Truth decay has been spreading for decades. How can we stop alternative facts from bringing down democracy, asks Michiko Kakutani
Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.
Arendts words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling description of the political and cultural landscape we inhabit today a world in which fake news and lies are pumped out in industrial volume by Russian troll factories, emitted in an endless stream from the mouth and Twitter feed of the president of the United States, and sent flying across the world through social media accounts at lightning speed. Nationalism, tribalism, dislocation, fear of social change and the hatred of outsiders are on the rise again as people, locked in their partisan silos and filter bubbles, are losing a sense of shared reality and the ability to communicate across social and sectarian lines.
This is not to draw a direct analogy between todays circumstances and the overwhelming horrors of the second world war era, but to look at some of the conditions and attitudes what Margaret Atwood has called the danger flags in George Orwells Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm that make a people susceptible to demagoguery and political manipulation, and nations easy prey for would-be autocrats. To examine how a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the value of truth, and what that means for the world.
The term truth decay has joined the post-truth lexicon that includes such now familiar phrases as fake news and alternative facts. And its not just fake news either: its also fake science (manufactured by climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, who oppose vaccination), fake history (promoted by Holocaust revisionists and white supremacists), fake Americans on Facebook (created by Russian trolls), and fake followers and likes on social media (generated by bots).
Donald Trump, the 45th president of the US, lies so prolifically and with such velocity that the Washington Post calculated hed made 2,140 false or misleading claims during his first year in office an average of 5.9 a day. His lies about everything from the investigations into Russian interference in the election, to his popularity and achievements, to how much TV he watches are only the brightest blinking red light among many warnings of his assault on democratic institutions and norms. He routinely assails the press, the justice system, the intelligence agencies, the electoral system and the civil servants who make the US government tick.
Nor is the assault on truth confined to America. Around the world, waves of populism and fundamentalism are elevating appeals to fear and anger over reasoned debate, eroding democratic institutions, and replacing expertise with the wisdom of the crowd. False claims about the UKs financial relationship with the EU helped swing the vote in favour of Brexit, and Russia ramped up its sowing of dezinformatsiya in the runup to elections in France, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries in concerted propaganda efforts to discredit and destabilise democracies.
How did this happen? How did truth and reason become such endangered species, and what does the threat to them portend for our public discourse and the future of our politics and governance?
As Twitchy reported earlier Tuesday, The Free Beacon’s Stephen Gutowski shared a thread which began, “Nearly everything you’re hearing about 3D printed guns right now is false.” From a legal standpoint, here’s the most critical tweet:
The case everybody is talking about centers around the State Department's claim that posting gun designs on the internet constituted exporting firearms to foreign entities in violation of ITAR. https://t.co/39Gb1eWQ3j
Again, that’s what all the recent furor is about; the technology to “print” a gun isn’t anything new; the State Department just settled with Cody Wilson, who had hosted the code to print a gun on his company’s website.
But like Gutowski said, there’s a lot of misinformation about 3D-printed guns, and a lot of it is coming from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and a video she posted Monday from our friends at NowThis News:
“Totally undetectable”? I call #BS. All of the #3Dprinted firearms that I’m aware of still require several metal components to function (firing pins and ammunition at a minimum). This is the same fear mongering that occurred with the introduction of the @GLOCKInc 17 in the ‘80s.
The reliability rate is very low, the failure rate is very high. People who fear these things don't understand the product or physics. Also in order to make them reliable there is a significant amount of metal, (real gun parts) necessary so they are completely detectable.
Wrong. The plastic gun needs springs and pins and firing mechanism to work. All made from steel. I guess we forgot to add that to video. Oh and bullets and the cartridge are metal so that will be picked up by metal detectors. The AGs can’t be honest they like to plant fear
You should learn about guns the the process of 3D printing before you start your fear mongering. You cant just print out a full gun you would have to print out each piece of the gun and assemble it. Guess what, you can already buy individual gun parts and assemble them yourself!!
Every liberal acting like making your own guns was only legal 5 seconds ago. Note to liberals; perhaps use something called “Google” before using anything else to try to “gunsplain” anything gun related to me.
People have been able to manufacture their own guns as long as America has been America. If you want to learn the facts on this issue, and not the Chicken Little tactics from CNN and Alyssa Milano, read this thread:https://t.co/RUpoMxYPXh
That's not a downloadable gun you dummy! You can't 3d print metal unless you invest damn near close to $200k in a machine that can do that. What criminal let alone normal person has the money for that?! Read up on rapid prototyping. Stop spreading misinformation and lies!
I'd also like to see the source for these "3D printed AR15s" that are mentioned in the video, because I have a feeling that the vast majority of the gun was actually just a normal AR15 with plastic extras added on, which isn't a 3D printed gun.
No one has printed an AR-15, no one, in spite of what this video says. The cartridge pressures are much higher than that of that one-shot Liberator. Firearms production is already highly regulated. If you don't have a licence to produce, you are criminally liable. Right?
The nuclear summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has concluded, with each securing something they value. The US will suspend the joint military exercises with South Korea that rattle the Hermit Kingdom. And North Korea has promised to denuclearize. At some point. Probably. But if the past is any sort of prologue, you shouldn't hold your breath.
On the face of it, the agreement signed by Trump and Kim seems promising. “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the statement read.
But this is not the first time North Korea has promised to abandon its nuclear efforts. (In truth, even this was simply a reaffirmation of a denuclearization pledge Kim had already made in April.) Nor is it the second time, or the third. The offer has resurfaced over the past several decades with surprising regularity. And it has never panned out so far.
“There’s definitely a pattern where the North Koreans agree to denuclearize in theory, but then there’s not really a substantive process that they agree to, to actually hammer it out,” says James McKeon, a policy analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
'Any notion that we’re simply going to denuclearize North Korea now after the summit, or any time in the very near future, must be dispelled.'
James McKeon, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
Those failures don’t necessarily come down to bad faith, or at least not entirely. In fact, the 1994 Agreed Framework between the US and North Korea, in which the North gave up its plutonium enrichment in exchange for aid, resulted in a roughly eight-year stretch of calm. That eventually collapsed too, though, as North Korea’s pursuit of enriched uranium and the George W. Bush administration’s hawkish stance imploded the already shaky scaffolding.
