trump’s supposed Russian allies, to fatally damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to become US president. Greenwald commented:

The reason it will be so devastating to the Guardian if this story turns out false is because the Guardian has an institutional hatred for Assange. They’ve proven they’ll dispense with journalistic standards for it. And factions within Ecuador’s government know they can use them.

Speaking to The Canary, Fidel Narváez a former consul and first secretary at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, insisted that the Guardian‘s claims are entirely false:

It is impossible for any visitor to enter the embassy without going through very strict protocols and leaving a clear record: obtaining written approval from the ambassador, registering with security personnel, and leaving a copy of ID. The embassy is the most surveilled on Earth; not only are there cameras positioned on neighbouring buildings recording every visitor, but inside the building every movement is recorded with CCTV cameras, 24/7. In fact, security personnel have always spied on Julian and his visitors. It is simply not possible that Manafort visited the embassy.

The Washington Post reported this week:

One week after publication, the Guardian’s bombshell looks as though it could be a dud.

No other news organization has been able to corroborate the Guardian’s reporting to substantiate its central claim of a meeting. News organizations typically do such independent reporting to confirm important stories.

WaPo noted that the Guardian ‘has stood by the story, albeit somewhat halfheartedly. It has said little to defend itself amid mounting criticism’.

Indeed, the Guardian has so far merely commented:

This story relied on a number of sources. We put these allegations to both Paul Manafort and Julian Assange’s representatives prior to publication. Neither responded to deny the visits taking place. We have since updated the story to reflect their denials.

But in fact WikiLeaks did deny that the visits took place in a tweeted response to one of the Guardian authors of the article.

In an attempt to encourage a more serious response, Greenwald sent a series of excellent, challenging questions to Guardian editor Kath Viner and journalist Luke Harding. Greenwald has pointed to huge holes in the story and condemned the paper’s hatred of Assange. However, Greenwald has also commented that, apart from the issue of Assange, ‘the Guardian’ is ‘an otherwise solid and reliable paper’. He has repeatedly affirmed this view:

Like I said, I think the Guardian is a solid paper that has good journalists and does good work, and I wouldn’t derive any pleasure from seeing its reputation obliterated by a debacle of this magnitude, though I do think it’d be deserved if the story proves to be false.

He even said:

I think the Guardian is an important paper with great journalists. I hope the story turns out true. But the skepticism over this story is very widespread, including among Assange’s most devoted haters, because it’s so sketchy. If Manafort went there, there’s video. Let’s see it.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook responded:

And finally, in a bizarre tweet, Greenwald opined, “I hope the story [maligning Assange] turns out true” – apparently because maintenance of the Guardian’s reputation is more important than Assange’s fate and the right of journalists to dig up embarrassing secrets without fear of being imprisoned.

Cook indicated the clear limits of Greenwald’s dissent by providing the kind of rare, honest analysis that explains the Guardian‘s role within the propaganda system:

What this misses is that the Guardian’s attacks on Assange are not exceptional or motivated solely by personal animosity. They are entirely predictable and systematic. Rather than being the reason for the Guardian violating basic journalistic standards and ethics, the paper’s hatred of Assange is a symptom of a deeper malaise in the Guardian and the wider corporate media.

Even aside from its decade-long campaign against Assange, the Guardian is far from “solid and reliable”, as Greenwald claims. It has been at the forefront of the relentless, and unhinged, attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for prioritising the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s right to continue its belligerent occupation. Over the past three years, the Guardian has injected credibility into the Israel lobby’s desperate efforts to tar Corbyn as an anti-semite. See here, here and here.

Similarly, the Guardian worked tirelessly to promote Clinton and undermine Sanders in the 2016 Democratic nomination process – another reason the paper has been so assiduous in promoting the idea that Assange, aided by Russia, was determined to promote Trump over Clinton for the presidency.

The Guardian’s coverage of Latin America, especially of populist leftwing governments that have rebelled against traditional and oppressive US hegemony in the region, has long grated with analysts and experts. Its especial venom has been reserved for leftwing figures like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, democratically elected but official enemies of the US, rather than the region’s rightwing authoritarians beloved of Washington.

The Guardian has been vocal in the so-called “fake news” hysteria, decrying the influence of social media, the only place where leftwing dissidents have managed to find a small foothold to promote their politics and counter the corporate media narrative.

The Guardian has painted social media chiefly as a platform overrun by Russian trolls, arguing that this should justify ever-tighter restrictions that have so far curbed critical voices of the dissident left more than the right.

On November 29, we tweeted Greenwald:

Hi @ggreenwald, you have consistently soft-pedalled your criticism of your former colleagues at the Guardian, most recently describing the paper as “solid and reliable'” Will you respond to @Jonathan_K_Cook’s astute and rational criticism of your position?’

At time of writing the tweet has received 57 retweets and 82 likes. Greenwald has been tweeting and must have seen some of these responses and yet has chosen not to reply. We would guess that he finds himself in a pickle: if he attempts to defend his false claim that the Guardian is ‘solid and reliable’, he will be shot down in flames for the reasons described above by Cook. And if he agrees with Cook’s analysis, he risks alienating former colleagues and important allies on the paper.

The conclusion, then, is that Greenwald is following so many Guardian and other ‘mainstream’ journalists before him in simply blanking reasonable, rational questions.

Greenwald and the Progressive Left

Despite defending us against critics in the past, and despite the fact that we are writing from a similar political viewpoint inspired by Noam Chomsky, for whom he has expressed immense admiration, Greenwald has almost completely ignored our work. We cannot remember that he has ever retweeted our media alerts or retweeted any of our tweets (there may have been one or two exceptions). Our Twitter search ‘from:ggreenwald “medialens”‘ suggests very little interest or interaction from his side. We saw no point in sending him a review copy of our new book, Propaganda Blitz, about which Chomsky has said: ‘Great book. I have been recommending it.’ (Email to Media Lens, November 22, 2018) We, on the other hand, have cited, praised and tweeted Greenwald’s work many times.

One might certainly ask why Greenwald would bother with a two-man, tinpot operation? Who are we? But it does seem extraordinary to us that Greenwald comments so much on the UK press whilst apparently ignoring writers who are indisputably the most honest, important and popular critics of the UK press, and of the Guardian in particular.

John Pilger is arguably the finest political journalist of our time and certainly the most high-profile critic of UK corporate media, especially the Guardian. No-one else who has appeared regularly in ‘mainstream’ newspapers and on national TV comes close to matching the honesty and accuracy of Pilger’s criticism. As far as we are aware, Greenwald ignores Pilger’s work. Using the Twitter search engine, we checked for mentions of Pilger, ‘from:ggreenwald “pilger”‘, and found zero mentions in any of Greenwald’s 50,000 tweets. This is exactly like a UK dissident critically analysing US media without mentioning Chomsky or Edward Herman.

In 2011, Jonathan Cook won the prestigious Martha Gellhorn special award for journalism. We have cited above his powerful criticism of the Guardian, lent even more weight by the fact that he worked as a staff journalist at the paper for five years. Cook tells us he has never seen Greenwald mention or retweet anything he has written. In 2014, Greenwald did make a positive comment in response to criticism from Cook:

I’ve long been a fan of your work as well…

Curiously, this ‘fan’ does not even follow Cook on Twitter.

