WikiLeaks continues to get up the nose of the media and security establishment. They will use a newly revealed proposal to make Assange Ambassador to Washington to make things worse for him.
In a year of weird public statements, the latest from WikiLeaks surprised people who thought they’d heard everything. The online publisher was reported by The Atlantic to have proposed urging candidate Trump to get Australia to put Julian Assange forward as Ambassador the US. (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-14/julian-assange-wanted-to-be-us-ambassador-to-australia/9147490). ‘This can’t be true,’ was the first response of many. David Aaronovitch wrote in the Times (Australian, 17 November 2017:11) that proposing Assange was a ‘ludicrous appendix to a story that had already ended tragically.’ Of course Joe Hockey, Australia’s political appointee, has years to serve in Washington, and it’s for Canberra to nominate his replacement, not vice versa. Moreover, neither of the major parties in Australia has expressed support for Assange or a wish to repatriate him to Australia. Given the choice, they would probably prefer him to be extradited to the US to face charges of espionage.
Possible explanations for the WikiLeaks surprise are that it was a Halloween trick; that Assange needed a relevance or publicity boost; that he wanted to embarrass Australia; and that he was placing an outside bet on the Trump administration’s unpredictability. Or was he calling in a debt for helping get Trump into the White House?
Before the Assange story broke, Trump met with President Putin in Hanoi. He later told journalists that ‘if [they] want to know the truth’ about Russian interference in the US election, Putin had repeatedly told him ‘I didn’t do that,’ so he believed it. This did not satisfy the media, but it was good enough for Trump. An experienced dealer in false assertions himself – remember Obama’s birthplace and the Bowling Green massacre? – Trump’s disdain for the mainstream press and the intelligence agencies puts him in Alice in Wonderland territory: the truth is whatever he says it is. Yet it is true that during the campaign his son and son-in-law and some advisers met with influential Russians and falsely denied it. Donald junior, for one, was in contact with WikiLeaks. Why, current investigations may reveal. WikiLeaks’s release of Hillary Clinton’s emails caused a grateful candidate Trump to tell a 2016 rally ‘I love WikiLeaks”. But Julian Assange has asserted that WikiLeaks didn’t receive the emails from the Russian state, adding that many of the 800 000 documents WikiLeaks has published about Russia have been critical (https://newmatilda.com/2016/11/05/more-explosive-hillary-clinton-revelations-julian-assange-talks-to-john-pilger/).
Trump and Hillary Clinton can’t both be right about WikiLeaks. In October Hillary Clinton told the ABC’s Four Corners that Julian Assange was ‘very clearly a tool of Russian intelligence…he has done their bidding.’ He was, said Clinton, ‘a kind of nihilistic opportunist who does the bidding of a dictator.’ As Secretary of State she had called Assange a traitor for publishing the Iraq war logs and US diplomatic cables, and others in Congress called for his execution. Assange, believing that the Swedish rape allegations – dismissed early this year – were motivated by American pressure for his extradition, in 2011 broke his British bail conditions and took refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador. But demanding interception of others’ communications was Clinton’s forte, not Assange’s. WikiLeaks revealed that in 2009 she asked for details about UN officials’ passwords and encryption keys for private and commercial networks, and in 2010 she authorised and intelligence-gathering campaign against the leadership of the UN and selected members of the UN Security Council. As well, she doubled arms sales to Saudi Arabia, pushed for the raid by the US, UK and France on Libya in which 40 000 Libyans died, and cheered Gaddafi’s brutal assassination. Assange reminded John Pilger in a 2016 interview that she saw all this as supporting her coming presidential campaign. Clearly, the WikiLeaks publisher doesn’t love Clinton, nor she him, and the timing of his pre-election release damaged her cause.
As for Australia, successive governments refused to intervene. Ministers called Assange a traitor and suggested cancelling his passport, yet lavished much more attention on convicted drug couriers in Indonesia. As Foreign Minister, Bob Carr was dismissive of appeals to intervene on Assange’s behalf, but agonised over Schapelle Corby (Diary of a Foreign Minister, 2014).
Assange remains a target for character assassins, for whom ‘nihilist’ is a favourite term of abuse. ‘Assange is no dreamer: he’s a nihilistic wrecker who’ll revel in our ruins,’ David Aaronovitch informs readers of the Times (17 November 2017, Australian: 11). ’We had long known about the role WikiLeaks played in releasing emails stolen from the Clinton campaign by Russian hackers,’ he adds. He notes that Sputnik news agency carries WikiLeaks material, but doesn’t mention the Guardian. the New York Times and German papers doing the same. Lacking a criminal charge to cite against Assange, he dissects his personality: as a nihilist, he is ‘only made whole by bringing down others.’ He accuses Assange, if he’s guilty of no crime, of guilt by association: Farage, Trump, Putin and Assange are joined in a commitment to ‘disrupt the West’. These four, Aaronovitch assures us, are ‘the gamers, the nihilists and the disrupters…who don’t want you to be happy.’
What WikiLeaks has disrupted is the system by which governments, media, internet mega-companies, and intelligence agencies can hack and collect our data unaccountably and at will. Assange has made them unhappy by revealing their loot. So journalists like Aaronovitch are unhappy, and vengeful. Whatever the results of current investigations of the 2016 election and Russian activities, they will be used to implicate, not exonerate Julian Assange.
Dr Alison Broinowski FAIIA is a former Australian diplomat and academic. She is Vice President of Australians For War Powers Reform and of Honest History.