Scotland Yard always gets its man, but sometimes has to let him go

At least, that was the word earlier today, although the actual release of Julian Assange, the accused sex offender and would-be saboteur of U.S. security, has now been delayed pending a hearing.

From the NYT:

LONDON — After a week in detention facing possible extradition, Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks antisecrecy group, was ordered released on $310,000 bail by a court on Tuesday as he challenges a Swedish prosecutor’s demand that he return to Stockholm for questioning about alleged sex offenses.

However, Mr. Assange remained in custody pending a hearing on an appeal by the prosecutor, which would take place within the next 48 hours.

In granting bail, Judge Howard Riddle ordered that Mr. Assange appear again in court on Jan. 11. He also said that between then and now he must reside at Ellingham Hall, a Georgian mansion in Bungay, in eastern England, owned by Vaughan Smith, the founder of a club for journalists. Mr. Assange must spend every night at the mansion and will be electronically tagged so the police can track his movements, the judge said…

So even when he DOES walk out, it’s sort of a tag-and-release situation. Which shows the Brits haven’t lost their minds. Good to know, since I’m about to go over there. If I DO run into the guy, though, I’ll let you know.

Oh, and about those sex charges — as muddled a mess as any he-said-she-said (and she said, too) you’re likely to run across. Whatever the facts, Mr. Assange seems to fall somewhat short of a paragon (even if you believe his defense):

Speaking about the case in recent weeks, Mr. Assange has said that he had consensual relations with two young Swedish women. He said he met them during a trip to Sweden in August that he made in a bid to establish a haven for himself and WikiLeaks under Sweden’s broad laws protecting press freedoms.

The charges relate to the question of whether these encounters ceased to be consensual when a condom was no longer being used. Sweden’s request for extradition is designed to enable prosecutors to question Mr. Assange about charges of “rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.”…

In a packed courtroom hearing lasting nearly an hour a week ago, Gemma Lindfield, a lawyer acting for the Swedish government, outlined some of the detailed allegations against Mr. Assange made by the Swedish women, both WikiLeaks volunteers. They involved three incidents, including one in which Mr. Assange was alleged to have had unprotected sex with one of his accusers while she was asleep.

But that’s not why we’re talking about this guy, is it?

Oh, and about the NYT’s blithe assertion that WikiLeaks is an “antisecrecy group”… I read an interesting opinion piece the other day that argued it is pretty much the opposite of being a champion of transparency — and backed up the argument fairly well:

Whatever else WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has accomplished, he’s ended the era of innocent optimism about the Web. As wiki innovator Larry Sanger put it in a message to WikiLeaks, “Speaking as Wikipedia’s co-founder, I consider you enemies of the U.S.—not just the government, but the people.”

The irony is that WikiLeaks’ use of technology to post confidential U.S. government documents will certainly result in a less free flow of information. The outrage is that this is Mr. Assange’s express intention….

Mr. Assange is misunderstood in the media and among digirati as an advocate of transparency. Instead, this battening down of the information hatches by the U.S. is precisely his goal. The reason he launched WikiLeaks is not that he’s a whistleblower—there’s no wrongdoing inherent in diplomatic cables—but because he hopes to hobble the U.S., which according to his underreported philosophy can best be done if officials lose access to a free flow of information.

In 2006, Mr. Assange wrote a pair of essays, “State and Terrorist Conspiracies” and “Conspiracy as Governance.” He sees the U.S. as an authoritarian conspiracy. “To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed,” he writes. “Conspiracies take information about the world in which they operate,” he writes, and “pass it around the conspirators and then act on the result.”

His central plan is that leaks will restrict the flow of information among officials—”conspirators” in his view—making government less effective. Or, as Mr. Assange puts it, “We can marginalize a conspiracy’s ability to act by decreasing total conspiratorial power until it is no longer able to understand, and hence respond effectively to its environment. . . . An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think efficiently cannot act to preserve itself.”

As I said earlier today to a friend over on Facebook:

Assange and his crowd are not journalists. They’re not the vaunted Fourth Estate, playing a role in stimulating political debate over a national issue. They are foreign political activists who intend to harm the security of the United States. Their goal is to shut down information-sharing among our agencies, from Defense to State to Homeland Security to CIA and so forth, so that they will be less effective. To return us to a pre-9/11 state — you know, back when one agency knew the 9/11 attackers were in the country, and another agency knew why they were dangerous, but they weren’t talking to each other. (An argument can be made on security grounds for keeping information in such silos, but it’s an argument that you can go around and around on — and Assange is not a legitimate participant in that debate.) The goal of WikiLeaks is not transparency, but the opposite — they want to shut down information-sharing.

21 thoughts on “Scotland Yard always gets its man, but sometimes has to let him go

  1. Phillip

    Alexis Madrigal over at the Atlantic has assembled an excellent compendium of diverse takes on the whole Wikileaks thing:

    Clearly it all raises questions that go far beyond just this individual or this organization, to the very nature of how information is collected and distributed in this new cyber-age.