The British historian Mark Curtis is another rare, honest critic of corporate media. Chomsky commented on his book, Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam (Serpent’s Tail, 2010):

Unearthing this largely hidden history is a contribution of the highest significance, and could hardly be more timely.

Curtis is also highly critical of the Guardian. Last month, he tweeted:

All decent writers must now reflect: do you really want to contribute to an outlet producing utter fabrications in service of the state? Even retweeting G [Guardian] articles should stop, IMO.

Curtis told us he has never seen Greenwald mention or tweet his work.

By contrast, Greenwald can often be found applauding and retweeting Guardian journalists and commentators like Owen Jones and George Monbiot, and, of course, former New Statesman political editor and Guardian contributor, Mehdi Hasan, who now publishes in The Intercept alongside Greenwald. Is Greenwald so reluctant to alienate the Guardian that he is steering clear of UK media analysts who are strongly critical of the paper?

None of this is intended as condemnation of Greenwald.  Perhaps he is right to maintain friendly relations with powerful allies when facing so many heavyweight political enemies in the US. But it is a rare form of cognitive dissonance that praises both the Guardian and Chomsky.

The key point, for us, which has nothing to do with lefter-than-thou sniping, is that this indicates the extraordinary extent to which the best, supposedly ‘centre-left’ media are protected from rational criticism. Even a comparatively honest, Chomskyite journalist like Greenwald is either not willing or not able to tell the whole truth about a paper that has done enormous harm in supporting Blair (still now), attacking Corbyn, and in promoting Perpetual War with endless nonsense about ‘our’ supposed ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians in oil-rich countries like Iraq and Libya. The Guardian has, at last, begun responding to the climate extinction crisis with some urgency, but it has long downplayed the gravity of the crisis and the truth of corporate denialism, while simultaneously promoting high status consumerism and fossil fuel advertising.

And this is why the Guardian and other liberal media are held in such absurdly high regard: very few journalists indeed are willing to subject them to the serious criticism they deserve.

The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian

This is going to be one of the most infamous news disasters since Stern published the ‘Hitler Diaries’.

— WikiLeaks, Twitter, November 27, 2018

Those at The Guardian certainly felt they were onto something.  It would be a scoop that would have consequences on a range of fronts featuring President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Julian Assange and the eponymous Russian connection with the 2016 US elections.

If they could tie the ribbon of Manafort over the Assage package, one linked to the release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails in the summer of 2016, they could strike journalistic gold.  At one stroke, they could achieve a trifecta: an exposé on WikiLeaks, Russian involvement, and the tie-in with the Trump campaign.

The virally charged story, when run towards the leg end of November, claimed that Manafort had visited Assange in the embassy “in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016.”  Speculation happily followed in an account untroubled by heavy documentation.

It is unclear why Manafort would have wanted to see Assange and what was discussed.  But the last apparent meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

It was a strikingly shoddy effort.  An “internal document” supposedly garnered from the Ecuadorean intelligence agency named a certain “Paul Manaford [sic]” as a guest while also noting the presence of “Russians”.  No document or individual names were supplied.

The enterprise was supposedly to come with an added satisfaction: getting one over the prickly Assange, a person with whom the paper has yet a frosty association with since things went pear shaped after Cablegate in 2010. Luke Harding, the lead behind this latest packaging effort, has received his fair share of pasting in the past, with Assange accusing him of “minimal additional research” and mere reiteration in the shabby cobbling The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (2014). “The Guardian,” Assange observed in reviewing the work, “is a curiously inward-looking beast.”  Harding, for his part, is whistling the promotional tune of his unmistakably titled book Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House.  The feud persists with much fuel.

Unfortunately for those coup seekers attempting a framed symmetry, the bomb has yet to detonate, an inert creature finding its ways into placid waters. WikiLeaks was, understandably, the first out of the stables with an irate tweet.  “Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation.  @WikiLeaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange.”

Manafort himself denied ever meeting Assange.

I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him.  I have never been contacted by anyone connected to WikiLeaks, either directly or indirectly.  I have never reached out to Assange or WikiLeaks on any matter.

WikiLeaks has also pointed to a certain busy bee fabricator as a possible source for Harding et al, an Ecuadorean journalist by the name of Fernando Villavicencio.  Villavicencio cut his milk teeth digging into the record of Moreno’s predecessor and somewhat Assange friendly, Rafael Correa.

Glenn Greenwald, himself having had a stint – and a fruitful one covering the Snowden revelations on the National Security Agency – had also been relentless on the inconsistencies. If Manafort did visit Assange, why the vagueness and absence of evidence? London, he points out, “is one of the world’s most surveilled, if not the most surveilled, cities.”  The Ecuadorean embassy is, in turn, “one of the most scrutinized, surveilled, monitored and filmed locations on the planet.” Yet no photographic or video evidence has been found linking Manafort to Assange.

The grey-haired establishment types are also wondering about the lack of fizz and bubble.  Paul Farhi at The Washington Post furnishes an example:

No other news organization has been able to corroborate the Guardian’s reporting to substantiate its central claim of a meeting.  News organizations typically do such independent reporting to confirm important stories.

Another distorting aspect to this squalid matter is the Manafort-Ecuadorean link, which does little to help Harding’s account.  A debt ridden Manafort, according to the New York Times, ventured his way to Ecuador in mid-May last year to proffer his services to the newly elected president, Lenín Moreno.  Moreno could not have been flattered: this was a man’s swansong and rescue bid, desperate to ingratiate himself with governments as varied as Iraqi Kurdistan and Puerto Rico.

In two meetings (the number might be more) between Manafort and his Ecuadorean interlocutor, various issues were canvassed.  Eyes remained on China but there was also interest in finding some workable solution to debt relief from the United States.  Then came that issue of a certain Australian, and now also Ecuadorean national, holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in Knightsbridge, London.

Moreno has been courting several options, none of which seem to have grown wings.  A possibility of getting a diplomatic post for Assange in Russia did not take off. (British authorities still threatened the prospect of arrest.)  The issue of removing the thorniest dissident publisher in modern memory remains furiously alive.

As ever, accounts of the Moreno-Manafort tête-à-tête vary.  A spokesman for Manafort, one Jason Maloni, suggests a different account.  Manafort was not the instigator, but merely the recipient, of a query from Moreno about “his desire to remove Julian Assange from Ecuador’s embassy.”  Manafort listened impassively, “but made no promises as this was ancillary to the purpose of the meeting.”  Russia, he sought to clarify, did not crop up.

Fraud might run through Manafort’s blood (convictions on eight counts of bank-and tax-fraud is fairly convincing proof of that), but the case assembled against Assange seems very much one of enthusiastic botch-up masquerading as a stitch-up.  So far, the paper has battened down the hatches, and Harding has referred any queries through The Guardian’s spokesman, Brendan O’Grady.  Zeal can be punishing.  O’Grady will have to earn his keep.

Julian Assange: Could 50,000 People Provide a Human Corridor?

