Assange and allies claim vast conspiracy as extradition fight hits home stretch

Two women in Sweden allege they were sexually assaulted by Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder. Assange and many supporters say they're part of a vast conspiracy against him.

Matt Dunham/AP
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange put a banner up bearing an image of him on a British Union flag before the verdict was given in his extradition case at the Supreme Court in London, Wednesday, May 30.

Two women have alleged that Julian Assange, the founder of the Wikileaks website, sexually assaulted them in Sweden. Mr. Assange and his supporters insist the allegations are the result of a combination of two women scorned seeking revenge and a Swedish state that is secretly conniving with the US to extradite the former hacker to the US to face charges related to his release of hundreds of thousands of US military and State Department documents two years ago.

Now Assange's nearly two-year fight against extradition to Sweden for questioning over the allegations is heading to the end game. A final decision will be made within two weeks.

The claims of the two women are complicated by the fact that both say they had previously had consensual sex with Assange. One of the two women has told Swedish investigators that she was coerced to have sex with Assange, and that he carried on without using a condom, despite her insistence that he use one. The other said he initiated sex with her while she was asleep, and without consent being given.

Could the pair be lying? That's certainly a possibility. But the insistence of Assange and his supporters that they are definitely lying, that there is no reason to take their accusations seriously, may speak to a siege mentality and, frankly, a disregard for how much difficulty women face in getting authorities to take their accusations of assault and sexual harassment seriously, particularly when their accusations are directed at powerful public figures.

The public position of Wikileaks has been that there's a secret deal between Sweden and the US to ship the Australian to American custody as soon as possible. The evidence presented? None. It's possible that the US has sought a sealed indictment of Assange, but it's also possible that it hasn't. And why Sweden? Unclear.

As British legal analyst Carl Gardner told the Monitor's Ben Arnoldy, under European law the UK would retain an effective veto over a Swedish extradition attempt. In other words, both Sweden and the UK would have to agree to the extradition. It would have been simpler to make the request while he's in the UK, with only one country in the mix. 

But no matter, Wikileaks – which Assange says is dedicated to something called "scientific journalism – is convinced. On May 29, its main Twitter account wrote: "Hillary Clinton and State Dept team arrive Stockholm June 3-4; 4 days after Assange extradition decision. Fanciful to think no discussion." The US says Ms. Clinton is heading to Sweden for a climate change conference and to discuss "a range of issues, including green energy, Internet freedom, Afghanistan and the Middle East" with Swedish leaders.

Yesterday, the group wrote in a statement:  "The US, UK, Swedish and Australian governments are engaging in a coordinated effort to extradite its editor in chief Julian Assange to the United States, to face espionage charges for journalistic activities."

It's not just Assange's organization making this allegation. Yesterday Wikileaks' Twitter account quoted prominent left-wing journalist John Pilger approvingly as saying, "Swedish elite has forged sinister and obsequious links with Washington."

Mr. Pilger has been one of the self-appointed defenders of Assange. In an interview with Truthout this week he dismissed out of hand the allegations made against the Wikileaks supremo. "The attempt to extradite Assange is unjust and political," he said. How does he know this? "I have read almost every scrap of evidence in this case and it's clear, in terms of natural justice, that no crime was committed."

I don't know much about natural justice, but the evidence, such as it is, are the claims made by two women in Sweden to the authorities there, on the one hand, and Assange's public denials on the other. It's a classic she-said-she-said-he-said situation, and Assange has made every effort to avoid going to Sweden to formally present his side of the story for over a year-and-a-half now.

To be sure, the US government has made it clear that it considers Assange a danger and would love to prosecute the man if it can find evidence to support an indictment (the "foreign enemy combatant" dodge against presenting evidence in court isn't available in his case). And there are indications that they may eventually find a way.

Journalist Parmy Olson alleges in her new book, "We Are Anonymous," that Wikileaks had cultivated ties with LulzSec, the loose-knit hacker collective that had five of its members arrested in the UK and US in March. The arrests followed months of investigation after LulzSec hacker Hector Monsegur was uncovered by the FBI and turned informant to avoid jail time. Mr. Monsegur, working under the handle "Sabu," provided evidence that other LulzSec members were involved in the theft of internal emails at the consulting company Stratfor, which were then given to Wikileaks for dissemination.

Wikileaks' legal protection for the documents it provides is that it doesn't solicit illegal activity, and merely acts as any news outlet would when information is provided to it. But actively soliciting illegal activity would be another matter, and something that the FBI would surely be interested in pinning on Assange.

In Ms. Olson's telling, Assange contacted one of the Lulzec members who was later arrested on June 16, 2011, because Wikileaks was interested in "infiltrating several Icelandic corporate and government sites." Olson writes that Lulzec member "Topiary" (later arrested and revealed to be Jake Davis of the UK) and Mr. Monsegur, already working as an FBI informant, participated in an Internet-relay-chat conversation with Assange and another Wikileaks supported identified only as "q."

"Assange and q appeared to want LulzSec to try to grab the e-mail service of government sites, then look for evidence of corruption or at least evidence that the government was unfairly targeting WikiLeaks," Olson writes. "The picture they were trying to paint was of the Icelandic government trying to suppress WikiLeaks's freedom to spread information. If they could leak such evidence, they explained, it could help instigate an uprising of sorts in Iceland and beyond."

If her reporting holds up (there has not yet been any independent corroboration) that provides a link, albeit an extremely tenuous one, to hackers involved in the theft of data. There's no evidence any criminal activity was ever directed at the Icelandic government, and the men involved were still involved with Anonymous, a larger hacker collective of which LulzSec is an offshoot, at the time. No evidence has been presented of any Wikileaks coordination with the successful effort to steal Stratfor's data. And if there is any such evidence, it will almost certainly come to light, given Monsegur's extensive cooperation with the FBI at the time the Stratfor files were stolen. 

For now, Assange faces no formal charges of any kind. The extradition request from Sweden is for questioning, and the US has made no formal requests for his extradition, from any country. Wikileaks itself is almost entirely consumed with Assange's legal battles. There have been no actual leaks for some time.

Follow Dan Murphy on Twitter.

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