    Frankly, though it may not have been Assange’s intention, I think the latest batch of released cables has actually been a net plus for the US.

  2. Mark Stewart

    Fine, call Assange an information terrorist (which still seems a little overblown); but what is with people calling him a traitor? That he is not – cannot be.

    However, what of the people (or person?) who have handed over this information? What was their reasoning: Were they bamboozled into believing this was a legitimate journalism exposse, or were they in fact traitors? Or were they just fools who ought never have been giving access to such data?

    While it may be of further embarrasment to the government, these people ought to be held to account for their breach of the public trust. The bits and bytes of this kind of release lulls people into forgetting that electronic data is real – and has real consequences.

  3. Robert Lewis

    I don’t believe Manning was acting alone and while I almost never agree with McCain, I also want to know who allowed a Pfc. to get this info out.

  4. bud

    Aside from the technicalities of both the rape and espionage charges shouldn’t we acknowledge that Assange has done this nation a great service? He’s shed a light on some pretty scurilous behavior on the part of Americans in the military and other branches of the government. I just don’t get at all these folks who give government officials a pass simply because they declare something secret. I find much of what our government does pretty disgusting including most of the Bush administration. And anything that serves to slow down that type of behavior should be welcome, even if it’s illegal.

  5. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Brad, you’re starting to sound like you have Assange Derangement Syndrome.

    and experts say Bradley Manning is most likely not guilty of treason–he misappropriated information or some similar technical sounding charge.

    and the sex crime charges are starting to seem awfully cooked-up to a lot of people.

  6. Brad

    I’ll plead guilty to such a derangement syndrome only this this extent — I feel a gut, visceral disgust toward the guy that can be triggered by merely seeing a photo of him. This is indeed closely akin to the reaction that many Democrats had from the beginning toward W. — one look at that smirk of his, and they went off the deep end.

    Am I alone in this? Did you see the photo that accompanied that NYT story? Have you noticed other pictures of this guy? Is it possible to take a picture of him in which he doesn’t look like a four-star creep? Is he Andy Warhol’s evil twin, or what?

    Oh, dang it; they changed the picture. Oh, well, here’s a similar one. And here’s another that makes my point. And another. And another.

  7. Brad

    But of course, he could look like Christina Hendricks, and would still trigger my revulsion by his actions. To share more from that Facebook exchange, one of my interlocutors writes:

    Perhaps Julian Assange isn’t a journalist in the sense of one working for a traditional, corporate-owned media outlet and he certainly doesn’t hide his political activism. But Julian Paul Assange is considered by many to be a journalist and publisher having been involved in publishing material about extrajudicial killings in Kenya, for which he won the 2009 Amnesty International Media Award. He has also published material about toxic waste dumping in Africa, Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay procedures, and banks such as Kaupthing and Julius Baer. For his work with WikiLeaks, Assange received the 2008 Economist Freedom of Expression Award and the 2010 Sam Adams Award. Utne Reader named him as one of the “25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World”. In 2010, New Statesman ranked Assange number 23 among the “The World’s 50 Most Influential Figures”.
    I disagree that Wikileaks serves no useful purpose. And I don’t feel as threatened by Wikileaks as I do by many of my government’s foreign policies and covert operations (to say nothing of blatant atrocities).
    If anything I think the actions of Assange and Wikileaks will have a tightening up rather than a chilling effect on inter-agency national security information sharing, thus making it more and not less secure in the future.

    To which I responded, via Blackberry:

    I don’t care if he won the Nobel Peace Prize, or completed an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). He’s still a creep, and an enemy of this country.

    The people who should decide how confidential information is shared among U.S. agencies are the American people, acting through their elected representive and the duly constituted authorities they appoint.

    Whether to share information more broadly among agencies or keep it in silos (need-to-know, compatmentalization) is a debate we had in this country after 9/11, and decided, rightly or wrongly, in favor of more sharing. That’s a debate worth continuing to have. But Assange is not a legitimate participant in that debate. And there is ZERO justification for his taking it upon himself to force a change in our intelligence-sharing procedures. The fact that his stated aim is to make this nation’s security efforts LESS effective simply adds malice on a grand scale to what otherwise would merely be reckless, megalomaniacal, grotesque irresponsibility.

  8. martin

    The focus of any anger should be our own post 9-11 intelligence operation which appears to have no more common sense about what is put on the internet than your average adolescent on Facebook. It seems the only guiding principle was to dump everything on to it. That’s crazy. How can intelligence be put together in a meaningful way if they have to plow through everything, no matter how irrelevent? Is anyone going to identify a terrorist plot going through diplomatic cables from 1966 – which NYT says is in this stuff?

    Bradley Manning…Isn’t the status of the information – secret, top secret, eyes only – going to be the criteria that ultimately be used to determine what crimes to charge him with? That, long with what he was authorized to do with what he was supposed to be looking at?

    Sweden…I just don’t see them having the kind of subservient relationship to the USA that would lead them to cook up, falsify charges against Assange. Why would they put themselves in that position? I see the Swedes as being more moral than that, too.

