Fact-Checking Suzie Dawson
When I first contacted Sibel Edmonds for an interview regarding the online publication The Intercept, she told me that – in tackling this story – I should expect to be attacked. While I expected a sharp rebuke from the likes of Intercept writers like Glenn Greenwald, I didn’t expect the fiercest critic of my work to be Suzie Dawson, a journalist known for her work on defending WikiLeaks and debunking smears against them and their editor-in-chief Julian Assange.
Suzie Dawson recently wrote an article titled “Being Julian Assange.” It is massive and covers many topics and is rather broad in scope. Buried within that article is a rather dishonest attack on yours truly, which – unsurprisingly – was the impetus behind this piece of writing. While others mentioned in Dawson’s piece have pushed back against her assertions and the narrative she has weaved, I have chosen to respond only to attacks against myself and my work and am confident that I am able to prove every last one of them categorically false.
First, some background. Back in January, I published an article titled “FBI Whistleblowers on Pierre Omidyar’s Campaign to Neuter WikiLeaks.” It ran on MintPress News, where I work as staff writer. Since its publication, Suzie has repeatedly accused this article of being a “smear” that contained "a litany of falsehoods,” lies which were too many to address on Twitter and would do so later on. In the process, she attacked me personally numerous times, insulting my intelligence, calling me an “idiot” and a “fool” among other insults while failing to provide a meaningful critique of my article. She blocked me on Twitter, leaving me unable to respond directly to her attacks on my work and credibility. She has also blocked numerous people who attempted to ask her why she took such issue with my writing.
Within her now-published long form response to my article, she does not address a single claim made in my article series directly but rather takes issue with statements I made in two subsequent interviews. However, in her piece, she does claim that my article is “an aggregation of circumstantial facts from the public record, strung together into a derogatory narrative.”
However, this view is new from Suzie as she didn’t take issue with my article initially. Two days after my first piece was published, she wrote on Twitter that my article was “well written” but noted that she didn’t particularly like it – not because it was a smear, derogatory or factually incorrect – but because “it told me absolutely nothing I didn’t know” and because she found the title to be “misleading.” How she shifted from apparently agreeing with the content article and finding it factual (and information she said she had apparently already been aware of) to claiming it is a smear containing “a litany of falsehoods” is unclear and continues to be so.
Suzie’s opinion of my article apparently changed after I appeared on the Fault Lines radio show to discuss my piece. Following my appearance on Fault Lines, she tagged me in a tweet on Twitter claiming I had made “false” and “dangerous” claims on the show. At the time, she declined to say what those claims were, saying she would address them in an upcoming piece, which is the recently released article referenced above. Elsewhere in her piece, Suzie claims I lied a total of seven times between these two interviews. They are summarized below in no particular order.
1. Booz Allen Hamilton benefited economically from the Snowden leaks
Suzie writes the following in her article: "By 9:00 Webb is stretching herself thin, trying to depict Booz Allen Hamilton’s tacit connections to the Omidyar Network as being somehow related to the Snowden leaks. She says “the Snowden-Omidyar Booz Allen Hamilton connections… they’ve been called the most profitable spy agency, James Clapper was an ex-Director… if you remember back to the Snowden story years ago, Snowden worked for Booz Allen Hamilton… even though the pace of the leaks has been truly glacial, Snowden hasn’t complained at all..”
The implication is that Booz Allen Hamilton has somehow benefited from the leaks, as if it was a positive development for them to be globally humiliated for having one of their employees compromise their systems, extracting thousands of top secret documents and transporting them across international borders."
As you can tell by all of the […] Suzie used in this block quote, a lot of my words are missing - words which add crucial context. Please listen to the interview yourself (time-stamp: 9:00 - 11:45). In the interview with Sibel, what I am actually referencing is summarized in the following section of my MintPress article:
“Omidyar is also well-connected to Snowden’s former employer Booz Allen Hamilton, a major government contractor known as the “world’s most profitable spy organization,” whose former executives include James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, and Michael McConnell, former Director of the NSA. Omidyar’s Ulupono Initiative, a venture capital fund that operates in his home state of Hawaii, cosponsors one of the Pentagon’s most important contractor expos, in which Booz Allen Hamilton – and the Department of Defense – have a major stake.
In addition, a former Booz Allen Hamilton vice president, Kyle Datta, is General Partner of Omidyar’s Ulupono Initiative. Also striking was Omidyar’s decision to accept Snowden’s former boss at Booz Allen Hamilton, Robert Lietzke, into the Omidyar Fellows program in 2015 after personally interviewing Lietzke as part of the program’s application process. What was unusual in Lietzke’s case was that Omidyar also oversees The Intercept, which has exclusive publishing rights over the Snowden cache – which was taken from under Lietzke’s nose at Booz Allen Hamilton by his former employee, Edward Snowden."
