Cable Cooking and the War on Assange
The latest chapter in the quest for open government finds our embattled knight holed up within the grey brick Georgian walls of Ellingham Hall while the dark forces outside attempt a disorderly checkmate. The British courts have long debated whether to pack Julian Assange off to the star spangled torture chambers of Guantanamo, but have finally settled on simply extraditing him to the man-eating Nordic Amazons of Sweden, pending appeal. Meanwhile the chessboard has become crowded with ex-employees, ex-lovers, and ex-friends who compete among themselves to cast mud upon his memory. The same newspapers he enriched with headline stories gleefully prepare his epitaph, for no good deed goes unpunished among the masters of discourse. This is a very lonely time for our trusting hero, as yesterday’s oaths are traded for cold cash, and intimate confidences are betrayed.
Daniel Domscheit-Berg has published a sort of book, a breathless “Assange in robe and slippers” tale of the kind usually written by former valets bearing a grudge. The author, a man whose only claim to fame is a short period as an employee of Assange, claims that Assange mistreated his cat and ate up all the candy. Julian took him up after ten years on the dole, and he immediately pocketed Julian’s lifework and ran away with it because… you guessed it, it would be safer in his hands. He delivered all Wikileaks emails and backups into the hands of the enemy and now he sits like a spider in his shiny new shop inviting trustful potential leakers into his parlour.
Another Wikileaks turncoat is young James Ball, a computer journalist in his early twenties who worked for a few months with Julian. The poor lad was offered ten months’ steady pay by The Guardian and he accepted it gratefully. In neo-liberal England, there are so few chances for a young man to find employment that he will betray even his own father and mother to get at it. James carried off personal correspondence of the Wikileaks team and walked it straight over to The Guardian.
John Sweeney (The Demon Barber of the BBC’s Panorama) patched together a miserable and dull episode that the fans on their own forum summed up as “a sloppy hatchet job, complete with the close-ups of a diabolical looking JA [Julian Assange] lit in red, or appearing in bad photos with red eyes above moody underscore”.
Bill Keller of the New York Times has labeled Julian “an eccentric former computer hacker of Australian birth and no fixed residence”, who “was alert but disheveled, like a bag lady walking in off the street, wearing a dingy, light-colored sport coat and cargo pants, dirty white shirt, beat-up sneakers and filthy white socks that collapsed around his ankles. He smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in days.” The squemish Keller must have been expecting the runaway man with a case of secret documents to posess immaculately dressed, rakish elegance of David Niven in The Pink Panther. No doubt Keller was wishing his brush with our hunted hero was instead a posh tête à tête at a fixed abode, preferably just off Park Lane. And if Julian cannot look the part 24 hours a day, then he should probably pass the secret documents on to Mr. Keller who is doubtlessly better equipped to handle them.
Bill Keller confesses that before publishing, his “colleagues were invited to a windowless room at the State Department, where they encountered an unsmiling crowd. Representatives from the White House, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the F.B.I. and the Pentagon gathered around a conference table. Others, who never identified themselves, lined the walls.” Keller reveals that US authorities actually vetted the NY Times “news” release and that corresponding orders were conveyed to the London outlet.
It was for this very reason that Julian Assange refused to give the stuff to the NY Times in the first place – because of their vetting procedure, and because of their ability “to make pretty good lemonade out of the bitterest lemons” in Keller’s words, to wit, to misinterpret data for their own advantage. It may have been naïve of Julian to believe that the Brits, in contrast, would play fair, but he could not have counted on two hired guns as mean, ruthless, and indiscriminate as any character lifted from the Threepenny Opera: David Leigh and Luke Harding.
These two young mercenaries separated themselves from the crowd by breaching their non-disclosure agreements and delivering the cables that were entrusted to them into the hands of the Americans. They followed up this triumph by cranking out another dull exposé on Wikileaks, which is now heavily promoted on the Guardian website. The book has the tone of Gollum reminiscing about the hobbit he strangled in order to get hold of the Ring: I deserve it. He just found it, and anyway he was just a stray homeless tramp who had no idea what it was worth.
These two young orcs cooked up more than hobbits. They are members of the Guardian gang that is responsible for cooking up the Wikileaks cables so that they are suitable for general consumption. But The Guardian adds more than a pinch of salt to their unwholesome pottage: they add misleading headlines (knowing that the majority of their readers do not read beyond the headlines), they censor, redact, and finally they frame the cables with the prose necessary to twist them to The Guardian’s political agenda.
