Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks

Espionage?

Nor is it just Republicans calling for Assange and Manning's heads. Senator Joe Lieberman has made WikiLeaks a pet issue. The Senator has called the leaking of the cables "despicable," and went on Fox News and condemned the organization and Assange even further. Lieberman said: "I certainly believe that WikiLeaks has violated the Espionage Act, but then what about the news organizations — including The Times — that accepted it and distributed it? To me, The New York Times has committed at least an act of bad citizenship, and whether they have committed a crime, I think that bears a very intensive inquiry by the Justice Department." It was Lieberman's staff thatput pressure on Amazon.com to drop the site from its servers, which came on the heels of cyber attacks on the site itself, shutting it down for the first time in its existence.

In the first week of December, Lieberman, along with John Ensign and Scott Brown, introduced a bill designed to prevent future leaks, and prosecute those who disseminate the information, dubbed The Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination Act (SHIELD). Lieberman may have been motivated by reports that it will be nearly impossible to convict Assange under the 1971 Espionage Act.

Daniel Ellsberg
Daniel Ellsberg

It is no surprise to learn that WikiLeak's inspiration was The Pentagon Papers, the trove of Defense Department papers that showed that the government had lied to the American public about the Vietnam War. Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who had leaked the documents to The New York Times, was familiar with Assange's predicament: he himself had gone into hiding after the publication of the papers. The New York Times was sued by the Nixon administration and the suit went to the Supreme Court. The Times prevailed in The New York Times v. United States, though the Nixon administration began a campaign to discredit Ellsberg, who turned himself in and was charged with violating the Espionage Act. The case was dismissed because of government misconduct.

"The truth is that EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time," wrote Ellsberg in a statement posted on his website.

Ellsberg also told Democracy Now: "Assange and Bradley Manning are no more terrorists than I am, and I'm not."

Though his adversaries may be higher-profile and more vocal, Assange also has people on his side. One unlikely supporter: Russian leader Vladimir Putin gave a press conference where he criticized the West's assailing of Assange—"Why was Mr. Assange hidden in jail? Is that democracy?"

Putin, like Brazilian President Inacio Lula da Silva, believed the criticism against Assange was unmerited.

On Friday, December 10, Republican Congressman Ron Paul, took to the floor of the House of Representatives and defended WikiLeaks, after a fashion, asking:

"Why is the hostility directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our governments failure to protect classified information?...At its core, the WikiLeaks controversy serves as a diversion from the real issue of what our foreign policy should be. But the mainstream media, along with neoconservatives from both parties, insists on asking the wrong questions. When presented with embarrassing disclosures about U.S. spying and meddling, the policy that requires so much spying and meddling is not questioned. Instead the media focuses on how authorities might prosecute the publishers of such information."

 

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