Degrees of Separation From Assange

New York- I got a list email last week from Vaughan Smith, the head of London’s Frontline Club (a journalism event space in central London) that he and his club were offering full support to Wikileaks’ Australian guru Julian Assange. Here is the text of the email:

Dear friends of Frontline, many of you will have seen Julian Assange and the Wikileaks people at Frontline. I wanted to copy you the press release that I sent out today. Very best, Vaughan

“I attended court today to offer my support for Julian Assange of Wikileaks on a point of principle.

“In the face of a concerted attempt to shut him down and after a decade since 9/11 that has been characterised by manipulation of the media by the authorities, the information released by Wikileaks is a refreshing glimpse into an increasingly opaque world.”

The Frontline Club was founded seven years ago to stand for independence and transparency.

Recent informal canvassing of many of our more than 1,500 members at the Frontline Club suggests almost all are supportive of our position.

I am suspicious of the personal charges that have been made against Mr Assange and hope that this will be properly resolved by the courts. Certainly no credible charges have been brought regarding the leaking of the information itself.

I can confirm that Mr Assange has spent much of the last several months working from our facilities at the Frontline Club. Earlier today I offered him an address for bail.

7pm. Tuesday 7 December. —

I had no clue that Smith was in cahoots with Mr. Assange and don’t really have a strong opinion on it one way or the other at the moment because I have been too busy with other political and personal machinations to get worked up positively or negatively. I met Smith briefly when Frontline hosted an event several years ago now at Powerhouse Books in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood. The whole reason I knew who he was in the first place (which I did not bother to mention when I met him) was the case of Roddy Scott. Scott was a freelance cameraman working for Smith’s now defunct Frontline TV agency in the Caucasus mountains in 2002 when he was killed by a Russian sniper/sharpshooter while filming a firefight in the Ingush Republic.  Smith was quoted in some obituaries about Roddy Scott such as this one in The Independent. Roddy was working for Mr. Smith hoping to make a paltry bit of pounds sterling for his footage which was sure to be remarkable (it was confiscated by the Russian security services upon his murder).

Scott had filmed the only footage (at least by a Westerner that I have heard of) of the PKK in battle with the Turkish army, from the PKK’s point of view no less and his Chechen footage was sure to be unique. It was not terribly likely that Scott’s footage of Chechen mujahideen would have ever seen the light of day even if he had made it back to Britain in one piece because of the impending American-Anglo invasion of Iraq that was brewing to a boil in the fall of 2002. The Chechen war had long not been a fashionable conflict to cover when Scott died and that mattered none to someone of the intellect and curiosity of someone like Roddy Scott. After reading Smith’s email, I saw some footage on PBS Newshour from outside a London courthouse of Assange’s lawyer saying that Assange would be staying with a supporter after his release on bail had been secured. I guessed that that supporter would be Vaughan Smith only to read in the NY Times that was exactly the case.

What I did not know was that Vaughan Smith was such a wealthy man as described by the Times. The paper describes him as putting up Assange in a “a 10-bedroom home on a 650-acre estate” in Sussex. Why then, I have to go back to 2002 and wonder, could he not have even bought Roddy the hiking boots he desperately needed to traverse the Greater Caucasus range with Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev and his fighters? I never knew Smith was a man of such means or I would have asked such an awkward question back then in the dark days of 2002. I had no idea that I was a few “degrees of separation” from the whispy-haired, sallow looking Assange. Let’s hope Smith has better luck helping the newly famous Assange than he did a poor freelancer lying dead in a post-Soviet nightmare eight years ago.

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