New Zealand citizen journalist Suzi Dawson, herself a whistleblower who has taken political asylum in Russia to avoid persecution by the New Zealand government, listed what she considered the ten most important achievements by Julian Assange and Wikileaks. This was in an interview with Jimmy Dore.

Here they are:

1)  “Wikileaks has been keeping the historical record intact, and is actually combating the digital loss as web pages and websites are constantly being taken down from the internet by the powers that be. In this current paradigm they’re actually scrubbing entire websites and domains at every opportunity. They’re trying to erase information from our living history. And Wikileaks’ founding charter says that any information that’s at risk of censorship or deletion can find a safe harbor at Wikileaks.”

2)  “Wikileaks enables victims of persecution to have admissible evidence to fight their cases in court…. 40,000 cases around the world have had Wikileaks documents submitted as evidence to the court.”

3)  “They’ve maintained a 100% accuracy record over ten years of publishing.”

4)  “Wikileaks is still publishing despite the full force of the Empire being used against them. Intelligence agencies, financial service providers, hostile media and law fare, and, of course, now Julian Assange’s solitary confinement, we still see Wikileaks releases being published.”

5)  “Wikileaks has established a digital library of over 10 million documents, containing pristine datasets, the full relevance of which will only become apparent years into the future. Every current news story can be further informed by doing a key word search to see what Wikileaks archives contain about topics or persons or places that may be relevant to that news story.”

6)  “Wikileaks has established a whole new way of doing journalism. They also initiated the first anonymous drop boxes, which we now see that a similar technology is being used by media outlets across the globe.”

7)  “Wikileaks has become the vanguard of press freedom, always pushing at the boundaries of what is acceptable in publishing. And that is incredibly important because as they are pushing those boundaries further and further out, it allows independent media and citizen media to fill that space in between. We can go further and do more significant things because Wikileaks is out there taking the heat for us.”

8)  “Wikileaks has published leaks on every country in the world without geopolitical bias.”

9)  “Wikileaks leaves no source behind, and not only do they go above and beyond to support their sources … they’ve actually established other organizations to support other at risk journalists and whistleblowers, such as the Courage Foundation, and we now have proven that Julian Assange was involved in the establishment of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.”

10)  “Julian saved the life of Edward Snowden, who is renowned as the greatest whistleblower of our generation, and was brought to you by Wikileaks.”

Julian Assange should be getting a Nobel Prize, not being persecuted.

What can we do to save this courageous, heroic man? 

Can we get 50,000 people to show up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to provide him a “human corridor” to escape to another embassy? They can’t arrest or kill 50,000 people.

Guardian ups its Vilification of Julian Assange

It is welcome that finally there has been a little pushback, including from leading journalists, to the Guardian’s long-running vilification of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.

Reporter Luke Harding’s latest article, claiming that Donald Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly visited Assange in Ecuador’s embassy in London on three occasions, is so full of holes that even hardened opponents of Assange in the corporate media are struggling to stand by it.

Faced with the backlash, the Guardian quickly – and very quietly – rowed back its initial certainty that its story was based on verified facts. Instead, it amended the text, without acknowledging it had done so, to attribute the claims to unnamed, and uncheckable, “sources”.

The propaganda function of the piece is patent. It is intended to provide evidence for long-standing allegations that Assange conspired with Trump, and Trump’s supposed backers in the Kremlin, to damage Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.

The Guardian’s latest story provides a supposedly stronger foundation for an existing narrative: that Assange and Wikileaks knowingly published emails hacked by Russia from the Democratic party’s servers. In truth, there is no public evidence that the emails were hacked, or that Russia was involved. Central actors have suggested instead that the emails were leaked from within the Democratic party.

Nonetheless, this unverified allegation has been aggressively exploited by the Democratic leadership because it shifts attention away both from its failure to mount an effective electoral challenge to Trump and from the damaging contents of the emails. These show that party bureaucrats sought to rig the primaries to make sure Clinton’s challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, lost.

To underscore the intended effect of the Guardian’s new claims, Harding even throws in a casual and unsubstantiated reference to “Russians” joining Manafort in supposedly meeting Assange.

Manafort has denied the Guardian’s claims, while Assange has threatened to sue the Guardian for libel.

‘Responsible for Trump’

The emotional impact of the Guardian story is to suggest that Assange is responsible for four years or more of Trump rule. But more significantly, it bolsters the otherwise risible claim that Assange is not a publisher – and thereby entitled to the protections of a free press, as enjoyed by the Guardian or the New York Times – but the head of an organisation engaged in espionage for a foreign power.

The intention is to deeply discredit Assange, and by extension the Wikileaks organisation, in the eyes of right-thinking liberals. That, in turn, will make it much easier to silence Assange and the vital cause he represents: the use of new media to hold to account the old, corporate media and political elites through the imposition of far greater transparency.

The Guardian story will prepare public opinion for the moment when Ecuador’s right wing government under President Lenin Moreno forces Assange out of the embassy, having already withdrawn most of his rights to use digital media.

It will soften opposition when the UK moves to arrest Assange on self-serving bail violation charges and extradites him to the US. And it will pave the way for the US legal system to lock Assange up for a very long time.

For the best part of a decade, any claims by Assange’s supporters that avoiding this fate was the reason Assange originally sought asylum in the embassy was ridiculed by corporate journalists, not least at the Guardian.

Even when a United Nations panel of experts in international law ruled in 2016 that Assange was being arbitrarily – and unlawfully – detained by the UK, Guardian writers led efforts to discredit the UN report. See here and here.

Now Assange and his supporters have been proved right once again. An administrative error this month revealed that the US justice department had secretly filed criminal charges against Assange.

Heavy surveillance

The problem for the Guardian, which should have been obvious to its editors from the outset, is that any visits by Manafort would be easily verifiable without relying on unnamed “sources”.

Glenn Greenwald is far from alone in noting that London is possibly the most surveilled city in the world, with CCTV cameras everywhere. The environs of the Ecuadorian embassy are monitored especially heavily, with continuous filming by the UK and Ecuadorian authorities and most likely by the US and other actors with an interest in Assange’s fate.

The idea that Manafort or “Russians” could have wandered into the embassy to meet Assange even once without their trail, entry and meeting being intimately scrutinised and recorded is simply preposterous.

According to Greenwald:

If Paul Manafort … visited Assange at the Embassy, there would be ample amounts of video and other photographic proof demonstrating that this happened. The Guardian provides none of that.

Former British ambassador Craig Murray also points out the extensive security checks insisted on by the embassy to which any visitor to Assange must submit. Any visits by Manafort would have been logged.

In fact, the Guardian obtained the embassy’s logs in May, and has never made any mention of either Manafort or “Russians” being identified in them. It did not refer to the logs in its latest story.

Murray:

The problem with this latest fabrication is that [Ecuador’s President] Moreno had already released the visitor logs to the Mueller inquiry. Neither Manafort nor these “Russians” are in the visitor logs … What possible motive would the Ecuadorean government have for facilitating secret unrecorded visits by Paul Manafort? Furthermore it is impossible that the intelligence agency – who were in charge of the security – would not know the identity of these alleged “Russians”.

