Some see Julian Assange’s hand in new Snowden statement

July 1, 2013

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in December. (LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Within minutes of Edward Snowden releasing his first statement after eight days of silence, published on Wikileaks' website, a number of journalists and others noticed something strange.

The language in the statement, between accusations that the Obama administration was employing "political aggression" and feared "an informed, angry public," seemed to betray a tinge of non-American English. It was this line that first jumped out: "For decades the United States of America have been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum." As Slate's Farhad Manjoo pointed out on Twitter, Americans refer to the United States as singular, rather than plural: one would expect Snowden, an American, to write "the United States of America has been."

Alone, that wouldn't seem to say much. But there were other details, such as the date on the letter, appended as "1st July 2013" rather than the typical American style. But maybe most eyebrow-raising of all is the statement's fiery tone and dramatic cadence. "Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum," the statement reads, a far cry from the straightforward, plainspoken voice Snowden has used in all other public comments.

The statement's tone and word choice seems conspicuously similar to that of Julian Assange, the Australian and Wikileaks chief who has developed a reputation for his extremely distinctive writing style.

Assange has been intimately involved in handling Snowden's case. A Wikileaks representative traveled with Snowden from Hong Kong to Russia and reportedly filed asylum paperwork with Russian officials on his behalf. Assange has been publicly lobbying the government of Ecuador, which is sheltering him in its London embassy, to grant asylum to Snowden as well. According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, Assange's aggressive advocacy has stepped on some toes within the Ecuadorian government, giving one diplomat the impression that he was trying to "run the show."

Shortly after skeptics started wondering on social media if Assange had in fact written the statement, Wikileaks altered the text on its website, removing the non-American English. The phrase "the United States of America have been" was changed to "the United States of America has been." It's possible that the original was simply a typo but it's hard to ignore the message's heavily Assangesque tone.

Some worried what it might imply if Snowden had in fact not written the letter. Was he outsourcing his message to someone else, or did someone take it upon themselves to speak for him? As Mother Jones co-editor Clara Jeffrey wrote on Twitter, "If Snowden is letting other people write statements for him, that's worrisome. Having no choice, also worrisome."

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Max Fisher · July 1, 2013