But in general, North Korea uses denuclearization as a bargaining chip in times of desperation. “Usually they suffer some kind of internal crisis, and then start acting in a really threatening way to try to get people to give them stuff,” says Mieke Eoyang, a national security analyst for center-left think tank Third Way.
In this instance, Eoyang argues, Trump gave the longtime US adversary far too much. “It’s substantively worse than what any other president has done,” she says, noting that the joint exercises aren’t just for show. The US rotates troops in and out of South Korea every few years; training with local counterparts helps newly stationed units prepare for potential North Korean aggression.
In return for that real loss, the US gained the same promise North Korea has made since 1985, without a single specific about how to accomplish it. There’s no agreement on inspections. North Korea doesn’t have to declare the facilities it has, much less dismantle them, to say nothing of destroying actual warheads.
“It is much messier at the working level, particularly when it comes to verification,” says John Carl Baker, a political engagement specialist at Ploughshares Fund, a grantmaking foundation that focuses on denuclearization. “As an analyst, I’m skeptical that this is the time that it’s finally going to come together. I’m certainly skeptical of the fact that the North is going to completely denuclearize itself.”
Add to this uncertain stew the fact that Trump very recently tore up a nuclear inspection framework that was actually working in Iran, and it’s hard to see how or why North Korea would go through with a promise that it has broken time and again. Especially this time.
“It sent the the absolute wrong message,” says CACNP’s McKeon of scrapping the Iran deal. “Any notion that we’re simply going to denuclearize North Korea now after the summit, or any time in the very near future, must be dispelled.”
Some North Korea observers did strike hopeful notes; both McKeon and Baker think the summit was an important first step, however symbolic. And it was certainly an improvement over the overt nuclear threats of a few months ago. But this script has been written before, and always with the same ending. See for yourself (and for a more thorough dissection, check out the Arms Control Association’s comprehensive timeline):
What: Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons When: December 12, 1985 What happened? North Korea signs onto this landmark treaty—190 countries are currently members—but makes its membership contingent on the US withdrawing nuclear weapons from South Korea, which doesn’t happen for several years, buying North Korea time to build its nuclear capabilities.
What: Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula When: January 20, 1992 What happened? North and South Korea sign an agreement that “the South and the North shall not test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons.” In February of 1993, suspicion that North Korea is violating its commitments creates tension over inspections, leading to further delays.
What: Agreed Framework When: October 21, 1994 What happened? North Korea promises to stop plutonium production in exchange for much-needed supplies. This mostly holds up until 2002, when the US discovers that North Korea has secretly been enriching uranium for nuclear weapons. By the end of that year, Kim Jong Il kicks out all international inspectors. On January 10, 2003, North Korea officially withdraws from the 1985 nonproliferation treaty.
What: Six-Party Talks When: September 19, 2005 What happened? After several rounds of intense talks with South Korea, China, Japan, the US, and Russia, North Korea pledges to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.” The US and North Korea can’t agree on verification details, though, leading to increased hostilities.
What: Six-Party Talks (Again) When: October 3, 2007 What happened? In a joint statement, North Korea agrees to declare all of its nuclear programs, shut down those affiliated with its weapons program, and not to transfer “nuclear materials, technology, or know-how.” Once again, stakeholders can’t agree on a verification process.
What: US Agreement When: February 29, 2012 What happened? North Korea agrees to suspend nuclear tests and uranium enrichment, and said it will allow inspectors, in exchange for food aid. Two weeks later, North Korea announces plans to launch a satellite, which immediately unwinds the deal.
So yes, North Korea has gotten this far before. Trump and Kim haven’t forged any new ground. “The parallels are apparent in the similarities between this statement and many of the previous ones, such as those from the 1990s,” says Baker. “That’s very clear.”
The rest hinges on whether the two sides can iron out not just when North Korea will denuclearize, but how, and the manner in which the rest of the world can confirm it. Or maybe the more apt question is what happens when they don’t.
Today’s bombs are smaller in size but more powerful. They are also more likely to be delivered via intercontinental ballistic missiles, rather than dropped from aircraft. Here's how they've evolved into weapons that could wipe out entire cities.
For Donald Trump, there was the purchase of the $12.6 million Scottish estate and the $79.7 million for golf courses in the United Kingdom, not to mention the $16.2 million for the Northern Virginia Winery. All in cash.
For Michael Cohen, it was the lucrative day in 2014 when he sold four Manhattan buildings for $32 million—three times what he’d paid for them less than three years before.
Recent days have been filled with a seeming tidalwave of fresh revelations from the spiraling investigation around Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, particularly around suspicious financial transactions involving Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who appears to have used the same shell company LLC to pay hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels, collect six- and seven-figure consulting deals from companies like AT&T and Novartis, and receive payments from a company with close ties to oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.
The subtext of many of the recent tales—from Donald Trump’s massive cash-spending spree to Cohen’s $32 million flip of New York real estate—is that the atypical transactions are worthy of greater scrutiny. After all, why was the self-proclaimed “King of Debt” suddenly waist-deep in cash and on a spending spree in the midst of the global real estate crash? Where was Cohen’s money coming from—and where was it going?
The implication, particularly in the more fever-swampy portions of Twitter, is that there was money laundering afoot—probably Russian in origin. The “quid” perhaps, before the election and the “pro quo” afterward. But is that a real possibility—and if it was money laundering, by whom and how?
The payments appear to mirror suspicious activity that led to the earliest charges and investigative avenues of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, the money laundering and conspiracy charges leveled against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and aide Rick Gates. (Gates has since pleaded guilty; Manafort’s case continues to move forward toward trial later this year.)
But to Treasury officials and law enforcement who have long pursued money laundering and terrorist financing probes, it’s not what Donald Trump or Michael Cohen did in any single transaction that raises red flags—it’s how they conducted business day in and day out. The layers of shell companies, the contracts involving pseudonyms, the law firm cut-outs to make deals.
"Many of the activities, when viewed in aggregate, point to a deliberate attempt to create opacity,” says Amit Sharma, who used to work on countering terrorist financing after 9/11 at the Treasury Department. “When you take two steps back, you see a murkiness and level of complexity with which the Cohen and Trump companies have operated—what are they hiding? Why are secondary and tertiary entities signing under pseudonyms and ‘cover' names? Truly legitimate, transparent companies don’t need to do that. Does this point to corruption and/or conspiracy? It certainly looks that way! Are all activities pointing to specific money laundering transactions? Not necessarily.”
