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“They’re Both Opportunists”: Julian Assange Loves Rand Paul’s Playtime Politics And His “Very Principled Positions”

Julian Assange, who back when he roamed the earth freely used to do things like show up on the steps of St. Paul’s to protest the wrongs of capitalism, has now apparently placed his faith in the man who is arguably the capitalists’ single biggest lickspittle in Washington, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). In and of itself, this is only mildly interesting. But Assange’s admirers on the left are so seduced by his oppositionalist posture and his desire to stick it to the man (as long as the man is the government of the United States) that they seem willing to follow him off any cliff, maybe even the cliff of voting for Paul in 2016. It’s a jejune politics, and ultimately a politics of leisure. No one whose day-to-day life is materially affected by the question of who is in office has time for such silly games, and therefore, no one who purports to be in solidarity with those people should either.

In an interview over the weekend with Campus Reform, a conservative college students’ group and website, Assange offered up a range of choice thoughts, none more interesting than this one: “In relation to Rand Paul. I’m a big admirer of Ron Paul and Rand Paul for their very principled positions in the U.S. Congress on a number of issues. They have been the strongest supporters of the fight against the U.S. attack on WikiLeaks and on me in the U.S. Congress. Similarly, they have been the strongest opponents of drone warfare and extrajudicial killing.” And then this: “The libertarian aspect of the Republican Party is presently the only useful political voice really in the U.S. Congress. It will be the driver that shifts the United States around.”

Assange also praised Matt Drudge in the interview, saying Drudge “should be applauded for breaking a lot of that censorship” of the mainstream news media. Drudge, it should be recalled, didn’t break any “censorship” at all. Conspiracy theorists of left and right have always had trouble distinguishing between censorship and editorial judgment, and it was Newsweek’s judgment (long before current ownership, I note) in January 1998 that its Monica Lewinsky story wasn’t ready for print. Drudge simply “reported” on that fact—or rather was spoon-fed it by disgruntled internal sources. The Lewinsky story was getting around, and so it’s a near certainty that Newsweek, or someone, would have published it soon. But Assange elevates Drudge to hero status.

It’s true that the Pauls do take one principled position, their anti-war stance. That’s one more than some people, I guess. But they get way too much credit for it, and for their supposed “libertarian” posture. Rand Paul is not a libertarian at all. A true libertarian supports the rights of same-sex couples to marry and the right of women to make decisions about their bodies. Paul is against same-sex marriage to such an extent that he compared it with interspecies marriage earlier this summer. And he’s not merely anti-abortion rights; he’s thrown in with the “personhood” movement, which would essentially grant the rights of personhood to fertilized eggs and represents the extreme wing of the anti-abortion rights movement.

What does Assange make of these positions? And what does the Assange of the St. Paul’s anti-banking protest make of Paul’s strident free-marketeerism to the extent of insisting that businesses have the right to discriminate against black people if they want to? We’ll never know, I suspect. If ever compelled to address these points, he’ll probably say they’re side issues dredged up by people devoted to the status quo—a standard and boring “fight the power” line.

I should say I’ve never admired Assange. His is the kind of black-and-white, moral absolutist thinking about politics one should grow out of after graduate school. He put American and other lives at risk with some of his 2010 leaks of classified military material. Into the bargain he may have sexually assaulted two women—innocent until proven otherwise on that one, but nevertheless it hangs out there and is part of the reason he’s holed up in that Ecuadoran Embassy.

He’s a bad actor. But at least once upon a time he was a somewhat consistent bad actor. Now he’s just an opportunist, as much an opportunist as Paul himself. Here’s what “the libertarian aspect” of the GOP is going to bring to America in the thankfully unlikely event it is to succeed at the ballot box. First, taxes so low on the wealthy as to be nearly nonexistent (actually, in some ways the most interesting of Assange’s weekend remarks were those equating taxation with “violence,” which puts him in the company of nutcases like Alan Keyes). Second, the end of any kind of business regulation. Severe cuts to all programs for the poor. These are the only issues, after Paul’s anti-war stance, on which his libertarianism is consistent. It is interesting indeed to learn that Assange agrees.

