Assange: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

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Assange: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

Is Julian Assange a jour­nal­ist, a whistle­blower, or a thief?

Before being impli­cated in the acqui­si­tion and release of the Hillary Clin­ton campaign’s emails in 2016, Assange and Wik­iLeaks pub­lished diplo­matic cables and video footages of an airstrike that killed two Reuters pho­tog­ra­phers, pro­vided by Chelsea Manning.

Wik­iLeaks describes itself as a “media orga­ni­za­tion” that “spe­cial­izes in the analy­sis and pub­li­ca­tion of large datasets of cen­sored or oth­er­wise restricted offi­cial mate­ri­als involv­ing war, spy­ing, and corruption.”

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that Wik­iLeaks is a “news orga­ni­za­tion.” If so, are Assange and his cohorts journalists?

Jour­nal­ists don’t need a license to prac­tice like doc­tors, lawyers, and bar­bers. Nei­ther do reporters have to take an exam like cer­ti­fied pub­lic accoun­tants and truck drivers.

As a result, there is no legal def­i­n­i­tion of a jour­nal­ist. Con­gress has failed to do just that. A few years ago, Sen. Chuck Schumer tried to define a jour­nal­ist as a per­son who does the following:

…with the pri­mary intent to inves­ti­gate events and pro­cure mate­r­ial in order to dis­sem­i­nate to the pub­lic news or infor­ma­tion reg­u­larly gath­ers infor­ma­tion (quotes, pho­tos, doc­u­ments) through inter­views, direct obser­va­tion, or analy­sis, and tends to dis­sem­i­nate that infor­ma­tion as it is being gath­ered, and plans to dis­sem­i­nate it via broad­cast, print, or electronically.

The key part of the def­i­n­i­tion that exudes Assange and Wik­iLeaks is that nei­ther gath­ers infor­ma­tion through inter­views, direct obser­va­tion, or analy­sis. Assange and his group get mate­r­ial from leak­ers and via hack­ing databases.

More­over, jour­nal­ists have no spe­cial stand­ing under the law. If reporters engage in crim­i­nal activ­ity, they face the same penal­ties as anyone.

For exam­ple, in 2000, author James Sanders was con­victed of con­spir­ing to steal seat fab­ric from the wreck­age of TWA Flight 800 as part of his inves­ti­ga­tion into the cause of the explo­sion. His claim that the pros­e­cu­tion was selec­tive and vin­dic­tive, designed to pun­ish him for chal­leng­ing the offi­cial expla­na­tion for the crash, didn’t fly with the Sec­ond U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Appeals.

At about the same time, free­lance reporter Larry Matthews found out that the First Amend­ment was no defense when he was charged with traf­fick­ing in child pornog­ra­phy while research­ing a story. The Fourth U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Appeals refused to allow Matthews to argue that he didn’t intend to break any law but was only gath­er­ing news.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment has charged Assange with com­puter intru­sion con­spir­acy for help­ing Man­ning access Depart­ment of Defense mate­ri­als. As a result, he engaged in a crime and any stand­ing as a jour­nal­ist does not matter.

Finally, is Assange a whistle­blower as he’s often por­trayed in the media?

Assange did not dis­cover or dis­close wrong­do­ings as an insider. Rather he received infor­ma­tion from whistle­blow­ers and pub­lished it. His meth­ods are dif­fer­ent from jour­nal­ists in that he usu­ally puts out every­thing or pro­vides the infor­ma­tion to other media.

As a result, he does not qual­ify as a whistle­blower under U.S. law, with the pro­tec­tions these statutes provide.

As I put it many years ago, Assange is an inter­net ter­ror­ist whom I hope will face jus­tice as soon as possible.

Is Julian Assange a journalist, a whistleblower, or a thief?

Before being implicated in the acquisition and release of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s emails in 2016, Assange and WikiLeaks published diplomatic cables and video footages of an airstrike that killed two Reuters photographers, provided by Chelsea Manning.

WikiLeaks describes itself as a “media organization” that “specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying, and corruption.”

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that WikiLeaks is a “news organization.” If so, are Assange and his cohorts journalists?

Journalists don’t need a license to practice like doctors, lawyers, and barbers. Neither do reporters have to take an exam like certified public accountants and truck drivers.

As a result, there is no legal definition of a journalist. Congress has failed to do just that. A few years ago, Sen. Chuck Schumer tried to define a journalist as a person who does the following:

…with the primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information regularly gathers information (quotes, photos, documents) through interviews, direct observation, or analysis, and tends to disseminate that information as it is being gathered, and plans to disseminate it via broadcast, print, or electronically.

The key part of the definition that exudes Assange and WikiLeaks is that neither gathers information through interviews, direct observation, or analysis. Assange and his group get material from leakers and via hacking databases.

Moreover, journalists have no special standing under the law. If reporters engage in criminal activity, they face the same penalties as anyone.

For example, in 2000, author James Sanders was convicted of conspiring to steal seat fabric from the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 as part of his investigation into the cause of the explosion. His claim that the prosecution was selective and vindictive, designed to punish him for challenging the official explanation for the crash, didn’t fly with the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

At about the same time, freelance reporter Larry Matthews found out that the First Amendment was no defense when he was charged with trafficking in child pornography while researching a story. The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to allow Matthews to argue that he didn’t intend to break any law but was only gathering news.

The U.S. government has charged Assange with computer intrusion conspiracy for helping Manning access Department of Defense materials. As a result, he engaged in a crime and any standing as a journalist does not matter.

Finally, is Assange a whistleblower as he’s often portrayed in the media?

Assange did not discover or disclose wrongdoings as an insider. Rather he received information from whistleblowers and published it. His methods are different from journalists in that he usually puts out everything or provides the information to other media.

As a result, he does not qualify as a whistleblower under U.S. law, with the protections these statutes provide.

As I put it many years ago, Assange is an internet terrorist whom I hope will face justice as soon as possible.