The fundamental approach to Trump and Cohen’s empires should raise eyebrows—and evidently has with Mueller’s probe and prosecutors in the Southern District of New York—precisely because of the apparently great lengths they undertook to evade basic transparency. While not necessarily illegal—some of the tactics are, in fact, regular parts of complex businesses—the pattern of activity points to an attempt to evade one of the basic precepts of modern banking and anti-money-laundering efforts: Know your customer.
“What we call ‘covered institutions,’ that’s any financial institution overseen by US financial regulations, they have to have a comprehensive anti-money-laundering regime. It basically come down to one central question: Do you know your customer? Who’s behind the account, who has control over an entity or can facilitate transactions on its behalf, what are its sources of funds, and what is the normal, expected nature of its business or pattern of activity for that person or entity?" Sharma says. “Anytime a bank or financial institution spots activity that doesn’t match the regular pattern, they’re required to file suspicious activity reports with the Treasury Department.” (Those exact type of reports were triggered by odd withdrawals and payments by the Russian embassy around the time of the US election, and are the subject of part of Mueller’s probe, according to Buzzfeed.)
Yet while regulations—especially since 9/11—require in-depth documentation and identification for basic banking for individuals, it has been much easier—until literally today—for corporate entities to hide their identities behind lawyers and shell companies. “Financial institutions are mandated to collect all this data on its customers, but up until now, financial institutions have not had to do the same for companies,” Sharma says. “For companies, often it has simply been the business location and Tax ID number and we don’t know the underlying ownership. We don’t know whether it’s a Russian oligarch.” (In fact, new Treasury Department rules that require stronger due diligence on banks to understand who actually owns—or has a controlling interest in—a company only come into effect today, May 11, 2018.)
As Sharma says, “Trump and his companies have exercised this practice for many years—it seems that every new project, every product, every new building, he’s starting a new company or legal entity to manage it. This has been the case for overseas operations and activities as well. People do this to protect themselves from liability and to create protective measures that don’t roll directly up to them personally. In any given structure, he may own a portion of a parent company that owns a controlling interest in a holding company that may own a portion or receive economic benefits of the real estate.”
In 2016 The Wall Street Journal's Jean Eaglesham, Mark Maremont, and Lisa Schwartz outlined a specific example of just that sort of structure: “Donald Trump owns a helicopter in Scotland. To be more precise, he has a revocable trust that owns 99 percent of a Delaware limited liability company that owns 99 percent of another Delaware LLC that owns a Scottish limited company that owns another Scottish company that owns the 26-year-old Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, emblazoned with a red ‘TRUMP’ on the side of its fuselage.” All told, the Journal reported, 15 entities were used at that point to “own” Trump’s fleet of two airplanes and three helicopters.
Layer on layer of corporate structure makes it hard for investigators, tax officials, or prying lawyers to figure out who owns what, the underlying source of money for specific transactions, whether taxes are being appropriately paid in a given jurisdiction, or who might be partners in what enterprises.
That’s where “Section 311” comes in.
In 2001, as part of the USA Patriot Act, the Treasury Department was given a new tool against money laundering, known as “Section 311,” after the relevant section of the law, to designate foreign financial institutions, jurisdictions, or entities as “of primary money laundering concern.”
A Section 311 designation was meant to help authorities highlight suspicious patterns of activity without having to prove any single transaction was illegal—it’s the rough equivalent for money laundering of the criminal RICO statute, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, that allows prosecutors to take down entire mafia families, drug cartels, and street gangs without having to prove everyone involved knew about or participated in all the various individual crimes.
“We deliberately put these tools together to go after really bad people—organized crime, terrorists, dictators, Chinese Triads,” Sharma says. “You didn’t have to point to a single illegal transaction. The totality of the transactions should give you pause enough that we would want to be sure US institutions scaled back or ceased doing business with them.”
The designation, which effectively forces US financial institutions to sever ties with the entity, makes it all but impossible for an entity to participate in the global financial system. In the years since, the US Treasury Department has used Section 311 to go after the banks and front companies that help North Korea evade sanctions, to go after Iran’s nuclear program and terrorism financing, to isolate Syria, to punish banks that helped Saddam Hussein launder money, and to pressure off-shore havens, like the Pacific island of Nauru, that the US believes are complicit in money laundering.
Sharma says that if what we have seen with Michael Cohen’s business dealings existed anywhere overseas, where it intersected with an investigation or a politically exposed person or national security issue of import to the US, it would ring all sorts of alarm bells at Treasury. What seems to be continually revealed is a pattern of atypical financial transactions, and too much of it seems structured specifically to hide and evade critical information or people involved.
That desire for opacity, though, doesn’t necessarily point to money laundering. A specific charge of “money laundering” requires that the initial funds be traced to a so-called “predicate,” a recognized serious crime. “It could be fraud, smuggling, selling high technology, proceeds of child pornography. There are hundreds of predicate crimes in the United States; the global standard is ‘all serious crimes,’” explains former Treasury agent John Cassara. The complexity of tracing money all the way through the financial system, from a legitimate asset back to a crime, or vice versa, makes these cases some of the most challenging investigators undertake. “These are very, very difficult cases—it takes a lot for the investigators, the prosecutors, the US attorney to understand,” Cassara says.
Part of the reason the cases are so tough is that there are plenty of other, nonillegal reasons wealthy people create opacity, including to minimize taxes, to limit personal or corporate legal liability, or to shield assets in divorce proceedings.
The truth of the matter is that the global financial system is simply too large for officials to look at very closely.
Money laundering is a huge—literally physically huge—problem: Illicit drug sales in the United States alone are estimated at around $60 billion to $100 billion a year, which translates, Cassara says, into about 20 million physical pounds of currency, far too much to be moved easily or spent easily. “The bad guys have a logistics issue. They want to try to get into a bank or nonbank financial institution, so they can spend it,” he says.
Globally, the International Monetary Fund estimates that between 2 and 5 percent of the world’s gross domestic product is laundered money from illicit activity. “The number I normally use is the total is in the range of $4 trillion to $5 trillion, about the amount of the entire federal government budget,” says Cassara, who spent 26 years investigating such cases and has written multiple textbooks on anti-money-laundering efforts.
Given that scale, the hard work of thousands of investigators and tax officials the world over amounts to a drop in the proverbial bucket; authorities only seize or charge about 1 percent of suspected money laundering cases. “By any measurement, we do a terrible job of enforcing this,” Cassara says. “I have the utmost respect for my colleagues, but if you just compare the bottom line with the results, as [financial crime expert] Raymond Baker used to say, total failure is just a decimal point away.”