Luke Harding has made a career of cooking up the news that trickles out of the post-Soviet sphere. His background is Guardian-typical: all it takes is a few years’ writing in Moscow as a freelancer. But maybe ‘writing’ is too strong a word for the copy-pasting he practiced. This has been a view of the local expat community and its main newspaper, the devilishly irreverent eXile. The editors of eXile gave Harding the alias Hackburglar for, as the eXile wrote: “Harding seems to have a knack for publishing articles whose content and lead paragraphs look suspiciously similar, in the cloning sense of the word, to articles published by Kevin O’Flynn of The Moscow Times. In fact, Harding’s articles are so regularly similar to O’Flynn’s that some of his colleagues have begun accusing him of using a fake "Luke Harding" pen-name in order to milk two checks for each article”.
His anti-Russian diatribes made him “the man most likely to bring down powerful Russian politicians and cause Moscow international embarrassment by regurgitating month-old articles published in the German press, The eXile, and The Moscow Times” wrote the eXile.
But Harding would not rest on his laurels, and even began pinching material from the eXile itself. That turned out to be a mistake, since the eXile did not take it lying down. They invoiced The Guardian five hundred quid for the articles appropriated by Harding; The Guardian admitted the guilt and paid. To top it off, he was featured as “Plagiarist of the Year” along the Street of Shame in Private Eye. His defenders claim that Harding’s plagiarisms were not, technically speaking, plagiarism as such: it is just that “his stuff sounds like everyone else’s”!
Still, Harding understood the Blair era better than his more gifted colleagues; England led the West in anti-Russian feelings, and he was always ready to oblige. Thus, he earned his reward: a promotion to be a real journalist in London! His first task: make something useful out of the slew of Russian and other post-Soviet cables provided by Wikileaks. Of course, he did the only thing he knew how to do: he twisted them into weapons in the information war against a too-independent Russia. He invented the catchy headline “Russia a Virtual Mafia State” and he prevented Guardian readers from learning about the corrupt officials and British corporations fleecing Russia and Central Asian states, as we reported in Counterpunch.
Last week, The Russian Reporter weekly revealed Harding’s shameless editing of the important secret cable 10MOSCOW317. Harding did publish this cable, but he completely redacted paragraph number 7. Paragraph #7 discloses the criminal ties of the ex-Mayor of Moscow’s spouse Mrs. Baturina: “Luzhkov’s wife, Yelena Baturina, definitely has links to the criminal world, and particularly to the Solntsevo criminal group (widely regarded by Russian law enforcement as one of the most powerful organized crime groups in Russia)”.1. The Guardian and Wikileaks sites both display the cable as cooked by Harding – sans reference to Mrs. Baturina.
Why is Harding protecting Mrs. Baturina?
He does it again in cable 08KYIV2414, which chronicles a conversation between the Ukrainian businessman Firtash and the US Ambassador. Harding deleted one curious sentence: “he added that Tymoshenko hid her wealth in property and investments in the UK”.
Perhaps he did it with an eye toward British libel laws, the strictest in Europe? This explanation was suggested by several kind readers of my report in Counterpunch. Not likely. This consideration might justify deletion on The Guardian site, but in no way it would explain why Harding had to upload his redacted version to the Wikileaks site as well – but he did. Furthermore, Harding certainly shows no fear of libel when he calls me a ‘renegade Jew’ and claims that I passed secret cables to Lukashenko!
No, Harding cooks cables because that is what he was hired to do. In cable 07MOSCOW1770 Harding redacted away the name and occupation of the informant who claimed that Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned oligarch, is innocent. The edited cable leaves the reader with the impression that the informant is an objective, impartial expert, and that Harding is protecting him from retribution. If Harding had not removed the name of the contact, the reader would have seen that the name of the protected informant is actually that of Khodorkovsky’s attorney, Herr Schmidt!
