A Rational Look at Assange, Manafort, and the Indictments

There’s been a lot of noise about the possibility of Indictments on Assange, with accusations thrown about both ways. So why not take a rational look at the facts?

I’ve followed the whole Assange ‘story’ for a while now, since the Julius Baer case almost 11 years ago. Over time, my views on Wikileaks (the organisation), and Julian Assange (effectively ‘wikileaks-the-person’) have changed. That’s not because — as many like to glibly suggest — the topics ‘revealed’ went from being one party in power, to the opposing party, and that I was partisan in outlook; I support the democratic party so leaks against Bush are good, those against Obama/Clinton are bad.

No, my change comes from a reason to the actions and motivations of wikileaks itself, and how it’s changed. It’s gone from a release agent o whatever files may have a public interest and are being hidden, to a PR agency for Julian Assange, that sometimes releases files.

So the first question has to be, what is the core motivation of Wikileaks? Is it a vanity project by Assange, or is a true organisation dedicated to exposing truth? If you’d asked me until the middle of 2010, I’d have said the latter, but its actions since then have shown it to be a vanity project, where the aims of Wikileaks are subservient to that of its prominent ‘face’. By tying itself ever-tighter to its founder’s personal problems, it has undermined its credibility and objectivity, and allowed Assange’s personal legal problems to overshadow the work of the organisation, and have it devalued.

Many claim the Swedish sexual assault charges are smear attacks, to discredit Wikileaks, and if so (and that’s a BIG if), wikileaks played right into their hands. The smart thing to have done is to have Assange step back from the head-honcho role into a background role, let wikileaks do it’s thing, without Assange being a diversion. Instead it tried to leverage wikileaks as a platform to provide an excuse, claiming political motivation, and pushing various claims and theories that are usually destroyed by the evidence. This was shown most clearly in the first UK extradition hearing in February 2011, where the Wikileaks expert — former Svea Appeals Court judge Brita Sundberg-Weitman — made a number of claims in court, which were then contradicted by evidence provided to the court, Ms Sundberg-Weitman with the court record stating

“She confirmed that she had no direct personal knowledge of what happened in this investigation before Mr Assange left Sweden. Her evidence is based upon the facts supplied to her by the defence lawyers.” [In her proof she said Ms Ny had made no effort to interview him before he left with her permission and knowledge on 27th September.] She confirmed that if the defence lawyer had told the prosecutor that he was unable to contact the defendant for interview, then the position would be different. “It would be a different case. However it didn’t happen like that”. When what Ms Ny told the Svea Court of Appeal was put to the expert she said she did not know that.

That’s pretty damming when it opens with

“She is of the opinion that proper procedures, according to Swedish law and stated policy, have not been followed in this case. She says that the use of the EAW under European law is disproportionate. She says the handling of the case has been improper in a number of respects.”

The same thing happened with the two other witnesses, Goran Rudling and Sven-Eric Alhem. They made claims that they said showed it was a fix, and when asked to back them by the court, or were shown evidence that contradicted their claims, backed down.

It’s a tactic that has become pretty common with the myriad drama’s surrounding Assange — distort the facts, then claim a conspiracy to shut down a whistleblower based on those distorted facts. In common-law countries (UK US, Aus. etc.), for instance, you’ll hear talk of him ‘not being charged’, except the ‘charging’ they’re talking about is the Swedish kind, which is different, and happens very late; when this argument was made to the UK High Court, the judges there found the attempts to conflate the swedish version of ‘charge’ with the english version didn’t meet reality.

153. Although we have approached the matter by asking the broad question posed by Lord Steyn as to whether Mr Assange was accused, it was the submission of Mr Assange that the court should ask the question asked by the Divisional Court in Ismail, namely whether a step had been taken which could fairly be described as the commencement of the prosecution. It is, in our view, clear that whilst Lord Steyn approved that approach, it was not the only approach to the question of whether he was an accused. The issue was to be addressed broadly on the facts. But, even if the court was constrained to determine whether someone was an accused by solely considering the question of whether the prosecution had commenced, we would not find it difficult to hold that looking at what has taken place in Sweden that the prosecution had commenced. Although it is clear a decision has not been taken to charge him, that is because, under Swedish procedure, that decision is taken at a late stage with the trial following quickly thereafter. In England and Wales, a decision to charge is taken at a very early stage; there can be no doubt that if what Mr Assange had done had been done in England and Wales, he would have been charged and thus criminal proceedings would have been commenced. If the commencement of criminal proceedings were to be viewed as dependent on whether a person had been charged, it would be to look at Swedish procedure through the narrowest of common law eyes. Looking at it through cosmopolitan eyes on this basis, criminal proceedings have commenced against Mr Assange.

