|DETAIL OF PHOTOGRAPH BY NADAV KANDER FOR THE NEW YORKER|
When you cut through everything that Julian Assange has said about himself and others have said about him -- and there are gigabytes of it -- the only thing that matters is whether Assange has betrayed the admirable founding principles of WikiLeaks by climbing into bed with Vladimir Putin. The answer is that he not only has, but his betrayal of those principles is so twisted and selfish that this deeply arrogant man, who loves being the center of attention, played a starring role in fixing the 2016 presidential election and the consequent disaster of the Donald Trump presidency.
Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden on since-dropped rape and sexual molestation charges (he's a misogynist if not an outright woman hater, you know) and the larger fear that Sweden would then send him to the U.S. and charge him with espionage because of his role in publishing troves of secret American military and government documents.
In the few recent interviews Assange has given, most notably for Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker, his trademark cockiness evaporates when asked about the by-now well documented ties between WikiLeaks and hackers working for the Kremlin, which he furiously denies.
This despite the beyond obvious coordination between the public boasts of Assange and a Trump confidante in close contact with him at pivotal moments during the presidential campaign and releases of tens of thousands of emails ostensibly damaging to Hillary Clinton by WikiLeaks from Russian hackers, notably Guccifer 2.0, an online persona used by two Russian intelligence agencies, and the DCLeaks website that the agencies ran and hackers and trolls repeatedly linked back to in unleashing fake news and anti-Clinton hashtags at the probable prompting of the Trump campaign's digital team.
In particular, these fusillades targeted voters in three nominally blue swing states where the digital team found unexpected weakness in voter support for Clinton. Trump eked out victories in those states in winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote.
(Never mind that the emails were rather tame and far from being the stuff of exposés. They did the trick.)
"I love WikiLeaks," Trump exultantly declared as Clinton licked her wounds and argued correctly that WikiLeaks had played a key role in keeping her from the Oval Office.
"It's a very sad story for us personally," says Andre Soldatov, who along with fellow Russian journalist Irina Borogan run Agentura.ru, a security watchdog website. "We believed back in 2010 in the mission of WikiLeaks, thus transparency and holding power in check are important words for us.
"The most important thing we found out that in the spring and summer of 2016 [when Russian election meddling was ramping up and the WikiLeaks-Russia syncronicity became apparent], WikiLeaks suddenly compromised the very principles Assange proclaimed. . . . For us it's a story of betrayal, both principles and people."
Assange is back in the news after meeting on August 16 with Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, a Russia sycophant and all-around kook who buys into Assange's assertion that Russia did not meddle in the election, which of course puts he and Assange in some pretty fast company. As in Trump himself.
Rohrabacher, in a call to White House chief of staff John Kelly last week, proposed that a pardon deal be made for Assange in return for the WikiLeaks founder providing digital evidence that he says would clear Russia of the election meddling allegations. No word on what Kelly's response was, but it's safe to say the proposal was dead on arrival. And as big a genius Assange may believe himself to be, proving a negative in this instance would be quite a feat.
There is a contemporaneous parallel for Assange's betrayal of the founding principles of WikiLeaks.§
Myanmar head of state Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her decades-long campaign against that country's military junta, but has become the embodiment of evil herself as she persecutes the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, who are fleeing the country by the tens of thousands in the face of missile attacks on their burning villages that she undoubtedly ordered or, at the very least, could stop but will not.
While goings-on in the country formerly known as Burma is an abstraction for most Americans, the fact that the Oval Office is occupied by a profoundly unqualified narcissist who has turned the national mood from cautious optimism to dread in a few months most definitely is not.
I am among the millions of people who once hailed Assange. He founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and began taking on the world's most powerful institutions, a crusade that fueled democratic uprisings, brought forth human-rights cases and laid bare the hypocrisies of America as superpower as revealed in the trove of classified military records from Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department diplomatic cables provided Assange by a young Army private by the name of Chelsea Manning.
But somewhere along the way Assange wandered into a moral wilderness. The WikiLeaks grail was to hold institutions accountable, but it is now WikiLeaks itself that is unaccountable.
In the five years he has been holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy his methodology and his motivations have changed. Some of the more recent WikiLeaks disclosures have caused genuine harm with no discernible benefit other than feeding Assange's immense ego. These have included revealing the identities of teenage rape victims in Saudi Arabia, dissidents in China and anti-government activists in Syria.
Assange has not been coy about his hatred for Clinton and affection for Putin, and that begins to explain how WikiLeaks feasted on Democratic emails hacked by Russians in Putin's pay in what became a coordinated propaganda effort.
When Assange was briefly jailed in England in 2010 because of British government concern that he would flee the country to avoid extradition to Sweden, Putin cast him as a symbol of Western hypocrisy. "Why have they hidden Mr. Assange in prison? That's what -- democracy," the Russian leader asked.
Two years later, Assange agreed to do a talk show on RT, a Kremlin-sponsored news and propaganda outlet. While the show folded after 12 episodes, he continued to appear on RT to promote his interests, including America bashing. RT's U.S. affiliate, RT America, actively promoted some of the fake news stories that helped undermine Clinton's campaign.
Assange's hate Clinton-love Putin thing also informs his passionate denials about collaborating with Putin's hackers. By design, the WikiLeaks site nominally prevents him from knowing where submissions come from so the identities of sources can be kept secret. So how then can Assange know that Russians were not the source of the the emails? Then there is the question of how he got them in the first place.
Whatever one thinks of Assange's election disclosures," writes The New Yorker's
Khatchadourian, "Accepting his contention that they shared no ties with the two Russian fronts [Guccifer 2.0] requires willful blindness."
Assange, once asked what he would do if he learned that intelligence agencies were using WikiLeaks as a "laundry" for information warfare, replied: "If it's true information, we don't care where it comes from. Let people fight with the truth, and when the bodies are cleared there will be bullets of truth everywhere."
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.