U.S. Government Plotted to Kidnap and Kill Julian Assange

JulianAssange
Mural of Julian Assange by renowned artist Mahn Kloix on Rue Pastoret, in Marseille, France. (Jeanne Menjoulet via Flickr; dimensions altered from original)
On Sep. 26, Yahoo! News dropped this A-bomb: the CIA proposed kidnapping and possibly killing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Yet outrage is lacking from America's turgid MSM.

You would think the recent, bombshell revelations by reporters at Yahoo! News that the CIA waged a private war on WikiLeaks, which included plans to kidnap or assassinate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, would warrant howls of outrage from such pillars of establishment media as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

But so far, from the Times and WaPo, we’ve gotten bupkis, save for a tiny item in the Post that buried the story’s lede about the kidnapping and assassination plots, then deep-sixed the story altogether in a string of less-compelling items.

On Wednesday, former CIA director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo effectively confirmed the piece’s validity, telling an interviewer that the more than 30 U.S. officials who spoke to Yahoo! News for the piece should be “prosecuted for speaking about classified activity inside the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Pompeo’s call for the prosecution of whistleblowers deserves swift condemnation, especially in light of a Yahoo story that describes in detail the CIA’s unmoored vendetta against Assange after WikiLeaks published a trove of super-secret CIA docs called “Vault 7.”

Apparently, WaPo and the Times had bigger fish to fry this week, like covering the #FreeBritney movement or opining on the R. Kelly conviction.

Regardless, the Yahoo team, led by renowned investigative journalist Michael Isikoff, scored  a blockbuster exclusive about the U.S. government’s retaliation against an enigmatic publisher and journalist — who remains a free speech icon for millions even as he languishes in a London prison, awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings.

A View to a Kill

At times, the Yahoo piece reads like a script for a ’70s spy-thriller gone awry, such as in this passage, describing the government’s actions in 2017 vis-a-vis WikiLeaks:

Some senior officials inside the CIA and the Trump administration even discussed killing Assange, going so far as to request “sketches” or “options” for how to assassinate him. Discussions over kidnapping or killing Assange occurred “at the highest levels” of the Trump administration, said a former senior counterintelligence official. “There seemed to be no boundaries.”

The conversations were part of an unprecedented CIA campaign directed against WikiLeaks and its founder. The agency’s multipronged plans also included extensive spying on WikiLeaks associates, sowing discord among the group’s members, and stealing their electronic devices.

While Assange had been on the radar of U.S. intelligence agencies for years, these plans for an all-out war against him were sparked by WikiLeaks’ ongoing publication of extraordinarily sensitive CIA hacking tools, known collectively as “Vault 7,” which the agency ultimately concluded represented “the largest data loss in CIA history.”

President Trump’s newly installed CIA director, Mike Pompeo, was seeking revenge on WikiLeaks and Assange . . . Pompeo and other top agency leaders “were completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7,” said a former Trump national security official. “They were seeing blood.”

Yahoo explains that the U.S. feared the Russians would spring Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was holed up under a grant of asylum. U.S. agents planned to thwart the escape, surrounding the embassy with operatives prepared to engage in gun battles in the streets of London.

The U.S. even contemplated shooting out the tires of any airplane attempting to take off with Assange aboard. The “most extreme measures targeting Assange” did not receive the green light, “in part because of objections from Whitehouse lawyers,” Yahoo reports.

Asked by Yahoo to comment, former President Trump denied that he had ever considered an assassination attempt on Assange, stating, “In fact, I think he’s been treated very badly.”

Assange’s troubles with the U.S. government predated Trump, of course.

During the Obama administration, U.S. intelligence officials suggested labeling troublesome journalists, publishers and documentary makers as “information brokers,” as a step toward possible prosecution. Assange, Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras were among those to be reclassified.

“On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine our government contemplating even doing this, and on the other hand, it’s not at all hard to imagine . . . because they do stupid and horrible, unethical, illegal, murderous things all the time.” –Reason senior editor Robby Soave

In 2016, WikiLeaks started publishing Democrats’ embarrassing emails, some allegedly from Russian hacks. As a result, Yahoo reports that the Obama administration ramped up spying on WikiLeaks, considering “people affiliated with WikiLeaks” to be “valid targets” for hacking and bugging of their electronic devices.

But according to Yahoo, the Obama administration generally “restricted investigations into Assange and WikiLeaks” because it was “fearful of the consequences for press freedom — and chastened by the blowback from its own aggressive leak hunts.”

During the 2016 campaign, Trump delighted in the controversies caused by WikiLeaks’ release of emails from Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and Clinton adviser John Podesta, saying at one rally, “I love WikiLeaks.” Still, the government’s policy toward WikiLeaks shifted dramatically in the first year of Trump’s tenure.

