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Boston Globe: We 'overreached' on Charles Taylor-CIA story

Last week, I wrote a post linking to a front-page story from the Boston Globe on links between former Liberian President, now-war crimes defendant Charles Taylor and the CIA. The piece reported that, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Globe, the U.S. government had confirmed that Taylor had worked with U.S. spy agencies while he was a rebel leader fighting to overthrow the Liberian government.

Today, the Globe has issued a near-retraction of the story: 

A front-page story on Jan. 17 drew unsupported conclusions and significantly overstepped available evidence when it described former Liberia president Charles Taylor as having worked with US spy agencies as a “sought-after source.’’ The story, based on a response by the US Defense Intelligence Agency to a long-pending records request from the Globe, described the agency’s response as having “confirmed its agents and CIA agents worked with Taylor beginning in the early 1980s.’’

But the agency offered no such confirmation; rather, it said only that it possessed 48 documents running to 153 pages that fall in the category of what the Globe asked for - records relating to Taylor and to his relationship, if any, with American intelligence going back to 1982. The agency, however, refused to release the documents and gave no indication of what was in them.

One of the grounds for that refusal was suggestive, citing the need to protect “intelligence sources and methods,’’ but that, by itself, fell well short of a sufficient basis for the published account. There has long been speculation that Taylor had such a role, speculation fueled in part by Taylor’s own suggestion in trial testimony that his 1985 escape from prison in Plymouth, Mass., may have been facilitated by CIA operatives. But Taylor, now standing trial before a UN special court on charges of rape, murder, and other offenses, denies he was ever a source for, or worked for, US intelligence.

The Globe had no adequate basis for asserting otherwise and the story should not have run in this form.

The fact that these "records relating to Taylor and to his relationship, if any, with American intelligence" exist but the CIA won't release them is only going to increase the curiosity about what they contain. The correction is unlikely to stop the rumor mills in Monrovia, Washington, or The Hague. 

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Live from house arrest, it's the Julian Assange show

RT, the Russian government-funded, English-language satellite network, announced today that it's launching a new series hosted by none other than WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. From the press release

­The show, arguably the most anticipated news series of 2012, will feature ten "iconoclasts, visionaries and power insiders" – people Assange can clearly identify with, being a rather controversial figure himself. The 40-year-old Australian media and internet entrepreneur will get to talk about the issues of the day with those he believes will shape "the world tomorrow."

In his own words, the world-famous Wikileaks founder is "a pioneer of a more just world and a victim of political repression" which is why he promises to deliver a new type of television. Many are already wondering whether it will be as explosive as the biggest mass disclosure of secret documents in US history, also orchestrated by Assange and his team.

The show will be filmed at the very location that Julian Assange has been under house arrest for the last year and a half, with the first episode to be shot just a week before Assange's Supreme Court hearing in the UK. He has been on conditional bail for 414 days, with no charges officially filed, as he fights extradition to Sweden.

Wikileaks has halted publication of documents in order to raise money, but Assange has managed to stay in the headlines lately, giving a high-profile interview to Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings.  It will be interesting to see which "iconoclasts" Assange picks as his subjects, and if he uses the show as a platform to mount his defense. 

Assange has a longstanding relationship with RT. He gave one of his first interviews around the time of the "Collateral Murder" video to the network's Alyona Minkovski and received generally sympathetic coverage from the network throughout the "cablegate" saga.

Hosting a show on a network funded by an authoritarian government might seem to contradict Assange's political principles -- he once claimed to be in posession of comprising materials about Russian politicians and businessmen but doesn't seem to have ever released them -- but as his likely deportation to Sweden approaches, he may be getting desperate for a high-profile platform.

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