154. In our view therefore, Mr Assange fails on the facts on this issue.

And so on. The last 8 years now have been one sort of misdirection after another, the UN advisory group opinion touted as ‘UN verdict’, claims that the women had dropped hte case, etc. All to distract from the facts, and use the ideology of Wikileaks to defend the personal behaviour of Assange.

Welcome to 2018…

So it is we come to the more recent things, with the claimed Manafort/Assange meetup, and the apparent indictment in US court.

It started with two typos in an application to seal by Assistant US Attorney Kellen Dwyer on a child sex trafficking case

Screenshot of the
Image of the mistakenly included paragraphs referencing Assange

Now to many, this is the final revelatory vindication of 8 years of claims that ‘America wanted to extradite Assange’, with just one or two small problems.

First, there’s the problem of the timing. Neither Kellen Dwyer or G. Z. Terwilliger (the US Attorney for the region) have been involved in the Manning case Assange claims the US wants him for. 

While Terwilliger has been with the US Attorney’s office for many years, only earlier this year did he get the top job, before that he was in the Financial Crimes and public corruption unit. Before that spent a year as counsel for the senate judiciary committee working on fraud and white collar crime, narcotics, human trafficking and the like, expanding from the job he’d done for 7 years before that in the US Attorney’s office. He’s an organised crime guy, not a national security guy, not a military secrets, or whistleblower prosecutor.

What about Dwyer? details on him are sketchy, but he also seems to be a young prosecutor that focuses on organised crime. Cases he’s worked on since 2015 include malware cases (using Remote Access Trojans or ‘RAT’s to extort the infected), stolen car rings, and online banking information sales. He’s also got a fair number of child pornography and sex cases. It’s almost like his specialty is high-dollar international transactions, and also not National Security.

Second, let’s look at the timeline a second — it’s 2018 and we’re just getting info about this now? That means that Dwyer had the document open to copy it from. So, it’s recent, but what’s changed in the Manning case? In the last year, absolutely nothing, in early 2017 President Obama gave manning Clemency, but that was the last act, with Manning leaving prison in May 2017. With nothing changed, no new information, there’s nothing to hang an indictment on that wasn’t there in 2012, before he entered the embassy.

Additionally, trying to justify to a magistrate judge in 2018 that an indictment in the Manning case requires sealing is going to be nigh on impossible. You’d have to prove that Assange knowing about the indictment would lead to the destruction of evidence, or tipping off co-conspirators. Since there’s a widely known Grand Jury investigation, he and his co-conspirators were already aware they could have been indicted, and Assange has claimed there’s been an indictment against him since at least 2012, so sealing one won’t make him act any differently that it being open would. The only difference sealing makes is that the 180 day clock where indictments have to be served/acted on doesn’t run on a sealed indictment, but since all they have to do to is use it to request extradition from the UK government.

None of that makes sense, not in terms of the Manning case anyway. What does make sense is that it’s tied to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Wikileaks has appeared a number of times in the last 2–3 years concerning the 2016 US Presidential election.

They had direct contact with Donald Trump Jr in the months before the election, swapping information, and with Jr. pushing out wikileaks sites at their request to ‘investigate the DNC emails’, and his father echoing the talking points just hours after Wikileaks sends them. And the talking points were about emails hacked from their political opposition. Oops. 

Nor was Jr. the only Trump confidant that had regular communications with Assange. At the start of the year, Sean Hannity’s twitter account was temporarily deactivated. A Texas woman set up an account pretending to be him, and then messaged Assange. Assange messaged back, and referred a few times to ‘other channels’ to contact him instead of via twitter, so that he could pass on more information he had (and strangely wouldn’t and hasn’t published). The vagueness and casual nature of the reference to these ‘other channels’ indicates that they’re at least somewhat regular communicators. Hannity has recently traveled to some of Trump’s rallies, even opening some, while he’s also a near-nightly fixture in Trump’s daily routine, regularly spending hours on the phone talking to each other.