Snowden himself has remained silent on Omidyar’s decision, despite the mixed signals it sent and continues to serve as the president of the FPF — which, as mentioned, is also funded by Omidyar.”
In other words, Dawson quoted me in such a way to assert that I am making a point I didn’t actually make, a dishonest practice that she criticizes others for earlier on in her piece, such as Micah Lee.
Nowhere do I make the claim that Booz Allen Hamilton benefited from the Snowden leaks. Instead, I make the point that Omidyar shares some interesting – and underreported – connections to Snowden’s former employer, some of which are strange considering that Omidyar funded the very news organization dedicated in part to reporting on the Snowden leaks, leaks which cast Booz Allen Hamilton in such a negative light.
I reference a past claim made by Bloomberg that Booz Allen Hamilton has been called the “most profitable spy agency” to show that it is a powerful government contractor for U.S. Intelligence, nowhere do I make the claim that the “most profitable” moniker is in anyway related to the actions of Edward Snowden or what he did. In addition, I do not, as Suzie claims, try to depict Booz Allen Hamilton’s connections to the Omidyar Network as “being some-how related to the Snowden leaks.” Omidyar is connected to Booz Allen Hamilton, just as he is connected to several other government agencies and contractors.
2. The Intercept was founded to report on Snowden docs
Suzie states the following: “At 3:20 in the video, Webb kicks off by suggesting that The Intercept was only launched to report on the Snowden documents: “its come out over the years their whole basis with the Snowden leaks and whatnot ended up not really becoming true, they’ve had a lot of other stories that have come out that don’t really have anything to do with those documents…” The Intercept’s launch announcement from 2014 contradicts Webb: “Our central mission is to hold the most powerful governmental and corporate factions to account and to do so, we will report on a wide range of issues.”
However, Suzie – in referencing the Intercept launch announcement – failed to reference information that was found just a few lines down from what she quoted, where it reads: “Our short-term mission is limited but critically important: to provide a platform and an editorial structure in which to aggressively report on the disclosures provided to us by our source, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. We decided to launch now because we believe we have a vital and urgent obligation to this story, to these documents, and to the public.”
As we now know, this “obligation” has not been fulfilled as urgently as the launch announcement once suggested as the majority of the Snowden docs are still not publicly available several years after the fact.
Either Suzie had not read the entire launch announcement (which I find hard to believe, but who knows) or she deliberately decided not to include it in her article.
In addition, Julian Assange and others have noted that The Intercept was launched to report on the Snowden documents. In particular, Suzie was a part of a thread where Assange stated this, but chose to ignore his position. Suzie, in suggesting that I am the only person to have made this claim, deliberately ignores the words and criticisms of others, including people she consistently praises and holds in high esteem.
3. Syria document was one of the first Intercept releases in a long time
Suzie writes the following: “Webb continues, speaking of the Snowden documents: “there was a document that came out at the end of last year and it was one of the first Snowden releases that The Intercept had had come out in a really long time.”
In one of her many attacks against Glenn Greenwald on Twitter, Webb stated: ”
First, the tweet Suzie references here is deliberately taken out of context. Here, by “publications” I meant published articles, specifically the articles the Intercept has published that smear WikiLeaks. Indeed, some of the Intercept’s recent publications (published articles) have provided support for my article’s overall thesis that the Intercept is participating in a campaign to undermine WikiLeaks (whether or not this is intentional on the part of its writers is a different story, which I don’t discuss. Instead, I suggest that this campaign is the work of Omidyar). In particular, this tweet was meant to reference Micah Lee’s smear piece on WikiLeaks that Suzie also considers inaccurate. However, Suzie asserts that, in this tweet, I am referencing the Intercept’s lack of publications on the Snowden docs even though I directly refer to what it has published.
Of course, I do criticize the Intercept elsewhere for its incredibly slow release of the Snowden documents. This is not a claim I am alone in making -many people, from Moon of Alabama to Julian Assange himself – have also noted – as I have – that the vast majority of the Snowden docs have not been released. Assange has estimated that about 90% of the docs remain unreleased. Moon of Alabama, whose reporting I find to be spot-on and very much respect – has put the number higher, claiming that only ~4 % have been released. Greenwald has even conceded that “not enough” has been published. In my interview with Sibel, the latter is the statistic I reference. Interestingly, Suzie seems to assert that I (and Sibel) are alone in making this claim, when people – including Assange – have also made this same point.