No fact-checking

It is worth noting it should be vitally important for a serious publication like the Guardian to ensure its claims are unassailably true – both because Assange’s personal fate rests on their veracity, and because, even more importantly, a fundamental right, the freedom of the press, is at stake.

Given this, one would have expected the Guardian’s editors to have insisted on the most stringent checks imaginable before going to press with Harding’s story. At a very minimum, they should have sought out a response from Assange and Manafort before publication. Neither precaution was taken.

I worked for the Guardian for a number of years, and know well the layers of checks that any highly sensitive story has to go through before publication. In that lengthy process, a variety of commissioning editors, lawyers, backbench editors and the editor herself, Kath Viner, would normally insist on cuts to anything that could not be rigorously defended and corroborated.

And yet this piece seems to have been casually waved through, given a green light even though its profound shortcomings were evident to a range of well-placed analysts and journalists from the outset.

That at the very least hints that the Guardian thought they had “insurance” on this story. And the only people who could have promised that kind of insurance are the security and intelligence services – presumably of Britain, the United States and / or Ecuador.

It appears the Guardian has simply taken this story, provided by spooks, at face value. Even if it later turns out that Manafort did visit Assange, the Guardian clearly had no compelling evidence for its claims when it published them. That is profoundly irresponsible journalism – fake news – that should be of the gravest concern to readers.

A pattern, not an aberration

Despite all this, even analysts critical of the Guardian’s behaviour have shown a glaring failure to understand that its latest coverage represents not an aberration by the paper but decisively fits with a pattern.

Glenn Greenwald, who once had an influential column in the Guardian until an apparent, though unacknowledged, falling out with his employer over the Edward Snowden revelations, wrote a series of baffling observations about the Guardian’s latest story.

First, he suggested it was simply evidence of the Guardian’s long-standing (and well-documented) hostility towards Assange.

The Guardian, an otherwise solid and reliable paper, has such a pervasive and unprofessionally personal hatred for Julian Assange that it has frequently dispensed with all journalistic standards in order to malign him.

It was also apparently evidence of the paper’s clickbait tendencies:

They [Guardian editors] knew that publishing this story would cause partisan warriors to excitedly spread the story, and that cable news outlets would hyperventilate over it, and that they’d reap the rewards regardless of whether the story turned out to be true or false.

And finally, in a bizarre tweet, Greenwald opined, “I hope the story [maligning Assange] turns out true” – apparently because maintenance of the Guardian’s reputation is more important than Assange’s fate and the right of journalists to dig up embarrassing secrets without fear of being imprisoned.

Deeper malaise

What this misses is that the Guardian’s attacks on Assange are not exceptional or motivated solely by personal animosity. They are entirely predictable and systematic. Rather than being the reason for the Guardian violating basic journalistic standards and ethics, the paper’s hatred of Assange is a symptom of a deeper malaise in the Guardian and the wider corporate media.

Even aside from its decade-long campaign against Assange, the Guardian is far from “solid and reliable”, as Greenwald claims. It has been at the forefront of the relentless, and unhinged, attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for prioritising the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s right to continue its belligerent occupation. Over the past three years, the Guardian has injected credibility into the Israel lobby’s desperate efforts to tar Corbyn as an anti-semite. See here, here and here.

Similarly, the Guardian worked tirelessly to promote Clinton and undermine Sanders in the 2016 Democratic nomination process – another reason the paper has been so assiduous in promoting the idea that Assange, aided by Russia, was determined to promote Trump over Clinton for the presidency.

The Guardian’s coverage of Latin America, especially of populist left wing governments that have rebelled against traditional and oppressive US hegemony in the region, has long grated with analysts and experts. Its especial venom has been reserved for left wing figures like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, democratically elected but official enemies of the US, rather than the region’s right wing authoritarians beloved of Washington.

The Guardian has been vocal in the so-called “fake news” hysteria, decrying the influence of social media, the only place where left wing dissidents have managed to find a small foothold to promote their politics and counter the corporate media narrative.

The Guardian has painted social media chiefly as a platform overrun by Russian trolls, arguing that this should justify ever-tighter restrictions that have so far curbed critical voices of the dissident left more than the right.

Heroes of the neoliberal order

Equally, the Guardian has made clear who its true heroes are. Certainly not Corbyn or Assange, who threaten to disrupt the entrenched neoliberal order that is hurtling us towards climate breakdown and economic collapse.

Its pages, however, are readily available to the latest effort to prop up the status quo from Tony Blair, the man who led Britain, on false pretences, into the largest crime against humanity in living memory – the attack on Iraq.

That “humanitarian intervention” cost the lives of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and created a vacuum that destabilised much of the Middle East, sucked in Islamic jihadists like al-Qaeda and ISIS, and contributed to the migrant crisis in Europe that has fuelled the resurgence of the far-right. None of that is discussed in the Guardian or considered grounds for disqualifying Blair as an arbiter of what is good for Britain and the world’s future.

The Guardian also has an especial soft spot for blogger Elliot Higgins, who, aided by the Guardian, has shot to unlikely prominence as a self-styled “weapons expert”. Like Luke Harding, Higgins invariably seems ready to echo whatever the British and American security services need verifying “independently”.

Higgins and his well-staffed website Bellingcat have taken on for themselves the role of arbiters of truth on many foreign affairs issues, taking a prominent role in advocating for narratives that promote US and NATO hegemony while demonising Russia, especially in highly contested arenas such as Syria.

That clear partisanship should be no surprise, given that Higgins now enjoys an “academic” position at, and funding from, the Atlantic Council, a high-level, Washington-based think-tank founded to drum up support for NATO and justify its imperialist agenda.

Improbably, the Guardian has adopted Higgins as the poster-boy for a supposed citizen journalism it has sought to undermine as “fake news” whenever it occurs on social media without the endorsement of state-backed organisations.

The truth is that the Guardian has not erred in this latest story attacking Assange, or in its much longer-running campaign to vilify him. With this story, it has done what it regularly does when supposedly vital western foreign policy interests are at stake – it simply regurgitates an elite-serving, western narrative.

Its job is to shore up a consensus on the left for attacks on leading threats to the existing, neoliberal order: whether they are a platform like Wikileaks promoting whistle-blowing against a corrupt western elite; or a politician like Jeremy Corbyn seeking to break apart the status quo on the rapacious financial industries or Israel-Palestine; or a radical leader like Hugo Chavez who threatened to overturn a damaging and exploitative US dominance of “America’s backyard”; or social media dissidents who have started to chip away at the elite-friendly narratives of corporate media, including the Guardian.

The Guardian did not make a mistake in vilifying Assange without a shred of evidence. It did what it is designed to do.

UPDATE: Excellent background from investigative journalist Gareth Porter, published shortly before Harding’s story, explains why the Guardian’s hit-piece is so important for those who want Assange out of the embassy and behind bars. Read Porter’s article here.