That shockingly low level of enforcement helps explain how Manafort’s scheme—which Mueller’s team says involved more than $18 million, funneled through entities that included oriental rug shops just a few miles from the Treasury Department itself—ran undetected and unprosecuted for so long.
Each year, the Treasury Department fields upward of 18 million pieces of financial intelligence, including more than 2 million suspicious activity reports from banks and financial institutions—far more than it can effectively process. Globally, there are 145 foreign financial reporting centers, like the Treasury Department’s so-called FINCEN, its intelligence and enforcement unit, which translates into tens of millions more reports and warnings. It’s relatively easy for even large-scale financial crimes to hide in that mountain of evidence. “Your inbox was always full,” Cassara says.
Today, Cassara says, money launderers have to be incredibly stupid or incredibly unlucky to be caught. “Since 9/11, the amount of financial intelligence has grown exponentially, so bad guys are taking steps to evade those efforts,” Cassara says.
But what’s the point of buying, say, $934,350 in oriental rugs (as Manafort is alleged to have done), or buying luxury condos in London (as Russian oligarchs are said to be fond of)? How exactly do money laundering schemes work?
While it’s easier to grasp how to hide cash at the street level—like in Breaking Bad, when Walter White purchases a cash-intensive car wash and simply cooks the book to show he’s washing more cars than he is—money laundering at the global level follows the same three-step process:
Step 1: Placement
The first challenge is simply getting the money somewhere into the global financial system, which is often easier said than done. Banks are required to file reports anytime someone deposits more than $10,000 in cash, so sneaking large amounts of cash into the financial system can pose a huge challenge. Breaking large transactions into smaller ones, say multiple deposits of $9,999, to evade the transaction reports is known as “structuring” or “smurfing,” and is illegal itself. Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert spent time in prison for “structuring,” as part of his effort to pay hush money to one of the men he sexually abused as a high school coach, rather than for the underlying abuse. “Placement is where criminals are most vulnerable, because the money is closest to the original crime,” Cassara says. “It’s much easier to catch them at the crime than to say ‘there’s a suspicious shopping center or golf course’ and work backwards.”
Tracing “laundered” money back to illicit proceeds is key to any investigation.
Step 2: Layering
The second challenge is hiding the origin of the illicit money. That’s where the layers of LLCs can be helpful. Every time money moves—from one entity’s account to another, from one bank to another, from one country to another—it helps hide the original source. “It’s confusing and makes it difficult for investigators, tax officials, or a former wife to follow that money trail. It’s using this labyrinth of LLCs and tax havens, in the US and overseas, to make it difficult and time-consuming to trace,” Cassara says. “It gets hard because of issues of [investigative] competence, venue, jurisdiction.”
Often, this “layering” step takes place with the help of lawyers and law firms; the revelations of the Panama Papers and the follow-on Paradise Papers laid out just how large a global business it is to help elites hide their assets. “Many of these folks have go-to structures and lawyers they use to go through the layering process,” Sharma says. “A lot of laundering happens through nonfinancial businesses and professions.…The Russians use a ton of folks in Turkey, UAE, and Cyprus. That fact pattern is well-known and long-standing.”
While the Panama and Paradise Papers revelations focused primarily on overseas entities and tax havens, the United States is actually one of the worst global offenders: The so-called “Delaware company” structure is notorious for its lax documentation and opacity, as NPR’s Planet Money found out when they set up shell companies in Belize and Delaware in 2012.
Step 3: Integration
Once the money is in the global financial system and its origins properly obfuscated, the final challenge is making the money accessible—that is, integrating it into the legitimate economy. At the high end of money laundering, this often means purchasing real estate.
“Real estate is a big issue for money laundering and has been for a long time,” Cassara says. “If you’ve got a condo or a shopping center or a golf course, the money has already been placed, it’s already been layered, it’s the final stage—integrated. The authorities aren’t going to look at that. Once you see property, in whatever form it is, it’s assumed that’s good, that’s a legitimate investment.”
Large-scale money laundering, like what corrupt regimes or oligarchs need, requires—like any good investment portfolio—a well-balanced portfolio. “If you’ve got that much money, you need diversification,” Cassara says. “You’re going to put so much into gold, so much into stocks, so much into golf courses. By that point, they’re many steps away from illicit proceeds.”
Real estate is particularly attractive for money laundering because of the large numbers involved—a single large transaction to purchase a golf course, a luxury condo, or shopping center is an easy way to make a whole lot of money look legitimate at once without raising any eyebrows with banks or regulators. It’s also a good way to evade so-called “capital controls,” which limit, for instance, the amount of money Chinese citizens can transfer out of the country.
The goal in such efforts isn’t necessarily to have access to immediate cash—sometimes the end goal is simply to own a physical asset. “Parking” illicit gains from corrupt regimes, including Russia or China, in luxury real estate in the West is a common pattern because it historically holds value and, if you’re the buyer, you only trigger taxes by selling, not with the initial transaction. “Real estate tends to hold its value, luxury real estate typically even goes up—it’s a great way to preserve it without losing it,” Sharma says.
Such absentee owners—more interested in parking their assets than actually occupying a residence—has led to the phenomenon of what locals call “lights out London,” entire luxury buildings or wealthy neighborhoods where hardly anyone is ever home. More than 85,000 offshore shell companies own British real estate, and one report last year found nearly $6 billion worth of properties owned by politicians and public officials with “suspicious wealth.”
Similar concerns have been raised about Libyan purchases in Dubai, Chinese purchases in Vancouver, and Russian purchases in Miami, among other cities. It’s such a problem in New York real estate that the Treasury Department is moving to end anonymous all-cash purchases.
And then there’s the oriental rugs. Perhaps the oddest part of the lengthy, detailed indictment of Paul Manafort is the nearly $1 million he evidently funneled through various antique rug shops. As Adam Davidson wrote at The New Yorker last fall, “It’s hard to imagine a person who spends $12 million over six years but only shops at a handful of stores, and nearly always happens to have a bill that ends in multiple zeroes: $107,000, then $20,000, then $250,000. At an unnamed men’s-clothing store in New York, Manafort spent $32,000, $15,000, $24,000, and other multiples of a thousand. For money-laundering experts, this fact alone would be cause for suspicion. It is extremely rare for even a single purchase to end in three zeroes.”
