Is Julian Assange still a rock star?
I remember groaning a few years ago when the pale Australian hacker weirdo accused of sexual assault was winning awards left and right from so-called human rights groups and peace foundations, prestigious journalism prizes, and gushing tributes from Michael Moore and Oliver Stone. It didn't matter that Assange was an obvious charlatan — what kind of sane person trademarks his name? — and that the so-called philosophy of radical transparency undergirding WikiLeaks was just the teenaged nihilism of a million pimply 4chan users applied to politics. He was a cool guy, and the Obama administration's half-hearted attempts to bring him to justice like the terrorist he is were doomed to fail thanks to the public-spiritedness of the Ecuadorian government.
That was then. What 2016 proved is that the theft of secret State Department and Pentagon correspondence during wartime is far less consequential than the publication of a bunch of lame emails from Democratic Party staffers and Clinton hangers-on discussing their not exactly secret plans to cheat Bernie Sanders out of a presidential nomination. The former was the inspiring work of humanists and true patriots, the latter an assault upon not only on our Democratic — oops, I mean democratic — process but the entire international order.
Whatever it takes, I guess. The recent inadvertent revelation that Assange has been charged with one or more crimes by the Justice Department was welcome news to anyone who believes that leakers like him threaten both this country's security and the peace of nations. What WikiLeaks reminds us is that the naivety of liberals — with their slogans about the value of transparency and their meliorist faith in the redemptive power of technology — is as valuable to America's enemies as the crimes of right-wing torture apologists. They are equally ready to appeal to windy nonsense about knowledge, openness, freedom of information, the shortcomings of our welfare state, our supposed ignorance of science or to our decadence, our collapsing borders, our lamentable social progress, and our racial unrest as circumstances dictate. President Trump certainly benefited from the release of John Podesta's emails, but so did Jill Stein. It is not the promotion of any particular candidate or ideology that Moscow and Beijing and Tehran seek but a decline in the credibility of American institutions. One day their target is the CIA or the military, the next it is our election process. Who could argue that they have not not succeeded?
Which is why I am hoping that Robert Mueller, who seems to be responsible for the recent charges against Assange, has his eye on Edward Snowden as well. It is difficult to think of a more straightforward example of collusion between the Russian government and an American national to undermine our government than a man stealing thousands of documents from our intelligence services, sharing them with foreign journalists, and finding a refuge from American justice in Moscow, where he now lives the comfortable life of a Soviet-era defector, playing on his computer and giving seminars via Skype. Five years later intelligence officials are still coming to terms with the consequences of his actions. Snowden is a traitor who deserves to pay the highest penalty for his crimes against this country and her people. Securing his extradition from Russia in the event that he is named by Mueller would be a very tall order indeed. It is a diplomatic challenge to which President Trump and his administration should rise.
If the special counsel investigation leads to the extradition, prosecution, and conviction of Assange, the seemingly pointless exercise in drudging up bad behavior by anyone who is an acquaintance of the president will have been worth it. The day this vampiric internet pirate is dragged away from his cat-sitting duties in London to appear before an American court to answer for his crimes should be a heartening one for anyone who cares about privacy, security, or the rule of law.