Watchdog Blog

Myra MacPherson: Of Assange, I.F. Stone, Secrecy and, Last, Sex

Posted at 10:48 pm, January 1st, 2011
Myra MacPherson Mug

Unless they are diehard supporters or detractors, the first thing some people say when they talk of Julian Assange—which seems curious to me—is that he is creepy or weird looking, and then there is a quiet murmur of dissent: “What if he releases something that could damage someone or get people killed?

My answer is: Such as, for example, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and their mouthpiece journalist Robert Novak outing CIA operative Valerie Plame in a grudge fight over her husband Joe Wilson revealing there was no yellow cake uranium? Plame lost her career and there is no certainty that on-the-ground operatives weren’t damaged.

Let’s face it: governments have forever leaked to the media regardless of whom it damaged or, for that matter, who it killed. Remember New York Times reporter Judith Miller as a Cheney/Scooter Libby conduit (and protector) for the non-existent WMD’s? Her “authenticated” facts from the horse’s mouth helped get the United States into war with Iraq that killed many thousands of civilians as well as American troops. Or the Gulf of Tonkin lie by LBJ that escalated into full-scale war in Vietnam? (A postscript on Miller. She has now joined the right leaning NewsMax; given the woeful lack of institutional memory she no doubt will be touted as a stellar former star of the New York Times. Also some right wing tweeters are having a field day since WikiLeaks reported that “small amounts of chemical weapons” were found in Iraq up to 2003, ignoring the operative word “small”.)

What Assange has shown is film footage that reveals people getting killed, innocent civilians, soldiers, and reporters, casually from a U.S. helicopter in the six-year Afghanistan war. And that, no surprise, civilian casualties seem to have been downplayed. A blizzard of memos shows that United States administrations connive, deal financially with blacklisted countries and hide sobering truths about North Korea, Afghanistan and Pakistan and nefarious banking practices. Sadly, this is not news. Assange himself says that his information shows how this war and government business is run rather than any revelatory smoking gun.

But the value of WikiLeaks is that the data are now public and official, in black and white cables and memos, unlike media stories that can be denied and stonewalled. And Assange challenges any one to find a situation where his leaks have led to any death. Leading international news organizations collaborate with him because he is giving them more details of murky and often unsavory government operations than their own reporting has. Some critics utter that he has produced “No Gulf of Tonkin” style revelation, the fake incident that got this country mired in Vietnam for 10 years. Which brings me to a question people ask me: “what do you think I.F. Stone would say about WikiLeaks?” And I can only think; “If only enough journalists had taken Stone’s advice on the Gulf of Tonkin!”

As a biographer of I.F. Stone, I remain sorrowful that this little man with his mom and pop I.F. Stone’s Weekly wasn’t taken more seriously when it could have done some good. Three weeks after Lyndon Johnson proclaimed in 1964 that the North Vietnamese had attacked U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, Stone was saying that it was a fraud. There were no debris reports in documents, he noted, there was nothing to show for such an “attack”, and so forth, he challenged. Few paid any attention. Had there been more suspicion, skepticism and hunting of facts by the mainstream mavens it is possible that Vietnam might not have happened. Hard to support this hypothesis, of course, with a determined administration bent on war.

I would not presume to be able to channel I.F. Stone about his WikiLeaks views but I think he would be in Assange’s corner. Stone, a First Amendment die-hard, always thought the role of the press was to expose the lies and workings of government. Security during war had some validity, he acknowledged, but Stone always fought against its overuse, excuse and concomitant abuse of freedoms.

Stone famously said: “Almost every generation in American history has had to face what appeared to be a menace of so frightening an order as to justify the limitation of basic liberties—the Francophiles in the days of the Alien and Sedition Laws, the Abolitionists, the Anarchists, the Socialists in the days of Debs, Fascists, anti-Semites, communists in our own time.” (This was about illegal wiretapping, surveillance and attacking citizens in 1949 during the Cold war.) People in those times often clamored for “suppression.” Stone remarked that this was wrong: a country “based on basic freedoms” had “managed to get through before.”

But not without damage, such as hounding civilians in World War I and on down through the days of McCarthyism and J Edgar Hoover. The FBI director chased Stone, his mocking nemesis, from kingdom come, following him into cigar stores, pawing through his trash, writing menacing memos on who visited him. The FBI hunt resulted in a meaningless 5,000-page file that would make any trivia in WikiLeaks look like top-secret news.

Now there is talk of dusting off the 1917-1918 Alien and Sedition Acts for Assange. Ironically, Assange’s released documents haven’t shown any serious abuses by this administration – and that may shield him from the wording of the espionage laws.

