Prosecuting Assange is Essential for Restoring our National Security | Opinion
Naveed Jamali , Senior fellow in the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute
On 11/24/18 at 6:52 PM
Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador on May 19, 2017 in London, England. Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Julian Assange or Wikileaks. My disdain for started long before both apparently acted as digital mouthpiece for Russian intelligence by releasing hacked emails. It began with the actions of Chelsea Manning, and hit a crescendo with Edward Snowden. Assange and Wikileaks are responsible for creating a class of leakers motivated by ego, who justify their betrayal of our national security by claiming that their moral code trumps the actual code governing the release of classified information.
Like many current and former members of the intelligence community, I’ve been frustrated by the unwillingness of our government to act against Assange and Wikileaks. Up to now, they have been allowed to occupy a grey area that affords them some pseudo status as journalist and news outlet, stymieing any interest in holding them to account. But with the news that the Department of Justice has apparently filed criminal charges against Julian Assange, I am hopeful that perhaps we may be turning the page on this story, and once again defending our national security.
Secrecy is a necessary component of national security, and keeping secrets secret is an oath anyone who has worked in intelligence understands. It is not just something that we agree to because we are legally required to do so, rather, it is because we understand that the release of any information may have an impact on our national security.
This means that no matter what we might see, hear or read, and no matter how compelling, disturbing or even cool, we cannot divulge it. We understand that intelligence is a compartmentalized world, wherein individuals involved in an operation will know a few pieces of the puzzle, but few know how those pieces go together. We must protect the secrecy of those pieces. It is our duty.
As an FBI operative working a mission against Russian military intelligence, I often struggled with this incomplete picture. Even though I spent hours in front of Oleg Kulikov, a Russian intelligence officer posing as a United Nations diplomat, his importance in the intelligence wars was unknown to me. Working with a small three-person team, I was constantly reminded that my job was to work Oleg, not to think about the larger questions of who he was and why he mattered.
I was to focus on the objectives at hand. I was ok with this for one simple reason: trust. I trusted that the endpoint of our mission was truth, and whether or not I was in on every decision being made, I trusted we were all moving toward that shared goal using a common set of rules and ethics. I also trusted the people I worked with. I trusted them to keep my secret work secret, which meant I trusted them with nothing short of my life.
Wikileaks earliest incarnation purported to be an organization committed to holding governments and those in power accountable through transparency. While Wikileaks was started in 2006, it was not until 2010 when it released a video showing the killing of 2 Reuters journalists in a US airstrike in Iraq that Wikileaks became a known entity. The video, along with State Department cables, was stolen by former US Soldier Chelsea Manning, and uploaded to Wikileaks’ anonymous dropbox. It was this action by Manning and her subsequent arrest, trial, conviction and pardon, that created an appeal to activists who believed that governments should have no secrets.
By 2016, any objective good that Wikileaks and Assange may have been able to lay claim to, was destroyed after their connection to Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign during the US presidential elections was revealed. In fact, the Wikileaks/Assange/Trump connection has become a focal point for investigation of collusion and coordination between Trump and his campaign and Russia.
Wikileaks was never a news outlet, rather, it was started as an “open source intelligence service.” Wikileaks does not report, it acts as a platform to host documents, with no analysis of curated documents. They are more of a middleman for anonymous document dumps. This is not reporting, this is not journalism and Assange is not a journalist providing analysis or investigative reporting— this is the hocking of stolen secrets, with no regard for the very real damage their disclosure does.
As we saw in 2016, at best Wikileaks does not vet their sources and at worst they are nothing more than a clearing house for Russian disinformation. Wikileaks and Assange are an affront to any journalist who genuinely seeks to shed light on truth and to provide unbiased coverage.
Government should be accountable, but it must also protect our national security. Those in the intelligence community, and those who work in clandestine operations, must be able to trust in our government’s ability to keep them safe. Releasing one piece of information, no matter how seemingly innocuous, may risk sources, methods and indeed lives.
Protecting our safety, starts with separating Assange and Wikileaks from legitimate journalists and news outlets who report and investigate. That is why I welcomed the news that Julian Assange may be officially declared a criminal.
Naveed Jamali is a former FBI double agent and the author of “How to Catch a Russian Spy.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.