Disinformation, subterfuge, and the Guardian’s campaign against Julian Assange
A ruling is reported to be “shortly due” on the US appeal against a decision refusing the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The latest claims are by journalists John McEvoy and Pablo Navarrete. They published details of conversations between Guardian journalist Stephanie Kirchgaessner and a “source” within surveillance agency UC Global in 2018. Kirchgaessner sought confirmation of plans that would enable Assange to leave the Ecuadorian embassy.
UC Global head organising the surveillance of Assange. Journalist Max Blumenthal claimed that UC Global directly passed intelligence on Assange to people with links to US intelligence agencies.is currently on trial in Spain. He’s accused of
Between May and September 2018, the Guardian published several articles by Luke Harding, Dan Collyns, and Stephanie Kirchgaessner alleging Assange had close ties with Russia. On 21 September 2018, the Guardian published a story headlined Revealed: The secret Christmas plan to transfer Assange from the UK to Russia.
In an exclusive interview with The Canary, former Ecuadorian consul Fidel Narváez stated that the story was “completely false”:
Ecuador has never even considered the possibility of moving Assange out of the embassy without the consent of the UK. That is why the Guardian’s article is completely false.
Aitor Martinez, a lawyer who “oversaw Ecuador’s effort to grant Assange diplomatic protection”, also denied the Guardian’s claim. He said the WikiLeaks founder had not the slightest intention of moving to Russia.
Questions of ethics
McEvoy and Navarrete further observed that Kirchgaessner:
appeared to know about the relationship between UC Global’s activities at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the security company’s proximity to Trump megadonor Sheldon Adelson almost a year before it became public knowledge.
If correct, the question arises why that information was not publicised at the time?
Also, surely the Guardian would have realised that its story on Assange’s plan to leave the embassy would assist US authorities and likely see more security measures imposed? Indeed a leaked document indicated that, according to Morales, the Americans contemplated undertaking certain drastic measures, including poisoning Assange.
The answers to both questions may lie with the Guardian’s apparent rift with Assange, stemming back to 2011.
The Guardian was one of several newspapers and other media outlets around the world that partnered with WikiLeaks. It published the Iraq war logs, the Afghan War logs, and the US embassy cables.
In March 2020, The Canary reported how Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding published WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy in 2011. Controversially, the book provided a password to unredacted US cables.
Guardian journalist James Ball stated at the time that “It’s nonsense to suggest the Guardian‘s WikiLeaks book has compromised security in any way”. However, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson made it clear he viewed what Leigh did as irresponsible:
David Leigh again dismisses his responsibility for the release of the unredacted cables. He posted a password for its encrypted file – in his book. Now claims Assange told him the password was temporary. Leigh himself writes in his book about a temporary WEBSITE. Not the same. pic.twitter.com/e1q9GUdDlg
— Kristinn Hrafnsson (@khrafnsson) February 25, 2020
As it was, the US cables were published by Cryptome and so Wikileaks also decided to publish them.
In December 2020, The Canary published an article that included a video showing WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison and Assange in a phone call to the US State Department. They warned that the unredacted version of the US cables was about to be published. That led to another phone call 36 hours later with US State Department lawyer Cliff Johnson. Project Veritas published a leaked audio recording of that phone conversation in December 2020.
Award-winning Australian journalist Mark Davis showed how Guardian journalists appeared to neglect responsibility for the redaction of another major leak – the Afghan war logs. Instead, they left that task to Assange, who, according to Davis, spent several days and nights seeing to that. The footage explains what happened:
In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed NSA and GCHQ documents which referenced the technology used to spy on US and UK citizens. Again, the Guardian played a leading role in publishing those leaks.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that later that year GCHQ organised a raid GCHQ agents watched as Guardian staff used angle grinders and other tools to destroy the hard drives that held the leaked data. It was an act of pure pantomime, given the data was held by other newspapers around the world.
But it was also a warning shot.
From out of the cold
In March 2015, Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger resigned and was replaced by Katharine Viner.
In June 2019, journalist Matt Kennard stated how the Guardian’s deputy editor Paul Johnson was:
personally thanked by the Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice (or D-Notice) committee for integrating the Guardian into the operations of the security services.
