Understanding the Wikileaks Grand Jury

Month: April, 2012

What we learnt from the Stratfor emails – part two: Stratfor, a key player

The emails have also revealed the close attention Stratfor has been paying to Wikileaks and the company’s involvement in attempting to convict Assange. In June 2010, Fred Burton wrote the following email:

Is he an Aussie?

As a foreign national, we could revoke his travel status and deport.

Could also be taken into custody as a material witness.

We COULD have a sealed indictment and lock him up. Depends upon how far
along the military case is.

Again the email raises obvious interrogations as to what the implications of Stratfor were on the Grand Jury and this mysterious indictment. In an email from December 12th 2010, while Julian Assange was in Wandsworth prison, Fred Burton sent an email announcing that he had informed Sky News of his “concerns for US extradition.” Five days before Fred Burton, responding to a chain of emails on getting Assange arrested had written:

Will take weeks for extradition, unless he waves the process. DOJ [Department of Justice] (Holder) won’t seek prosecution on their own, but look for the GOP (Congress) to press for criminal prosecution. Be easy to indict. I would pursue Conspiracy and Political Terrorism charges and declassify the death of a source someone which I could link to Wiki.

That chain of emails reveals the “brain storming” undertaken to hamper Wikileaks’ work. In that same chain Burton wrote:

One other point is this. Ferreting out his confederates is also key. Find out what other disgruntled rogues inside the tent or outside. Pile on. Move him from country to country to face various charges for the next 25 years. But, seize everything he and his family own, to include every person linked to Wiki.

Sean Noonan was an analyst who seemed to have a central position in the discussion regarding Julian Assange’s. According to him

All this trouble with internet hosting could serve to slow down this set of leaks. And maybe a combination of wikileaks arrest and server shutdowns could stop it.

Different ways to pressure Wikileaks and whether the organization would outlive Julian Assange were discussed:

Yes, like Fred’s source pointed out–arrest and trial would just be a political circus. It would probably not disrupt wikileaks. BUT, occasionally a leader makes an organization, and maybe no one as capable will be willing to fill his shoes. Or at least, won’t be able to get as much publicity for wikileaks. As you also said, it could tarnish both Assange’s and Wikileaks’ repution. That could serve to discredit and undermine the group. Maybe people would be less inclined to leak to it, or the public would be less inclined to pay attention–or more importantly support wikileaks financially. Though I admit the chance of this causing the public to pay less attention is minimal, and in fact would probably increase attention on the guy. (though personally, getting a rapist off the street is getting a rapist off the street. Also, his mom owns a puppet theater…)

If Assange is running the show and his staff isn’t as confident as he is, then arresting him now could very well stop the flow of cables. But all it takes is one person to keep it going – or just dump them all at once if it gets too dicey, and these files have been very widely distributed so far. I can’t imagine anyone reclaiming all the documents now.

In a different chain of emails, Burton explains:

The espionage laws, believe it or not, do not make an exception for
reporters, Martin says. However, as a matter of policy, reporters and publishers have never been charged under espionage laws.

To which Sean Noonan replies:

This seems like a pretty good analysis. Certainly better than most of
our own conjecture. ‘Given that Assange has run hundreds of thousands of classified documents on his web site, each one that is properly classified could be included as
a separate count of an indictment.’ I look forward to Manning and Assange facing a bajillion-thousand counts of espionage.

A privately owned intelligence agency, Stratfor seems to reflect the issue of all secret services: its obscure interferences with the rest of society and the legal system in this context.

What we learnt from the Stratfor emails – part one: what sealed indictment?

In spite of the golden rule of secrecy, some of the 5 million emails from private global intelligence company Stratfor currently being released by Wikileaks, have suggested the grand jury and its decisions have not been kept secret for everyone.

In an email from January 26th 2011 Fred Burton – vice president of Stratfor for Counterterrorism and Corporate Security and a former Deputy Chief of the Department of State’s counterterrorism division for the Diplomatic Security Service – wrote:

Not for Pub —

We have a sealed indictment on Assange.

Pls protect

The timeline is particularly interesting: the grand jury hearings were said to have started in May 2011, when a witness from Massachusetts was subpoenaed, and the grand jury probably started a few months before around December 2010. Was Fred Burton referring to an indictment from a different court? Were the witnesses requested to testify although a decision had already been made?

The term “grand jury” is used in none of the 973 emails released so far, which forces us to wonder to what extent the whole procedure in Virginia is not a travesty of justice to provide a legal ground to Julian Assange’s potential future arrest.

Sealed indictments in grand juries are however a legal option mentioned in Rule 6(e)(G)(4) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedures to prevent the decision from being known before the defendant is in custody:

Sealed Indictment. The magistrate judge to whom an indictment is returned may direct that the indictment be kept secret until the defendant is in custody or has been released pending trial. The clerk must then seal the indictment, and no person may disclose the indictment’s existence except as necessary to issue or execute a warrant or summons.

2010 US House Judiciary Comittee debate

On December 2010 a panel of democrat and republican representatives, scholars, lawyers and judges moderated by Democrat Representative John Conyers gathered at the US House Judiciary Committee to debate the constitutionality of prosecuting Julian Assange under the Espionage Act.

Different visions on Wikileaks’ impact on the country’s safety were discussed. Questions were raised about the need to change the law and whether the espionage act was obsolete. The nuance between leaking and spying was also a key element brought up during the debate. While some panellists severely condemned Bradley Manning, overall most agreed there was a poor management of classified materials and a tendency to over classification when more transparency and a better protection of actually secret material would avoid such massive release.

Watch the 3 hour debate on Wikileaks Press.