Congress will formally consider WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service” if lawmakers adopt the annual Intelligence Authorization Act passed 14-1 by a Senate panel last month — a provision the bill’s sole dissenter now cites as his reason for rejecting it.
Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and the only member of the Senate Intelligence Committee to cast a ballot against the 2018 authorization act during last month’s vote, said Tuesday his decision was driven by the inclusion of language specifically targeting WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy website responsible for publishing millions of pages’ worth of U.S. state secrets ranging from military documents and diplomatic cables to internal Democratic Party emails.
The provision was included at the very end of the annual intelligence authorization act passed in committee and quietly introduced in the full Senate on Friday amid summer recess.
“It is the sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such a service by the United States,” the section says.
Mr. Wyden voiced his concern Tuesday “that the use of the novel phrase ‘non-state hostile intelligence service’ may have legal, constitutional and policy implications, particularly should it be applied to journalists inquiring about secrets.”
“The language in the bill suggesting that the U.S. government has some unstated course of action against ‘non-state hostile intelligence services’ is equally troubling,” Mr. Wyden said in a press release. “The damage done by WikiLeaks to the United States is clear. But with any new challenge to our country, Congress ought not react in a manner that could have negative consequences, unforeseen or not, for our constitutional principles. The introduction of vague, undefined new categories of enemies constitutes such an ill-considered reaction.”
While President Trump praised WikiLeaks on the campaign trail for publishing material damaging to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, his administration has since rekindled an Obama-era criminal investigation into the website and its associates for their role in leaking classified documents dating back to 2010.
Mr. Assange’s arrest is a “priority,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo has repeatedly labeled WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” the same term included in the current Senate bill.
Despite being in Washington’s crosshairs for nearly a decade, WikiLeaks has come under increased scrutiny since publishing private emails during last year’s White House race widely blamed for hindering Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid. The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the emails were initially stolen by state-sponsored Russian hackers, effectively making WikiLeaks a party to last year’s Kremlin-sponsored campaign.
Russia has denied meddling in last year’s election, and Mr. Assange previously insisted the website’s source is not a state actor.
“WikiLeaks like many serious media organizations has confidential sources in the U.S. government. Media organizations develop and protect sources. So do intelligence agencies. But to use this to suggest, as the ‘Pompeo doctrine’ does, that media organizations are ‘non-state intelligence services’ is absurd,” Mr. Assange told The Washington Times.
“It is equivalent to suggesting that the CIA is a media organization. Publishers publish what they obtain. Intelligence agencies do not. At their best media organizations publish boldly and accurately and do not hide what they discover from the public. In contrast intelligence agencies conceal information and spread propaganda.”
“There is a clearly discernible spectrum, from ‘boldly publishing accurate information’ to ‘keeping everything secret and spreading fabrications.’ WikiLeaks resides on the very most ‘publishing’ end of this spectrum,” Mr. Assange said Wednesday.
“WikiLeaks is famous for its accuracy and its publishing boldness. Intelligence agencies such as the CIA, which are in the business of keeping secrets and spreading misinformation, are at the very opposite end. It is an interesting thought experiment to consider where other media outlets lay on this spectrum. It is clear that if the ‘Pompeo doctrine’ applies to WikiLeaks then it applies equally if not more so to other serious outlets.”
The Obama administration began investigating WikiLeaks following its publication of stolen State and Defense Department documents in 2010 but has failed so far to formally charge anyone in relation to the disclosure. An Army judge, meanwhile, convicted the documents’ source, Chelsea Manning, in 2013.