That’s why these seemingly left-wing anti-establishment types should never be trusted. These are just playtime politics, luxuries for the leisure class. If you want a real left-winger, I say stick with Marx. At least he understood that politics is chiefly about economic relations. Anyone who doesn’t understand that is sending you down blind alleys, knows little about politics to begin with, and should be shunned by anyone who claims to be anywhere on the broad left side of the spectrum.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, August 19, 2013

August 20, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Useful Idiot In Dorky Park”: What’s Does NSA Geek Edward Snowden Do With A Year In Russia?

For centuries, foreigners have had a habit of staying in Russia longer than they intended. The European architects engaged by Catherine the Great, the tutors who came to school the 19th-century aristocracy’s children, and the businessmen who swarmed into Moscow after the fall of communism — all arrived in Russia planning on a short stay and ended up staying for months, years, or the rest of their lives, wooed by love, money, or the sheer gruesome fantastic-ness of the place.

Your case is pretty special, Edward. You only came to Moscow for a flight connection, but now find yourself granted asylum for a minimum of a year. You left Sheremetyevo Airport with a grin yesterday, with a stealth wholly in line with the opaque mystery of your five-week stay inside the transit zone. The big question now becomes: What on Earth are you going to do in Russia?

As a long-standing resident of Moscow myself, allow me to give you a few tips.

Get used to grumpiness. It’s a decent bet that a smiling Potemkin border guard reserved especially for arriving U.S. dissidents was detailed to stamp you into Russia for the first time, but for the rest of us, friendly officials are like unicorns. They don’t exist. Border guards here almost never say a word, even if you greet them with the chirpiest “zdravstvuite” (“hello”). Forget about that verging-on-annoying friendliness one gets from waiters, shop assistants, or random people in elevators in America. From here on in it will be angry glances and accusatory stares, suspicious neighbors and glum shop workers. The U.S. Justice Department might like to have a few words with you, but there’ll be punishment enough in Moscow. Show up at the grocery store without exact change to pay for your “doctor’s sausage” (don’t ask, Edward, just don’t ask) and you’ll get an earful of barking abuse.

The exception to this will be if you end up living in a building with a “concierge,” which in the Moscow incarnation is not a smartly dressed polite man in a suit and hat, but an inquisitive, squinting babushka who will use a combination of your comings and goings, the identity of any visitors you might have, and ceaseless interrogation to put together a complex psychological portrait of you and the other inhabitants of the building. Think of it as an offline, Soviet version of the PRISM program.

Moscow, of course, has spent the past two decades going through wave after wave of change, and if the angry stares get you down, you can always hire a bike and ride with the hipsters at Gorky Park, or party with the nouveau riche at Gypsy, where your newly acquired fame is sure to get you past the strict face control. Indeed, your lawyer Anatoly Kucherena has said that numerous young Russian damsels have already expressed an interest in providing you with shelter, and perhaps much, much more.

Anna Chapman, expelled from the United States as part of a Russian spy ring in 2010, has already proposed to you via Twitter. With the kind of glamorous life she leads now, though, you will need to have deep pockets to keep her happy. Even a coffee can cost upwards of $10 in Moscow, and at the kind of restaurant that someone like Chapman would enjoy, dinner for two is at least $250. (Assuming, of course, that she shows up to the right location for your date.) For now, you say you miss your girlfriend, the acrobatic pole-dancer Lindsay Mills. Perhaps Mills will travel to Moscow to resurrect your relationship, or perhaps you will join the long list of expats in Russia whose relationships are wrecked on the rocks of Slavic temptation.