Second, in the quote from this interview that Suzie references, I am talking about a Snowden document that was the subject of the article written by Murtaza Hussain at The Intercept which directly relates to the Syrian war. I make a generalization that this article was one of the few articles published by The Intercept in a long time. I am not saying it was the only Snowden document released by The Intercept in a long time nor do I say that it was the only article on Snowden documents put out in 2017. Suzie, again, took my words out of context to paint a narrative that is inaccurate and seeks to deride my work.
4. The Syria document was intentionally withheld by The Intercept
Suzie wrote: “Edmonds and Webb follow this up with multiple assertions (also commonly circulated on social media) that The Intercept deliberately withheld the file Webb referenced. “The document that came out was an NSA document… The Intercept had sat on that document for about four and a half years at the time.” Webb has no basis for making this claim: It is impossible to substantiate any intent on behalf of The Intercept to suppress the release of an individual document.”
She then claims Assange defends this claim by posting an image of this tweet. However, as you can see from this Twitter thread, the tweet was actually about the intent behind the decision of why The Intercept was founded, not about the Syria document. Suzie, again, takes tweets out of context to support her point.
Beyond that, I wrote about this issue last October for MintPress. I lay out my case for why I believe The Intercept did wrong here. Given that Julian Assange is given a central role in Suzie’s piece, it is also relevant to mention that Assange shared this same article of mine on Twitter.
In addition to what I wrote last October, there is the fact that Glenn Greenwald has claimed that he knows whether or not certain topics are addressed in the Snowden documents, including those that have yet to be released. He has asserted that PayPal, which Omidyar owns, is not implicated in the documents though he “doesn’t doubt” that PayPal and the NSA cooperate. For him to be sure that PayPal is nowhere to be found in these documents, he – and ostensibly others – would have to know what topics are covered. Given that The Guardian bragged about withholding key documents on Iraq and Afghanistan and the fact that Omidyar has supported U.S.-backed regime change before, there is more than enough cause for concern.
In addition, a major red flag relevant to this situation is The Intercept’s coverage of the Syrian conflict, which has long been extremely biased towards the foreign-funded opposition seeking to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. For instance, Murtaza Hussain – who wrote the article on this particular Snowden document – has consistently obfuscated key facts about the Syrian opposition, including groups linked to Al Qaeda. In fact, Hussain even wrote a puff piece on Al Qaeda’s “media man” in Syria, painting him as a brave journalist dodging bombs left and right during the Syrian Arab Army’s fight to re-take Aleppo. If this document had been published before, it would have certainly undermined The Intercept’s Syria coverage, particularly Hussain’s articles.
Also, worth mentioning is what immediately preceded the release of this document by The Intercept: “[…] the Intercept published this latest piece only after the U.S. State Department itself began to report more honestly on the nature of these so-called “rebels.” A day before the Intercept’s story on Syrian “rebels” and the Saudis, the U.S. State Department – for the first time – admitted that “moderate” rebels in Syria had previously used chemical weapons, a charge it had categorically denied for years in order to facilitate laying the blame for any and all chemical weapons attacks in Syria on the Syrian government.”
In addition, Julian Assange agrees with my thesis that The Intercept withheld this document. He wrote on Twitter last October that “Intercept concealed over 90% of the Snowden docs for the last 4 years, Including this doc [the Syria doc] which may have saved thousands of lives if it had been released in 2013/2014.”
However, Suzie attacks me for making a claim that others – including Assange – support. This is particularly troubling as Suzie was well aware of the aforementioned tweet by Assange as shown in this Twitter thread, but chose not to mention it because it contradicted her narrative and her attempts to smear me and my work.
5. FPF Board Members are mostly from the Intercept or people like Edward Snowden
Suzie states: “At 7.20 in the interview she almost nails a key point, but still hadn’t done enough homework to get it right. Webb states, of the Freedom of the Press Foundation: “its board of directors are almost all writers for The Intercept or people like Edward Snowden.” There is a very key common thread between the majority of members of the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) board. But it is not The Intercept. It is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).”
In this interview, I made a generalization. My claim is that most of the people on the board of the directors at the FPF are employed by the Intercept or are people “like Edward Snowden,” which could be construed as meaning anyone ranging from a whistleblower to a transparency activist. As I said, I am making a generalization because – in the interview – I did not want to devote time to naming every member of the FPF and what they do. But I guess I’ll do that now.
The board of directors of the FPF are as follows: Edward Snowden, John Cusack, Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Micah Lee, Laura Poitras, Rainey Reitman, John Perry Barlow.
Of those, Greenwald and Lee are employees of the Intercept. Trevor Timm occasionally writes for the Intercept and was also instrumental in the publication’s founding. Laura Poitras is an Intercept co-founder and is employed by Omidyar’s First Look Media, the Intercept’s parent company. Daniel Ellsberg is a whistleblower, and thus, a person “like Edward Snowden.”
