There are some unasked questions that stare back at a reader of yesterday’s long and factually undernourished New York Times article on the probable or possible material or sentimental links between Julian Assange and the interests of the Russian state.
Four times (including a subsidiary related article) we are offered a version of “US intelligence officials assert.” The unnamed officials assert that they know that certain Wikileaks documents, which reflect badly on the US and on Hillary Clinton, came from Russian spies. The story contains not a word about the basis for this assertion except the all-purpose confidence-building phrase “high confidence.” People who know more about hacking than Steven Erlanger and his co-authors have asserted we possess no reasonably sure way of tracing the source of such leaks
The story builds up Edward Snowden as an honest critic of Russia, quite different from Assange in that regard, but a certain opportunism mars the double portrait. One can’t help recalling that the Times attitude toward Snowden and other whistleblowers has been complicated and by no means consistently friendly or courageous.
Assange has been confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than four years, with considerable damage to his health. The article alludes to the determination by Hillary Clinton to take “aggressive” steps to punish him for the release of the Cablegate documents, which were humiliating to her State Department. It notes, soon after her vow, the announcement that the DOJ was launching an investigation of Wikileaks — and soon after that, the arrest of Assange by London police. These occurrences are mentioned in successive paragraphs but no connection is drawn. Did Mrs. Clinton make good her vow by exerting her influence to launch a grand jury investigation of Assange in the US and secure his arrest in London?
When explaining the reasons for Snowden’s decision to travel to Moscow, the article omits a relevant fact: the forced landing in Vienna, on July 1, 2013, of the plane carrying President Evo Morales of Bolivia. This extraordinary action was ordered by the president, Barack Obama, and his attorney general, Eric Holder, because they suspected that Snowden was on the plane. Assange believes that the US, given the chance, would hunt him down just as relentlessly. Is that an irrational belief?