In the wake of WikiLeaks’ publication of the Vault 7 documents in March 2017, the CIA, now led by Trump’s boy Pompeo, was ready to go to war, with Pompeo publicly declaring WikiLeaks to be “a non-state hostile intelligence service.” The CIA began treating WikiLeaks more like a terrorist organization than an information-gathering organization. Hence the talk of assassinations, kidnapping and rendition.

Such discussions put pressure on the U.S. Justice Department to indict Assange. According to the Yahoo piece, “The more aggressive the CIA’s proposals became, the more other U.S. officials worried about what the discovery process might reveal if Assange were to face trial in the United States.”

In other words, the CIA’s extralegal shenanigans were a threat to extraditing and trying Assange in a U.S. court, which is what then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions aimed to do. The DOJ  secretly indicted Assange in March 2018 on one count of conspiring to hack a government computer with whistleblower and U.S. Army Specialist Bradley Manning (now, Chelsea Manning).

The Gen X Daniel Ellsberg

After allowing Assange to hang out for nearly seven years, the Ecuadorians cut bait on April 11, 2019, allowing British police to drag a bearded, 47-year-old Assange from the embassy in handcuffs. The U.S. officially unsealed its indictment of Assange on that day.

A month later, the DOJ upped the ante, re-indicting Assange and adding 17 counts under the Espionage Act of 1917, an infamous law used to silence dissent and rein in whistleblowers. Those charged under the law have included famous socialist Eugene Debs, anarchist Emma Goldman and Pentagon Papers-leaker Daniel Ellsberg.

Assange had originally sought to dodge extradition to Sweden on a sexual assault allegation that he claimed was bogus, jumping bail to take up residency in the embassy. The Swedish case was dropped not long after his 2019 arrest. Assange was convicted on the bail charge and sentenced to 50 weeks.

In January of this year, a London judge denied a U.S. request to extradite Assange, finding there was “substantial” risk that Assange, who suffers from depression, would commit suicide in the harsh prison conditions of the U.S. The U.S. appealed the ruling, and has offered to allow Assange to be imprisoned in his native Australia, if extradited and then convicted at trial.

Barry Pollack, Assange’s attorney, told Yahoo! News that should the U.S. win on appeal and extradite Assange, the government’s onetime plans to kidnap or kill the WikiLeaks founder could be “grounds for dismissal” of the indictment. Pollack “likened the measures used to target Assange to those deployed by the Nixon administration against Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers, noting the charges against Ellsberg were ultimately dismissed as well.”

Also on the program was Robby Soave, a senior editor at Reason.com, who summed up things nicely:

“On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine our government contemplating even doing this, and on the other hand, it’s not at all hard to imagine . . . because they do stupid and horrible, unethical, illegal, murderous things all the time.”

Gutting the Gatekeepers

The Yahoo piece is obviously a huge story, and a chilling one, especially for journalists. So why the apathy from some quarters?

The mainstream press has always perceived Assange as a threat to its gatekeeping. He disrupted the often cozy relationship between the press and the government, the kind of sycophancy that turned many American journos into cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq.

Which is why the MSM is so intent on drawing a distinction between themselves and Assange, saying they are the real journalists and he’s just a computer hacker.

But as Soave put it on the “Rising” show, “Anyone who does journalism is a journalist.”

Indeed, if all Assange and WikiLeaks had ever done was make public, with the assistance of Manning, the so-called “Collateral Murder” video of a 2007 Apache helicopter airstrike that killed at least a dozen civilians, including two Reuters reporters, that would be more than most journalists achieve in their lifetimes.

Interestingly, it was not until the U.S. hit Assange with the espionage charges that many reporters and commentators woke up, realizing how easily the government could do to them what it was doing to Assange.

But when Assange faced the single conspiracy to hack charge, the Post and the Times were ok with it, despite the retaliatory nature of the prosecution

In an April 2019 opinion piece, the Post‘s editorial board carped that Assange was “not a free speech hero,” but a renegade who was “long overdue for personal accountability.”

The board continued, laying an egg that it surely must regret in hindsight, if the “real journalists” on it are capable of regret:

“Contrary to much pro-WikiLeaks propaganda, Mr. Assange had no legitimate fears for his life, either at the hands of CIA assassins or, via extradition, the U.S. death penalty, when he fled to the embassy of what was then an anti-American government.”

Not only is this statement demonstrably wrong, it’s a sentiment borne of obedient lackeys. It’s not the mindset of a journalist who challenges the lies and power of entrenched authority. The U.S. government does not fear the Washington Post‘s editorial board. Not one iota.

But it loathed and feared Assange. Which is why the CIA wanted him dead.

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and
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About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

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