By Lucy Komisar
Dec 8, 2019
The editor of OCCRP, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a self-described investigative news site with links to the U.S. government and to fraudster William Browder, refuses to sign a statement in support of whistleblower publisher Julian Assange.
It calls on journalists to speak up for Assange, charged under the U.S. espionage act for publishing the Afghanistan and Iraq war diaries and U.S. embassy cables and important documents that many journalists around the world have used to write publicize American war crimes in the Middle East.
The statement says, “This sets an extremely dangerous precedent for journalists, media organizations and freedom of the press. We do not want to be silent at this time.”
One who did not sign is Drew Sullivan, the American editor of OCCRP, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, based in Sarajevo. The back story is that the operation he runs, which purports to be an independent investigative journalist operation, is funded by the U.S. and UK governments, the adversaries of Julian Assange. He is also an acolyte of the fraudster William Browder.
His comments are on the GLOBAL-L listserv of U.S. journalists. I was part of it until last May. After I began posting information about Browder, Sullivan posted personal attacks and got me thrown off.
The list is run by David Kaplan, who is a past member of the OCCRP board. Talk about a free press! Does the plot thicken? The listserv is hosted by the University of Missouri Journalism School, which should take a look at its censorship rules. What will you do about this Chancellor Cartwright!
Here are relevant excerpts of what Sullivan posted on Global-L, with my comments in italics:
Mon Oct 29, 2019 9:44pm What is happening to Assange is wrong. It‘s a fundamental violation of human rights. But long ago I stopped considering him a journalist. He showed none of the standards or ethics of good journalism. ….
For me his work on behalf of the Putin government crossed the line and so I no longer consider him a journalist but a self serving media celebrity who has been destructive. He played a different game and he is reaping what he sowed. [He does not explain how detailing U.S. war crimes equals work for the Putin government. Or how his own critiques are not funded by the U.S. and UK governments.]
Mon 9:46pm I’ve got a colleague in prison in Baku named Afgan Muktrarli who was kidnapped in Georgia and dragged to Azerbaijan where he was left on the border to be picked up by Azerbaijani police. His crime was writing for the last independent media in Azerbaijan.
Yes, he didn’t rape anyone or help Putin get Trump elected but its still a worthwhile case. [Mr. Sullivan, is this an underhanded way of saying that Assange did rape someone? Is that what a legitimate journalist writes? Please provide evidence of a rape that was never charged.]
Mon 9:48pm [He attacks Assange as a journalist.] We go through and pull out newsworthy information and publish it. We mitigate harm and we check and verify. If you‘re a journalist who doesn‘t think that is necessary, then we fundamentally disagree on standards.
Good journalists also don‘t conspire or hack to get documents freed. I‘ve been offered data many times – leaks that would have had HUGE impact. I‘ve been offered to get the images of any persons cell phone I wanted by hackers. I always say the same thing. If I have to conspire with a source or do something illegal I won‘t do it. That‘s a line I must draw. That‘s the second test of what kind of journalist you are.
[Except that OCCRP reprints Browder‘s fake Magnitsky stories and doesn’t even get the fakery right! See this.]
OCCRP (deliberately?) confuses a theft of money from the Russian Treasury with a theft from Browder’s companies. Magnitsky, of course, was accused of something else: of arranging Browder’s multi-million dollar Russian tax scam. Based on taking deductions for hiring the disabled. Which evidence shows he did. And which was faked. OCCRP never dealt with that. Though Browder admitted in U.S. court that he had done that. Said his accountants said it was OK!
Sullivan: I also don‘t cooperate with political interests to affect elections or any other event even if I don‘t like a politician or think they are corrupt. We all know sources want to use us. In some senses, I don‘t care why they want the information out. But my organization also has processes of verifying data and investigating stories that can‘t be bypassed. If I believe we are being used to help an interest then I will report that and it may become part of the story without revealing the source. That‘s the third test ” how willing are we to be used by sources.
[Go back to OCCRP stories done for its collaborator William Browder. See above.]
The more reckless, ethically devoid megalomaniacs misuse the concept of freedom of speech, the harder it is to defend it with the public.
So if you disagree with some or all of these standards, okay, we will have to agree to disagree. I don‘t think Assange qualifies as a journalist. I‘d fire him if he was on my staff. But you operate your media your way and I‘ll operate OCCRP the way our journalists have agreed. And you won‘t find me in this fight for Assange because frankly I‘d like people like that to disappear from our profession. To me he is not a hero but a representative of the early years of the great leak period of journalism when some people acted badly.
Mon 9:50pm You are being inaccurate. He is not being imprisoned for releasing Wikileaks. He is being imprisoned for the evidence that he conspired with Manning and actively helped steal the documents. It‘s one of those lines he crossed. Should they jail him for that? Probably not. But it‘s like journalists who do stories for organized crime who get killed. They shouldn‘t be killed but by working with criminals they are considered “in the game” by crime groups which means they can be killed. Assange‘s problems wouldn‘t have happened if he hadn‘t crossed the line.
His life in a US prison will likely be more healthy than the embassy. If he was without fault I would have counseled him to not hide but face his tormentors years ago and fought the good fight then. I could respect that. Hiding in the embassy was odd and ultimately showed what a whack job he really is. He treated his hosts like the shit he smeared on their walls.
I don‘t think Assange is being tortured. I don‘t think his life is in danger. I don‘t think he will even serve time except waiting for his trial. I think Trump will free him. I think we‘ll end up having this pompous megalomaniac besmirching journalism for years to come because some journalists will continue to see him as a hero.