Aside from what you get up to on a Friday night, there is also the political issue — and the rather obvious and glaring point that you have received political asylum in a country that does not treat its own whistleblowers in the nicest fashion. The most poignant comparisons have been made with Alexey Navalny, the opposition leader and blogger who leaked information about corruption in the Russian elite and was recently handed a five-year jail sentence (for corruption, ironically), which is currently suspended but will kick in if his appeal is unsuccessful. Human rights isn’t a big thing here either: your exit from the airport came on the same day that Russia’s sports minister confirmed that gay athletes at next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi would be arrested if they flaunt their homosexuality.

Glenn Greenwald, the reporter with whom you worked, referred to those who pointed out Russia’s own treatment of whistleblowers or its new anti-gay laws as “drooling jingoists.” I understand, of course, that you were hardly laden down with options of where to go, and a case can certainly be made that staying in a country with a dubious record of its own is preferable to returning to the United States to face charges you believe are unfair.

But what Greenwald seems to miss, or ignore, is that there is a big difference between grudgingly accepting Russia as the best of a set of bad options, and actively trumpeting the beacon of democracy and human rights that is Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. You have previously said that Russia and other countries that offered you asylum were “refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.” Your father went even further, thanking President Vladimir Putin for his “courage” in offering asylum to his son.

Whatever drove Putin to offer you asylum, Edward, it is fairly clear that the former KGB man was not motivated by a principled stance of support for whistleblowers. Trust me on that one. The question now is whether you make a few sheepish statements of thanks to the Kremlin and that’s it, or whether you become one of the legion of infatuated useful idiots, the most notable being the French actor Gérard Depardieu, who has taken Russian citizenship and struck up a bromance with both Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya accused of all manner of human rights abuses.

Entering into the protection, financial or otherwise, of the Kremlin appears to induce crippling cases of myopia in many people, whether they be Gallic buffoons enjoying their alcohol-soaked twilight or Western presenters working for the Kremlin-funded television station Russia Today. You come across as a much sharper individual, Edward. I am sure you have noticed that when it comes to clandestine surveillance, Russia is not exactly a paragon of democratic transparency. But perhaps you feel that Russia’s woes are none of your business, and that your fight is with the U.S. authorities only. If so, then the perfect place for you is indeed Russia Today. The Kremlin-funded channel would almost certainly be delighted to have you. When it comes to America-bashing, nothing is too far out for this channel, which recently confidently asserted that all recent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have been CIA “false-flag” operations, and once ran an op-ed entitled “911 reasons why 9/11 was (probably) an inside job.” The channel airs interview shows fronted by your buddy Julian Assange, and somewhat more unexpectedly, Larry King. The appearance of The Whistleblower, a weekly show fronted by your good self, is more than just an outside possibility.

But the Russian authorities may prefer to keep you quiet. George Blake, the British spy and Soviet agent who fled to Moscow in 1966, is still only allowed to give interviews when he has permission from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, even though he is now 90 years old.

Your lawyer Kucherena claimed that you hopped into a normal taxi before heading off to an undisclosed location to meet American “friends.” Who these friends are, and how you made them, I have no idea, Edward. But there’s a fairly good chance that the Russian security services are keeping several dozen pairs of beady eyes on you.

If you feel comfortable enough to walk the streets, and are allowed to, there is much for you to see and do. There is Red Square and the Kremlin, not to mention Lubyanka, the imposing building that serves as home of the FSB security services (formerly, the KGB). But you probably know all about them already. Then there are the museums, the nightclubs, the delicious Georgian food, and the all-night bars and clubs. Even a kind of nerdy guy can have a lot of fun on his first weekend in Moscow.

A word of advice, however, Edward. If you are approached by a man in a blond wig who suggests meeting for a coffee in the area of Novinsky Boulevard, you should decline politely. And run away, fast.

 

By: Shaun Walker, Foreign Policy, August 2, 2013

August 9, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Shared History”: Edward Snowden Walked Right Into A Bizarre Alliance Between Wikileaks And Russia

One thing that has become clear as the Edward Snowden saga unfolds is that WikiLeaks and Russia have both been integral to the NSA leaker’s arrival and extended stay in Moscow.