In his presentation of cable 08MOSCOW2632, Harding carefully blotted out passages in every line, and left just enough words to, bereft of context, create the impression that Putin has enriched himself. A casual reader might get the idea that the redacted sections contain details that would identify the cable’s Deep Throat, but reading the raw, un-cooked cable reveals the truth of the matter. The title of the redacted cable is “XXXX Transparency”, but the title of the original cable is “ACTIVIST SUES IN QUIXOTIC QUEST FOR OIL SECTOR TRANSPARENCY” and it sings the praises of Alexei Navalny, “a self-described political activist”, to wants to sue “various companies regarding their business practices”. Far from being a hunted man whose identity must be protected, Mr. Navalny is the Russian equivalent of Ralf Nader and he is above all things hungry for publicity; his court cases are well covered by the Russian media and are supported by many Russian citizens.
Harding was also assigned the task of cooking the Belarus cables, because Lukashenko has not yet sold off the country’s heirlooms to the rapacious West. On the eve of the Belarus elections, the Guardian published cable 06MINSK641. Harding redacted everything from this long cable, leaving only the summary, which just happened to accuse Lukashenko of stealing nine billion dollars of the country’s cash.
Having blotted out the second paragraph, Harding robbed The Guardian’s readership of a great laugh out loud moment. Here is the second paragraph, so carefully redacted by journalist Luke Harding:
“2. (C) The Czech Embassy recently passed to Econoff a list purporting to show Belarus’ top 50 oligarchs and their net worth. The Czechs found this list published recently in a Smolensk, Russia newspaper. The list does not name the paper, but does provide an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Post has learned the Belarusian opposition United Civic Party is most likely the group that compiled this information. At least one independent Belarusian newspaper is reported to have printed an earlier draft of this information, but oddly the GOB never attacked the paper for printing this information, nor did any of the people named ever publicly deny this information.”
In other words, this “list” was made up out of thin air by a small opposition group and published in a small town newspaper with an unknown name found in a neighbouring Russian region. It is like headlining a list of Obama’s misdeeds purportedly found in a Tijuana newspaper (of unknown name), but very probably delivered by a Tea Party faction. Such a reliable source! No wonder Harding blacked it out! On any day this would be considered a dirty bit of business, but on the eve of an election it must be considered an attempt to influence the vote.
The Guardian did not publish cable 05VILNIUS732, no doubt because it disclosed that thousands of dollars in cash were delivered to the Belarus opposition by American agencies. The Guardian also chose not to publish cable 05MINSK1316 in which the opposition leader walks into the US embassy, hat in hand, and begs for money: “Milinkevich admitted his campaign was desperate for financial support. In fact, he apologized to Ambassador that the urgent need for resources was the main reason for his visit.” The Guardian also would not publish cable 06MINSK1234, perhaps because it contains the following description: “Lukashenko is the ideal anti-globalist leader — he is young (51 years old), energetic, bold, and he sits at the helm of a growing, stable (for now) economy in the heart of Europe.”
The Guardian also cooked cables to give their readers false impressions of Iran. The cable 09BAKU695 contains the lengthy debriefing of a young Iranian dissident. He is certainly an enemy of the Ayatollas, and this opinion was published in its entirety. But when the dissident’s remarks began to tread upon the Iranian opposition, The Guardian pulled out the garden shears again. The newspaper cut out the unflattering descriptions of the anti-Ahmadinejad opposition: “He described that the opposition as a coalition of many different groups, lacking organization and facing problems of ultimate direction and leadership. He characterized Mousavi as stubborn, but not charismatic; Karroubi as courageous, but with few institutional allies; and Khatami as cautious and weak. He depicted Rafsanjani’s role as short-term and tactical, arguing that he lacks sufficient popular legitimacy for long term leadership.” Perhaps this too was cut away for fear of libel?
In cable 09BAKU687, a contact explains why the Turkish-speaking Azeris of Iran were unconvinced by opposition claims. Here is the part that Guardian readers were not allowed to see: The contact “…explained that "no matter who wins, (Tabrizis) feel that there will be no change" in language, cultural, and government hiring policies that discriminate against Azeris. While acknowledging that both Moussavi and Karroubi had made campaign statements endorsing liberalization of language policies, he said that these statements were perceived as lip service, and that "(de facto) Tehrani" Moussavi in particular was not regarded as credible on this issue, given his earlier attitudes on the issue when he was Prime Minister.” The Guardian readers are apparently not entitled to learn anything negative about the Iranian opposition.
