By Chris Zuver, Staff Writer
On April 13, in a talk with a preeminent Washington think tank, CIA Director Mike Pompeo denounced the non-profit organization WikiLeaks.
In a transcript with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Pompeo is quoted as saying: “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. … It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
The U.S. Justice Department began a discussion of possible charges against members of WikiLeaks—including founder, director, and editor-in-chief Julian Assange—due to the website’s publication of CIA documents that were obtained through various sources.
Potential charges include “conspiracy,” “theft of government property,” and “violating the Espionage Act.”
WikiLeaks,which began in 2006, is an Iceland-based non-profit organization known for releasing leaked documents and classified information obtained from anonymous sources. Many of these published documents pertain to various issues including withheld information from the NSA, unreleased reports about the Afghanistan war and, most recently, multiple confidential CIA documents describing various hacking tools which WikiLeaks codenamed “Vault 7.”
A recent publication that garnered great attention was released late last year during the presidential campaign and dealt with leaked emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. Many believe that this release contributed to Clinton’s defeat in the presidential election.
On its website, WikiLeaks states that their outlet “publishes documents of political or historical importance that are censored or otherwise suppressed” and that they “specialize in strategic global publishing and large archives.”
Something that is highly worth mentioning is that WikiLeaks was not alone in publishing these various dossiers. Many mainstream news outlets have also presented these leaks over the years.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange wrote, “Our motive is identical to that claimed by the New York Times and The [Washington] Post—to publish newsworthy content.”
In an on-air interview that CNN reporter Kate Baldwin held with Pompeo and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, she questioned whether other news media outlets could expect similar judicial repercussions.
Pompeo remained silent, and Sessions replied: “That’s speculative. I’m not able to comment on that.”
So, my question is this: If the CIA finds means of prosecuting the WikiLeaks staff, what stops them from going after other media outlets? Where do you draw the line?
During his time in the executive office, former President Barack Obama had considered bringing charges against WikiLeaks as well but ultimately decided against it because he thought it to be akin to prosecuting journalists for publishing classified information.
The most significant difference between WikiLeaks and other news outlets is content. While WikiLeaks focuses mainly on political and historical concerns and documents, most media outlets focus on a far broader spectrum of topics such as entertainment, the arts, and sports.
So, where will the U.S. government go from here? Also, what does this say about how the government views the first amendment, which clearly states that Congress will not prohibit the free exercise of the press?
While the amendment does not clearly state whether it regards only domestic press or the press abroad as well, that lack of clarity would not matter if the CIA decided to take action against U.S.–based news outlets who have published the same information as WikiLeaks.
Personally, if I’m paying my taxes to support the government, I’d like to see what I’m paying for. Through publications like WikiLeaks, I have that opportunity and I think that the government’s aggression against such a publication says more about them than it does about WikiLeaks.