U.K. and Ecuador Conspire to Deliver Julian Assange to U.S. Authorities

Ecuadoreans hold up pictures of Julian Asssange in a show of support at the Government Palace in Quito, Ecuador on Oct. 31, 2018. (Dolores Ochoa / AP)

The accidental revelation in mid-November that U.S. federal prosecutors had secretly filed charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange underlines the determination of the Trump administration to end Assange’s asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been staying since 2012. Behind the revelation of those secret charges for supposedly threatening U.S. national security is a murky story of a political ploy by the Ecuadorean and British governments to create a phony rationale for ousting Assange from the embassy. The two regimes agreed to base their plan on the claim that Assange was conspiring to flee to Russia.

Trump and his aides applauded Assange and WikiLeaks during the 2016 election campaign for spreading embarrassing revelations about Hillary Clinton’s campaign via leaked DNC emails.  But all that changed abruptly in March 2017, when WikiLeaks released thousands of pages of CIA documents describing the CIA’s hacking tools and techniques. The batch of documents published by WikiLeaks did not release the actual “armed” malware deployed by the CIA. But the “Vault 7” leak, as WikiLeaks dubbed it, did show how those tools allowed the agency to break into smartphones, computers and internet-connected televisions anywhere in the world — and even to make it look like those hacks were done by another intelligence service.

The CIA and the national security state reacted to the Vault 7 release by targeting Assange for arrest and prosecution. On March 9, 2017 Vice President Mike Pence called the leak tantamount to “trafficking in national security information” and threatened to “use the full force of the law and resources of the United States to hold all of those to account that were involved.”

Then came a significant change of government in Ecuador — an April 2, 2017 runoff election that brought centrist Lenin Moreno to power. Moreno’s win brought to an end the 10-year tenure of the popular leftist President Rafael Correa, who had granted Assange political asylum. For his part, Moreno is eager to join the neoliberal economic system, making his government highly vulnerable to U.S. economic and political influence.

Eleven days after Moreno’s election, CIA director Mike Pompeo resumed the attack on Assange.  He accused WikiLeaks of being a “hostile non-state intelligence service.” That was the first indication that the U.S. national security state intends to seek a conviction of Assange under the authoritarian Espionage Act of 2017, which would require the government to show that WikiLeaks did more than merely publish material.

A week later, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that arresting Julian Assange was a “priority.” The Justice Department was reportedly working on a memo detailing possible charges against WikiLeaks and Assange, including accusations that he had violated the Espionage Act.

On October 20, 2017, Pompeo lumped WikiLeaks together with al-Qaida and Islamic State, arguing that all of them “look and feel like very good intelligence organizations.” Pompeo said, “[W]e are working to take down that threat to the United States.”

Moreno’s Government Under Pressure

During this time, the Ecuadorean foreign ministry was negotiating with Assange on a plan in which he would be granted Ecuadoran citizenship and diplomatic credentials, so that he could be sent to another Ecuadorian embassy in a country friendly to Assange. The Ecuadorean government reached formal agreement with Assange to that effect, and Assange was granted citizenship on December 12, 2017.

But the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was responsive to U.S. wishes, refused to recognize Assange’s diplomatic credentials. The foreign office stated that Ecuador “knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.” On December 29, 2017, the Ecuadorian government withdrew Assange’s diplomatic credentials.

The Trump administration then took a more aggressive stance toward Assange and the policy of the Moreno government. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr. visited Ecuador in late February 2018, and he was followed in March by Deputy Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Joseph DiSalvo, whose task was to discuss security cooperation with the Ecuadorean military leadership.

The day after DiSalvo’s visit, the Ecuadorean government took its first major action to curtail Assange’s freedom in the London Embassy. Claiming that Assange had violated a written commitment, reached in December 2017, that he not “issue messages that implied interference in relation to other states,” Ecuadorean officials cut off his access to the internet and imposed a ban on virtually all visitors.  The government’s statement alluded to Assange’s meeting with two leaders of the Catalan independence movement and his public statement of support for the movement in November 2017, which had provoked the anger of the Spanish government.

Ecuador’s economic situation offered further opportunity for U.S. leverage at that time. The steep drop in the price of Ecuador’s oil exports had caused the South American nation’s politically sensitive domestic fiscal deficit to increase rapidly.  In mid-June of 2018 an International Monetary Fund delegation made the organization’s first trip to Quito in many years in an effort to review the problem. A report by J. P. Morgan released immediately after the IMF’s mission suggested that it was now likely that the Moreno government would seek a loan from the IMF. The regime had previously sought to avoid such a move, because it would create potential domestic political difficulties. Seeking an IMF loan would make Ecuador more dependent than before on political support from the United States.

On the heels of that IMF visit, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Ecuador in June and delivered a blunt political message. An unnamed White House official issued a statement confirming that Pence had “raised the issue of Mr. Assange” with Moreno and that the two governments had “agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward.”

In late July 2018, Moreno, then in Madrid, confirmed that he was involved in negotiations with the U.K. government on the issue of Assange’s status. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald reported that a source close to the Ecuadorean foreign ministry and the president’s office had warned privately that the two administrations were close to an agreement that would hand Assange over to the U.K. government. He reported further that it would depend on unidentified assurances from the United States.

The Tale of a Secret Plot Linking Assange With Russia

On September 21, 2018, the Guardian published an article titled “Revealed: Russia’s secret plan to help Julian Assange escape from the UK.” In that story, Guardian reporters Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Dan Collyns and Luke Harding asserted that Russia had devised a plot to “smuggle” Assange out of the embassy in a diplomatic car and then whisk him out of the U.K. The authors also claimed that Moscow had negotiated the alleged plot with a close Ecuadorian confidant of Assange and suggested that the scheme raised “new questions about Assange’s ties to the Kremlin”.

But the story was an obvious fabrication, intended to justify the agreement to deprive Assange of his asylum in the Embassy by linking him with the Kremlin. The only alleged evidence it offered was the claim by unidentified sources that the former Ecuadorean consul on London and confidant of Assange, Fidel Narvaez, had “served as a point of contact with Moscow” on the escape plan — a claim that the Narvaez had flatly denied.

A second Guardian piece published five days later implicitly acknowledged the fictitious nature of the first. It failed to even mention the earlier article’s claim that the Russians had concocted a plan to get Assange out of the Embassy secretly. Instead the article, by Dan Collyns, cited a “classified document signed by Ecuador’s then-Deputy Foreign Minister Jose Luis Jacome” that showed the foreign ministry had assigned Assange to serve in the embassy in Moscow. But the author acknowledged that he had not seen the document, relying instead on a claim by Ecuadorean opposition politician Paola Vintimilla that she had seen it.

In a September 28, 2018 story for ABC News, reporters James Gordon Meek, Sean Langan and Aicha El Hammar Castano reported that ABC had “reviewed and authenticated” Ecuadorean documents, including a December 19, 2017 directive from the Foreign Ministry on posting Assange in Moscow. They noted, however, that the documents “did not indicate whether Assange knew of the Ecuadorean directive at the time.”  The ABC story relied on unnamed Ecuadorean officials who, the reporters said, had “confirmed” the authenticity of those documents.

Former U.K. Ambassador Craig Murray, who had been forced out of the British diplomatic corps in 2004 for having refused to recant his reporting about rampant torture by the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan that was then supplying the United States with military bases, was a close friend of Assange and was helping him during the negotiations on a diplomatic post. “I was asked to undertake negotiations with a number of governments on receiving [Assange], which I did intensively from December to February last year,” Murray recalled in an email. “Julian instructed me which governments to approach and specifically and definitively stated he did not wish to go to Russia.”

