A full year before a team of assassins murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi on October 2, 2018, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) plotted to kidnap or kill Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who had taken refuge five years earlier in the Ecuador embassy in London.
The purpose of the Saudi killing was to silence Khashoggi and to frighten critics of the Arabian regime by showing that it would pursue and punish them as though they were agents of a foreign power.
In 2017, plans for the forcible rendition of Assange to the US were discussed “at the highest levels” of the Trump administration.
More than 30 US officials – eight of whom confirmed details of the abduction proposal – were quoted in a 7,500-word investigation by Yahoo News into the CIA campaign against Assange.
The plan was to “break into the embassy, drag [Assange] out and bring him to where we want”, said one former senior US counter-intelligence official.
Another informant said that he was briefed about a meeting in the spring of 2017 at which President Donald Trump asked if the CIA could assassinate Assange and provide “options” about how this could be done.
Trump has denied that he did so but he cannot escape the fact that he accused the press of being an “enemy of the American people” while deriding coverage he dislikes as “fake news” and singling out particular outlets and reporters.
The unprecedented CIA campaign directed against WikiLeaks and its founder also included multipronged plans for extensive spying on WikiLeaks associates, sowing discord among the group’s members, and stealing their electronic devices.
The newly installed CIA director, Mike Pompeo, was seeking revenge on WikiLeaks and Assange, who had sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on bogus rape allegations that have subsequently been dropped.
Pompeo and other top spy agency leaders “were completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7,” said a former Trump national security official. “They were seeing blood.”
The U.S. government’s war on WikiLeaks was one of the most contentious intelligence debates of the Trump presidency but it reveals that America’s government is as likely to kill journalists as any other tyrannical regime.
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said that many journalists lost their lives while covering conflict, but the number of reporters killed outside conflict zones, has risen in recent years.
“In many countries, simply investigating corruption, trafficking, human rights violations or environmental issues puts journalists’ lives at risk”, the UN Chief said in a message marking the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
For Guterres, “crimes against journalists have an enormous impact on society as a whole, because they prevent people from making informed decisions.”
Journalists face countless other threats, ranging from kidnapping, torture and arbitrary detention, to disinformation campaigns and harassment, particularly in the digital sphere.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says that, between 2006 and 2017, over 1,000 journalists were killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public; an average of one death every four days.
In nine out of ten cases the killers go unpunished, and this impunity, say the UN experts, triggers further violence and attacks: perpetrators must be brought to justice, and victims and families should have access to remedies.
Between 1992 and 2022, at least 1,427 journalists have been killed.
On January 6, 2022, suspected gang members shot and killed Haitian journalists John Wesley Amady and Wilguens Louis-Saint while they were reporting on the lack of security in Laboule 12, an area disputed by gangs in the Port-au-Prince commune of Pétion-Ville, according to news reports.
Such events do not only happen in faraway places like India, Mexico, Philippines or Afghanistan.
Adam Ward, a 27-year-old cameraman for local TV station WDBJ7, was shot dead alongside reporter Alison Parker at around 6:45 a.m. on August 26, 2015, during a live broadcast at a shopping mall in Virginia. The gunman was Vester Lee Flanagan II, also known as Bryce Williams, a former reporter at WDBJ who had been fired in 2013 for disruptive conduct.
Another gunman shot to death five people, four of whom were journalists, at the Capital Gazette, in the newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 28, 2018, in what police called a “targeted attack.” The victims were editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, columnist Rob Hiaasen, sports writer John McNamara, community correspondent Wendi Winters, and Rebecca Smith, a sales assistant.
William Biggart, a freelance news photographer, was killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The journalist’s body was found on September 15 in the rubble at Ground Zero, near the bodies of several firefighters. Biggart had rushed to the scene with his camera shortly after hearing about the attacks.
For all his tough talk, Trump ultimately did not have the guts to kill Assange but simply holding such a discussion amounts to a crime of conspiracy that violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the charter of the CIA.