Under Donald Trump, the CIA reportedly plotted to kidnap—and discussed plans to assassinate—WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange, who is currently imprisoned in London as he fights the Biden administration’s efforts to extradite him to the United States—under the leadership of then-Director Mike Pompeo in 2017.
“Discussions over kidnapping or killing Assange occurred ‘at the highest levels of the Trump administration,” Yahoo News reported on Sunday.Image of Julian Assange via Flickr/New Media Days s licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0
“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,” Yahoo reported.Image of Julian Assange via Flickr/New Media Days s licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0
Mike Pompeo, then President Trump’s newly appointed CIA director, was out for vengeance against Wikileaks and Assange, who had taken asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape charges he rejected. According to a former Trump national security official, Pompeo and other top agency executives “were absolutely removed from reality because they were so ashamed over Vault 7.” “They were seeing blood,” stated a former Trump national security officer.Image of Mike Pompeo via Flickr/Gage Skidmore s licensed with CC BY-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0
According to Yahoo’s findings, Assange isn’t the only journalist who has been targeted by US officials in recent years. “Top intelligence officials pressed the White House to redefine WikiLeaks—and certain high-profile journalists—as ‘information brokers,'” according to Yahoo. ‘ Which would have opened up the use of more investigative tools against them, potentially paving the way for their prosecution.”
“Among the journalists, some U.S. officials wanted to designate as ‘information brokers’ were Glenn Greenwald, then a columnist for The Guardian, and Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker, who had both been instrumental in publishing documents provided by [NSA whistleblower Edward] Snowden,” Yahoo reported.Image of Edward Snowden via Flickr/Gage Skidmore s licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0
Poitras called the intelligence officers’ tactics “bone-chilling and a threat to journalists worldwide” in a statement to Yahoo. “These new revelations, which involve a shocking disregard of the law, are truly beyond the pale,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said in a statement.
“The CIA is a disgrace,” said Timm. “The fact that it contemplated and engaged in so many illegal acts against WikiLeaks, its associates, and even other award-winning journalists is an outright scandal that should be investigated by Congress and the Justice Department. The Biden administration must drop its charges against Assange immediately. The case already threatens the rights of countless reporters.”Image of Justice Department via Youtube…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsJoV8zkBwY
Assange was charged with 17 counts of breaching the Espionage Act by the Trump Justice Department for disclosing sensitive documents, which is something journalists frequently do. Despite urgent requests from press freedom supporters, the Biden administration has refused to drop the charges and has continued the previous administration’s attempt to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
“It is impossible to overstate the dangerous precedent Assange’s indictment under the Espionage Act and possible extradition sets: Every national security journalist who reports on classified information now faces possible Espionage Act charges,” Poitras wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times last year.Image via Flickr/Amarchimedia s licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0
“It paves the way for the United States government to indict other international journalists and publishers. And it normalizes other countries’ prosecution of journalists from the United States as spies,” Poitras noted. “To reverse this dangerous precedent, the Justice Department should immediately drop these charges and the president should pardon Mr. Assange.”