Hazel Press

One of the most disgraceful misrepresentations in O’Hagan's article concerns the notion that Assange dishonestly conflated the sexual misconduct allegations made against him in Sweden (August 2010) with U.S. attempts to prosecute him. O’Hagan:

Ghosting WikiLeaks. Part 4

What happened, though, is that big government opposition to WikiLeaks’s work - which continues - became confused, not least in Assange’s mind, with the rape accusations against him. […] A man who conflates such truths loses his moral authority right there: I tried to spell this out to him while writing the book, but he wouldn’t listen, sometimes suggesting I was naive not to consider the rape allegations to have been a ‘honey trap’ set by dark foreign forces, or that the Swedes were merely keen to extradite him to America. […] It was a trap he built for himself when he refused to go to Sweden and instead went into the embassy of a nation not famous for its respect for freedom of speech. He will always have an answer to these points. But there is no real answer. He made a massive tactical error in not going to Sweden to clear his name.

All moral authority

First Look has recently (24 February) carried a Glen Greenwald article that examines the work of a secret GCHQ unit called the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group. Specifically, a manual entitled 'The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations'.

 

The first thing that O’Hagan's “dark foreign forces” suggest in the “discredit a target” section is to “set up a honey trap”. Glen Greenwald:

GCHQ describes the purpose of JTRIG in starkly clear terms: “using online techniques to make something happen in the real or cyber world,” including “information ops (influence or disruption).”

The previously cited “Manhunting Timeline” is a yearly account of U.S. efforts to counteract WikiLeaks. It is written by senior NSA officials. A 2010 entry states:

(U) The United States on 10 August [2010] urged other nations with forces in Afghanistan, to consider filing criminal charges against Julian Assange, founder of the rogue WikiLeaks Internet website and responsible for the unauthorised publication of over 70,000 classified documents covering the war in Afghanistan. The appeal exemplifies the start of an international effort to focus the legal element of national power upon non-state actor Assange, and the human network that supports WikiLeaks.

In 2010 Sweden had forces in Afghanistan. CBS News 7 December 2010:

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates welcomed the recent arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Tuesday, indicating that the recent turn of events could signal "good news." "I hadn't heard that, but that sounds like good news to me", Gates told reporters in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

The luxury of distance allows O’Hagan to be sanguine about the implications of the above. However, most observers would find the possibility of a connection between high-level U.S. officials calling for Assange to be assassinated (throughout 2010) and subsequent events in Sweden, to be reasonable.

 

The Swedish journalist Donald Boström stated in his police interview (20 September 2010) that one week before the allegations were made, he had discussed the history of the so-called ‘honey trap’ scenario with Assange:

There is a hunt - and most important, [Assange] is sitting on material that the USA believes can damage the USA. It is a source of intelligence that is without parallel. It is not difficult to draw the conclusion that this is something that many people want to stop. I do not believe that anyone will try to attack him physically; but there are other things that can be done. And although it may seem conspiratorial, there have been many episodes throughout history where a girl with a short skirt has been sent in. There was a case not so long ago in Russia. And we talked about just that case. We also talked about Vanunu, the Israeli scientist who revealed Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons. That was the same thing: they sent a girl to his hotel room, and that was that. Then they could transport him to Israel and so on.

Amidst the political turmoil and hysteria engulfing WikiLeaks in 2010, Assange's speculation that the allegations were part of a “smear campaign” was logical. If such things have happened before, they can happen again. In March 2010, Phillip Knightley wrote a Foreign Policy article that detailed MI5's concerns about “dark foreign forces” using ‘honey traps’:

In a 14-page document distributed last year to hundreds of British banks, businesses, and financial institutions, titled "The Threat from Chinese Espionage," [MI5] described a wide-ranging Chinese [intelligence service] effort to blackmail Western businesspeople over sexual relationships.

 

This latest report on Chinese corporate espionage tactics is only the most recent instalment in a long and sordid history of spies and sex. For millennia, spymasters of all sorts have trained their spies to use the amorous arts to obtain secret information. The trade name for this type of spying is the "honey trap." And it turns out that both men and women are equally adept at setting one - and equally vulnerable to tumbling in.

If asked today, Assange would say that he does not know if this happened in Sweden, but that he would like the case to progress. While the 'honey trap' question is of some interest, it is also besides that point. Surely the only issue of any importance revolves around the politicisation of the case. It is arguable that, if the case had been allowed to run its course without this factor, it would have been cleared up within weeks.

 

After the Chief Prosecutor of Stockholm (Eva Finne) reviewed the evidence against Assange (21 August 2010), she stated “I do not believe there is any reason to suspect that Julian Assange has committed rape,” and cancelled the duty prosecutor's arrest warrant (20 August). The only allegation still to be considered was one of physical but not sexual molestation.