Wrote Floyd Abrams in a Wall Street Journal op ed on Dec. 29th, “The Justice Department is well aware that if it can prove that Mr. Assange induced someone in the government to provide him with genuinely secret information, it might be able to obtain an indictment under the Espionage Act based upon that sort of conspiratorial behavior. But the government might not succeed if it can indict based only upon a section of the Espionage Act relating to unauthorized communication or retention of documents.”

History shows just how lethal these acts can be against innocent civilians. During World War 1 hysteria, Eugene Debs, the anti-war socialist, was given an astonishing 10-year prison sentence for speaking out against a war that was soon decried even by Woodrow Wilson, after the armistice, as a commercial boondoggle. In 1919 and 1920 the government used the act to round up “Reds”. More than 10,000 “suspected” Communists (which was a legal party) and anarchists were arrested although no evidence was ever found of a proposed revolution—what the act was intended to deal with. Arrested without warrants, the majority was guilty of nothing more than not being born in America. FBI agents forged discriminating documents to deport innocent people caught in illegal raids and were deported by the boatload without trial.

When the government is allowed to trample with ease, bad things happen. Here is what the official report detailing abuses of 1920’s Justice Department raids said: “The arrested were kept in jail for five months, beaten, starved, suffocated, tortured and threatened with death in futile attempts to extract admissions.” On his way to becoming a made man in the FBI was a eager young assister in all this, arguably one of the most mendacious men in the 20th century, J. Edgar Hoover.

Now we are in a world of enormously muddled communications, where hacking and identity theft is common place, where mainstream media cooperate with renegade WikiLeaks, where big guns like Visa and PayPal and Amazon refuse to honor WikiLeaks and then get hacked big time by anonymous friends of WikiLeaks.

And we haven’t even gotten to the rape charges yet. First the Swedes charge Assange with rape, then they downgrade the charge, then they return to the original rape charge—which in itself is a downgraded category which emphasizes not wearing a condom. This category has many bewildering aspects, including that there can be consensual sex but it is rape if the man refuses to use a condom. Date rape is deplorable and a super jerk of a date Assange may be, but confusion reigns when it is reported that the one woman who sought him out for a date, had sex (with a condom at night) but says he didn’t use a condom while she was later sleeping, just didn’t call it quits. She in fact allegedly contacted the woman who had helped Assange when he came to Sweden in order to see him again! And the other woman let Assange continue to use her apartment after he allegedly raped her. Now there is a widening schism on the left in America—in blog v. blog battles—as some feminists blast progressives who argue that whatever happened does not sound like rape and is a government set-up to fog WikiLeak disclosures.

The only thing I can say regarding I.F. Stone is that such charges would never have come his way. Not even holding hands with someone of the opposite sex. Try as he did old J. Edgar—who trailed Stone from 1936 until the director’s death in 1972—was never able to find anything but the most true blue of husbands. I.F. Stone was ever, boringly, constantly, faithful to his beloved Esther.

19 Responses to “Of Assange, I.F. Stone, Secrecy and, Last, Sex”

  1. Thom Racina says:

    This is the most sober, intelligent and illuminating account of the heart of the Assange/Wikileaks dustup that I’ve read. Congratulations, Myra MacPherson, for making the apt comparision to Stone–quite brilliant, I think. The clarity here is much needed, as this has been a confusing episode with people all over the place about the rape charges, the actual leaks, and yes, the way Assange looks (ridiculous). For a government to really serve us, we need to know the things that Wikileaks has uncovered–it is the essence of freedom, a necessity FOR freedom. Assange, like his mug or not, has served us well. I only wish he’d been around and doing this a long time ago!

  2. lisas says:

    there are no formal charges, only allegations being investigated. And there are not plural allegations of “rape,” only one of the four allegation is “rape”.

    The 2nd woman also did not call the 1st one in order to see him again, but to locate him to prompt him to take an HIV test. And the 1st woman never alleged rape, only molestation. Her case was later upgraded (by 3rd prosecutor) to include an incident of sexual coercion (holding her arms trying to prevent her getting a condom, this logically prior to intercourse since rape requires intercourse while coercion does not, also the way prosecution described this incident clearly fits with intercourse not having begun at that point), as well as sexual molestation (alleged condom sabotage, apparently not addressed during the act as reported thus far), and another incident of a later unwanted sexual advance, on Aug 18.

    And the basis of the rape count is that he is alleged to have exploited the fact she was sleeping (or “half asleep”, depending on the account) to initiate sex without a condom, when he knew she required one. She is not alleged, however, to have objected upon awakening.