The Kremlin and the renegade publisher haven’t overtly coordinated moves in regards to Snowden, but they certainly haven’t been working against each other.

And the two had a shared history before Snowden arrived in Moscow.

Here are a few notable details from a tentative timeline of Edward Snowden and his associates created by former senior U.S. intelligence analyst Joshua Foust:

  • November 2, 2010: An official at the Center for Information Security of the FSB, Russia’s secret police, told the independent Russian news website LifeNews “It’s essential to remember that given the will and the relevant orders, [WikiLeaks] can be made inaccessible forever.”
  • December, 2010: Israel Shamir, a long-standing associate of Wikileaks traveled to Belarus, a close ally of Russia, in December with a cache of Wikileaks files. Belarussian authorities published the cables and cracked down, harshly, on pro-democracy activists.
  • April 17, 2012: Government-funded Russian TV station RT gives [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange his own talk show.
  • June 23, 2013: Izvestia, a state-owned Russian newspaper, writes that the Kremlin and its intelligence services collaborated with Wikileaks to help Snowden escape from Hong Kong (Wikileaks did not mention any official involvement in Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong in their press statements).

Ever since the 30-year-old ex-Booz Allen contractor got on a flight from Hong Kong to Moscow, Russia and WikiLeaks have been working parallel to each other.

On June 23, after the U.S. voided Snowden’s passport while he was in Hong Kong, WikiLeaks tweeted that the organization “assisted Mr. Snowden’s political asylum in a democratic country, travel papers ans [sic] safe exit from Hong Kong.”

That was followed by the update that “Mr. Snowden is currently over Russian airspace accompanied by WikiLeaks legal advisors.”

It turned out that Assange convinced Ecuador’s consul in London to provide a travel document requesting that authorities allow Snowden to travel to Ecuador “for the purpose of political asylum.” The country’s president subsequently said the document was “completely invalid.”

When Snowden arrived in Moscow with void travel papers, all signs suggest that Russia’s domestic intelligence service (i.e. FSB) took control of him.

That day a radio host in Moscow “saw about 20 Russian officials, supposedly FSB agents, in suits, crowding around somebody in a restricted area of the airport,” according to Anna Nemtsova of Foreign Policy.

WikiLeaks, meanwhile, insisted that Snowden was “not being ‘debriefed’ by the FSB.”

Snowden’s FSB-linked Moscow lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, has been speaking for Snowden ever since Snowden accepted all offers for support and asylum on July 12.

On July 11 WikiLeaks had said that Snowden and it had “made sure that he cannot be meaningfully coersed [sic] by either the US or its rivals,” even though that cannot be guaranteed when Russian intelligence is in play.

On Thursday Kucherena announced that Russia has granted Snowden temporary asylum — giving him “the same rights and freedoms possessed by [Russian] citizens” — and led him to a car that would take him to a “secure location.”

PHOTO: #Snowden leaving Moscow airport today after granted 1-year temporary asylum in Russia http://t.co/Ku8SQlG3MB pic.twitter.com/IuMY1AgZeJ

— RT (@RT_com) August 1, 2013

WikiLeaks then announced that Sarah Harrison, Assange’s closest advisor, “has remained with Mr. Snowden at all times to protect his safety and security, including during his exit from Hong Kong. They departed from the airport together in a taxi and are headed to a secure, confidential place.”

And it tweeted this:

We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden. We have won the battle–now the war.

— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) August 1, 2013

(WikiLeaks’ spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told RT that the “war” is “a war against secrecy … a war for transparency, [and] a war for government accountability.”)

All in all, the organization’s gratitude for those “who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden” — which primarily includes the FSB and Harrison — raises the question of how much the WikiLeaks and the Kremlin have coordinated during the Snowden saga.

 

By: Michael Kelley, Business Insider, August 2, 2013

August 3, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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