Although Murray would not identify the countries with which he had conversations about Assange, his blog and social media postings between December 2017 and March 2018 show that he had traveled to Turkey, Canada, Cuba, Jordan and Qatar.

Murray also said that, to his knowledge, Assange had never been informed of any proposed assignment in Moscow. “Neither the Ecuadorean Embassy, with whom I was working closely, nor Julian ever mentioned to me that Ecuador was organizing a diplomatic appointment to Russia,” Murray said. According to the former ambassador, the Ecuadorean Embassy correspondence with the British Foreign Office, which the Embassy shared with him, did not mention a posting to Russia.

Murray believes that there are only two possible explanations for those reported documents. The first is the Ecuadorean government was working on its own plan for Assange to go to Russia without telling him, and “intended to present it as a fait accompli.” But the more likely explanation, Murray said, “is that the documents have been retrospectively faked by the Moreno government to try and discredit Julian and prepare for his expulsion, as part of Moreno’s widespread moves to ingratiate himself with the USA and UK.”

On October 12, the Moreno government took a further step toward stripping Assange of asylum status by issuing a “Special Protocol” that prohibits him from any activities that could be “considered as political or interfering with the internal affairs of other states.” It further required all journalists, lawyers and anyone else who wanted to meet with Assange to disclose social media usernames and the serial number and IMEI codes of their cellphones and tablets. And it stated that that personal information could be shared with “other agencies,” according to the memorandum reported by The Guardian.

In response, Assange’s lawyers initiated a suit against the Ecuadorean foreign minister, Jose Valencia, for “isolating and muzzling him.” But it was yet another sign of the efforts by both the British and Ecuadorean governments to justify a possible move to take away Assange’s protection from extradition to the United States.

When and whether that will happen remains unclear. What is not in doubt, however, is that the Ecuadorian and British governments, working on behalf of the Trump administration, are trying to make it as difficult as possible for Julian Assange to avoid extradition by staying in the Ecuadorean embassy.

• First published at Truthdig

Charges under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange

Those with a stake in the hustling racket of empire have little time for the contrariness that comes with exposing classified information.  Those who do are submitted to a strict liability regime of assessment and punishment: you had the information (lawfully obtained or otherwise) but you released it for public deliberation.  Ignorance remains a desensitising shield, keeping the citizenry in permanent darkness.

Critics indifferent to the plight of Julian Assange have seen his concerns for prosecution at the hands of US authorities as the disturbed meditations of a sexualised fantasist.  He should have surrendered to the British authorities and, in turn, to the Swedish authorities.  It was either insignificant or irrelevant that a Grand Jury had been convened to sniff around the activities of WikiLeaks to identify what, exactly, could be used against the organisation and its founder.

Cruelty and truth are often matters of excruciating banality, and now it is clearer than ever that the United States will, given the invaluable chance, net the Australian publisher and WikiLeaks founder to make an example of him.  This man, who dirtied the linen of state and exposed the ceremonial of diplomatic hypocrisy, was always an object of interest, notably in the United States.  “He was,” confirmed Andrea Kendall-Taylor, former deputy national intelligence officer for Russia under the director of national intelligence, “a loathed figure inside the government.”

Whether it was the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Department of Justice, or the specific army of investigators assembled by special counsel Robert Mueller III to weasel out material on the Trump-Russia connection, Assange remains a substantial figure who needs to be captured, sealed and disappeared.  Forget any such references to journalism and being a truth teller with obsessive tendencies; for these officials, Assange had become a calculating machine in the information market, a broker in state details and activities, trading and according value to subject matters of his choice.

A gnawing fascination for US authorities persists on whether Assange has a direct, cosy line to the Kremlin.  Fashioned as such, it can be used as a weapon against President Donald J. Trump, and a cover for Democratic villainy and incompetence.  In terms of scale and endeavour, WikiLeaks has been kitted out in the outfit of a guerrilla information organisation. This exceedingly flattering description may well have given Assange a flush of pride, but it assumes a measure of disproportionate influence.  It also ignores the vital issue of how public discussion, which may well translate into voting patterns, can alter policy.  (This, it should be added, remains the big hypothetical: does such information induce an altered approach, or simply reaffirm prejudice and predisposition?  The flat-earth theorist is hardly going to be moved by anything that would conflict or challenge.)

Both the New York Times and Washington Post revealed last Friday that prosecutors had inadvertently let a rather sizeable cat out of the security bag. (That feline escapee was noted by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.) As with so much with matters of secrecy, errors made lead to information gained.  In the filing of a case unrelated to Assange, Assistant US Attorney General Kellen S. Dwyer informed the relevant judge to keep the matter at stake sealed, claiming that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

Dwyer, whose remit also includes investigating WikiLeaks, had bungled.  “The court filing,” claimed a meek Joshua Stueve of the US attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, “was made in error.  This was not the intended name for this filing.”

What is not known is the nature of the charges and what events they might cover.  Do they date back to the days of Cablegate or feature updates with the Vault 7 revelations showing the range of cyber tools deployed by the CIA to penetrate mobile devices and computers?  Or do they feature the trove of hacked Democratic emails which constitute a feature of the Mueller investigation?  Charges might well centre on using 18 USC §641, which makes it unlawful for a person to receive any record or thing of value of the United States with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing that it was stolen.  But even there, the issue of press protections would apply.

Prosecutors have previously flirted with conspiracy, theft of government authority and purported violations of the Espionage Act, but the Obama administration, for all its enthusiasm in nabbing Assange kept coming up against that irritating bulwark of liberty, some would say impediment, known as the First Amendment.  Prosecute Assange, and you would be effectively prosecuting the battlers of the Fourth Estate, however withered they might be.

The free speech amendment, however, does not trouble current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, as CIA director, claimed that, “We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”

A niggling concern here lies in Justice Department regulations, as amended by Eric Holder in 2015, which cover the obtaining of information and records from, making arrests of, and bringing charges against members of the press.  As Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, Matthew Kahn and Benjamin Wittes point out in Lawfare, one exception stands out with sore attention: “The protections of the policy do not extent to any individual or entity where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the individual entity is … [a] foreign power or an agent of a foreign power”, so defined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  The mania in packaging, ribbon and all, of Assange with those in the Kremlin becomes clear. To make  him a foreign threat takes him outside the scope of press protection, at least when it comes to those desperately drafted regulations.

Since US voters cannot be trusted by the country’s corporate owners and the parties of business to act with any degree of maturity and intelligence, it has been assumed by the political classes that they must have been swayed and manipulated by a foreign power.  Or fake news.  Or news.  That assessment obviates any issue as to whether the Clinton machinery within the Democratic Party did its fair share of manipulation and swaying – but then again, quibbles can’t be had, nor hairs split on this point.  Keeping it local, and attacking the Great Bear fused with Satan that is Russia, frosted with new Cold War credentials, remains the low-grade, convenient alibi to justify why the backed horse did not make it to the finishing line.  To Assange would be small though consoling compensation.

