The unfolding of the Julian Assange story has all the makings of a good “Scandal” episode if the nighttime TV soap opera were still on the air.
Over the show’s seven seasons you learned about double agents and dark super spy secret networks. You were pulled deeper into storylines with twists and turns revealing layers upon layers of mastermind plotting. Nothing was as it seems and every character had hidden motives and agendas. It was fun at first, but sickening by the end.
Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks, a whistle-blowing website dedicated to publishing leaked government documents involving war, spying and corruption.
Assange claims to be a truth-seeker and calls for transparency no matter what.
He has been hiding out in Ecuador’s embassy in London for the past seven years avoiding charges from Sweden and the United States. On Thursday, Ecuador revoked Assange’s asylum and British police stepped in to arrest him for jumping bail on a former charge. To heighten the drama, the U.S. released its indictment against Assange outlining his role in “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”
More specifically, the charge is conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. It alleges that Assange helped Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning hack into the Department of Defense computers to obtain classified documents.
The story is being debated across newsrooms.
There has been much support for Assange. The moral argument is strong. Supporters argue Wikileaks is providing information that’s in the public interest much like any news organization might do. The public has a right to know. To prosecute Assange for publishing classified documents, even if they put someone in danger, would be an effort to criminalize journalism and a serious threat on free media. We need to safeguard freedom of press and free speech.
This is why the Obama administration chose not to bring charges against Assange.
But Thursday’s revelations have changed the debate. Are we prosecuting Assange for publishing classified documents, or is it the methods by which he obtained them? Did he merely encourage the whistleblower or did he actually aid the whistleblower?
The nuances matter in court, and most journalists do not think breaking the law is a legitimate way to investigate a story.
What bothers me more than the legal nuances is Assange’s own lack of transparency. What is his agenda? He has dubious relationships with foreign powers and actors and a history of low moral character.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board points out that Assange’s targets have always been democratic institutions or governments and not authoritarians.
You can shape any story by only revealing certain facts. But that’s not transparency. That’s spin and usually means someone is after some kind of agenda. I don’t think Assange’s motives are altruistic and for the greater good.