The Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) was set to break ties with WikiLeaks amidst concerns among the foundation’s board, which includes such well-known figures as Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras, John Cusack and Glenn Greenwald, among others. The news was confirmed less than a month later when the nonprofit’s board officially voted to stop accepting U.S. donations for WikiLeaks, which had been blacklisted for years by Visa, MasterCard and PayPal after publishing leaked U.S. government documents provided by Chelsea Manning. WikiLeaks took to Twitter to suggest that something more nefarious was behind the board’s decision to cut ties. Once the news became public, WikiLeaks and its associated accounts linked the FPF’s decision to the fact that many of its members now work for organizations financed by eBay billionaire and PayPal co-founder Pierre Omidyar. In addition, the FPF itself has received large sums of money from Omidyar and his various businesses and foundations. Pierre Omidyar, prior to the founding of The Intercept, was known not for any commitment to journalism or free speech but rather for his connections to the U.S. government and his role in the financial blockade of WikiLeaks that began in 2010. Sibel Edmonds, FBI whistleblower and founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, told MintPress News that the FPF has a reputation for being a “very, very partisan organization and populated with ideologues.” She further asserted that the “number one reason” for the FPF’s decision was directly related to Wikileaks’ releases in 2016, namely the DNC leaks and the Podesta emails.
Part 3 - Omidyar’s connections and agenda
Pierre Omidyar, prior to the founding of The Intercept, was known not for any commitment to journalism or free speech but rather for his connections to the U.S. government and his role in the financial blockade of WikiLeaks that began in 2010.
Indeed, publicly available records reveal Omidyar’s close connections to the U.S. political establishment. For example, Omidyar made more visits to the Obama White House between 2009 and 2013 than did Google’s Eric Schmidt, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. He has also donated $30 million to the Clinton global initiative. He directly co-invested with the State Department, funding groups – some of them overtly fascist – that worked to overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected government in 2014. He continues to fund USAID, particularly its overseas program aimed at “advancing U.S. national security interests” abroad.
Omidyar has a vested interest in advancing the interests of the U.S. political establishment for a variety of reasons. Sibel Edmonds, who was among the first to note Omidyar’s background upon The Intercept’s founding, noted that the PayPal executive “has been in bed with the CIA and NSA” and even the Department of Defense — further noting that the Snowden documents that The Intercept, and thus Omidyar, controls “contain information about PayPal’s direct partnership not only with the Treasury Department but also the CIA.”
Edmonds further stated that Greenwald had confirmed Omidyar’s long-running partnership with the CIA and other government agencies on Twitter during a heated exchange between the two in 2013.
Omidyar is also well-connected to Snowden’s former employer Booz Allen Hamilton, a major government contractor known as the “world’s most profitable spy organization,” whose former executives include James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, and Michael McConnell, former Director of the NSA. Omidyar’s Ulupono Initiative, a venture capital fund that operates in his home state of Hawaii, cosponsors one of the Pentagon’s most important contractor expos, in which Booz Allen Hamilton – and the Department of Defense – have a major stake. In addition, a former Booz Allen Hamilton vice president, Kyle Datta, is General Partner of Omidyar’s Ulupono Initiative.
Also striking was Omidyar’s decision to accept Snowden’s former boss at Booz Allen Hamilton, Robert Lietzke, into the Omidyar Fellows program in 2015 after personally interviewing Lietzke as part of the program’s application process. What was unusual in Lietzke’s case was that Omidyar also oversees The Intercept, which has exclusive publishing rights over the Snowden cache – which was taken from under Lietzke’s nose at Booz Allen Hamilton by his former employee, Edward Snowden. Snowden himself has remained silent on Omidyar’s decision, despite the mixed signals it sent and continues to serve as the president of the FPF — which, as mentioned, is also funded by Omidyar.
The Intercept was founded in 2014 with some $250 million in seed money from Omidyar. Its first hires were Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the only journalists in possession of the full Snowden cache. According to former Intercept writers, Omidyar – despite funding and founding an enterprise dedicated to “fearless” and “adversarial” journalism – is “shockingly [un]interested in the actual journalism” of the paper. If this portrayal of Omidyar’s interest — or rather, lack of interest — in journalism is accurate, it is strange that he would also fund organizations — like the FPF, the Center for Public Integrity, and ProPublica — ostensibly dedicated to investigative journalism, transparency, and the First Amendment.
Omidyar’s supposed devotion is also hard to square with the fact that he and PayPal were a major part of the financial blockade against WikiLeaks, which – as mentioned above – deprived WikiLeaks of 95% of its revenue at the time. Though Omidyar –- and now the FPF -– have argued that the blockade has long been lifted, WikiLeaks has publicly disagreed, maintaining that it remains in effect. Interestingly, when Omidyar was asserting that the blockade had ended, the FPF – at the time – had also publicly disagreed with his assessment and claimed that the blockade was still in full effect.
Omidyar has also, in the past, been rather candid about his views on leakers. He asserted in 2009 that organizations that publish stolen — or leaked — information “should help catch the thief” and shouldn’t publish such information in the first place. Omidyar even defended this view after The Intercept’s founding and refused to speak in “absolutes” about whether or not a source should be turned in — a troubling perspective to have in light of The Intercept’s debacle in the Reality Winner case.
What then caused him to create The Intercept, only a few years after making that assertion? Given Omidyar’s connections to the U.S. government, particularly the NSA, and top government contractors, including Snowden’s former employer, it was likely an effort to privatize and thus thwart or slow the publication of the Snowden leaks in which PayPal is allegedly implicated — and not a sudden change of heart.
Edmonds went a step further, stating that: “The Intercept is a continuation of that blockade [of WikiLeaks]. [It] was set up with that purpose. Specifically, it was set up to block true, real information and put forth narrative that has already gotten the approval of special interests including the U.S. government. It made perfect sense for him [Omidyar] to move from that to setting up a news organization and posing as an outlet for investigative reports depending on whistleblowers.”