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Shifting the Centre of Gravity: Julian Assange Receives His Passport

In March 2008, one Michael Horvath of the US Army Counterintelligence Center within the Cyber Intelligence Assessments Branch considered the risks posed by WikiLeaks in a 32 page document. Created under the auspices of the Department of Defence’s Intelligence Analysis Program. The overview suggests, importantly, the interest shown in Assange by the defence wing of the United States at the time it was starting to make more than a generous ripple across the pond of information discourse. Importantly, it suggests a direct interest of the military industrial complex in the activities of a guerrilla (read radical transparency) group.

The question it asks remains a source of ongoing interest and curiosity about the role played by WikiLeaks in the information wars: “ – An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?” The answer is implicit in the text: its all of the above.

The document remains salient for the persistent strategy adopted against WikiLeaks and its chief publishing head throughout. To avoid the integrity and credibility of the information, target the man, the organisation and the method. Suggest he is wonky, a crank, generally wobbly on principles and ethics. Suggest, as well, that his reputation is questionable, as are his moral inclinations.

The document highlights a feature that gained momentum in the 2016 US presidential elections: that WikiLeaks might serve “as an instrument of propaganda, and is a front organisation for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).” (The only difference in 2016 was that the CIA had fallen out of the orbit of paranoid reckoning, replaced by wily Russian operatives in the US imaginary of electoral manipulation). Not only had the organisation denied this, there was “no evidence” mustered “to support such assertions.”

The DoD document makes the objective clear; nothing else will suffice than a campaign ranging on various fronts to target WikiLeaks and its system of obtaining and releasing information. “The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current and former insiders, leakers or whistleblowers could potentially damage or destroy the center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the Web site.”

The centre of gravity here is a critical point. It is one that is being persistently targeted, using Assange as convenient focal point of derangement, treachery and both. The memo from Ecuadorean officials from October last year was a laundry list for model good behaviour, effectively the conditions of his continued tenancy in the embassy, along with using the internet. Press outlets saw it as lunacy taking hold. He had to refrain from “interfering in the internal affairs of other states” and activities “that could prejudice Ecuador’s good relations with other states.” His pet cat also had to be looked after lest it be banished to an animal shelter. Sanitation was also noted.

Each granular detail of his fate garners international headlines in an ongoing battle of attrition. Will he step out? Will he seek medical treatment he urgently needs? What will the local constabulary do? Statements from the Metropolitan Police and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office suggest that he will be medically tended to but will also have to face the charge of violating his bail conditions when he entered the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012. Once that door opens, the narrow horizon to a US prison cell becomes a realistic prospect, even if it is bound to be a protracted matter.

The recent turn has also excited commentary, though it is not the same mould as the cudgel like recommendations of the 2008 DoD memo. The Australian dissident figure of the publishing world has been granted a passport by the Australian authorities. This was something, if only to suggest that those in Canberra, previously keen to see Assange given the roughing over, had warmed somewhat. In 2016, the then Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop had, at the very least, offered Assange what he was due: consular assistance.

While the grant took place either last September or October, confirmation of its existence was revealed in a Senate estimates hearing. Australian Senator Rex Patrick of the Centre Alliance pressed officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade whether they had engaged their US counterparts about possible safe passage for Assange in the event he left the embassy.

DFAT’s chief legal officer James Larsen claimed to have no knowledge of any US proceedings against Assange (untutored, mute and ill-informed is Larsen, on this subject); that being so, there was nothing to discuss. “We are not aware, on the Australian government’s side, of any legal proceedings initiated within, or by, the United States, concerning Assange.” Larsen had no “record before me of what our engagement with the United States is specifically concerning Mr Assange.”

What mattered were the remarks made by first assistance secretary of the Consular and Crisis Management Division. “Mr Assange,” Andrew Todd confirmed, “does have an Australian passport.” Some lifting of the dark had taken place, suggesting, as one of legal advisers, Greg Barnes, has been saying for some time: “The Australian government does have a role to play in the resolution of the Julian Assange case.”

A potential stumbling block for Assange in getting a passport was section 13 of the Australian Passports Act 2005. Facing a “serious foreign offence” within that section’s meaning would have scotched the application. “In order to progress your application,” DFAT informed him, “we require confirmation that section 13 is not enlivened by your circumstances. To this end, we ask that you provide us with confirmation that section 13 no longer applies to you. Until this time, your passport application will remain on hold.”

There is an element of dark farce to this. To show that he was eligible to receive a passport, he had to show that he did not face a serious foreign offence. But pieced evidence revealed thus far demonstrates that a US prosecution assisted by a range of security agencies has busied themselves with making sure he does face such an offence. Thankfully, WikiLeaks has not been able, in their quest for a totally transparent record, to find any relevant corroborating indictment, a point that seemed to seep through the Senate estimates hearings. In such cases, ignorance can remain, if not blissful, then useful.

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  1. paul walter

    Now all that needs to happen is that the fascist scum in England let him be.

  2. Miriam English

    One of the few really big mistakes Julia Gillard made was to buy into the bullshit that Julian Assange was a villain. We need more people like him, not less. This insane vendetta the USA has against him is like something out of the Sopranos. Australia should be giving him shelter instead of kow-towing like a bunch of subservient cowards to the snakes in USA’s hierarchy that want to crucify him.

