On September 26th, journalists with Yahoo! News published an astonishing report that revealed that the CIA under the Trump administration discussed various plans to abduct or even assassinate Julian Assange, the journalist and activist who founded an organization known as WikiLeaks, which has facilitated the publication of some of the most significant classified information leaks in history. The story breaks as Assange languishes in a British prison awaiting a second court hearing regarding his potential extradition to the United States, where he has been indicted on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act.
Assange is perhaps the most controversial figure of the 21st century. Since the inception of the WikiLeaks website, its disclosures have included the hundreds of thousands of documents that collectively constitute the Afghan War Diary, the Iraq War Logs, the Collateral Murder videotapes, the 2016 Democratic National Committee email leak, and scores of diplomatic cables. These leaks have provided incredible insight into the internal affairs of the U.S. government and the covert operations of the U.S. military; they have exposed the reality and extent of American complicity in political corruption and war crimes.
As such, it is not the least bit surprising that Assange is among the primary targets of the U.S. intelligence community. What is shocking, however, is that a U.S. government agency would contemplate the murder of a journalist who, at the time, had not even been formally charged with a crime.
The Yahoo! News investigation indicates that the CIA, under the supervision of Director Mike Pompeo, first began to explore options for the kidnapping or killing of Assange in 2017. Pompeo and others within the CIA reportedly requested “sketches” for eliminating Assange after WikiLeaks dumped the contents of the Vault 7 hack onto the Internet. This March 2017 breach contained documents that detailed the spyware and surveillance capabilities of the CIA and highlighted its ability to compromise various personal electronic devices. According to sources, senior officials in the CIA were so embarrassed and enraged that they debated the possibility of killing Assange in spite of the fact that the U.S. government would not bring charges against him until more than a year later.
In other words, the CIA entertained the idea of killing an unindicted, noncombatant activist simply because he disseminated truthful information in a fashion that humiliated top agency officials. The implications are utterly horrifying.
We already learned from the case of Daniel Hale that the penalty for conscientious whistleblowing is drastically harsher than the punishment for committing random acts of violence against innocent civilians; now we are learning that the U.S. government is willing to consider the extrajudicial execution of journalists who are merely doing their jobs by supplying essential information to the public. Julian Borger of The Guardian writes that “the kidnapping or murder of a civilian accused of publishing leaked documents, with no connection to terrorism, would have triggered global outrage.” In actuality, the fact that this course of action was even deliberated ought to ignite that same outrage.
The CIA is so powerful and out of control that you can almost forget that the agency is not intended or legally entitled to serve a law enforcement function. Its activities have historically extended far beyond its designated purpose of data collection and analysis. Its routine participation in successful assassination plots and other abuses of human rights raises serious questions and concerns.
Nor is the CIA remotely interested in accountability and increased oversight. During interviews related to the Yahoo! News story, a recalcitrant Pompeo declined to deny the allegations and maintained an unapologetic position, defending the CIA and its obligation to “protect… sensitive information,” which is evidently more important than protecting the rights and lives of people like Assange. He even went so far as to suggest that the sources who spoke with Yahoo! News should be prosecuted for doing so. The CIA itself, meanwhile, did not comment. These latest revelations and the subsequent refusal to address them represent a cogent argument for curtailing and restraining the agency, if not for abolishing it entirely.
The United States has demonstrated a blatant disregard for the basic human rights of Julian Assange. We must ardently oppose his extradition to a country that is apparently willing to deprive him of his right to due process and summarily sentence him to death. There is no moral alternative.