The rugs and clothing appear to be an example of what officials call “trade-based money laundering,” using physical goods to evade currency reporting limits. There are, after all, only three ways to move money around the globe: Through bank transfers, through cash, or through physical trade. “I argue that trade-based money laundering is actually the largest of the three money laundering ideologies but it’s the one we’ve done the least to enforce,” Cassara says. “When a buyer and a seller are working together, the price of an object can be whatever they want it to be—it could be pens, it could be gold, it could be carpets….The reason it’s so effective is that global merchant transactions is in the tens of millions of dollars [a day]. Try to find the suspect transaction in that sea.”
It’s relatively easy for a determined money launderer to falsify invoices, either inflating or deflating price, with the willing cooperation of a commercial partner—like an oriental rug store, where you purchase a rug that’s worth $5,000 for, say, $20,000 and the store owner returns the difference to you in cash. Or buy a rug worth $20,000, and buy it from Shop A for $5,000 and sell it to Shop B for the full price—the difference becomes all clean money. “I sold those rugs to another shop, that cash from Shop B, paid to me, is effectively washed,” Sharma explains.
That so many of the transactions and behaviors of the Trump business empire and Michael Cohen’s empire appear to hew so closely to the well-known patterns and stages of money laundering deeply troubles Sharma.
“It falls into fact patterns that we’ve seen in other areas of Russian and Eastern European organized crime,” he says. “We’re staring at a government—that goes right to the top—that engages in very way of doing business and the exact same fact patterns that we set these tools up to combat. That’s mind-boggling to me.”
Juli Briskman revealed that her employer, Akima LLC, fired her once they realized she was the woman in the picture, she told the Huffington Post.
On its About page, Akima says it has a wide variety of interests in government contracting, playing “leadership roles in information technology, data communications, systems engineering, software development, cybersecurity, space operations, aviation, construction, facility management, fabrication and logistics.”
Briskman said that she recently changed her Facebook profile picture to herself giving Trump’s motorcade the finger, and when Akima found out about it, its HR department notified Briskman that she had violated its policy on social media posts.
“They said, ‘We’re separating from you. Basically, you cannot have ‘lewd’ or ‘obscene’ things in your social media. So they were calling flipping him off ‘obscene.’”
Briskman said she informed the company that her social media profile did not associate her with the company in any way, but Akima reportedly was concerned that her employment with the company could negatively affect their business, as they rely on government contracts. From the Huffington Post:
Briskman, who worked in marketing and communications at Akima for just over six months, said she emphasized to the executives that she wasn’t on the job when the incident happened and that her social media pages don’t mention her employer. They told her that because Akima was a government contractor, the photo could hurt their business, she said.
According to Briskman, her termination stands in contrast to a male employee at the company, who she says posted on Facebook in a thread about Black Lives Matter, calling someone “a fucking Libtard asshole.” Briskman said he deleted the post at the company’s request and was allowed to keep his job.
Democrat Maryland legislator and candidate for U.S. Congress Aruna Miller sees a science emergency in the Trump administration:
In its 41-year-old history the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy has never gone this long without a leader or official mandate. Without science, it's fiction, right .@314action? Trump's science office is a ghost town https://t.co/4XxQ9M5VYn
Cherie DeVille reasons that if a reality TV personality with zero previous political experience can be voted into office, then why not her? She feels just as qualified, if not more. The physical therapist has firm opinions on immigration, education, environmental reform, and how to handle the war on drugs.
Shes also a porn star.
The 39-year-old caused a bit of a stir when she, during a press conference, announced her bid to run for President of the United States in 2020. She was joined by her running mate Coolio, the rapper of Gangstas Paradise fame; Press Secretary Alix Lynx, herself a porn star as well; and DeVilles bodyguard, the WWE wrestler Virgil, who will serve as head of security.
Virgils familiarity and relationship with Donald Trump can help smooth over the transition process when Cherie DeVille is named President, the announcement read, alluding to the fact that Virgil and Trump crossed paths a few times when the 45th president hosted WrestleMania in the aughts, including his infamous Battle of the Billionaires with WWE owner Vince McMahon. DeVilles campaign, sponsored by the mens clothing brand Fucking Awesome, isnt the first time a porn star has announced a bid for U.S. public office. In 2003, adult actress Mary Carey ran for governor of California in the recall election (then lieutenant governor in 2005), and in 2009, Stormy Daniels launched a brief bid for Louisiana state senator. While Carey ran as an independent and Daniels a Republican, DeVille is representing the Democratic Partywhich makes sense, given the GOPs aversion to porn.
DeVille, meanwhile, considers the notoriety shes gained working in the adult entertainment business for the past six and a half years more of an asset than a hindrance.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, DeVille explains how serious she is about her run for the White House, and that this isnt just another desperate bid for attention. The slogan for her 2020 presidential campaign: Make America Fucking Awesome Again.
Do you have any background in politics?
Cherie DeVille: I dont. I grew up in the Washington D.C. area so Ive been somewhat surrounded by it but Ive never held political office.
All of my skeletons are on the internet for all to see. If you discount porn I have zero moral scandals. Id be a breath of fresh air.
Why run for President?
It began when Trump was elected president. I always took it for granted that whether the Republicans or the Democrats won, someone reasonably appropriate was in office even if they werent my choice. Until this election cycle. I was incredibly disappointed in the political processand thats when I realized Trump basically won because hes a celebrity. It made good television. If Americans are going to vote based on celebrity and scandal, well, I can give them that.
What would you change if you were in office?
Im most passionate about health care, education, and immigration.
How would you handle the health care issue?
Im an adult actress and a physical therapist but Ive spent more of my life as a physical therapist. Over the seventeen years Ive spent as a physical therapist, Ive seen the repercussions of poverty and middle class Americans with staggering health care bills making choices about their bodies based not on their health or their needs but money. Health care is a basic human need that should and can be met.
You mentioned being passionate about education, what would you change about it?
Im not like some hardcore Democrats that feel all higher education should be free. I think college is the new high school. If we want our country to be competitive with the rest of the world, then our state-run educational institutions should be free. Im not suggesting we socialize all educationwe can still have private schoolsbut high school today is not the minimum; its not what our citizens need to succeed in the current economy.
How do you expect people to react to you as a porn star running for POTUS?
