Thursday, June 22, 2017

Julian Assange's Nihilism (VIDEO)

From Sue Halpern, at the New York Review, "The Nihilism of Julian Assange":

About forty minutes into Risk, Laura Poitras’s messy documentary portrait of Julian Assange, the filmmaker addresses the viewer from off-camera. “This is not the film I thought I was making,” she says. “I thought I could ignore the contradictions. I thought they were not part of the story. I was so wrong. They are becoming the story.”

By the time she makes this confession, Poitras has been filming Assange, on and off, for six years. He has gone from a bit player on the international stage to one of its dramatic leads. His gleeful interference in the 2016 American presidential election—first with the release of e-mails poached from the Democratic National Committee, timed to coincide with, undermine, and possibly derail Hillary Clinton’s nomination at the Democratic Convention, and then with the publication of the private e-mail correspondence of Clinton’s adviser John Podesta, which was leaked, drip by drip, in the days leading up to the election to maximize the damage it might inflict on Clinton—elevated Assange’s profile and his influence.

And then this spring, it emerged that Nigel Farage, the Trump adviser and former head of the nationalist and anti-immigrant UK Independence Party (UKIP) who is now a person of interest in the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, was meeting with Assange. To those who once saw him as a crusader for truth and accountability, Assange suddenly looked more like a Svengali and a willing tool of Vladimir Putin, and certainly a man with no particular affection for liberal democracy. Yet those tendencies were present all along.

n 2010, when Poitras began work on her film, Assange’s four-year-old website, WikiLeaks, had just become the conduit for hundreds of thousands of classified American documents revealing how we prosecuted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including a graphic video of American soldiers in an Apache helicopter mowing down a group of unarmed Iraqis, as well as for some 250,000 State Department diplomatic cables. All had been uploaded to the WikiLeaks site by an army private named Bradley—now Chelsea—Manning.

The genius of the WikiLeaks platform was that documents could be leaked anonymously, with all identifiers removed; WikiLeaks itself didn’t know who its sources were unless leakers chose to reveal themselves. This would prevent anyone at WikiLeaks from inadvertently, or under pressure, disclosing a source’s identity. Assange’s goal was to hold power—state power, corporate power, and powerful individuals—accountable by offering a secure and easy way to expose their secrets. He called this “radical transparency.” Manning’s bad luck was to tell a friend about the hack, and the friend then went to the FBI. For a long time, though, Assange pretended not to know who provided the documents, even when there was evidence that he and Manning had been e-mailing before the leaks.

Though the contradictions were not immediately obvious to Poitras as she trained her lens on Assange, they were becoming so to others in his orbit. WikiLeaks’s young spokesperson in those early days, James Ball, has recounted how Assange tried to force him to sign a nondisclosure statement that would result in a £12 million penalty if it were breached. “[I was] woken very early by Assange, sitting on my bed, prodding me in the face with a stuffed giraffe, immediately once again pressuring me to sign,” Ball wrote. Assange continued to pester him like this for two hours. Assange’s “impulse towards free speech,” according to Andrew O’Hagan, the erstwhile ghostwriter of Assange’s failed autobiography, “is only permissible if it adheres to his message. His pursuit of governments and corporations was a ghostly reverse of his own fears for himself. That was the big secret with him: he wanted to cover up everything about himself except his fame.”

Meanwhile, some of the company he was keeping while Poitras was filming also might have given her pause. His association with Farage had already begun in 2011 when Farage was head of UKIP. Assange’s own WikiLeaks Party of Australia was aligned with the white nationalist Australia First Party, itself headed by an avowed neo-Nazi, until political pressure forced it to claim that association to be an “administrative error.”

Most egregious, perhaps, was Assange’s collaboration with Israel Shamir, an unapologetic anti-Semite and Putin ally to whom Assange handed over all State Department diplomatic cables from the Manning leak relating to Belarus (as well as to Russia, Eastern Europe, and Israel). Shamir then shared these documents with members of the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who appeared to use them to imprison and torture members of the opposition. This prompted the human rights group Index on Censorship to ask WikiLeaks to explain its relationship to Shamir, and to look into reports that Shamir’s “access to the WikiLeaks’ US diplomatic cables [aided in] the prosecution of civil society activists within Belarus.” WikiLeaks called these claims rumors and responded that it would not be investigating them. “Most people with principled stances don’t survive for long,” Assange tells Poitras at the beginning of the film. It’s not clear if he’s talking about himself or others...
I've never liked nor respected Assange, who I consider an enemy.

But note how Halpern gets the basic background wrong: That "graphic video of American soldiers in an Apache helicopter mowing down a group of unarmed Iraqis" was actually a video of anti-American journalists embedded with Iraqi insurgents armed with RPGs. The Apache took them out in self-defense, following strict rules of engagement. That story's been totally debunked. But as with most other things in the news, the initial lie becomes the official truth for the radical left. That's why you can never let your guard down.

Keep reading, FWIW.