It’s also noted that Guardian commentator and BuzzFeed writer James Ball spoke at an event promoted by the controversial Integrity Initiative.
Integrity claims to specialise in ‘counter-disinformation‘. Guardian/Observer journalist Nick Cohen also spoke at the event. As revealed by The Canary, Integrity was a major project funded by the FCO, MoD, the US State Department, and NATO via the Institute for Statecraft (IfS). IfS is in turn funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which oversees the work of MI6 and GCHQ. The US State Department also provided £250,000 to Integrity.
Carole Cadwalladr, an investigative journalist with the Observer, the Guardian’s sister paper, was a speaker at a two-day IfS event. She said her presence there was organised under the auspices of the ‘Foreign Desk’:
It was organised by an organisation called Foreign Desk & held at the Frontline Club, an org that supports journalists working in hostile environments & that helped Assange for years. If you want to impute malign intentions to any of that, you’re welcome my friend
— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) December 16, 2018
Another leaked document showed that journalists from the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, and the BBC were listed in Integrity’s ‘UK cluster’ of contacts. A significant number of people with the FCO and the Ministry of Defence, identified largely by their emails, were also listed. Some of the contacts listed their personal emails.
On 27 November 2018, the Guardian published a story by Harding, Collyns, and Ecuadorian journalist Fernando Villavicencio. It claimed that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Award winning former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented:
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.
Whereas the real narrative was to:
show that party bureaucrats sought to rig the primaries to make sure Clinton’s challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, lost.
The Guardian story will prepare public opinion for the moment when Ecuador’s rightwing government under President Lenin Moreno forces Assange out of the embassy, having already withdrawn most of his rights to use digital media.
WikiLeaks tweeted that Villavicencio’s name appeared on the print version, but not on the web version:
Video: Guardian mysteriously hid third author of fabricated front page story "Manafort Held Secret Meetings With Assange" — as revealed by direct digital archive library. Compare to the Guardian's online version the world saw. Villavicencio background:.https://t.co/KX80IrScyl pic.twitter.com/k6X4cHM6FB
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) December 3, 2018
Perhaps he was removed because of his right-wing credentials – journalist Ben Norton saying how Villavicencio’s anti-Correa activities:
appears to have been funded by the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy. ..Villavicencio served as an advisor for Pachakutik National Assembly member Cléver Jiménez, who helped lead the 2010 coup attempt against Correa.
Iclaimed that assertions by the Guardian regarding Manafort visits were entirely false. Journalist Glenn Greenwald referenced our exclusive:
Today's the 1-week anniversary of @guardian's blockbuster Manafort/Assange story:
* No other media outlet has confirmed
* No photos or video evidence has emerged
* The @guardian refuses to answer questions
* Ex-diplomat in Embassy said story is "fake" https://t.co/QdQUDDVZq3
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) December 4, 2018
Manafort considered taking legal action against the Guardian, saying that the story was “totally false and deliberately libellous”:
Paul Manafort, in statement issued via his representative, denies meeting Julian Assange or being "contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly.” pic.twitter.com/Zkyn9rIfzI
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) November 27, 2018
Wrong side of history
In April 2017, Ecuador elected right-wing president Lenín Moreno. On 5 April 2019, The Canary reported that Assange feared he was under “imminent threat” of eviction from the Ecuadorian embassy. Around the same time, Moreno accused WikiLeaks of being behind corruption allegations. On 11 April 2019, embassy staff let British police into the building to arrest Assange, a citizen of Ecuador. The raid was followed by a new trade deal between Ecuador and the UK on 15 May. On the same day, Ecuador signed a memorandum of understanding with the US.
To quote Cook on Assange’s arrest and subsequent prosecution:
Assange had to be made to suffer horribly and in public – to be made an example of – to deter other journalists from ever following in his footsteps. He is the modern equivalent of a severed head on a pike displayed at the city gates.
Media organisations representing 600,000 journalists worldwide have condemned Assange’s prosecution and called for his release. Even the Guardian, in December 2020, issued an editorial condemning his prosecution. Meanwhile, the date for the next court hearing for Assange is yet to be announced.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons
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