  3. Myra says:

    Thanks Lisas. As your comments illustrate this remains a curious case not helped with reporting that includes discrepancies and misinformation. My source for the second woman calling to see him again stated that it was after he had not called her as he said he would. It did not mention the HIV test reason. That she “is not alleged, however, to have objected upon awakening” to non-condom intercourse also seems strange. And that the woman who charged molestation (which was upgraded by a prosecutor) would see him at least one other time to have experienced “another incident of a later unwanted sexual advance” also clouds this situation, so far as we know it. As a feminist I applaud the Swedish implementation of tough prosecution for date rape and molestation but in this case there is a lot that needs to be explained.

  4. Jim says:

    Interesting that you would resurrect the ghost of a former KGB operative (IF Stone) to defend Assange. That alone speaks volumes about what we should do with people like Assange.

  5. ellen sweets says:

    i have never subscribed to conspiracy theories, let alone advanced one, but the moment i heard about the assange rape charges i felt it had fbi/cia/interpol conspiracy written all over it: take an eccentric guy who looks strange, who lobs a major hardball at the US government and its fellow travelers, and dirty tricks spring into action. of course, what better way to discredit a man than to accuse him of rape. it is aurguably the most inflammatory allegation to be made against a man — but wait: the women didn’t accuse him. hmmmm. and surely mainstream media, would’t repeat such allegations without conducting its own investigation, wouldn it? maybe if we hadn’t pissed off so many people in other countries; maybe if news organizations hadn’t stripped news desks of investigative reporters; maybe if corporate media moguls cared as much about providing meaningful information to readers as it does to paying dividends to stockholders; maybe if we had a population more willing to think indepedent of bomastic rhetoric, well, maybe, just maybe, wikileaks wouldn’t have caused such a hoohah. and now we’ve ticked off hackers, those notoriously intelligent dissident types who know more about computers than most of the guys trying to squish them. happy new year!

  6. Myra says:

    This one is for “Jim”, who doesn’t seem fit to put his last name to his lie. Stone was NOT a KGB operative. If you have any interest in the truth—which I doubt–I suggest you go to the I.F> Stone website and look at the left hand side for the button to the story on “false accusations”. His only known relationships with the KGB was an agent who was a press attache that several esteemed journalists–including walter Lippmann–knew in the 40′s (when they were our allies, by the way) and another in the sixties who trafficked with the most mainstream of American journalists, also as a press attache. It may not occur to you that in order to get news about a country–the job of journalists–they had to deal with their press attaches, no matter what else the attaches did. Izzy had no secrets and no government contacts that could assist another country during the sixties when he was persona non grata for his anti-Vietnam war stance. Whatever he knew he published for all to read. As for the ’30′s and ’40′s when President FDR and every major corporation in America were dealing with Russia-there is a reference in FBI files–those notoriously inexact and gossip filled compilations of J Edgar Hoover–to a code-name Blin at the then left-wing N Y Post in 1934.No where does it say at that time that Blin was Stone. It was an era when many supported the popular front against the growing threat of Hitler’s fascist regime. Neocons have a field day saying that since the FBI– much later when they were decoding memos–”thought”, but I might add never verified, that Blin might be Stone– ergo he was a KGB spy. This is utter nonsense and shame on you for repeating it ….I ask you if you had been around then whose side would you be on? Hitler’s? On second thought don’t bother to answer.

  7. becca says:

    I am one of those that continues to be very skeptical about Mr. Assange’s motives. And, I believe what the press had done with his work is both commendable and appropriate. He has exposed the underbelly of diplomatic life to the world. But, not much has been learned. Perhaps it has served a useful purpose. Perhaps not. Regardless, my guess is that the Saga of Assange has barely begun. In the process of learning more about Assange and his work we will learn much about ourselves and our own motives as citizens and as a nation. Current talk by American officials of trying to indict Assange under the Espionage Act is not a good beginning.