Comparing redacted cables to the originals, it becomes clear that The Guardian is covering up for BP. In 07BAKU1268, The Guardian removed an assessment that “it was BP who was acting illegally”. In 08BAKU671, another anti-BP sentence was removed: “It is worth noting that within the AIOC Consortium there is a perception that operator BP grossly mishandled the rate of return issue, costing the Consortium billions of dollars over the life of the PSA and significantly emboldening SOCAR in its relationship with the Consortium.” Guardian readers will never learn that Azerbaijanis are angry because BP was colluding with GazProm and the Russians to undermine Azerbaijan’s interests. In cable 07ASTANA919, The Guardian removed incriminating material showing that Western companies give bribes: “The internal investigation revealed that from 1998 to 2003, former employees caused the company to pay $5.2 million to agents with the intent that these payments would influence Kazakhstani officials to allow the company to obtain business.”
These are just a few of the hundreds of cables cooked up by Harding and Leigh. This is the reason they must destroy Julian: he has seen the originals and he can reveal their lies. In a recent interview, Julian said:
“Our agreement with The Guardian was that they would redact information for ‘Cablegate’, based on just one criterion, which was the protection of individuals from unfair incarceration, or any type of execution … and for no other reasons. The Guardian has been redacting all sorts of things … for very different reasons. For instance, The Guardian has been redacting claims about particular companies who are corrupt.”
Indeed, the well-connected lawyer Schmidt, the billionaire Baturina and the public activist Navalny were never endangered by their comments to the US ambassador. In fact, the only ones in the dark about the contents of the cables are The Guardian’s readers. There was never any compelling reason to remove the name of Israeli ambassador from cable 09BAKU20, or the names of American ambassadors. The Guardian very obviously broke its pledge, and we can prove it. For making their perfidy clear, they attack me as well; but if their main argument is that I am a renegade Jew, their case is weak.
When The Guardian was through with Harding, they tried to ship him back to Moscow; but Harding is finished with that copy-and-paste hell he so recently escaped. He is a newsmaker now; he creates the news instead of simply copying it. He succeeding in catching the next flight back to London with a simple ruse: he fouled up the paperwork. Guardian editors came to his rescue with a series of articles claiming that a Russian intelligence agent told him, “For you Russia is closed” but it may have been too little, too late. When Harding’s co-correspondents in Moscow heard that he had been deported, they began to publicly speculate as to why. The resulting rumpus was far more damaging to Harding’s reputation than his own actions ever were.
Some of his colleagues surmised that his connections with the intelligence community became too obvious to ignore. Julia Latynina, a syndicated columnist for the anti-Putin papers, voiced her opinion that the reason Harding was deported was because of his expressed sympathy for a suicide bomber who killed herself and forty innocent people in the Moscow underground. Harding had the temerity to suggest that the terrorist was doped and delivered to the underground by Putin’s people, if not by Putin himself. Even for her, an avowed enemy of the government, this was too much.
Harding’s penchant for appropriating the words of others was also disingenuously by The Guardianas a possible explanation for the deportation. Here is the preposterous rationale: “Harding may have further irritated the Russians because other newspapers covering the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables opted to farm out the reporting of their contents relating to the country to correspondents based outside the country. He believed it was appropriate to put his name on the Russian WikiLeaks coverage because the authorities would have believed it was he who wrote the material anyway.” It is amusing to watch a man trip himself up with his own cleverness.
Coming next: the whole truth of the sexual scandal in Sweden as it appeared in leaked police reports, and what David Leigh did with it.
Edited by Paul Bennett
1. Here is the paragraph 7 creatively removed by the crafty Luke Harding:
Luzhkov’s Links to Criminal Figures
7. (S) Sergei Kanev, an investigative crime reporter at the liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, told us that Luzhkov’s wife, Yelena Baturina, definitely has links to the criminal world, and particularly to the Solntsevo criminal group (widely regarded by Russian law enforcement as one of the most powerful organized crime groups in Russia). According to the Internet article, "On the Moscow Group," Vladimir Yevtushenko, the head of the company Sistema, is married to Natalya Yevtushenko, Baturina’s sister. Sistema was created with Moscow city government-owned shares, and Sistema initially focused on privatizing the capital’s real estate and gas. Sistema’s president, Yevgeny Novitsky, controlled the Solntsevo criminal gang. Today, Sistema has spun off into various companies, which implement projects that typically include 50 percent funding from the Moscow city government.