While the ongoing Robert Mueller investigation into alleged Russian collusion is the ‘big news’ of the day, as is the way that it continues to expand its list of targets, an interesting story seems to have fallen by the wayside. It’s a story of one of the largest intelligence leaks in American history, which uncovered a number of cyber warfare weapons that the Central Intelligence Agency utilizes.
It’s the story of how the United States government reached out to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, hoping to mitigate the damage that the leak might do and convince him to withhold certain information, and how James Comey, the former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, soured the deal. In doing so, he motivated Assange to unleash information that ‘crippled’ U.S. cyber warfare efforts for years to come… and the DNC. The arrogance of Mark Warner and James Comey ruined any chance of negotiation, but somehow Warner is still in politics.
In 2017, the legal team for Assange, who was then (and is still) holed up in an embassy in London, unable to leave for fear of arrest and extradition to the United States, approached American attorney Adam Waldman, known for having connections in the government.
The legal team hoped that Waldman could see if the Donald Trump administration would be interested in negotiations with the WikiLeaks founder, who desired his freedom from the Ecuadorian embassy in London that was both his refuge and de facto prison.
Waldman, a former official at the Department of Justice under Bill Clinton, seemed like the best person to help them begin the negotiations. The lawyers asked him if he would work pro bono, and the politically-connected individual agreed.
The American attorney has a long of history of participating in similar negotiations.
However, Assange and company didn’t come to the table without something to negotiate with, and the U.S. government was well aware of it. He had a store of classified documents, which included a list of the CIA’s cyber warfare weapons and tactics.
Waldman contacted Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who he had met before. Records show that they had discussions via encrypted means in early January, then had a face-to-face meeting on February 3, 2017, mere weeks after the Trump administration took office.
Ohr reached out to DOJ and intelligence officials with what seemed like a great deal that would mitigate the damage done by the leak, and would help the U.S. government to protect its cyber warfare programs.
The government hoped that they could deal with Assange, and that he would be open to redacting information from his postings, including names of officials involved in various programs.
He made clear that he would not stop publishing information, or give up his sources, but many believed that he was open to concessions concerning his website.
A senior official involved in the discussion said that the intelligence community felt that any opportunity to negotiate redactions and other concession was absolutely worth their time and effort.
DOJ officials picked a federal prosecutor who was, at the time, the head of counterintelligence and export controls, David Laufman, to negotiate terms with Assange’s lawyers.
Waldman, still acting as the go-between, swiftly contacted Laufman, and they discussed what both hoped to accomplish. They also began to discuss a one-time immunity, which would allow Julian Assange to leave the embassy to talk with American officials, then return without harassment or arrest.
Eventually, the efforts yielded an informal offer, commonly called a ‘Queen for a Day’ proffer, where the WikiLeaks publisher made clear what he was willing to give and what he wanted in return.
The offer included redaction of the names of CIA personnel from future WikiLeaks releases, among other things.
Also included, though not stated in the written proffer, was Assange’s willingness to discuss technical evidence, which would rule out certain suspected individuals and groups in the leak of information from the Democrat Party’s email servers.
According to Waldman, he also offered to help address ‘flaws’ in the security systems that allowed him to get information about the cyber warfare programs in the first place. It seemed to the DOJ and intelligence community as if they were close to a deal.
However, Waldman had also reached out to Senator Mark Warner, a democrat from Virginia, asking if the Senate Intelligence Committee was interested in contact with Assange, perhaps to inquire about Russian hacking and other issues on their minds.
Waldman said that he reached out Laufman at the DOJ, who said that the order was “bulls**t,” and that “you (Waldman) are not standing down and neither am I.”
This intervention by Warner and Comey made the Assange team distrustful. After all, the FBI’s counterintelligence team was not only aware of the ongoing discussion; they were also engaged in the process, as was the Justice Department.
Instead of reaching a deal, the chain of events resulted in the death of even the possibility of a deal, and on April 7, 2017, after two months of work, WikiLeaks published documents about the CIA’s cyber warfare programs.
As a result, the United States government backed out entirely, and Mike Pompeo, who was then the head of the CIA, declared that the website was a “hostile intelligence service.”
James Comey and Senator Mark Warner undermined a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage with Assange and company, and to learn more about the DNC hacks.
Most interestingly, Comey, who seems to be busy campaigning around the nation, outright refused to provide any sort of answer for his conduct, and for the fact that his statement was directly responsible for torpedoing the deal.