As the Guardian’s scoop alleging Paul Manafort visited Julian Assange three times in the Ecuadoran embassy in London appeared to fall apart, Politico published a story that suggested the reporters involved were pranked by someone who wanted to discredit their work on Russia collusion.
The piece was written by Alex Finley, which, according to Politico,” is the pen name of a former CIA officer and author of “Victor in the Rubble,” a satire of the CIA and the war on terror.”
If it was true that Manafort, who briefly served as President Trump’s campaign manager, visited Assange, “the ramifications are immense,” Finley wrote.
“It means the guy running Trump’s campaign met directly with the head of the organization that served as a tool of Russia’s intelligence services, distributing stolen Democratic emails in an effort to influence the U.S. presidential election. It could be the proverbial smoking gun that shows Trump’s campaign knew it was receiving help from Russian intelligence services and perhaps even aided the operation.”
Reporters Luke Harding and Dan Collyns relied entirely on anonymous sources. They also said they saw an internal document from Ecuador’s intelligence service that lists “Paul Manaford” as a frequent visitor to the embassy.
WikiLeaks and Manafort have denied any such meeting took place – WikiLeaks went so far as to challenge the Guardian to a $1 million bet “and the editor’s head” – embassy records show no evidence of these visits, and cameras do not show Manafort coming or going.
Finley saw the trouble ahead. “Rather than being the bombshell smoking gun that directly connects the Trump campaign to WikiLeaks, perhaps the report is something else entirely: a disinformation campaign. Is it possible someone planted this story as a means to discredit the journalists?”
“A number of parties in the Trump-Russia circus have an interest in discrediting the media. Russian President Vladimir Putin has solidified his power in Russia by systematically quashing the free press and controlling the message through friendly media outlets, including the likes of RT and Sputnik,” Finley wrote. “Trump, too, has consistently shouted ‘Fake news’ at any story he doesn’t like and has made it a theme of late to refer to the media as ‘the enemy of the people.’”
Glenn Greenwald, the investigative reporter responsible for the Snowden leaks, questioned the premise of Finley’s story.
“Why do attacks on the US media – calling it “Fake News” – resonate so widely?” he wrote at the beginning of a series of tweets on the topic. “Because of utterly fabricated and reckless articles like this one from @politico, by a former *CIA officer allowed to write under a “pen name”*. The whole thing is a fraud.”
“The only point of the article is to *invent out of whole cloth* a wild conspiracy theory: that perhaps Russia-controlled operatives caused the Guardian to publish a false story … in order to discredit Luke Harding for his Russia reporting,” Greenwald said.
He further pointed out the piece lied about him – it said he had worked with WikiLeaks to release the Edward Snowden material when he did not and that the only people raising doubts about the Guardian’s story were those who were “part of Russia’s disinformation network.”
“Even two hours after I read it, I still can’t believe that Politico actually published an article by an ex-CIA agent under a fake name saying that if the Guardian’s blockbuster Assange/Manafort story is false, it’s Russia’s fault. Parodying the US media at this point is futile.”