Negatively. Im not saying this to insult myself or my profession. I did my first scene as a personal larkit was something I wanted to say Ive done. Even if I dont win the bid for Democratic candidate I hope that my run can at least make enough of a splash to get some of my ideas out there, for people to see me as a sex worker and a human being. I want to expand the perception of sex workers.
What do you say to critics out there who are concerned with your lack of experience in politics? And your background in porn?
If Trump hadnt won Id have said no one without political experience can run for office, it cant be donebut clearly we as a country have decided you dont need political experience to run for the highest political office. Negative expectations? All of my skeletons are on the internet for all to see. If you discount porn I have zero moral scandals. Id be a breath of fresh air.
What would you try to legalize if you were voted into power?
I know this is controversial but I feel complete drug decriminalization is important. In poor communities, doing illegal things is the only chance some people have for advancement and they choose it, which forces them outside of the law. I think we could decrease the violence in underserved and poor communities by decriminalizing all drugs, not just marijuana. At the end of the day, not everyones going to start using heroin. Lets be honest: if someone wants to use heroin in any part of the country theyll find a way to get it. Decriminalizing it will keep the people who started selling drugs as a way to survive out of jail.
What about porn? Would you want to legalize filming everywhere?
Its absurd that its not legal in every state, but at the same time the adult community has to centralize somewhere. There are only a few hundred people making porn for the world, so wed congregate somewhere anyway.
Why should people vote for you?
Because I really do want to make America great again like Trump said, but in a way that helps all of the people. Every politician says they will help the middle class but few of them have ever been middle class. Ive actually lived my life as a middle and upper middle class citizen, and Coolio has grown up in poverty, so we understand what its like not to have decent health care or educational opportunities handed to us in a way most politicians cant understand. How can we ask the ultra-rich to make choices about something they dont have a handle on? They cant comprehend how the American people really live.
What would you do differently?
I have faith in the American people to do the right thing. Certain choices should be left up to them.
Do you really think people are that responsible?
Weve been pampered. We are a society of entitlementlook at our youngest millennial generationWe need to engage, we need to feel responsible for ourselves and the world, we need to get in the game. We cannot be passive and allow the Donald Trumps of the world to step all over us. We do have power and we need to wake up. I do have faith in people. We created this problem and now we need to snap out of it.
Do you think its cultural or generational?
Its a cultural thing. These kids are not at fault they were raised like thisthis is the advent of technology. Society has changed and we need to help the new generation of workers be strong and responsible. We need to help them, not roll our eyes at them.
Its disgusting. If youre an actor, actress, singer, or comedian in Hollywood it happens and I know people in all of those professions at the highest levels. When I go out with friends who are in those various professions, Im the only one whos never sucked a dick for a job and that is ridiculous. My comedian friends, my mainstream actress friends, and absolutely my fashion model friends have all felt pressure or been directly asked to perform sexual favors in the direct or indirect promise of work, and its disgusting. The male culture in Hollywood is disgusting to me and Im thrilled that these ladies are speaking out. I want those men to know we wont take this anymore.
Youve named the rapper Coolio as your running mate. How did you decide on him?
I knew I needed to do something crazy to get the American peoples attention. I needed someone that was passionate and well-known but it was also for shock value.
What steps have you taken to make your bid for president a reality?
Ive been testing the waters to see if anyone cares, and the past three weeks cemented it for me. It seems like the public is interested in hearing what I have to say, so Im doing this. Im going to find investors, file the paperwork, and do this.
How do you plan to finance your campaign?
Itd be silly to say the obvious. Im not going to take money from big lobbyists, not that theyd give it to me anyway. So Im going to go the grassroots way and start small.
Are you launching this campaign for attention?
My vagina gets more attention than this. Millions of people watch me everyday around the world. Im not trying to be conceited but as one of the few performers that works nearly every day of the week my porn is more prevalent than almost anybody elses. Whether people want to admit to knowing me or not, if youve watched porn youve watched me. My pornography has already and will continue to get more attention than this bid for president.
In the heat of the presidential election campaign last year, Xeni Jardin, a journalist and free speech advocate, developed a sickening feeling about WikiLeaks.
Jardin had been a supporter of the radical transparency group since at least 2010, when it published hundreds of thousands of U.S. military and State Department documents leaked by Chelsea Manning. In 2012, Jardin was a founding member of the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit established as a censorship-proof conduit for donations to WikiLeaks after PayPal and U.S. credit card companies imposed a financial blockade on the site.
But during the election season, Jardin noticed WikiLeaks veering violently off its original mission of holding governments and corporations to account. Beginning in July of last year, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks driving force, began releasing a cache of stolen email from the Democratic National Committee, and injecting WikiLeaks influential Twitter feed with the kind of alt-right rhetoric and conspiracy theories once reserved for Breitbart and InfoWars.
Suddenly the voice of WikiLeaks seemed to be all about questioning one candidateHillary Clintonand doing so in a way that was designed to benefit the other, Jardin recalled to The Daily Beast. The tone also seemed to echo some of the language on the far right. So when the guy in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, who is normally of the extreme left, is echoing Nazi publications, something is wrong.
Her misgivings eventually led to a tense confrontation with Assange and touched off a year-long debate among the directors at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which has handled around $500,000 in individual donations for WikiLeaks over the last five years. Now the foundation acknowledges its on the brink of ending its assistance to WikiLeaks, on the grounds that the financial censorship Assange faced in 2012 is no longer in place.
At our last board meeting in October 2017, a consensus arose that we could not find any evidence of an ongoing blockade involving PayPal, Visa, or Mastercard, wrote Trevor Timm, co-founder and executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, in a statement to The Daily Beast. We decided we would therefore formally notify WikiLeaks that unless they could demonstrate that a blockade was still in effect, we would no longer provide a mechanism for people to donate to them.
The practical effect of the move is minimalWikiLeaks donors in America may no longer be able to claim a tax write-off. The symbolic import is much larger. The Freedom of the Press Foundation is something of a Justice League for the online privacy, transparency, civil liberties, whistleblower, and press-rights communities. Its board of directors includes Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower; Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers; open-internet pioneer John Perry Barlow; Citizenfour filmmaker Laura Poitras and her fellow Intercept founder Glenn Greenwald, the two journalists to whom Snowden provided his trove; the actor/activist John Cusack; Electronic Frontier Foundation activism director Rainey Reitman; technologist Micah Lee; and journalist/activist Timm, who founded the group with Reitman. (See the disclosures at the end of this article.)
