14 out of 15 members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including possible Democratic nominee Kamala Harris, have voted to declare WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”
If implemented in Congress, the bill would open Julian Assange and the pro-transparency organisation to heightened state surveillance and potentially allow the US intelligence community to prosecute Americans who donate to or associate themselves with Wikileaks.
The bill does not offer any evidence to back up claims against the publisher, who themselves do not actively hack classified documents.
Assange still asserts that Wikileaks is a ‘multi-national media organisation’ and the decision of the Senate Intelligence Committee threatens the First Amendment rights of the free press. Wikileaks have never been charged with the crime of cyber espionage, which would be the obvious qualifier for implicating an organisation as a ‘hostile intelligence service’.
There is very little precedent in this regard, which makes it difficult to judge Wikileaks in context but equally means that the repercussions of this landmark case could establish a pernicious lead for the future of the American free press.
It goes without saying that Wikileaks are not the first media organisation to publish classified information. They are, however, in danger of becoming the first to be prosecuted.
Like it or not, the publication of classified government information has shaped modern Western society. Had Deepthroat not relayed evidence to the Washington Post in what became known as the world-famous Watergate scandal then President Nixon could have caused irreparable damage to US democracy. God knows what would continue to happen inside the infamous Abu Ghraib prison if Amnesty International, alongside the legendary reporter Seymour Hersh had not got their hands on documents exposing the unpalatable torture of Iraqis at the hands of the American military.
All of these outlets could conceivably be prosecuted under the same lines as Wikileaks if they were subjected to the wrath of 2017’s Senate Intelligence Committee.
This decision by the Committee was deliberately timed to coincidence with the period when the public’s opinion of Wikileaks has slumped to an all-time low. Assange’s (in my opinion) ill-advised foray into partisan US politics has inevitably lost Wikileaks very many friends.
Many Americans are understandably averse to Wikileaks after their 2016 antics, but it’s crucial to remember that in principle Wikileaks are no different to reputable media outlets which are adored by many of those who support this bill. It’s incredibly optimistic, perhaps naive, to believe that the buck stops with Wikileaks when it comes to gagging the media.
The situation is summed-up perfectly by Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, who told the Intercept:
Regardless of whether you like or hate WikiLeaks, Congress singling out a publisher of information using a undefined and made up term like “non-state hostile intelligence service” to potentially stifle First Amendment rights and opening the door to more surveillance of sources should concern all journalists. It’s a shame more members of Congress do not see this obvious danger.
Don’t let ambitious Kamala and little Marco bury this as their careers take off.
Kamala Harris has apparently got the support of Democratic mega donor George Soros and Clinton’s inner circle, which indicates – unless the Democratic Party has reformed beyond recognition since last year’s ceremonial already-decided primaries – that she will inevitably be the Democratic Nominee.
Holier-than-thou, Bible-tweeting Marco Rubio is also recovering from his embarrassing Presidential bid collapse to re-accumulate powerful supporters and super-PAC cash. He will likely run again some time in the future to represent ‘real conservatives’ who have been alienated by Donald Trump’s ascent through the Republican Party.
Journalists, bloggers or anyone who supports a free press should not forget the fact that these two signed their name to a bill which guarantees the erosion of media protection from the state.
Hold them responsible for their crimes against the First Amendment.