Sources for Yahoo News WikiLeaks report “should all be prosecuted”

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Former CIA Director and Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday called for prosecution of sources who told Yahoo News about an article detailing the intelligence agency’s proposals in 2017 to remove the founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange and discussions within the Trump administration and the CIA to possibly even assassinate him.

Pompeo, appearing on Megyn Kelly’s podcast, was asked to respond to the Yahoo News article, based on interviews with 30 former US intelligence and national security officials with knowledge of the US government’s efforts against WikiLeaks.

“I can’t say much about this other than those of these 30 people who allegedly spoke to one of these [Yahoo News] journalists – they should all be prosecuted for talking about classified activities within the Central Intelligence Agency, ”Pompeo said.

At the same time, Pompeo declined to respond to many details from the Yahoo News account and confirmed that “bits and pieces are true,” including the existence of an aggressive CIA campaign to target WikiLeaks in the wake of the publication by the organization of one of the sensitive documents known as Vault 7 revealing some of the CIA’s hacking tools and methods.

“When the bad guys steal these secrets, we have a responsibility to pursue them, to prevent [that] to happen, ”Pompeo said. “We absolutely have a responsibility to respond. … We desperately wanted to hold accountable those who broke US law, violated information protection requirements, and attempted to steal it. There is a deep legal framework for doing this. And we have taken steps consistent with US law to try to achieve that. “

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Pompeo’s comments came as some human rights activists, civil liberties groups and Assange supporters said the Yahoo News revelations should be investigated and constituted a motive for abandoning the Justice Department’s efforts to extradite Assange from a British prison in order to face criminal charges in the United States. for releasing classified government secrets in violation of WWI espionage law as well as for allegedly conspiring to hack into a classified US government network.

“We now know that this unprecedented criminal case was launched in part because of the truly dangerous plans the CIA was considering,” said Ben Wizner, director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “This provides one more reason for Biden’s Justice Department to find a silent way to end this case.”

Nils Melzner, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, also weighed in on the Yahoo News story. “It’s not about the law. It’s about intimidating journalism; it is about suppressing the freedom of the press; it is a question of protecting the immunity of State officials ”, he said in a video he posted on Twitter. Assange’s case has “become impossible to ignore,” he added. “And I encourage reporters in all media to thoroughly examine this matter, gather all the evidence and speak out against the wrongdoing, because the public deserves to know the truth.”

Although the Justice Department led by two attorneys general appointed by President Trump has indicted Assange, federal attorneys for President Biden’s attorney general Merrick Garland continue to pursue the case. They appealed a UK judge’s ruling earlier this year that Assange should not be turned over to the US government because he would pose a suicide risk in a US prison.

Lawyers for Assange were due to file responses to the Justice Department’s arguments on Wednesday and are actively considering ways to raise government misconduct concerns based in part on many of the details in the Yahoo News article. Among them is the revelation that following the Vault 7 leak, considered at the time to be the biggest data loss in CIA history, Pompeo was furious and demanded a multi-pronged campaign to dismantle WikiLeaks. Publicly, he described the group as a “non-state hostile intelligence service”. But privately, he pushed for aggressive action in meetings with senior Trump administration officials, including a kidnapping operation to remove Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Sources told Yahoo News that at the White House and the CIA there were also discussions about a possible assassination, although former officials said the idea of ​​killing Assange was not taken. seriously. But when White House lawyers learned of some of the agency’s plans to target Assange, particularly Pompeo’s rendition proposals, they raised objections, which resulted in one of the most controversial intelligence debates in the Trump presidency.

Julien assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a press conference at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2014 (TPX Images of the Day)

Pompeo’s comments on Kelly’s podcast came the day after he appeared on Glenn Beck’s podcast and asserted, “I’m all about a big, bold and strong First Amendment.” But his call for criminal charges on Wednesday against sources who spoke to Yahoo News drew a strong rebuke from a member of Assange’s legal team.

“I find it very disturbing that his reaction was to try to keep information about misconduct from being known to the American people,” said Barry Pollack, American attorney for Assange.

Wizner, the lawyer for the ACLU, said that Pompeo’s comments “did indeed verify the veracity of the [Yahoo News] story. Because the only reason to sue someone is because they have revealed legitimate classified information. … It was first-rate public service journalism and the question is whether the public has a right to know that the government is engaged in this kind of conduct.

When asked about Yahoo News history for the first time by Kelly, Pompeo replied, “That makes for pretty good fiction.” But when the host asked him if that meant he was denying what Yahoo News reported, he admitted “there are elements that are true.”

“Were we trying to protect US information from Julian Assange and WikiLeaks? Absolutely yes. Did our Justice Department believe we had a valid claim that would result in the extradition of Julian Assange to stand trial? Yes. I supported this effort, that’s for sure. Have we ever participated in activities that are inconsistent with US law? US law does not allow us to commit assassinations. We have never acted inconsistently with it. … We never planned to break US law – not once in my time.

He gave no details of other actions considered by the CIA, such as the possible kidnapping of Assange, or actions taken by US intelligence services, including audio and visual surveillance of Assange at the interior of the Ecuadorian embassy or the surveillance of communications and travel of its associates. through Europe.

But Pompeo disputed a statement by Trump, who adopted WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign after posting embarrassing Democratic Party emails for Hillary Clinton. Asked to comment on the Yahoo News article, Trump said Assange was “treated very badly.”

Pressed by Kelly if he agreed with that assessment, Pompeo said, “No. Assange has treated the United States and its people very badly.”

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