Julian Assange, Ecuador and the Dangers of Farce

This is the next stage of the Julian Assange chronicles: from the summit of information disclosures and meddlesome revelations on classified state matters, the Australian rabblerouser now finds himself the subject of a new round of jokes and ribbing.  WikiLeaks, in short, must be wary of the dangers posed by a new campaign of farce.

Satire, humour and ad hominem attacks can have the effect of wounding and deflating.  When directed against dissidents from the vantage point of tradition, the effect can be calculating and delegitimising.  For Chelsea Manning, a querulous attitude to the US military, a confused matter of gender and lingering resentment were furnished as weapons against her role as a genuine whistleblower.  Whistleblowers, or so goes this line of reasoning, cannot suffer “delusions of grandeur”.  They must be calm, focused, and scrupulously clean.

Assange, as with others associated with the vocation of exposing the asymmetrical nature of power and its impacts, has found himself repeatedly depicted in fashions that supposedly undermine the rationale for transparency politics.   He is an enemy of conventional forms of stratified power, and must duly account for dirtying that sty in advancing an approach that insists upon transnational networks “which function,” writes Raffi Khatchadourian, “outside norms of state sovereignty that have held for centuries.”

Joan Smith, chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Panel, provided an exemplary demonstration of how an attempted diminution of a legacy can work.  In a graceless attack on Assange in 2016, she showed a damnable political immaturity. Her clumsily fashioned assault dismissed international protections against arbitrary detention or matters of political prosecution; none of these, she suggested, applied to Assange.

No mention of Cablegate, or any other expansive document release, features; Assange was merely a molesting ego-maniac who needed to front legal processes as others who had been accused of assault, “including the comedian Bill Cosby who has just been told that prosecutors in the US can proceed with a sexual assault charge dating back to 2004.”  Assange was “a fugitive from justice, a man with such an inflated ego that he believes himself beyond the law.”

The restoration of basic entitlements to Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy (modest, restricted internet access being one of them), where he remains a troublesome tenant, has provided another round for comic skewering.  Now, the razors of satire have been deployed in various measures that seek as much to render his historical contributions to whistleblowing and journalism a matter of mirth rather than worth.  In one sense, this returns Assange to a time immemorial function of palace politics: to be the jester, is to reveal the truth.

It all began with the new “house rules” of the Ecuadorean embassy, which restore conditional access to the Internet.  Not following these newly minted conditions “could lead to the termination of the diplomatic asylum granted by the Ecuadorean state”.

While such injunctions might be sensible for many citizens, they grate with the publisher who has made it both his hobby and work to disrupt international relations and rubbish the façade of diplomatic decency.  In an act of substantive neutering in that regard, he had to avoid any activity, according to the Ecuadorean government memorandum, “considered as political or interfering with the internal affairs of other states.”

The memorandum also made it clear that the embassy was going to target “unauthorised equipment”, reserving “the right to authorise security personnel to seize equipment” or request British authorities to enter the premises to do so.

This was not all.  In the language of an irritable nurse, the memorandum urged Assange to observe basic levels of hygiene (cleaning his own bathroom, including after himself and his guests), a behavioural requirement rich with imputation, and could not hope for embassy payments towards his food, laundry or other costs for his stay from December 1, 2018 onwards.  Quarterly medical check-ups would cease being covered.

He also had to ensure continued adequate care for his feline companion, one whose name has altered over time in the name, ostensibly, public relations. “When Castro died,” explained Assange, “we started calling it Cat-stro.”  (Currently, the name Michi seems to be preferred.)

Where this instagrammed, tweeted creature came from is unclear, though it invariably supplies his observers with salivating prospects for speculation.  One story run for tabloid consumption is that the cat was a gift from his children; another, told to Khatchadourian, was that the tale was a handy concoction designed to gull.  The embassy is, however, clear.  He had to take care of the cat’s “well-being, food and hygiene”. Not doing so risked having to surrender the animal to care.

It is precisely such antics – and for Assange, being in a restricted abode for six years should entitle him some measure of frivolity – that provide morsels for distraction.  Information wars can reach the high summit of austere seriousness in exposing state mendacity, or they can plummet into depictions of distracting farce.

Farce and the staged absurd is something that is bound to shadow Assange in this latest bout, even if a certain tart historical legacy is assured.  Having now launched a lawsuit against Ecuador’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on claimed violations of constitutional rights, Assange is being mocked for being unable to understand the appointed translator.  “According to the English-speaking Assange,” goes an acerbic Seamus Bellamy, “his self-righteous blather differs from what the rest of the English-speaking world gets along with.”  Judge Karina Martinez conceded that the court had erred in appointing a translator not adept in picking up the Australian accent which, for Assange, was sufficiently thick to warrant consideration.  This is vintage Assange: amidst the undergrowth of seriousness comes an element of the absurd with a good twist of truth.

Caught In The Cross Hairs: Media Lens And The Mystery Of The Wikipedia Editor

In June, the BBC reported that someone operating under the name ‘Philip Cross’ had been extraordinarily active in editing Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit:

“Philip Cross” has made hundreds of thousands of edits to Wikipedia pages. But in the process he’s angered anti-war activists and critics of British and Western foreign policy, who claim he’s been biased against them.

Political analyst and former UK British ambassador Craig Murray described the scale of Cross’s activities:

“Philip Cross” has not had one single day off from editing Wikipedia in almost five years. “He” has edited every single day from 29 August 2013 to 14 May 2018. Including five Christmas Days. That’s 1,721 consecutive days of editing.

133,612 edits to Wikipedia have been made in the name of “Philip Cross” over 14 years. That’s over 30 edits per day, seven days a week. And I do not use that figuratively: Wikipedia edits are timed, and if you plot them, the timecard for “Philip Cross’s” Wikipedia activity is astonishing if it is one individual.

So who is Philip Cross? The BBC commented:

BBC Trending has been able to establish that he lives in England, and that Philip Cross is not the name he normally goes by outside of Wikipedia.

The excellent Five Filters website looked deeply into these issues and noted of the person writing as Cross:

After George Galloway, Media Lens is his second most edited article on the site. Cross is responsible for almost 80% of all content on the Media Lens entry.

This is deeply flattering for a two-man organisation run on donations facing some pretty heavyweight competition:

Cross calls his Wikipedia targets “goons”. The list includes anti-war politician George Galloway, former MP Matthew Gordon-Banks, historian, human rights activist and former UK ambassador Craig Murray, investigative journalist Dr Nafeez Ahmed, Edinburgh University professor Tim Hayward, Sheffield University professor Piers Robinson, and media analysis group Media Lens.

The Canary website reported of Media Lens:

Its Wikipedia page has had 851 edits by Cross (57.27% of page total) and is the editor’s second most active page.

The Canary has itself fallen under Cross’s cross hairs. The website’s Wikipedia page was created on 2 June 2016 at 11:41pm. Cross made his first edit at 8:55am the next morning.