Thus, five of the eight members of the board of directors of the FPF fit the generalization I made, the majority of them. In addition, Rainey Reitman and John Perry Barlow are connected to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as are Micah Lee and Trevor Timm, as Suzie correctly points out. However, Suzie fails to mention that the EFF receives funding from the Omidyar Network even though she reports on the EFF's funding later on in her article.
In addition, Suzie asserts that I am slandering the FPF corrupt and that this is a claim that is exclusively promoted by myself as well as Sibel Edmonds. Actually, as I highlight early on in my article, this claim actually originated with WikiLeaks.
Why is Suzie smearing me for making a claim first made by WikiLeaks?
This is a major oversight by Suzie and drastically weakens the following claim made later on in her article:
“It took “a year-long debate among the directors at the Freedom of the Press Foundation” before a statement by FPF Executive Director Trevor Timm confirmed that consensus on the question of funding WikiLeaks was finally reached in October 2017. Multiple other figures sourced in the article confirmed that the issue had divided the Board. It took the reframing of making it about whether the banking blockade was still in existence, in order to justify the decision to sever WikiLeaks. This blows apart the notion that the decision was in any way related to FPF’s funding, connections to The Intercept or to Pierre Omidyar. Else why would it have taken a year to achieve, after the loss of the Board member who originally raised the issue?”
Please, tell me more how Omidyar is not involved in the FPF’s decision given that Omidyar’s connections as cited above were present during this “year-long debate.”
6. I claim Glenn Greenwald was a “gay porn king”
Suzie wrote the following: “Within minutes of presenting this as evidence of the threats WikiLeaks faces, Edmonds is ripping into Greenwald, suggesting that he was some kind of gay porn king on the lam from the US Government, in hiding in Brazil. Malicious rumours spread by none other than the FBI in the immediate wake of Greenwald’s Snowden reporting. Webb tried to weasel out of the outlandish claims after the fact, by blaming them all on Edmonds. It went down like a sinking ship.”
As Suzie’s own writing shows. This is a claim made by Edmonds. It is a claim that I have never made, supported or written about. Attributing this statement to me is an outright lie as in both of these interviews, on Twitter and or in my article, I do not make this claim. Edmonds has made this claim in other videos, where other journalists like James Corbett, are present, but Suzie has only associated this accusation with me in a clear bid to discredit my work. It is dishonest to attribute a claim to someone that never even made that claim.
7. Snowden Documents contain Information on PayPal
Suzie writes: “By 13:00 Webb is claiming “as the FBI whistleblower mentioned in my story, Sibel Edmonds, she exposed in 2013 that a lot of the Snowden leaks factually contained information that is very damning for Paypal, and Paypal’s connection to the US government, the NSA, the CIA and the Treasury Department so it seems like Greenwald has changed his stance on leaks since being employed by The Intercept.”
Again, I am referencing a claim reported on in 2013 by Sibel, but Suzie suggests that I am inventing this out of thin air. The claim originates from a retired NSA official who claimed that: “the documents obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden contain extensive documentation pertaining to NSA’s partnership with major U.S. financial institutions, including credit card companies and PayPal Corporation. The official, who requested anonymity, also alleges that a deal was made in early June, 2013 between the journalists involved in this recent NSA scandal and U.S. government officials, which was then sealed by secrecy and nondisclosure agreements by all parties involved.”
These claims were buoyed by NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Russell Tice. In addition, when confronted, Greenwald said he “doesn’t doubt” that PayPal cooperates with the NSA but stated that the claims of past NSA officials are false. It is difficult to know who is telling the truth here, that much I will concede. However, the fact that between 90-95% of the Snowden cache remains in private hands prevents anyone from confirming whether or not this is the case and the lack of transparency does grave damage to Greenwald’s case.
As shown above, I clearly state that this is Sibel’s claim. PayPal’s connections to the U.S. government are laid out in my MintPress article series as is the fact that Greenwald has changed his stance on leaks in the years since The Intercept’s founding.
If you have made the effort to read this far, you have my sincere thanks. Though I appreciate some of the points made by Suzie in her article, I do not appreciate the use of classic smear tactics intended to discredit me and my work without actual factual evidence. As shown above, Suzie has used the very same tactics that she accuses Micah Lee, among others, of using in her attempts to paint me as “ignorant” and a “pseudo-journalist,” thereby discrediting my intelligence and entire body of work. Her article was widely circulated on Twitter and was shared and read by many. If you have read the above and have found Suzie’s statements about me and my articles to be misleading and false, I ask that you share this article so that people can look at her statements in “Being Julian Assange” alongside mine and make a decision about my article and work for themselves.