Several members of the board, including Snowden, have grown disenchanted with WikiLeaks. Snowden has for some time considered it to have strayed far from its laudatory transparency and accountability missions, sources familiar with his thinking have told The Daily Beast.
The foundations impending split with Assange is a microcosm of a broader anxiety over him amongst his erstwhile allies now that WikiLeaks has made common cause with extreme right-wing forces, principally Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Some consider WikiLeaks transparency mission to dwarf Assanges personal crusades and transgressionswhich go beyond politics and into allegations of sexual assault. Others consider Assange to have brought WikiLeaks, its ostensible principles, and its advocates into disrepute.
When the guy in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, who is normally of the extreme left, is echoing Nazi publications, something is wrong.
WikiLeaks claims to be a transparency organization suffered a body blow on Monday night. The Atlantics Julia Ioffe published portions of a Twitter direct-message conversation the @WikiLeaks account, an account controlled at least in part by Assange, held with Donald Trump Jr.
The correspondence lasted from at least September 2016 to July 2017. In a series of pitches to Trumps son, @WikiLeaks provided the campaign with the guessed password of an anti-Trump political action committee. Just hours before Trumps victory, @WikiLeaks pitched the son of the eventual president of the United States to refuse conceding the election in the event of a Trump loss and instead CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred. Doing so would have plunged the U.S. into a political crisis that pundits were warning could easily turn violent.
After the election, when Trumps fortunes had clearly turned, WikiLeaks took a new approach: It floated to Trump Jr. the trial balloon of convincing Australia to appoint Assange as its next U.S. ambassador.
The outfit that once prided itself on promoting transparency and accountability was now stirring election chaos. Its hard to see what principled cause is advanced by advising a losing presidential candidate to question the outcome of a democratic election, said Ben Wizner, a senior ACLU attorney who also represents Snowden. It was not easy for even former defenders of WikiLeaks mission to see Assange as a regular guest on Sean Hannitys show, he added.
Many of WikiLeaks left-wing and libertarian supporters have struggled over the years to reconcile the idea of WikiLeaks with the reality; to maintain a principled stand for free speech and transparency without seeming to endorse the whole of Assanges personal and professional behavior.
Each WikiLeaks defender has their own internal red line. In 2010, Assanges plans to post Army field reports that included the names of Iraqi informants led several of WikiLeaks key staffers, including Assanges second-in-command, to shut down the sites infrastructure and resign.
Later, a rape allegation in Sweden, and Assanges decision to take refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy rather than confront the case, cost him more support, particularly as he dodged a reckoning and portrayed himself as a political prisoner. (Assange claims he evaded the case for fear Sweden would extradite him to the U.S.) Last year, Assanges wholesale dumping of stolen DNC emails drew criticism from Edward Snowden. Democratizing information has never been more vital, and @Wikileaks has helped, Snowden tweeted. But their hostility to even modest curation is a mistake. The mild rebuke drew a sharp response from Assange: Opportunism wont earn you a pardon from Clinton.
WikiLeaks support of Trump and the divisive rhetoric of the alt-right was the last straw for Jardin.
In July 2016, WikiLeaks began publishing the hacked emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. In October it started rolling out the emails taken from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. U.S. intelligence attributed both thefts to Russias military intelligence arm, the GRU.
But Assange didnt content himself with the genuine news that emerged from the leaks. He supplemented it with occasional exaggerations and distortions that appeared calculated to appeal to Trumps base. On July 22, for example, while Trump was bogged down in sexual assaultallegations, Assange announced a plot to smear @realDonaldTrump by planting fake ads for hot women in Craigslist.
But the DNC email referenced in the tweet didnt bear out WikiLeaks claim. Far from a plot, it was an internal proposal for a website that would highlight Trumps record on gender issues.
In August 2016, Assange even fanned the right-wing conspiracy theory around slain Democratic Party staffer Seth Richa hoax thats inflicted endless pain on Richs familywhen he went out of his way in a television interview to imply that Rich was WikiLeaks source for the stolen DNC emails.
While WikiLeaks merged into the right lane, Donald Trump was increasingly drawing on the DNC and Podesta leaks on the stump, sometimes describing them accurately, sometimes not. And Trump was generous with his praise for WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks, he declared at an Oct. 10 rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Four days later in Charlotte, North Carolina: The Hillary Clinton documents released by WikiLeaks make it more clear than ever just how much is at stake come November 8. In the final month of the campaign, NBC reporters found, Trump referenced WikiLeaks 145 times.
Assange suggested Jardin praise Trump for doing something useful by promoting WikiLeaks. Is that a command? she shot back.
Jardin, like many Americans, found Trumps rallies deeply disturbing, with chants of Lock Her Up, protesters being ejected, and Trump describing his growing list of women accusers as liars. She was dismayed and angered to see WikiLeaks incorporated into the mix. She knew Assanges embrace of Trumpism had been good for WikiLeaks bank account, bringing small donations back to the levels of the Chelsea Manning era for the first time in years, and it bothered her that a nonprofit she served was helping Assange reap that windfall.
She voiced some of her frustration in a tweet during the Charlotte rally. Trump, his sons, and his surrogates are now dropping WikiLeaks into their anti-American rants like a hashtag, Jardin commented. Strangest of bedfellows.
Assange was watching.
He responded in a series of direct messages to Jardin, at first referencing himself in the third person and the majestic plural, as he often does. Since JA has never met or spoken to you we find it odd you should hold such a view, read the message. So whats it based on?
The messages went on to suggest Jardin praise Trump and his people for doing something useful for once by promoting WikiLeaks, instead of, outrageously, suggesting that it is some form of anti-Americanism.
Hi there Julian. Is that a command? Jardin shot back.
If you cant support the organization FPF [Freedom of the Press Foundation] was founded to support perhaps you should resign, wrote Assange. After a pause, he repeated the suggestion. You have a duty as a board member. If you cant dispense it, perhaps you should resign.
Knowing Assanges reputation for vindictiveness, Jardin interpreted the messages as a personal threat.
She politely asked Assange not to contact her again, and then forwarded the exchange to the foundations board. Oh my god, replied Cusack, a friend of Jardin whod joined the board at her invitation. The only thing one can say is the pressure on him is incredible and everyone has a breaking point. (Cusack declined to comment for this story; Assange did not immediately respond to a request to do so.)