Not me. Assange is not a hero. He‘s a liability. So let‘s agree to disagree.
Mon 9:51pm It is a nice statement P, but like many previous ones in this thread, it’s simply factually wrong. There are many debates about whether Assange is a journalist but he himself has frequently claimed to be one. In truth, he is best described as an activist. He is certainly NOT a whistleblower. He does allegedly help whistleblowers.
Activists may justify themselves by saying they are engaging in civil disobedience for what they perceive to be a greater good. Assange has never adopted that position although he should have. The problem is that Assange’s greater good is his own career and grandiose view of himself. He claims he’s an investigative reporter – that is just not true.
Mon 9:52pm Understand, I’m not advocating Assange be punished. I believe he should be freed. I may not like him or believe he is a journalist but he should be freed with time served. He did cross the line but there is value to what Manning did which I think Obama acknowledged.
That said, Trump won’t prosecute him for long I think. They both love Putin. They’re both narcissists. They will find common cause. He’ll work for Fox.
Sullivan’s next post: Legal issues are not quite the same as ethical issues. The news media also supported Bob Guccione and Hustler against First Amendment attacks. We support the First Amendment rights of a lot of people. We may not support their actions however.
And Assange’s case is a little different. Neil Sheehan didn’t go into the Pentagon and help take the Pentagon Papers out. It’s not a matter of passivity or not. It’s a matter of illegality. Illegality is not necessary a hard stop issue. But there wasn’t a public interest test on the illegality and there wasn’t any attempt to mitigate risks.
As stated before, I don’t think people are saying Assange should serve time. Many, including me, are saying the public interest was served and that should mitigate the criminality although Manning was responsible for the real benefits, not Assange. A real journalist would have fought the issue in court and not hid like a weasel. He also shouldn’t have violated basic journalism ethics and he should have mitigated risk. Support him if you feel strongly. If someone doesn’t, allow them that reasonable conclusion.
A comment by a member of the list
Not sure if this legal opinion on the case was already shared on this list. It is by James C. Goodale, who led the legal team of NY Times in the Pentagon Papers case.
Is Assange Entitled to Full First Amendment Protection? Some relevant quotes.
Accordingly, for the government to convict Julian Assange for the publication of the Afghanistan war logs and other material leaked to him by Chelsea Manning, it must show that such publication caused a clear, present and imminent danger to national security. Additionally, such proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt since it is a criminal case.
It would seem that such proof would create a high bar for the government to jump – particularly, when the government has never stated once whether there has been damage to anybody as a consequence of Assange’s publication. It has, of course, said such publication caused general damage to national security but has not particularized any harm to anyone such as for example, its’ Afghanistan sources. Since Assange’s publication took place ten years ago, the government has had ten years to come up with evidence that shows damage to national security but has not.
Not only should the First Amendment apply to the publication by Assange of Manning leaks – after all such publication was not dissimilar from that of the New York Times, the Guardian, et. al. – but it should also apply to the efforts of Assange to obtain those leaks. While the members of Columbia’s panel did not have the time to go into the details of actions by Assange, there have been others that have raised concern that the First Amendment only protects Assange’s publication and not his newsgathering efforts. (…) Many commentators have assumed therefore that the only First Amendment protection in a leak case is where a newspaper or other leakee is totally passive. In other words, if a reporter does a little above waiting around and having a leak magically dropped on his or her desk, then he/she would be participating in the leak.
Frequently the Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers is cited as an example of passive publication. This is because commentators seem to believe that New York Times reporter, Neil Sheehan, who obtained the Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg received them passively as part of a data dump by Ellsberg.
Nothing could be further from the truth and I speak with some authority since I led the legal team in the Pentagon Papers case. As set out in my book, Fighting for the Press, Sheehan received a small cache of Pentagon Papers from a source other than Ellsberg and then pursued Ellsberg day and night to get the rest. Ellsberg was hesitant to give them to Sheehan or to give permission to Sheehan (and the Times) to use them. Only after Sheehan secretly xeroxed Ellsberg’s set of the Pentagon Papers, without Ellsberg’s permission, did Ellsberg finally give in to Sheehan’s blandishments.
An important connection to the U.S. is that Sullivan and OCCRP are collaborators of William Browder and perpetrators of his Magnisky hoax, thus collaborators of the U.S. government. Browder admitted in a deposition to U.S. federal court that OCCRP provided him the bank transfer documents he gave the U.S. Justice Department to file a case against Prevezon, a Russian real estate company he accused of getting $1.9 million of $230 million stolen from the Russian Treasury. He didn’t say how OCCRP had gotten the documents, which were private and available only if they were stolen or hacked.
Of course, the documents didn’t prove anything except OCCRP’s collaboration with the U.S. government in its case against the Russian company Prevezon. To go to the dark side, go here.
According to information provided in U.S. federal court in 2017, in 2011 OCCRP received contributions of $19,000. And in 2013, after it collaborated with Browder who got the Magnitsky Act passed in Dec 2012, it received contributions of $1,015,542. Hmmm.
So OCCRP, run by a perpetrator of attacks on Julian Assange, is also the well-paid propagandist of the Browder-Magnitsky hoax. Just don’t call it journalism.
The GLOBAL-L listserv was available to public searchers until October, when the debate about Assange caused the organizers to close it to outsiders, apparently part of the their commitment to the public discourse.