  8. Christopher D. Stone says:

    I agree with Thom Racina that Myra Macpherson’s contribution is simply “the most sober, intelligent and illuminating account of the Assange/Wikileaks dustup that I’ve read.” Although I ordinarily demur when people ask me to conjure how I.F. Stone would have reacted to this or to that, I want to agree with Macpherson’s suggestion that my father would have sided with Assange. Let me add one point drawn from personal conversation. Dad’s wariness of government secrecy was shaped in no small measure by France’s Dreyfus affair. Dreyfus, a French officer, was accused of passing military secrets to the Germans. When French military intelligence came to realize Dreyfus was innocent (and even when they had discovered who the real culprit was) instead of coming clean they stuck with their story. For years, each time Dreyfus’s supporters tried to access their government’s dossier on Dreyfus the Dreyfusards were fended off for years with claims of “raisons d’etat.” “Trust us.” When the dossier was eventually opened, it famously contained nothing incriminating in it (except a few transparent forgeries the military had itself fabricated). The point is this. Self-proclaimed “raisons d’etat” may serve not only to conceal government actions that went beyond the constraints of public opinion and even of law. The same “defense” may enable the fabrication of things that never happened.

  9. J Bertz says:

    Myra, there, now you have my last name.

    My my, Myra, either your knowledge of this subject is sorely lacking or you are deliberately misleading the readers. Lets clear up some of your misrepresentations shall we.

    First, the documents about Stone (aka “BLIN”) did not originate from the FBI. Venona was a project of the US Army signal intelligence corps and overseen by General Carter W. Clarke, so you cant blame this all on Hoover. Additionally, while you are correct that the FBI never positively ID’s Stone as “Blin” in the 1940’s a significant amount of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence was present to ID Stone as Blin, not least of which was the way Stone slobbered all over the Soviet Union in his writings. It wasn’t till recently that former KGB heavyweights like Oleg Kalugin and Alexander Vassiliev came forward to positively identify Stone as your beloved Pancake.

    Had I been around in those times I would have been on the side of the United States of America, not some dictatorial mass murdering totalitarian thug like Joseph Stalin. I suppose that’s what separates me from Stone though, his love of freedom could be thrown away when it came to serving the socialist motherland.

    I have to admit, you take a rather interesting track in defending you KGB hero: first you say that he wasn’t Blin; then you attack those individuals who have made the case; then you say that even if he was, he wasn’t “spying”; you then say that he may have cooperated with Soviet intelligence officials, but it was only to get the good scoop, nothing more; then you finally imply that its not a big deal if he did have a covert relationship with the KGB because they were only guilty of fighting Fascism (that and murdering a whole lot of Jews/Ukrainians/Clerics/etcetera).

    Hero worship is a tough thing … its gotta be hard to realize that the left’s most worshiped gadfly muckraker turned out to have spent a decade or so in the services of Joseph Stalin.

  10. William McPherson says:

    We ought to be grateful that Myra MacPherson (no relation) manages to preserve her sense of outrage when the world assaults us daily with mind-numbing enormities–Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza . . . the list goes on and on and on. Who can take it all in and remain reasonably sane? How is it that the Bushes and Cheneys of the world are honored and rewarded while our government ponders how to prosecute Julian Assange under the Espionage Act and keeps Bradley Manning, his suspected (but not charged) informant, in solitary confinement for months? At least Assange did not lie us into two wars in which hundreds of thousands have been killed or gravely wounded and another million or two added to the world’s population of refugees. In fact, Assange did not lie at all; he just gave us documents and the documents are undeniable. Assange’s looks and personality, his motivations, and Sweden’s charges against him are irrelevant in the face of that.

  11. Nick von Hoffman says:

    Brave is she who defends Julian Assange, an asymmetrical character who gives many of us the jiggy-wiggies. But right is Myra Macpherson to do it.

    Weird though Mr. Assange may be it is the government’s job, not his, to keep its secrets. Maybe if it had fewer of them it would have an easier time of keeping track of them.

    However the First Amendment or the Espionage Act is applied in the Rev. Assange’s case, when every official utterance is twisted, slanted, puffed up and slathered over with lies, misdirection and omission, his services are required but without the Macphersons of the world to protect him he would be snuffed out sooner than you can say hush-hush.

  12. Myra says:

    for Jim Bertz You are wrong again. Of course I know where the Venona files came from but it was the FBI who tried to decipher just who the code named people were, including Walter Lippmann who was called Imperialist. Heaven forfend you should read my book but if you read Venona you will see that Lippmann gave information to and dealt with Pravdin, the KGB cum Press Attache far more than did “Blin.” In fact, the meager accounts of Blin detail them trying to contact him and Stone not responding except for one time when he was with at least three other U.S. journalist. So why don’t you spy types go after Lippmann? At least you acknowledge that the FBI never identified Stone as such. As for “heavyweight” Kalugin, my interview with him shows clearly, as I quoted him, that there was no “clandestine” relationship, Stone never gave him anything and he was just a press contact that Kalugin did not regard as a spy. He also confessed to me that all he knew about the forties and Blin was the very murky Venona material. He had nothing more to say. Vassiliev is also full of conjecture and shows that if Blin were Stone he was again just a journalist who was a contact. As this came out after my book, see my response to all of that in Prospect and Huffington Post. It would be nice if you spy hunters would stop cluttering the blogosphere with inaccuracies that would be libelous if Stone were alive.

