Friday, April 12, 2019

Non-Hot Take

Quito, via National Geographic.

One thing I think everybody needs to note about the Assange story is that at this point it's not about the United States, not about Sweden, not about WikiLeaks—not driven by the preoccupations of these people we think about when we think about Julian Assange. It's really, at the moment, an Ecuador story.

That is: the previous president, hero of free speech Rafael Correa*, left his chosen successor, the less heroic Lenín Boltaire Moreno (yes, he's named after the Bolshevik leader, as well as Voltaire, only his parents spelled the latter wrong), with a problem in the country's London embassy in the form of Assange squatting there, failing to clean the bathroom or change the kitty litter, while avoiding extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted on rape charges, and from where he claimed he would be extradited to the US and buried like the Man in the Iron Mask. Moreno has been trying to get rid of this national embarrassment since he took office almost two years ago (one of the things that has enraged his former patron Correa), and he's finally succeeded, and that is the story, and it's not even all that interesting.

*Some Ecuadoreans have an alternative view on Correa's commitment to free speech:
Correa had a poor record on free speech at home. In 2011, he closed a string of radio and television stations in a bid to silence critics. According to Human Rights Watch, five journalists were jailed for “disrespecting” the government between 2008 and 2011.

It's especially not the story of how the United States has finally succeeded in getting him here, though it certainly seems very likely that he will end up here, on trial, eventually. 

Nobody was really anxious to get him, as far as I can tell. The Eastern District of Virginia US attorney filed the sealed indictment a little over a year ago, 6 March 2018, on this single charge of conspiracy and what you might call attempted hackery, which they were very much interested in keeping secret when it was inadvertently revealed last November—around the same time as the Moreno government was trying to drive Assange out of the London embassy by cutting off his high-speed Internet access—in a filing on an entirely unrelated case, in a passage apparently copied-pasted from a document arguing that the Assange indictment needed to remain sealed—


—where the typist was supposed to cut out Assange's name and replace it with that of a local sex offender named Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, for an argument arguing that his indictment needed to be sealed too.

Note that by these standards it would still be too early to unseal the indictment, though they have in fact now unsealed it, because Assange's extradition isn't yet a fait accompli, and it could take a very long time before it is, as The Times reports:
Mr. Assange indicated that he would fight extradition, and legal experts said that process could take years. He is likely to argue that the case is politically motivated rather than driven by legitimate legal concerns.
Also, the investigation in the EDVA isn't even over; it went on after the indictment was filed, between 24 July 2018, when a story in Courthouse News Service mentioned his lawyer
Barry Pollack, who represents Assange in an ongoing criminal investigation in the Eastern District of Virginia
until now, with poor Chelsea Manning back in jail for refusing to give testimony in the case, which everybody seems to think is still the same case in which the indictment was filed 13 months ago, alleging that during the period from January to May 2010 when she was downloading all those classified documents and specifically "on or about March", Assange, communicating with her on Jabber, tried (and failed) to help her guess a password that would help her hide her identity from anybody investigating the hacking in the future.

For which I appreciate that they understand that publishing classified information is not a crime in the United States, but I'm really feeling like if this is it, is that all there is? I despise Assange, or what he has become, as much as anybody, but what is this investigation for? Why aren't we talking about the WikiLeaks conspiracy with the Russian state, if there was one?—It's possible WikiLeaks didn't even know that "Guccifer 2.0" was the GRU, though their disingenuous insistence that they still don't know doesn't make them look innocent to me, and Assange giving credence to the Seth Rich calumny-fantasy makes it much worse—

And if there wasn't, why isn't it enough to let him wander away with his Tolstoy beard and ripped condoms and dirty cat? This is a dopey story.

Update: There is a pretty good summary on Assange and Russia at the Times, by Julian Barnes and Mark Mazzetti, reminding us that we may soon be learning something I do care about, or be prevented from learning it, as the case may be:
Another question is whether Mr. Assange was a conduit between the Russian hackers and the Trump campaign. Mr. Assange exchanged emails with Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Trump’s eldest son, during the campaign, and a Trump campaign official sent Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime adviser to the president, to get information about the hacked Democratic emails, according to a January indictment by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel....
the report drafted by Mr. Mueller’s team, and expected to be released next week, could have additional details about the ties between the Trump campaign and Mr. Assange. Those details could be redacted by the Justice Department, however, if officials believe the material includes classified intelligence

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