    Here’s a weird thought: perhaps his only real shot at freedom is the fact that loony Trump is “president” of USA for now. Assange got up Hillary Clinton’s nose a couple of times (once when she was Secretary of State, and once when Wikileaks released those Russian-hacked emails) so this might perversely inspire Trump to pardon him, since Trump hates Hillary so intensely. But even then, for the rest of his life I think he’ll be looking over his shoulder for black vans and muscular men in black suits and black sunglasses who will want to “disappear” him.

    Isn’t it bizarre that the supposed “free world” is now less safe for whistleblowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden than the “evil empire” of Russia. Mind you, if he exposed secrets about Russia he would probably already be dead with a bullet in the back of his head, like so many Russian journalists who printed things Vladimir Putin didn’t like. Still, in the “free” democracies people like Chelsea Manning can at least be pardoned eventually after enduring many years of imprisonment and insanely petty indignities at the hands of her captors.

    I think that it should be illegal for governments to keep secrets. If they are doing something that “requires” secrecy then they are doing it wrong. Every aspect of government and corporations should be open and transparent. We have security exactly upside down. Governments, corporations, and other organisations of people are much more powerful and dangerous than individuals. Individuals should have access to full privacy, but groups should not. And the more people in that group the more open it needs to be.

  3. Kyran

    “There is an element of dark farce to this.”
    Whilst there can be little doubt the farce of the hypocrisy started with Gillard’s intemperate and incorrect assertion that Assange was a criminal and therefore should not be afforded any protection by his government, the recent succession of idiots have transformed this from satire to slapstick.
    If we are to assume that Assange weakened democracy by releasing ‘classified’ information, exposing governments and their agents to unacceptable risk, how can it be that the regular ‘leaking’ of classified documents and information from our government, or their craven, hapless apparatchik’s, is a lesser transgression? Should NewsCorpse be relentlessly pursued for the same egregious publication of ‘secrets’?
    It may well be our saving that the gross incompetence of this mob has highlighted, without any fear of contradiction, that there are two sets of rules. Our option now is to accept that or reject it.
    “In such cases, ignorance can remain, if not blissful, then useful.”
    Not in the information age. Ignorance is an unacceptable excuse. It is of considerable importance that, after decades of successive governments waging ‘war on terrorism’, there is no international agreed definition of terrorism.

    Could it be that, if the common definition were accepted, governments across the globe would be hoisted on their own petard?
    “… the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”
    Thank you AIMN. Take care

  4. Lambert Simpleton

    Digressing somewhat, here is an article from last year concerning ATO whistleblower Richard Boyle. I can’t get at the current paywalled (for me) article at SMH, also I think by Adele Ferguson.

    The current headline is that Boyle faces six life sentences, the same as the sentence Ivan Milat received, but as I say, I can’t get at the article itself because I have already used their miniscule allotment for the month.

    I gather nothing he reported was untrue and the material he reported warranted a 4 Corners investigation into some arguably genuinely criminal behaviour by the ATO.

  5. Kaye Lee


    If you clear your browsing history (under tools or more tools), your allocation resets and you can read it. Shhhh….don’t tell anyone.

  6. Kaye Lee

    Richard Boyle has been charged with 66 offences including telephone tapping and recording of conversations without the consent of all parties and making a record of protected information, in some cases passing that information to a third party.

    The information and summons sheet lists ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan as the informant, which includes his signature. The move will send chills through staff in the ATO who might’ve thought about following Boyle to become whistleblowers.

    The former tax employee hit the headlines in April 2018 when he turned whistleblower in a joint media investigation with The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and ABC’s Four Corners titled Mongrel Bunch of Bastards, which blew the lid on abuses by the ATO against small business and individuals.

  7. Lambert Simpleton

    It is repulsive stuff. Repulsive to learn that reforms have been called for a long time and even more repulsive to discover that the crackdown was about achieving revenue targets rather than dealing with actual offences. How much it resembles the ROBODEBT persecutions.

    You’ll observe this is about small business, another smaller kid in the schoolyard who can’t fight back against the bullies, rather than Big Business.

    The IPA types are doubly pleased because it is not only about making taxation unpopular AND government coercive, but that it makes government unpopular, as per neoliberal theology.

    what a shame the money, time and effort spent persecuting whistleblowers when they have told the truth is not instead spent going after REAL criminals.

  8. RomeoCharlie29

    How many times have we had governments paying lip service to the protection of whistleblowers only to see them hounded practically to death. The Witness K matter comes to mind . I hope Assange is finally able to leave the Embassy and return to a somewhat normal life. I hope that when the Witness K case is finally resolved it results in a huge kick up the arse for the government and the conflicted solicitor general pursing the case. And Federal ICAC soonest.

  9. Michael Taylor

    Richard Boyle is being dealt with harshly. Too harsh, to be honest. I read somewhere that he’s facing five life-sentences. I simply can’t fathom that.

    As a former public servant I am aware of the consequences of making privelaged, confidential or secret information public. A public servant knows that jail time can be one of the consequences. You disclose information at your own risk.

    Boyle would have known his fate before he blew the whistle.

    But five life-sentences. Seriously.

  10. Andreas Bimba

    It looks like a Shorten government will need to negotiate with the UK government to let Julian Assange relocate to Australia. Our political leaders and governments are representatives of the people and must act in the best interests of the people. Julian Assange acted in the public interest by revealing abuses by government agencies.

    The cruel and unjust treatment of Julian Assange must end. Barack Obama’s pardoning of Chelsea Manning is a highly relevant precedent.

  11. Miriam English

    Clearing your browsing history might work, but much better is to look through your list of cookies and delete those relating to the site you’re visiting. That’s usually how they keep track of the number of times you’ve visited.

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