Are Pentagon-paid goons crushing Wikileaks?
The idea that the molestation charges against Julian Assange were a dirty tricks campaign looks like pure political fantasy.
The hype around the Swedish rape-charge-turned-molestation-accusation against Wikileaks-founder Julian Assange has nearly surpassed the hullabaloo that greeted his leaking of thousands of US military documents on the war in Afghanistan last month.
Following a recent visit to Stockholm, where Assange was announced as a new columnist for the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, the 39-year-old Australian citizen was issued with an arrest warrant in absentia. He had been accused of rape and molestation by two Swedish women. This fact was swiftly leaked to the Swedish tabloid Expressen and the news spread like wildfire around the world. The blogosphere and mainstream press exploded with speculation – echoed by Assange himself – that this was all an orchestrated smear campaign, a honey trap laid by US intelligence to discredit Wikileaks.
Then, less than 24 hours after issuing the rape charge, Sweden’s chief prosecutor dropped it. At the time of writing, Assange is still suspected of molestation, though as pointed out by Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman for the Swedish prosecutor’s office, ‘molestation’ can involve ‘both sexual and non-sexual’ crimes. ‘In principle, it can involve someone speaking extremely loudly in a public place. The punishment can range from fines to up to one year imprisonment.’ In other words, this whole saga appears to be a case of much ado about nothing.
Of course, the way in which the press spread the news of these serious charges, without first critically assessing their validity or giving Assange a chance to learn the details of the accusations, reeks of sensationalist reporting. When investigative reporting is reduced to chasing any scoop that pops up – even one based on loose claims – then journalistic standards, as well as the people implicated in the story, are likely to suffer.
As the saying goes, Assange has made his bed and now he has to lie in it. Assange is the poster boy for today’s unthinking, whistleblowing brand of newsmaking, which is currently what passes for investigative reporting. Now, the tabloid that was tipped off about Assange’s arrest warrant is gloating – in true Wikileaks style – about the fact that it is being mentioned in news outlets around the world. Never mind the story itself, the fact that there is a global fuss about this has become the story, as Marshall McLuhan would no doubt observe.
The whole affair has taken on the character of high-level gossip and has spawned various conspiracy theories. Who blew the whistle on the Assange molestation charges? Are they trustworthy? What does the scoop mean for the press? What does the reporting say about the state of the media? Is it all really one big plot by the Pentagon to ruin the reputation of Assange, to crush Wikileaks in the very week it was due to reveal more secret US military documents?
The potential explosiveness of the story was noted by both the tipped-off Expressen reporter Niklas Svensson and his editors. ‘When I went home around 2.30am [after filing the article]’, Svensson said, ‘I realised this would become one of the largest scoops we’ve ever had’. He also said that seeing his story reported on CNN’s Breaking News ‘felt pretty big’. On the day of the revelation, Expressen’s social media editor excitedly assured readers just how BIG this story was: ‘You can be sure conspiracy theories will flow.’
Of course, speculations did abound about who tipped off Expressen just hours after the arrest warrant had been issued, and what the whistleblower’s motivations might have been. But the idea that this is a dirty tricks campaign by the Pentagon comes across as loony, since there is very little evidence for it. It also reveals just how inflated is Assange’s sense of self-importance and Wikileaks’ self-image as a radical, establishment-rocking, state-threatening force. The idea seems to be that Wikileaks poses such a mortal threat to Washington’s integrity that Assange must be crushed by any means necessary. But this is a fantasy.
It was only a matter of days before Swedish website Newzglobe revealed that one of the women behind the sexual assault charges was Anna Ardin, a spokeswoman for Broderskapsrörelsen, a pro-Social Democrat Christian socialist organisation (yes, really). It was Ardin who invited Assange to speak at the Stockholm seminar organised by Broderskapsrörelsen. But by the time she was confirmed as one of Assange’s alleged victims, Assange had convinced both himself and large sections of the respectable media and the ‘blogging community’ that the Pentagon was playing ‘dirty tricks to ruin us’.
So we’re expected to believe that American intelligence enlisted Ardin, known as a radical feminist and animal-rights activist, as a honey trap, instructing her to file a rape claim so flimsy that the prosecutor had to retract it within hours. The probable truth looks a lot more prosaic. More likely, this was a sexual romp gone wrong, and a case of two women, as well as the police force, applying a wide interpretation of what constitutes sexual assault.
Reviewing the relevant police files, Swedish magazine Resumé recounted that a seminar volunteer and Assange went on a date, then allegedly had sex twice, the second time without protection, and afterwards he did not answer her calls. She allegedly confided in Ardin that she was worried about sexually transmitted diseases. Ardin, who had let Assange use her apartment, claimed he had molested her the day before the speech. So the two women went to the police together and the officer in duty appeared to have had a generous view of what constitutes sexual assault as he filed a report of rape. It looks like a simple case of sexual relations turned sour – no big conspiracy, no dirty tricks.
For all the blog-based claims that Assange is being morally throttled by behind-the-scenes, Pentagon-paid rape accusers, the truth is that Wikileaks is not really a great enemy of the American state. It is more like an embarrassment to the state, exposing Washington’s already-existing internal disarray for all to see. The US government suffers from intelligence incontinence these days, with secret files leaked from within, generals spilling their guts, and disgruntled soldiers giving media interviews on a regular basis. Wikileaks has merely exploited this state of affairs by playing the role of willing communicator of elite disgruntlement, and the media, instead of investigating the truth for themselves, welcome piles of documents as some sort of great revelation without bothering to analyse them or to organise them into a coherent story. Assange is not the rebel he imagines he is – he is more a parasite on a decaying American government.
It looks like the truth of this sordid case is that Assange, rather than being a Pentagon-pursued truth warrior, is simply a victim of the kind of whistleblowing and scoop-chasing that he himself has helped to promote.
Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor of spiked.
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