  13. J Bertz says:

    Myra, Alexander Vassiliev’s notes fill in all the blanks and provide the conclusive link between “blin” and Stone. I could care less what Walter Lippmann did … we are not talking about him, but if you must know, Lippmann thought Pravdin was just a run of the mill Soviet journalist. Stone, on the other hand knew darn well who he really was. You can parse the definition of “spy” and split it six ways to Sunday if it helps you reconcile your cognitive dissonance over what you have always believed made Stone a good and just man and his willingness to have a clandestine relationship with Soviet intelligence, and intelligence organization whose brutality is without equal.

    It wasn’t what Stone did, everyone agrees that his collaboration was minimal, it was the fact that this “legendary hero of free speech and journalistic integrity” would cooperate, on a covert basis, with the NKVD. I gotta admit, its funny watching hacks like you chase your tail.

  14. Myra says:

    I and othrs have argued conclusively that there was no clandestine COVERT relationship etc in print which you can easily find on line. In the sixties he even met with Kaugin at J Edgar Hoover’s favorite restaurant to irritate Hoover. PLEASE check out the Lippmann, called Imperialist, connection with Pravdin in Venona in which he actually provided something–met KGB officials more than once and told them facts about how the war was being conducted–but you are so firmly entrenched in your idiotic quest that you ignore this, or maybe it is because you can’t read? And why do you foam at the mouth over a man long dead about whom you acknowledge “everyone agrees that his collaboration”–a slippery word that can merely mean talking to someone–”was minimal.”. I won’t even stoop to calling you names that come so easily to mind; calling award winning writers “hacks’ sure doesn’t show any depth of imagination on your feeble attmpt to bolster your case. I refuse to take up this public space to answer your silliness anymore. Any more rants will go unanswered but that doesn’t mean you are correct or have the last word. It is that you are unworthy of answering. How about pistols at dawn?

  15. Bill says:

    Wonderful. It reads like a breath of fresh air. The truth is always lovely. Thank you.

  16. David Cay Johnston says:

    @ J Bertz,
    Reporters who do their jobs consort with all sorts of people, not just official sources.

    Spy files are filled with raw reports and pure garbage, much of it from people currying favor (or seeking payment) for their services. Having read through many such files I know that they reek of obvious lies.

    In our own country spying on lawful political activities goes on, as with LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates, who ran a worldwide spying operation, and got a report from one of his spies about a blind date I went on in 1980.

    What does what we ordered for dinner, the color of her dress or my choice of champagne have to do with police business? Intelligence agencies suck up anything without regard to significance –or accuracy — and try to use them to smear or intimidate honest people.

    Some of my best sources over the years included a hit man with an extensive FBI file, a heroin-addicted male pimp/paralegal, prostitutes and a host of convicted felons for crimes blue collar and white. Does this make me a mob associate, etc.? Of course not.

    In the mid-70s in San Francisco I invited a young Soviet “news” correspondent to lunch or coffee several times because I wanted to find out about him and his employer, hoping to get a good feature story. That his English was minimal and my Russian nonexistent made that impossible. I fully expected some FBI agent or source took pictures of us walking down Market Street together. If my name shows up in some FBI or KGB spy file I suppose you would think I, too, was a Russian agent.

    Ms. MacPherson, thank you for a thoughtful essay on the complex issues raised by Wikileaks and the shortcomings of reporters, especially in the skepticism department.

  17. Myra says:

    Thank you mr. Johnson for your succinct comments.

  18. Jim Bertz says:

    Myra, you can argue whatever you like but the documents (Venona and Vassiliev’s notes) don’t lie. You can redefine the relevant terms however you like but the fact remains that IF Stone agreed to serve the KGB in whatever capacity he was capable of doing from 1936-1938. He also conteplated doing so again in the early 40′s but thought there was too much heat on him. He knew the individuals were not run of the mill reporters and knew them to be KGB (NKVD) agents. If the truth bothers you perhaps you should write some cookbooks of fiction.

    David, take your situation and add the following: The journalist admitted he was a KGB operative, he offered you money to collect whatever useful information you could, he told you not to share the information you collected for him with anyone else, and he told to keep his identity and your relationship in confidence. That’s what Stone did in the late 30’s.

  19. alilteply says:

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