 

Something clearly altered the trajectory of the case. At the very moment it was ending, it was rekindled. The interviewing police officer and a complainant running in local elections, the politician-lawyer running in national elections, the crusading prosecutor - the high profile case as means for advancement. It is a familiar picture.

 

But as well as individual, local and national chicanery (PDF link), the question O’Hagan avoids is whether the fact that the U.S. “urged other nations with forces in Afghanistan, to consider filing criminal charges against Julian Assange”, unduly influenced the Assange case. Sweden's intelligence establishment is deeply intertwined (PDF link) with America's. These agencies reach right through society, they are literally connected to everything. And that means they have power and influence. To O’Hagan “there is no real answer”, which frees him to dismiss all concerns, including the possibility that Sweden would extradite Assange to the U.S.

 

The ongoing stalemate between Assange and the Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny is a curious affair. Sweden's Code of Judicial Procedure (section 23:4) compels her to use the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (MLA) to either question Assange in person at the Ecuadorean Embassy, London or to use telephone or video conferencing to conduct questioning. However, during extradition proceedings at the City of Westminster Magistrates Court, Ny gave evidence (via fax) that stated: “[MLA] is not an appropriate course in Assange’s case” because “it is necessary to interrogate Assange in person”.

 

Swedish Supreme Court Judge, Stefan Lindskog:

I would like to comment upon the possibility of the prosecutor to go to London. It is possible that the prosecutor could travel to London and interrogate him there. I have no answer to the question why that hasn't happened.

Swedish Chief Prosecutor, Sven-Erik Alhem:

To use the European Arrest Warrant without first having tried to arrange an interrogation in England at the earliest possible time via a request for Mutual Legal Assistance seems to me to be against the principle of proportionality. […] Since I understand that [Assange] has been willing to be interviewed by these means since leaving Sweden, I regard the prosecutor's refusal to at least try to interview him as being unreasonable and unprofessional.

Sweden's Bar Association General Secretary, Anne Ramberg:

It has become a little circus around this, which has been contributed to by the British and not least the suspect himself. But we must be a little more pragmatic in order to bring about an end to this circus. We should have gone to London to interrogate him.

The failure of Ny to question Assange has created a rift within the Swedish government. The Liberal Party's judicial spokesperson Johan Pehrson has called for the case to be resolved, stating “the case has major political and international implications, no one benefits from this”. Sweden's Prosecutor-General, Anders Perklev responded:

Johan Pehrson [...] wants to influence how the case should be handled. That a parliamentary politician openly questions a prosecutor's decision making in individual cases is remarkable. It violates the fundamental separation of powers between the legislative and executive authority that prevails in Sweden.

Anders Perklev is yet to respond to any instance of political interference that is in favour of prosecutor Ny's position. Interference that includes the Sweden's Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt and Anders Perklev.

 

The fact that it is against Sweden's Code of Judicial Practice to force Assange to travel to Sweden and that if he refuses to cooperate he can be charged, tried and convicted in absentia (an avenue that Sweden has also failed to pursue), makes one wonder why it is so important for a section of politicians to deliver him into Swedish custody. When one adds the five year ongoing U.S. investigation of WikiLeaks into the equation, then entering into Swedish custody must be considered to be extremely risky. Furthermore, Sweden's continuing complicity in CIA renditions coupled with the fact that the U.S. military refers to Assange and WikiLeaks as the "enemy" and a "threat", shows that the danger of onwards extradition is tangibly real.

 

O’Hagan's “[Assange] made a massive tactical error in not going to Sweden to clear his name” seems to be at odds with reality. The path laid out for Assange holds a real danger of irreversible consequences. But in sidestepping it, Assange has opened up other possibilities. For instance, the case may well collapse and, if not, Sweden's statute of limitations will close it in August 2020. Either way, a space has been created for a less dangerous political climate to emerge.

 

Under what calculation of risk can the benefit of assenting to Sweden's questionable demands outweigh the possibility of a term in a U.S. prison, which could potentially last a lifetime?

 

Beyond the narrow borders of O’Hagan's article, the reality of Assange's predicament is that it may never be safe for him to leave the protection of Ecuador's diplomatic asylum. The Swedish impasse is as besides the point as the 'honey trap' question. Assange:

We know there is an ongoing investigation in the US and we know I am a target of the federal grand-jury. There is a 99.97% chance that I will be indicted. So if the Swedish government drops their [extradition] request tomorrow, I still cannot leave the embassy. My lawyers have advised me I should not leave the embassy because of the risk of arrest and extradition to the US.