Julian Assange and his free-speech brainchild Wikileaks were once lauded as global heroes of public service among United States politicians and policy makers. But by 2010, four years after its inception during the President George W. Bush administration, Assange and his organization were no longer considered lovable troublemakers and mavericks.
A year into President Barack Obama’s first term, Wikileaks was suddenly considered an out-of-control free-speech Frankenstein wreaking havoc on United States foreign policy and intelligence gathering at the direction of Assange, its proverbial Dr. Frankenstein.
The honeymoon for the whistle-blower web site, once a darling of the Democratic Party, was now over. Even more alarming, Assange’s personal safety and organization were increasingly at risk from U.S. concerns.
By November 2010, Assange was a household name globally, but especially on Capitol Hill. And in the State Department alone his prowess of releasing otherwise secret, damning military documents and emails were filling conference rooms at Foggy Bottom and the White House with policy wonks and bureaucrats desperately seeking to squelch the upstart Wikileaks. At the State Department, meeting after meeting was conducted about how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her inner circle were going to squash Assange and Wikileaks latest planned document dump on the United States. Deemed “CableGate,” Assange planned to release confidential cables, or communications, unveiling damaging internal conversations between State Department personnel and its foreign assets and allies.
Prodded by the looming CableGate, Clinton met with staff on Tuesday November 23, 2010 shortly after 8 a.m. on Mahogany Row at the State Department to attempt to formulate a strategy to avert Assange’s plans to release an enormous batch of 250,000 secret cables, dating from 1966 to 2010. Assange had professed for months to rain the internal cables down on Clinton and President Obama. The collective fear was the context of the secret cables would hamper U.S. intelligence gathering and compromise private correspondences and intelligence shared with foreign governments and opposition leaders. Splashing such juicy details on television news shows and the front pages of major newspapers in the country was great for the media but lousy for intelligence and foreign policy. Many, including Clinton and her elected boss, expressed fear these revelations would embarrass and expose intelligence allies of the United States and set America’s already fragile foreign policy back decades.
“By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement responding to Wikileaks’ anticipated tidal wave release of intelligence. “It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions.”
Clinton’s State Department was getting pressure from President Obama and his White House inner circle, as well as heads of state internationally, to try and cutoff Assange’s delivery of the cables and if that effort failed, then to forge a strategy to minimize the administration’s public embarrassment over the contents of the cables. Hence, Clinton’s early morning November meeting of State’s top brass who floated various proposals to stop, slow or spin the Wikileaks contamination. That is when a frustrated Clinton, sources said, at some point blurted out a controversial query.
“Can’t we just drone this guy?” Clinton openly inquired, offering a simple remedy to silence Assange and smother Wikileaks via a planned military drone strike, according to State Department sources. The statement drew laughter from the room which quickly died off when the Secretary kept talking in a terse manner, sources said. Clinton said Assange, after all, was a relatively soft target, “walking around” freely and thumbing his nose without any fear of reprisals from the United States. Clinton was upset about Assange’s previous 2010 records releases, divulging secret U.S. documents about the war in Afghanistan in July and the war in Iraq just a month earlier in October, sources said. At that time in 2010, Assange was relatively free and not living cloistered in in the embassy of Ecuador in London. Prior to 2010, Assange focused Wikileaks’ efforts on countries outside the United States but now under Clinton and Obama, Assange was hammering America with an unparalleled third sweeping Wikileaks document dump in five months. Clinton was fuming, sources said, as each State Department cable dispatched during the Obama administration was signed by her.
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