“The 18-count indictment is an authoritarian’s dream.”
By Matt Taibbi
Rolling Stone (5/31/19)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange today sits in the Belmarsh High Security prison in southeast London. Not just for his sake but for everyone’s, we now have to hope he’s never moved from there to America.
The United States filed charges against Assange early last month. The case seemed to have been designed to assuage fears that speech freedoms or the press were being targeted.
That specific offense was “computer hacking conspiracy” from back in 2010. The “crime” was absurdly thin, a claim that Assange agreed (but failed, apparently) to try to help Chelsea Manning develop an administrative password that could have helped her conceal identity as she downloaded secrets. One typewritten phrase, “No luck so far,” was the damning piece of evidence.
“Slowly – it’s incredible how slowly – it is dawning on much of the press that this case is not just an effort to punish a Russiagate villain, but instead a deadly serious effort to use Assange as a pawn in a broad authoritarian crackdown.”
The troubling parts of that case lurked in the rest of the indictment, which seemed to sell normal journalistic activity as part of the offense. The government complained that Assange “took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure.” Prosecutors likewise said, “Assange encouraged Manning to provide information and records from departments and agencies of the United States.”
The indictment stressed Assange/Manning were seeking “national defense information” that could be “used to the injury of the United States.” The indictment likewise noted that the pair had been guilty of transmitting such information to “any person not entitled to receive it.”
A larger ambition
It was these passages that made me nervous a month and a half ago, because they seemed to speak to a larger ambition. Use of phrases like “national defense information” given to persons “not entitled to receive it” gave off a strong whiff of Britain’s Official Secrets Acts, America’s Defense Secrets Act of 1911 (which prohibited “national defense” information going to “those not entitled to receive it”) and our Espionage Act of 1917, which retained many of the same concepts.
All of these laws were written in a way that plainly contradicted basic free speech protections. The Espionage Act was revised in 1950 by the McCarran Internal Security Act, sponsored by Nevada Senator Pat McCarran (who incidentally was said to be the inspiration for the corrupt “Senator Pat Geary” character in The Godfather). The change potentially removed a requirement that the person obtaining classified information had to have intent to harm the country. …