Is Cross offering a neutral, impartial view of our work? In May 2018, he tweeted:

@medialens is two blokes called David who the mainstream usually ignore with good reason, but are of interest because they are so catastrophically wrongheaded. (Tweet, May 7, 2018; since deleted)

In the Sunday Herald, Ron McKay noted that Cross’s targets tend to have two characteristics in common:

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that there are common threads here. All of those [targeted] are… prominent campaigners on social media and in the mainstream media vigorously questioning our foreign policy. All have also clashed with Oliver Kamm, a former hedge-fund manager and now Times leader writer and columnist. All have been edited on Wikipedia by Andrew Philip Cross whom the complainants believe, without conclusive evidence, to be Kamm after dark. He denies it.

Professor Tim Hayward of Edinburgh University asked:

Does Oliver Kamm have Wikipedia editor Philip Cross doing his bidding in amplifying smears and vendettas? Evidence coming to light suggests serious questions concerning possible misuse of media influence and unethical conduct.’

Cross did not appreciate this and other interventions from Professor Hayward. Two weeks earlier, Cross had sent him this disturbing comment:

You may be having an uncomfortable conversation with one of your Associate Deans/Deans in the near future & his wife. Pity you blocked me before you had a close look at my followers. (Tweet, May 12, 2018; since deleted)

As part of its investigation, the BBC interviewed a highly experienced Wikipedia administrator known as Orange Mike, who specialises in dealing with conflicts of interest, asking him:

One of the people whose pages he [Cross] has been editing, and has edited over 1800 times, is George Galloway, and he says he knows that Philip Cross is being paid to do this. Do you think that’s likely?

Orange Mike replied:

I would not even be remotely surprised. The people who hate Galloway the most are often powerful and often rich. And the idea that they could find someone to use as their tool would not surprise me in the least. But I have no evidence to prove it and therefore would reserve judgement.

That is also our position. A tweeter, Malone (now called Read JFK), commented to us on the coincidence that Cross has often edited our Wikipedia page on the same day that Kamm has mentioned us on Twitter:

kamm’s tweets crossreferenced with cross’s medialens wiki edits. 82 edits on the exact same days kamm tweeted about you! at least 243 including surrounding days (243 is a severe underestimate).

We are not alone. Tweeter RLM noted the people Kamm has tweeted about on the same day Cross has edited their page:

Chris Hedges, Max Mosley, Mark Wadsworth, Peter Oborne, LabourLeave, David Ward, Ken Loach, Nick Timothy, Alex Salmond, Nafeez Ahmed, Owen Jones, Diane Abbott, Tim Hayward, Piers Robinson, Craig Murray, Alex Nunns, Glenn Greenwald, Media Lens, “Douma Chemical Attack”, Robert Fisk (edited a day before, not the same day), George Galloway, Jeremy Corbyn, Media Lens, Seumas Milne, Edward S. Herman, Paul Flynn, Afshin Rattansi, Mo Ansar, John Pilger, Andrew Murray, Jim Fetzer (tweeted the day before, not the same day).

Former UK ambassador Craig Murray described what happened to his Wikipedia entry after he strongly criticised Kamm:

The very next day, 8 February, my Wikipedia page came under obsessive attack from somebody called Philip Cross who made an astonishing 107 changes over the course of the next three days. Many were very minor, but the overall effect was undoubtedly derogatory. He even removed my photo on the extraordinary grounds that it was “not typical” of me.

We noted on Twitter:

The word “Kamm” appears in the @Wikipedia entry for Media Lens twelve times. “Media Lens” appears in Oliver Kamm’s entry… zero times.

The thoroughness of Cross’s campaign against us has been impressive. In 2005, then BBC Newsnight editor Peter Barron wrote of how Media Lens had ‘prolifically let us know what they think of our coverage, mainly on Iraq, George Bush and the Middle East, from a Chomskyist perspective’. He added graciously:

In fact I rather like them. David Cromwell and David Edwards, who run the site, are unfailingly polite, their points are well-argued and sometimes they’re plain right.

These were remarkable and important comments. A senior editor who had himself come under intense criticism from us and hundreds of our readers was nevertheless able to recognise that our points were reasonable and well-intentioned, that we were not nasty people pursuing some dark agenda. Quite reasonably, someone added Barron’s comments to our Wikipedia page. The addition was noticed by Cross, who replaced the quotation with this:

Peter Barron, the former editor of the BBC’s ”Newsnight” commented in November 2005 that although Cromwell and Edwards “are unfailingly polite”, he had received “hundreds of e-mails from sometimes less-than-polite hommes engages – they’re almost always men – most of whom don’t appear to have watched the programme” as a result of complaints instigated by Media Lens.

Notice that in editing the Newsnight editor’s quote, Cross had to carefully read through Barron’s original article to find less positive comments to patch in. This was meticulous work to remove a positive opinion about us, not a rush job.

The Five Filters website tweeted on a similar intervention:

This made me laugh. Cross, who is obsessed with Media Lens, removes David Edwards’ (Media Lens co-editor) book from Chomsky’s Wikipedia bibliography section because “obscure book by obscure writer” https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?diff=721546372 … Unbelievable! @medialens’

Tweeter Leftworks commented on edits made to the Wikipedia page for the Iraq Body Count (IBC) website:

Guess who’s been looking after the IBC page on Wikipedia and removing all references to @MediaLens? The one and only Philip Cross!

As some of our readers will know, we did a lot of work explaining how media favourite, Iraq Body Count, was recording perhaps ten per cent of the Iraqi death toll. Philip Cross has seen to it that our work on this issue has been completely erased from Wikipedia history.

‘Absolutely No Evidence’

Apart from Cross, in the 17 years we have been working on Media Lens, only one other person has subjected us to a relentlessly negative campaign that is in any way comparable. Almost ten years ago, we documented how Oliver Kamm had been pursuing us relentlessly across the internet – writing blogs about us, posting grisly comments about our genocide ‘denial’ under online interviews with us, and often warning journalists who mentioned our work – or who, god forbid, praised our work – or who interacted with us in any way, that we were blood-drenched ‘genocide deniers’ and/or seedy ‘misogynists’.

In 2013, Mehdi Hasan, formerly senior political editor at the New Statesman, now a columnist with The Intercept, commented to Kamm on Twitter:

I cant help but be amused at the way you swoop down in at any mention of MediaLens. Got ’em on an alert?

Despite continuing to seek out and attack us online, Kamm has shown admirable restraint in not extending his campaign to Wikipedia. We are not aware that he has added a single edit to either of our individual pages, nor to our Media Lens page. It seems that, for Kamm, when it comes to Wikipedia, it is always the Christmas truce.

And by the way, we have never edited Kamm’s page on Wikipedia. In fact, we have never made any political edits on Wikipedia at all.

Daniel Finkelstein, Baron Finkelstein of Pinner, Kamm’s colleague and friend at The Times, sent a flurry of tweets strongly rejecting the idea that anyone was using Cross to target political enemies:

But literally so far there is absolutely no evidence. My ears are wide open. My fingers aren’t in my ears. I am ready, waiting, willing to see or hear this evidence. But there isn’t any. Just a bloke called Philip Cross making some edits.

When Five Filters responded by sending serious evidence relating to Cross’s edits, Lord Finkelstein replied:

I appreciate your interest but really I just haven’t got time for studying some blokes Wikipedia edits.