Hannity is incredibly close to Trump, and apparently to Assange, then that’s two links to Trump through two of his most trusted intermediaries.

We now have emails that show Assange was giving advanced warnings to the Trump campaign through Jerome Corsi (no stranger to pushing bullshit smears as part of a presidential campaign, as he was a key part in ‘Swift-boating’ 2004 candidate John Kerry), about the DNC leaks. In some cases, leaks were mentioned to Trump confidant Roger Stone more than two months in advance, which is not normal practice for Wikileaks. Stone has historically been close to Trump, as his casino lobbyist in the 90s, as well as owning a lobbying firm with Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chair. Stone was also the campaign manager of Trump’s 2000 Reform party presidential campaign, and worked on the early part of Trumps 2016 campaign.

So we have Trump’s son, his nightly confidant, and his longtime lobbyist/political adviser communicating with Wikileaks. So would it be so surprising that Paul Manafort, may have been visiting Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy while he was Trump’s campaign manager? It would not.

One of the strangest push-backs on the topic came from Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald occupies a strange nexus, as he worked with both Wikileaks and the Guardian, publishing stories there on Snowdon revelations before co-founding The Intercept. In his piece, his main argument (given away in the headline “It Is Possible Paul Manafort Visited Julian Assange. If True, There Should Be Ample Video and Other Evidence Showing This.”) is that had Manafort done as alleged, there should be video evidence showing that, and things like passport records and entry logs.

This leads to one indisputable fact: if Paul Manafort (or, for that matter, Roger Stone), visited Assange at the Embassy, there would be ample amounts of video and other photographic proof demonstrating that this happened. The Guardian provides none of that.

It’s an odd claim, especially considering the prior paragraphs.

But the main point is this one: London itself is one of the world’s most surveilled, if not the most surveilled, cities. And the Ecuadorian Embassy in that city — for obvious reasons — is one of the most scrutinized, surveilled, monitored and filmed locations on the planet.

In 2015, Wired reported that “the UK is one of the most surveilled nations in the world. An estimated 5.9 million CCTV cameras keep watch over our every move,” and that “by one estimate people in urban areas of the UK are likely to be captured by about 30 surveillance camera systems every day.” The World Atlas proclaimed that “London is the most spied-on city in the world,” and that “on average a Londoner is captured on camera about 300 times daily.”

For obvious reasons, the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London where Assange has been living since he received asylum in 2011 is subjected to every form of video and physical surveillance imaginable. Visitors to that embassy are surveilled, photographed, filmed and recorded in multiple ways by multiple governments — at least including both the Ecuadorians and the British and almost certainly by other governments and entities. Not only are guests who visit Assange required to give their passports and other identification to be logged, but they also pass through multiple visible cameras — to say nothing of the invisible ones — on their way to visit Assange, including cameras on the street, in the lobby of the building, in the reception area of the Embassy, and then in the rooms where one meets Assange.

In 2015, the BBC reported that “Scotland Yard has spent about £10m providing a 24-hour guard at the Ecuadorean embassy in London since Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claimed asylum there,” and that “between June 2012 and October 2014, direct policing costs were £7.3m, with £1.8m spent on overtime.”

Sure, it seems like a good argument, but does it really make sense? No, it doesn’t, and someone who’s supposed to be an expert in this field knows that these claims are complete nonsense.

Let’s start with the last paragraph. It’s 2018, so why are the figures quoted for upto 2015, and 2012 to 2014? Well, it’s because in the Met’s own 2015 words “As a result of this continual review the MPS has today Monday, 12 October withdrawn the physical presence of officers from outside the Embassy.” So, amazingly, officers that were withdrawn in 2015 couldn’t spot someone entering in 2016. It’s almost as if he was trying to mislead people into thinking there was a police encampment there writing everyone’s names down in their notebook.

So, what about the cameras? While it’s true that it’s one of the most surveiled cities, in the context of this issue, it doesn’t mean much. A video of Manafort in Wimbledon, Penge (which I hear is very nice, but I’ve never been myself) or stopping by Brentford to have a pint of Large at the Flying Swan), won’t do anything to support a claim of him being at the Embassy. So it’s only cameras at or around the embassy that matter. So what’s the camera situation like around there? In a word, not good. Just check out the street view.

