Edited by Sam Thielman
I HAVE ALL THESE RULES that I’ve set for myself about adding value when I write about other people’s stories. Gotta advance or complicate the story with original reporting, analysis or context; or leave it entirely alone. It’s an annoying set of restrictions that, when I was younger and a blogger, I told myself I should establish to provide quality control. Today I will break those rules on some Opposite George shit.
Sam and I are both working on ambitious reported stories. We don’t know when we’ll have them ready. The truth is that good reporting and good writing take time. Today I am in a childcare crunch and don’t have more than an hour to put together today’s edition of the newsletter. One of my rules would compel me not to publish. But if I do that, I’ll feel like I failed to hit a deadline and that will sabotage some of the suspension cables holding my mental health in place. Sometimes we need to feed the beast while we figure out how to free ourselves from it. Opposite George.
SO LIKE I SAID, I was on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Never did I think such a thing was possible. Seth Meyers is a warm, generous person who introduced REIGN OF TERROR to an audience I would probably never otherwise reach. He is also a comics person who knows his shit, as I learned from a green-room conversation that went from the Ostrander-York Suicide Squad to Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda’s excellent Omega Men. As well, the Late Night staff did a fantastic job of providing a COVID-safe environment for myself and my wife, and they have great taste in TV and music—special shout to John, who had me saying in a 30 Rock green room that Roy from Nausea is the sickest drummer in the history of crust, because he is.
In the clip below, we talk about the book, being a national security reporter and Tuesday’s testimony on Afghanistan from Lloyd Austin and Gens. Mark Milley and Frank McKenzie. Then, around the final minute, I announce that I’m making my comics debut.
That’s right! In 2022, a lifelong dream of mine comes true when DC Comics publishes a Suicide Squad comic that I’m writing with my friend Evan Narcisse. We are going to spotlight one of my absolute favorite characters in comics: Amanda Waller, the embodiment of the Security State in the DCU. I can say nothing else about this project right now. But I loved reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Atlantic curtainraisers on constructing his Black Panther run—you really have to read that, especially Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda—and hopefully I can do some of that here around the time the book launches. [From this series, everyone should read TNC’s mini-essay on the poetry in my favorite comic, Alan Moore’s “Saga of the Swamp Thing,” “When the World Runs Out of Room for Monsters”—Sam.]
OVER THE WEEKEND, Yahoo published a hell of a hard-to-report story about the Obama and Trump-era CIA’s expanded ambitions against WikiLeaks. It’s always important to remember when reading such stories, including ones I publish, that there’s no such thing as an agenda-less source in intelligence reporting. Journalism is iterative far more than it is definitive. Additional reporting deepens everything out. All that is a prelude to say that this is worth reading, and reading critically. Reading critically, rather than either credulously or conspiratorially, is a tribute to good reporting.
I am a fan of WikiLeaks’ original mission. I am not a fan of WikiLeaks, as you can easily see in chapter six of REIGN. I don’t think you can advance the agenda of one intelligence service against another and be counted as an opponent of imperial repression. I am especially not a fan of the weird cult of Julian Assange, which has fucked with the brains of people I care about. But none of that really matters, because one of the most important elements in the story, I think, is that former CIA officials outline two contradictory and alarming positions in the course of explaining proposed operations against WikiLeaks.
“They’re not a journalistic organization, they’re nowhere near it,” William Evanina, who retired as the U.S.’s top counterintelligence official in early 2021, told Yahoo News in an interview. Evanina declined to discuss specific U.S. proposals regarding Assange or WikiLeaks.
But the Obama administration, fearful of the consequences for press freedom — and chastened by the blowback from its own aggressive leak hunts — restricted investigations into Assange and WikiLeaks. “We were stagnated for years,” said Evanina. “There was a reticence in the Obama administration at a high level to allow agencies to engage in” certain kinds of intelligence collection against WikiLeaks, including signals and cyber operations, he said.
That began to change in 2013...
So the context for this is that when Assange (WikiLeaks is indistinguishable from Assange at this point) releases secret documents, he acts as a publisher. Prosecuting him for publishing such material establishes a precedent for prosecuting anyone for publishing secret material. Publishing secret material is an aspect of my job. So that’s why, whatever else you think of WikiLeaks, certainly despite what I think of WikiLeaks, I see no choice but to oppose prosecuting Assange for it.
The point Evanina is trying to make is that you can distinguish Assange from routine journalistic enterprises, for the sake of fucking with him without fucking with them. But look at how rapidly the CIA overran their own cordon sanitaire:
Still chafing at the limits in place, top intelligence officials lobbied the White House to redefine WikiLeaks — and some high-profile journalists — as “information brokers,” which would have opened up the use of more investigative tools against them, potentially paving the way for their prosecution, according to former officials. It “was a step in the direction of showing a court, if we got that far, that we were dealing with agents of a foreign power,” a former senior counterintelligence official said.
Among the journalists some U.S. officials wanted to designate as “information brokers” were Glenn Greenwald, then a columnist for the Guardian, and Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker, who had both been instrumental in publishing documents provided by Snowden.
“Is WikiLeaks a journalistic outlet? Are Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald truly journalists?” the former official said. “We tried to change the definition of them, and I preached this to the White House, and got rejected.”
So journalists don’t have to worry about legal or intelligence attacks on WikiLeaks… except the people seeking to conduct those attacks immediately propose attacking journalists. I have worked with Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, on some of the stuff I am proudest to have ever worked on. Whatever anyone might think of either or both of them, they are truly journalists. And it also doesn’t matter that Glenn and Laura weren’t designated whatever the fuck an “information broker” is. What matters is that in the CIA’s frustration over not being able to fuck with Assange without fucking with an extremely basic, vital, constitutional freedom, the CIA tried to fuck with an extremely basic, vital, constitutional freedom.
Sometimes you have to have solidarity with people you think suck because there’s a principle at stake. As Laura put it to Yahoo, “that the CIA also conspired to seek the rendition and extrajudicial assassination of Julian Assange is a state-sponsored crime against the press.”
AND NOW, IN THE INTEREST OF ACCOUNTABILITY, the first, but not the last, accounting of the money we’ve raised, thanks to your subscriptions, for abortion access in Texas. Because “Into The Conquering Sun” isn’t yet available on general streaming release, we’re continuing our donations, until it is. We originally thought that would last a week, but things change because life intervenes. Anyway, we’ll post receipts for a final round of donations once our banger of a Ted Leo x Jeppesen Airplane collaboration goes into wide availability. Until then, here’s Sam with some receipts:
Our subscription drive to benefit Texan abortion access organizations Jane’s Due Process and The Frontera Fund has been a gratifying success, thanks to the generosity of subscribers like yourselves. In total, you raised $1,345, and we have donated $672.50 to each charity accordingly. Redacted subscription totals and receipts follow. Again, thank you, and if you subscribed before the deadline and still want to donate, you can do so using the links above. The drive is ongoing! Tell your friends!