    What made the sex charges a big deal is simply his fame. The women may not have had any way to identify this foreigner as someone who could be tracked down easily if he were not a celebrity.

    Assange is just like a politician who runs for office with all kind of mess in their past. Their egos delude them into believing it just won’t come out. And, if he did rape these women, how many rapists think they did anything wrong? It’s their right, right?

  9. Mark Stewart

    Assange’s aim is not journalistic insight; that much is clear.

    What is striking to me is how in all that secret data that was released there seems to be no hint of scandalous misrepresentation. What the U.S. government said it was doing was, in fact, what it was doing. Given that, I see no justification for exposing this information.

    I believe that is exactly the call that most real journalists make every day. They don’t make a bomb out of the normal flow of diplomacy. However, journalists do serve us all when they expose nefarious deceipt, illegal (and unwarranted) activity and corruption.

    Clearly Assange is nothing more than an egomaniac and cares nothing about personal responsibility.

  10. Jesse S.

    I had a lot of long winded responses, but instead I’ll just go with what I was thinking last night after reading the Atlantic items that Phillip posted.

    Anon’s DDOS attacks may be juvenile and possibly criminal, but why isn’t the filibuster?

    Downloaded and browsed through the source for LOIC this weekend (the “hacker” software involved in the MasterCard/visa thing). Not a whole lot to crow about and the media really should be ashamed of themselves for calling Anon, ‘hackers’. Essentially it is an updated version of stuff we used to harass the local college television station back in the 90s. [Man, was that back in the 90s?] Granted you can hook LOIC to a “botnet” (think in scope of a group chat program, not the infinite army of eastern-European, malware-infected boxes that are doing God knows what), but it offers nothing in way of protecting the identity of the attacker. Essentially, it is kind of dumb, at least for the purposes that it is being used for. 17 or 18 lines of relevant code in the whole thing and the rest is largely .NET boilerplate. I’m not knocking the guy who wrote it, it is just a piece of testing software, but anyone who can type has all of the relevant info at their fingertips, much that can be copied and pasted, and that would make them the “hacker”, not the guy clicking on “IMA CHARGIN MAH LAZER”. So yeah, bad job media; “hackers” should be swapped with, “angry mob armed with spit wads and infinite spit”.

    Nothing to say about the current Assange news.

  11. bud

    Brad, I get the whole “it’s illegal” thing. But you have to at least acknowledge that some of the information gleaned from this so-called creep gives the voters good information that can be useful in understanding the misbehavior of government officials. Personally, I’m going to file this away as something not to fret over. It’s much the same as the whole immigration brouhaha. A big deal over very little.

  12. bud

    Here’s my take on the big 3 issues floating around on Brad’s blog:

    Electoral College – Very High Interest, Should be abolished

    Taxing the Rich – High Interest, Soak the Rich

    Assange antics – Low Interest, Probably should be prosecuted

  13. Phillip

    Yeah, Assange’s a little creepy but I have to confess seeing him on the news doesn’t give me quite that same involuntary scary feeling in the pit of my stomach that I get when I see this frightening grin.

  14. Brad

    I’m going to take Bud saying “probably should be prosecuted” as a victory and move on…

    But, Phillip … I don’t have that reaction to DeMint. That’s the trouble with DeMint. He doesn’t telegraph “creepy” the way Assange does. He sneaks up on you. DeMint says the most extreme things in the most normal, mild way that I usually have to go look at the words written down afterwards to realize just how OUT THERE what he just said was….

  15. bud

    DeMint is beyond creepy. He just has that dastardly look of a man who just crawled out of the black lagoon. The fact that he says completely crazy stuff in a mild-mannered way is what gives him that over-the-top creepy edge that keeps me away at night. If you look at his head it’s shaped kind of like Frankenstein’s monster. I’m getting chills just thinking about it.

  16. bud

    Here’s a typical comment from DeMint as he discusses spending bill. Specifically he’s addressing health care bill. It’s on his website:

    “This bill also funds the unconstitutional Obamacare law that Americans oppose and have asked Congress to fully repeal.”

    In just 18 words DeMint makes at least 3 absurd charges: (1) Obamacare is unconstitutional. Anyone can call anything unconstitutional. DeMint claims this as a fact. The courts will ultimately decide.

    (2) Americans oppose Obamacare. Polling just does not support this. When asked about specifics of the law folks are actually quite supportive.

    (3) Americans have asked for a full repeal of Obamacare. Huh. Perhaps some elements of Obamacare like the mandate provision, but certainly Americans have not asked for a FULL repeal.

    DeMint is the master of the overstatement. Whether or not that makes him creepy, you decide.

  17. Brad

    Health care reform has to be mandatory. There’s no other way to do it. Ask Mitt Romney; he knows.

    If the court ruling against the mandate stands up, you can kiss all of Obamacare goodbye. Or any reform that hopes to make a difference.

    Then, can we start over, with single-payer? Please? I mean, if the DeMints of the world are going to fulminate so emotionally and outrageously against something so mild as Obamacare, we might as well go for some real reform that works…


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