You can see a bunch of cameras mounted outside the embassy, by the embassy, as GG says, but they’re not going to hand over footage to the Guardian, no matter how nicely they ask, and the idea that an embassy is going to turn over records of comings and goings to the embassy (let alone 100% accurate and precise ones listing ALL entry and exit) to a foreign news org on request is ludicrously naive.

Yet London is ‘the most surveiled city’, so what about the hundreds of cameras blanketing the streets? Turns out, if you look around there, there only appears to be two CCTV cameras that might have visual coverage of the embassy entrance. one is a camera in a black security dome on the corner of Harrods, and given its position, it’s fair to assume it’s going to spend its time pointing at the Harrods pickup/dropoff area, and the store’s doormen there. The second is one atop the Levin cafe (corner of Hans Crescent and Basil Street) that appears to be pointed at the junction running alongside the Columbian embassy, on the other side of the building from the Ecuadorian. (if someone wants to go take some good pics so we can identify the camera, and where it’s aimed, please do!)

The only non-Ecuadorian CCTV camera pointing toward the embassy building

But let us assume that it is a camera pointing at the entrance, its angle would be terrible for identifying anyone that didn’t then turn and walk towards it, yet let’s assume. We’re talking about a 2016 meeting in 2018. So, is the camera private or government owned? Private cameras you’ve no hope of getting copies of footage from 2 years earlier — most places don’t keep CCTV footage for more than 2–3 weeks, maybe a month before dumping or overwriting it — from private entities as they just won’t have it any more. 

If it’s a police camera, then under the Met data retention records, it would be ‘operational CCTV’, it would be retained for 1 year locally, then another year at ‘CES’, and if nothing in those 2 years, then it’s disposed of. Summer of 2016 to late Autumn 2018 is more than 2 years, so it’s gone. If it was evidence in a criminal investigation, then it’d be retained, but it also wouldn’t be obtainable.

So it’s pretty amazing that for an expert in this area, Mr Greenwald doesn’t seem to understand this — has he never tried to obtain documents from law enforcement — because it’s pretty normal that police don’t give out evidence in ongoing investigations (if it worked like that, then “FOIA Terrorist” would be an actual thing, not just a nickname given to Jason Leopold by departments that don’t want their malfeasance exposed).

And so we’re back to the dozens of cameras he claims at the Ecuadorian embassy. Call me Mr Cynical if you want, but I’m pretty sure that the Guardian isn’t going to get much of a response if they go to the embassy and say “hey, can we have a copy of all your cctv for July 2016”, even if they just said “oh, just the hallway”. Even if they have nothing to hide (and no-one’s saying they do) such things are routinely kept confidential, for any number of reasons. Likewise any visitors log is not exactly outside audited, if they’re having or allowing covert meetings with the representatives of a foreign nations leadership election campaign in violation of that country’s laws, I’m pretty sure that there’s no Vogon-like obsession with paperwork. Besides,the claims about the “secret visits” aren’t that they’re being kept a secret from those in the Ecuadorian Embassy, but from the wider public. And be honest, unless he’s wearing an ostrich jacket in, no officer looking at any surveillance tapes in 2016 would know who Manafort is, let alone what he looked like, so unless he took a MAGAbus there, it’s not exactly obvious at the time.

All-in-all, Greenwald’s attempt’s to deflect by claiming that since mythical levels of proof ‘obviously’ exist, that the Guardian hasn’t provided them shows it must be fake. It’s the classic moving-the-goalposts claim. 

And remember, while Wikileaks has denied it, they’ve been caught lying countless times (while they claim a 100% accuracy record, that’s only in relation to the documents they release not being proven to be fake, not on their own statements), especially when it’s about them, while Manafort is a chronicled fabulist and may be lying to avoid yet more charges.

Is the plausibility there, and could Manafort have met with Assange in the Embassy? Of course he could. Given the links and communications we know that exist between Assange and various people around Trump (Hannity, Stone, Junior, etc.) and the key role that wikileaks ended up playing in the campaign shortly after the claimed visit, it’s more than just plausible.

And if Assange was hoping a Trump connection would help him deal with his legal issues, and give him a powerful friend with a marker, he’s forgotten one thing; Trump doesn’t repay debts, be they financial or of honour. He might as well have a marker from one of the Trump casinos in Atlantic City for all the good it’ll do Assange in the end, if this is true.