WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower website, has again published a massive trove of documents, this time from a private intelligence firm known as Stratfor. The source of the leak was the hacker group “Anonymous,” which took credit for obtaining more than 5 million emails from Stratfor’s servers. Anonymous obtained the material on Dec. 24, 2011, and provided it to WikiLeaks, which in turn partnered with 25 media organizations globally to analyze the emails and publish them.
Among the emails was a short one-liner that suggested the U.S. government has produced, through a secret grand jury, a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In addition to painting a picture of Stratfor as a runaway, rogue private intelligence firm with close ties to government-intelligence agencies serving both corporate and U.S. military clients, the emails support the growing awareness that the Obama administration, far from diverging from the secrecy of the Bush/Cheney era, is obsessed with secrecy, and is aggressively opposed to transparency.
I traveled to London last Independence Day weekend to interview Assange. When I asked him about the grand-jury investigation, he responded: “There is no judge, there is no defense counsel, and there are four prosecutors. So, that is why people that are familiar with grand-jury inquiries in the United States say that a grand jury would not only indict a ham sandwich, it would indict the ham and the sandwich.”
As I left London, The Guardian newspaper exposed more of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. phone-hacking scandal, which prompted the closing of his tabloid newspaper, the largest circulation Sunday newspaper in the U.K., News of the World. The coincidence is relevant, as News of the World reported anything but what its title claimed, focusing instead on salacious details of the private lives of celebrities, sensational crimes, and photos of scantily clad women. For this and his other endeavors, Murdoch amassed a reported personal fortune of $7.6 billion.
Meanwhile, Assange—who, like Murdoch, was born in Australia (Murdoch abandoned his nationality for U.S. citizenship in order to purchase more U.S. broadcast licenses)—had engaged in one of largest and most courageous acts of publishing in history by founding wikileaks.org, which allows people to safely and securely deliver documents using the Internet in ways that make it almost impossible to trace. He and his colleagues at WikiLeaks had published millions of leaked documents, most notably about the U.S. wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, true “news of the world.” The Sydney Peace Foundation awarded Assange a gold medal for “exceptional courage and initiative in pursuit of human rights.” In contrast, the U.S. government targeted him, possibly under the Espionage Act. Murdoch is hailed as a pioneering newsman, while pundits on Murdoch-owned cable-television outlets openly call for Assange’s murder.
The Stratfor emails will be released over time, along with context provided by WikiLeaks’ media partners. Already revealed by the documents are the close, and potentially illegal, connections between Stratfor employees and government-intelligence and law-enforcement officials. Rolling Stone magazine reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was monitoring Occupy Wall Street protests nationally, and the Texas Department of Public Safety has an undercover agent at Occupy Austin who was disclosing information to contacts at Stratfor. Stratfor also is hired by multinational corporations to glean “intelligence” about critics. Among companies using Stratfor were Dow Chemical, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Coca-Cola.
Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice president of intelligence, and a former head of counterintelligence at the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic corps, wrote in an email, “Not for Pub—We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.” Burton and others at Stratfor showed intense interest in WikiLeaks starting in 2010, showing intense dislike for Assange personally. Burton wrote: “Assange is going to make a nice bride in prison. Screw the terrorist. He’ll be eating cat food forever.” Another Stratfor employee wanted Assange waterboarded.
Michael Ratner, legal adviser to Assange and WikiLeaks, told me, “The Obama administration has gone after six people under the Espionage Act. That’s more cases than happened since the Espionage Act was actually begun in 1917. ... What this is about is the United States wanting to suppress the truth.”
1917 is also the year when U.S. Sen. Hiram Johnson famously said, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” The White House is holding a gala dinner this week, honoring Iraq War veterans. Bradley Manning is an Iraq War vet who won’t be there. He is being court-martialed, facing life in prison or possibly death, for allegedly releasing thousands of military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks revealing the casualties of war. President Barack Obama would better serve the country by also honoring Assange and Manning.
We should pursue the truth, not its messengers.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.