Wikileaks, Snowden, and the Belarus Connection
After having his first round of asylum applications turned down across the board, NSA leaker/defector Edward Snowden may at last have found a home. It’s been reported that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said his country will offer asylum to America’s most wanted IT guy, whom no one else seems to want. This may settle the matter, and Snowden will be able to leave Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport at last, but the more than minor issue of how Ed will actually get to Venezuela remains unresolved.
It’s worth noting that Maduro, who earlier this week was in Moscow, went home via Belarus, where he celebrated independence festivities in Minsk with President – or as Maduro called him, “Comrade President” – Aleksandr Lukashenka. Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, visited Belarus five times, which really stood out because virtually no heads of state visit Minsk these days, thanks to Belarus’s awful record as Europe’s only repressive dictatorship. There the secret police, still termed the KGB (it would have cost a fortune to change the letterhead), keeps a lid on dissent in a way that dismays virtually everyone in Europe. In recent years, Vladimir Putin, once a strong supporter of the weird Lukashenka neo-Soviet cult, has put some distance between Moscow and Minsk because nobody outside quasi-Stalinist circles wants to be publicly associated with Belarus.
Wikileaks, however, is one of the few organizations with kind words about Lukashenka – which, given the awful record of the Belarusian KGB against the press and dissidents is an odd position for an “anti-secrecy” group to take – and here’s where things get interesting. The key figure in all this is Israel Shamir, who is one of the oddest and shadiest characters you’d ever want to meet. Importantly, he’s been telling everyone for years that he’s the Wikileaks representative for Russia and Belarus. He has gone to bat for the latter country and has been involved in discrediting Belarusian dissidents – which, given how badly Minsk treats such people, is no trivial matter.
So who is Israel Shamir? That’s not an easy question to answer with much certainty. His official biography states that he was born in the Soviet Union in 1947 and emigrated to Israel in 1969, but little of his curriculum vitae stands up to detailed scrutiny. He admits to having something like a half-dozen different identities, complete with aliases. Of greatest interest here is that, before he became famous for his Wikileaks links, he was best known as a neo-Nazi holocaust denier in European circles. Which is a pretty rare thing for a Jew and Israeli citizen to get mixed up in. Shamir, operating under several names, is noted for his anti-Semitic vitriol and is fond of extolling the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and hanging out with Nordic neo-Nazis. His views are so strange and vehement that many have wondered if Shamir’s is actually an agent provocateur on behalf of some intelligence service. Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein, known for his own pro-Palestinian views, who crossed paths with Shamir more than once, called him a “maniac,” adding, “He has invented his entire personal history. Nothing he says about himself is true.” In all, Shamir’s a pretty odd choice as Wikileaks’ go-to guy for Russia.
The role of Shamir in Wikileaks, as well as his bizarre views, began to get noticed in late 2010, with an expose in Reason that asked just what was going on here, quoting Shamir as calling Jews “a virus in human form” and boasting of his Holocaust denial. Importantly, that piece had an admission by Kristinn Hrafnsson, Wikileaks spokesman, when asked directly about the group’s links with Shamir: ”Yes. Yes, he is associated with us.”
Not surprisingly, awkward questions followed including in The Guardian, not exactly a right-wing rag. Reports followed – all links here are to The Guardian, which given that newspaper’s current involvement with the Snowden case should indicate something – that Shamir, is indeed deeply involved in the Wikileaks operation: As “Adam,” Shamir (along with his Swedish son, a well-known anti-Semitic activist), has a key role in Wikileaks decisions, he was the editor of the group’s Russian-related US diplomatic cables that were leaked by PFC Bradley Manning, and perhaps most distastefully, he was involved in a smear campaign against the Swedish women who accused Julian Assange of rape (the reason he remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London).
Sensing it had a PR problem on its hands, Wikileaks made a few public statements on its employee-friend-whatever Shamir. A Wikileaks press release on 3 February 2011 fudged the issue, observing that it was “almost certainly false” that Shamir is actually an “employee” of the group, while noting that he was being paid by several (unnamed) Russian press outfits; in all, this raised more questions than answers about who Shamir is really working for. Wikileaks followed up with another press release on 1 March 2011, stating, “Israel Shamir has never worked or volunteered for WikiLeaks, in any manner, whatsoever.” This statement seems patently untrue, given what is known about Shamir’s activities, but this remains the official Wikileaks line on this very strange man.
I discovered this again last night, when I was pinged by Jacob Applebaum, the American hacktivist and Wikileaks inner circle member. A Twitter spat followed, in which I repeatedly asked Applebaum to clarify the group’s relationship with Shamir, and he refused to do so beyond citing the 1 March 2011 press release.
Unfortunately, Shamir never seems to have gotten the memo that he and Wikileaks have nothing to do with each other. He divides his time between Israel, Sweden, and Russia – who’s paying for all this, by the way? Wikileaks seems to have limited funds – and pops up in the media in those countries (in the first two countries not normally in a flattering manner). He is prominent in the country of his birth, and he is easy to find in the Russian media, denouncing US neo-imperialism and praising Wikileaks and, most recently, extolling the virtues of Edward Snowden. Of critical importance is the fact that Shamir regularly is identified in the Russian media as a “Wikileaks representative” and speaks as if he has the group’s imprimatur.
Most recently, on 4 July 2013 – exactly two days ago – Shamir was interviewed in the Russian newspaper Zavrta (which has a left-wing nationalist orientation; it’s not a supermarket gossip sheet), in an article titled “The Edward Snowden Phenomenon,” where he was identified as “a Wikileaks representative.” Let me be perfectly clear here. Shamir’s interview portion of the article is sub-headed “Israel Shamir, Wikileaks Representative (Исраэль Шамир, представитель WikiLeaks) – the Russian meaning is unambiguous. The content of the interview is classic Shamir, including fawning praise of Snowden, whom he compares favorably with Kim Philby. I don’t think he was being ironic there.
The bottom line is Israel Shamir continues to represent himself as a member of Wikileaks, indeed he usually implies he’s in the group’s inner circle. More than a few people have questioned Shamir’s mental stability, so it is possible that Wikileaks has indeed cut ties with him and Shamir is simply lying. But given Wikileaks’ less than transparent track record on this matter, more than Applebaum’s obfuscations is required. Someone is clearly lying here, it’s important to know who.
It’s especially important given the fact that Wikileaks is playing a leading role in the Snowden case, to the dismay of some of Ed’s admirers and even members of his family. Not to mention that Snowden, as of this writing, is still in Moscow. One need not be a counterintelligence guru to have serious questions about Shamir and Wikileaks here. It may be a much bigger part of the story than it appears to the naked eye.
[N.B. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.]