UK judge Vanessa Baraitser justified CIA spying on Julian Assange by citing a falsehood-filled CNN report. Her judgment highlighted corporate media’s enthusiastic role in a state-sponsored assault on press freedom.
by Ben Norton
The British judge ruling in the US government’s extradition case against journalist Julian Assange justified a CIA spying operation targeting both the WikiLeaks publisher and the Ecuadorian government by pointing to debunked accusations published by CNN. Yet in a self-referential loop, the American media outlet’s dubious claims about Assange themselves originated with a security firm that was spying on Assange for the CIA – and which is now facing prosecution in Spain for illegal activity.
While the UK judge ultimately decided not to extradite Assange, citing his deteriorating mental health and the likelihood of suicide in the draconian US prison system, her judgement nevertheless echoed and reinforced the US government’s unsubstantiated and politically motivated charges against the journalist. She thus preserved the severe threat to freedom of the press and free speech that Assange’s persecution poses.
In one of the most brazenly political sections in her December 4 legal judgment, Westminster district judge Vanessa Baraitser cited a suspect report by CNN that accused Assange of conspiring with Russians to turn Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he was trapped in refuge for roughly seven years, “into a command post for election meddling.”
Baraitser twice pointed to this dubious CNN article in order to justify a 24/7 CIA spying operation that targeted not only Assange, but Ecuador’s embassy and its sovereign operations and internal affairs as well.
What the British judge failed to mention is that the CNN story she relied on was itself based entirely on untrustworthy intelligence reports drafted by a Spanish security firm called UC Global, which secretly worked with the CIA to spy on the WikiLeaks publisher and Ecuadorian embassy staff. The director of that company, former Spanish military officer David Morales, was arrested by Spanish police in 2019, and is currently under investigation by Spain’s top court for illegal practices.
In an exclusive report that exposed CIA spying targeting journalists reporting on Assange, The Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal revealed the co-author of this deeply flawed CNN article, Arturo Torres Ramirez, to be a right-wing Ecuadorian activist opposed to both WikiLeaks and Ecuador’s leftist former President Rafael Correa, who gave Assange asylum. Further, Blumenthal reported that Torres’ work has been supported by an NGO funded by the US State Department and UK government.
But that’s not the only issue with CNN’s reporting. A former top Ecuadorian diplomat, who helped operate the London embassy when Assange was sheltered inside, dismantled the CNN story point by point. In a detailed article for The Grayzone, titled “40 rebuttals to the media’s smears of Julian Assange – by someone who was actually there,” ex-consul Fidel Narváez documented dozens of misleading claims and outright falsehoods contained in the exclusive CNN report.
The former Ecuadorian diplomat said that UC Global did more than just spy on Assange for the CIA; it also “produced misrepresented, exaggerated, hostile reports, loaded with paranoia and sometimes false information,” which aimed at “sowing suspicion about Assange and his visits.”
Narváez, who attended most of the Assange extradition hearings, told The Grayzone that the US government prosecution also cited the same CNN report in February, along with other articles by The Guardian, in order to make their case against the WikiLeaks publisher.
Besides relying on CNN’s doubtful reporting, the British judge drew from a number of reports in the New York Times, Washington Post, and The Guardian to portray the WikiLeaks journalist as a dangerous criminal and hacker.
These citations are a textbook example of how mainstream corporate media outlets provide the mood music for Western governments and intelligence services, acting as what a top CIA official once called a “mighty Wurlitzer.” Working in concert with the security state, CNN routinely manufactures consent for unpopular and repressive state actions behind the veneer of objectivity and independence.
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