The next month, nine days after Trumps election victory, Freedom of the Press Foundation held its board meeting. Jardin brought up the issue of Assange, his messages to her, and the foundations continued support of WikiLeaks.
Much had changed since the foundation was formed. Today it has a $1.5 million annual budget and a staff of 15. Taking donations for WikiLeaks and other groups has become only a tiny part of the foundations work. In 2013, for example, the foundation took over development of SecureDrop, an open-source tool designed to make it safer for whistleblowers to submit information to reporters. Under the foundations stewardship, SecureDrop today is running in dozens of newsrooms, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and Bloomberg.
The question for the board at that post-election meeting was straightforward, if not simple: Should the foundation continue to process payments for WikiLeaks and Assange? Was there still a need, and was WikiLeaks still a multi-national media organization and associated library, as described on the foundations website, or had it become something else, something less journalistic, during the election?
When the election reached its conclusion and WikiLeaks kept doing what it was doing publicly, I felt a sense of revulsion, recalled Jardin, telling her story for the first time. When our board meeting came up, I assumed that everybody else felt the same way.
To Jardins dismay, they did not.
There was support and empathy on the board for Jardin, according to multiple sources, and a spectrum of perspectives on WikiLeaks. But Micah Lee was the only board member at the meeting to agree the time had come to cut ties. Protecting free press rights for publishers we disagree with is important, Lee told The Daily Beast, but that doesnt mean WikiLeaks should be able to harass our board members without consequences.
While several on the board acknowledged that Assange had flown off the handle at Jardin, years of experience with the WikiLeaks founder had built up a certain emotional callus toward his histrionics. At one point or another, we have all felt personally aggrieved by Julian, Greenwald told The Daily Beast. Sympathy for Jardin over Assanges DMs couldnt become a reason for a free-press organization to take action.
The contributions that WikiLeaks receives come from individual donors, board member Rainey Reitman said in an interview. We would be silencing readers of WikiLeaks who were trying to show their support.
Similarly, WikiLeaks support for Trump could not become a reason for the foundation to cut off Assange. It would, several felt, set a dangerous precedent if the board tacitly affirmed that only some forms of published political content deserved press-freedom support. Such a move could risk undermining the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
But there was substantial support for taking up a more pragmatic question, one that hearkened back to the very reason the Freedom of the Press Foundation came into existence in the first place: whether WikiLeaks still needed the foundation to route donations to it.
In 2012, WikiLeaks had been facing financial strangulation after PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard bent to congressional pressure and stopped accepting donations for the secret-spilling site, and for the German Wau Holland Foundation, which handled most of WikiLeaks finances. That financial censorship, effectively imposed by the U.S. government, but without the checks and balances of a judicial process, appeared no less ominous four years later.
By all evidence, though, that financial blockade dissolved years earlier, in 2013, after an Icelandic technology firm that processed payments for WikiLeaks won a lawsuit against the credit card companies. An archived copy of WikiLeaks donation page from just before the 2016 board meeting shows the organization once again accepting credit card and PayPal donations through Wau Holland, in addition to taking contributions through Freedom of the Press. WikiLeaks was no longer even claiming the blockade was still an issue.
BitCoin, too, has emerged as a popular conduit for WikiLeaks cash, and records indicate the group has received a total of 4,025 BTC through its public wallet addressroughly $29 million by current exchange rates.
Lee argued to his fellow board members that the rationale for supporting WikiLeaks had become obsolete. By the end of the meeting, the board had agreed to study the issue. We resolved as a board to investigate this question to determine whether such a blockade still existed, Timm said.
Jardin says she felt unsupported in the meeting, and four days later she told the foundation she was taking a leave of absence. Jardin is a cancer survivor, and she was then battling life threatening side-effects from treatment. There is nothing like the threat of death to help you clarify what you spend your time on, she says. On Dec. 2, she quietly resigned from the board, citing her health.
After Jardin stepped down, the board continued to chew over the issues shed raised, albeit slowly. By the boards last meeting late this summer, it determined that it couldnt verify that the blockade against WikiLeaks still existed. The foundation drew up plans to tell WikiLeaks that if it couldnt present evidence of a blockade, the Freedom of the Press Foundation would end its WikiLeaks donation channela decision that will mark a milestone for both organizations.
The foundation hastens to point out that Assanges personal actions and politics are irrelevant to its decision.Like every board, our members have a variety of opinions, said Timm, but our primary motivation as an organization has never been whether we agree with everything that WikiLeaks does or says. But theres no denying that some on the board have soured on WikiLeaks. Snowden, sources close to him tell The Daily Beast, has felt for a long time that Assange has taken WikiLeaks far from a positive, constructive vision of what Snowden believes WikiLeaks could or should be.
The foundations angst mirrors that of the larger community of former WikiLeaks supporters. The leaked messages between Assange and Trump Jr. recently prompted Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire backer of The Intercept, to tweet that they disqualify WikiLeaks from being considered a media organization. After Assange defended his election-chaos pitch as intended to generate a transformative discussion about corrupt media, corrupt PACs and primary corruption, Omidyar shot back: Isnt this an invitation to conspire to knowingly and falsely accuse election officials and a variety of people of fraud?
James Ball worked for WikiLeaks before becoming a journalist with The Guardian andBuzzFeed U.K.It has become astonishing, he said, to watch someone who has thundered against journalists for unethical behavior turn around and pitch a potential source on securing an ambassadorship for himself.
What Ball called the tragedy of WikiLeaks is that transparency and accountability are good principles, and lots of people have defended WikiLeaks because they believe in those principles and hoped [Assange] did, too. This is the final mark of someone whos in it for himself, Ball said. Hes a sad man in a broom cupboard.
For her part, Jardin takes no satisfaction in WikiLeaks potential expulsion, which she thinks comes at least a year too late.
I dont think that Julian Assange should be in solitary confinement, says Jardin. I feel awful for him, I bear him no ill will. But my loyalty is to my country. My loyalty is to my community You cant fight the kind of repression Trump represents and indirectly assist it.
DISCLOSURE: One of this articles co-authors helped develop the open-source project that became SecureDrop, and later handed it off to the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Additionally, he formerly sat on the foundations technical advisory panel, and has made small donations to the organization. The other co-author reported on Edward Snowdens leaks with Greenwald, Poitras, and Ball at The Guardian, where Timm is a columnist.