By Jerome Long
In a recent opinion article remarkable for its radical socialist polemics, and not much else, Mr. James Cogan vilifies the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ecuador for their actions, real and imaginary, regarding Julian Assange without much in the way of substance. Mr. Cogan’s rhetoric, using tired old radical socialist buzzwords, is full of holes.
In the first instance, Mr. Cogan accuses the Ecuadorian government of depriving Mr. Assange of his rights. This is not so. Mr. Assange is a guest of the Ecuadorian government in its London embassy, having requested asylum therein. As such, he is there at the sufferance of the Ecuadorian government. He is obligated to observe the conditions under which his asylum is granted. He has no right to asylum, and that grant can be revoked at any time for any or no reason. In addition to his boorish behavior, Mr. Assange has repeatedly violated those conditions, according to the Ecuadorian government. Contrary to Mr. Cogan’s apparent belief, the Ecuadorian government has no obligation to give Mr. Assange free rein of its embassy and to determine the conditions of his asylum. Given Mr. Assange’s churlish behavior, it is surprising that the Ecuadorian government hasn’t booted him out and has merely imposed restrictions on his liberty within the embassy. If Mr. Assange doesn’t like those conditions, he is always free to leave.
Mr. Cogan accused President Moreno of slander when the letter referred to Mr. Assange as a “hacker.” Rubbish. Mr. Assange published information illegally obtained by persons who, in modern parlance, “hacked” U.S. government sources. There is evidence, according to the former head of the CIA, and now Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, that Mr. Assange actively participated in and directed that illegal activity. At best, Mr. Assange is a hacker once removed. If Mr. Pompeo is correct, then Mr. Assange is the Hacker-in-Chief. President Moreno’s words are not even close to slander.
Mr. Cogan attempts to portray statements made by Secretary Pompeo as the ranting of a nut job. They are not. Mr. Cogan quotes Secretary Pompeo as stating that WikiLeaks is a “non-state hostile intelligence agency.” Mr. Cogan would have one believe that poor Mr. Assange merely published the secrets stolen by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Publishing information provided to it by another does not make the publisher subject to criminal sanctions in the United States. However, if the United States government has the evidence to support the claim that Mr. Assange actively directed the efforts of Snowden and Manning, then Mr. Assange is a party to their crimes as though he had committed them himself. The First Amendment does not protect such conduct. As for Washington’s alleged desire to have Mr. Assange’s head, no doubt his body will suffice.
Mr. Cogan’s take on charges pending in the United Kingdom is entirely baffling. Mr. Assange was directed to comply with certain conditions of bail, and he did not. That’s bail jumping. Was there something the rest of us missed in Mr. Assange’s conditions of bond that would allow him to ignore the laws of the United Kingdom? Was there some special privilege granted to him that placed him above the law, or is Mr. Cogan confusing him with the British sovereign?
Mr. Assange recognizes that someday he will have to face the music. In January 2017, he said that he would be willing to face charges in the U.S. “provided my rights are respected.” In this, he will have powerful allies, the American Civil Liberties Union being the most notable.
Lest readers of Mr. Cogan’s piece get the notion that people such as Snowden, Manning, and Mr. Assange are heroes, they should bear this in mind: that the United States has a representative form of government. The people do not govern themselves directly but through elected and duly appointed officials. Their social contract is the United States Constitution. No one appointed or elected Manning, Snowden, or Mr. Assange to any capacity in the United States government whatsoever. The responsibility to determine what is and is not confidential is left to the various governmental agencies, their directors, the elected House of Representatives and Senate, and the oversight committees on which their members serve.
If the claim is made that Mr. Assange acted in the interests of the people, then, again, who elected or appointed him to such an august position? Since when does an individual get to decide for others what is and is not in their interests in the absence of such an appointment? Who elected Mr. Assange king? To suggest that the exposure of highly classified government documents is somehow in the interest of the people is genuinely naïve in a perilous and volatile world. Snowden, Manning, and Mr. Assange did not, therefore, act out of concern for the welfare of the people but, rather, out of hubris.
It is also naïve to believe that Mr. Assange is doing all of his work to the benefit of humankind simply out of the goodness of his own heart as Mr. Cogan would have one believe. According to the website Quora, Mr. Assange has amassed an estimated net worth of $1.3 million. He has an $800,000 contract with his American publisher and a $522,000 deal with his British publisher. Disclosing other people’s secrets is, it seems, quite lucrative.
Oh, guess what? WikiLeaks keeps its funding secret, according to the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Assange’s disclosures about WikiLeaks are less than comforting, given their shadowy nature. WikiLeaks is registered in Germany as a foundation which means that not only can its funding sources remain secret but that it can’t be sued, e.g., for libel.
WikiLeaks engages in other dodges to avoid disclosures and to maintain its secrecy, as well. In Australia, it is a “library.” In Sweden, it is a “newspaper,” and a “foundation” in France. According to Quora, there are two tax-exempt entities that, in Mr. Assange’s words, “act as a front” for his website.
Of course, Mr. Assange holds these secrets very close to his chest. Apparently, transparency does not apply to an organization that discloses other people’s secrets in the name of transparency.
Mr. Cogan laments the fact that Mr. Assange is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London as though he was imprisoned there. One can hardly have sympathy for the man, however, when it is he who brought those conditions about and he who holds the keys to his imprisonment. All Mr. Assange has to do is walk out the door.
Jerome Long is a retired attorney and sometimes freelance writer living in Wisconsin where the temperature never varies beyond -40 and 110F. He is a frequent visitor to Ecuador and Cuenca.