WikiLeaks Founder Turns Rogue, Resorts to 'Internet Blackmail' to Stave Off Arrest

A Week After WikiLeaks Alerts the World to North Koreans' Sale of Missiles to Iran, the Whistleblowing Web Site's Founder -- Now an International Fugitive -- Vows to Make Public Entire Cache of Top-Secret Files Completely Uncensored if He's Arrested; Human-Rights Groups Fear Exposure By WikiLeaks Endangers Safety of Their Activists in Countries With Repressive Regimes



(Posted 5:30 a.m. EST Tuesday, December 7, 2010)
(Updated 8:00 a.m. EST Tuesday, December 7, 2010)

By SKEETER SANDERS


One week after the controversial whistleblowing Web site WikiLeaks made pubic secret U.S. diplomatic cables revealing that North Korea sold to Iran 19 intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads -- and that the Chinese have become "fed up" with their longtime ally's increasing belligerence -- the site's founder has gone completely rogue.

Founder Julian Assange -- now an international fugitive wanted in Sweden on unrelated sexual-assault charges -- threatened to unleash what he called the Internet equivalent of a thermonuclear bomb: The release of WikiLeaks' entire cache of top-secret U.S. government files, totally uncensored if he's arrested by authorities, The Globe and Mail of Toronto reported Monday.

The cache, contained in an encrypted 1.3-gigabyte file that WikiLeaks distributed last summer through file-sharing services, include the full, uncensored versions of every top-secret U.S. document -- both diplomatic and military -- the site has obtained, the newspaper reported. The documents include the names of U.S. military personnel, intelligence operatives and their confidential contacts -- precisely the kind of sensitive information that Washington warns would endanger their lives if disclosed.

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ASSANGE ARRESTED IN LONDON; WIKILEAKS BACKS OFF FROM RELEASING FILES

LONDON — British police arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange Tuesday morning on a European warrant issued by Swedish authorities -- but WikiLeaks backed off from releasing an encrypted file containing the full, uncensored versions of its entire cache of secret U.S. documents, as Assange had threatened to have done upon his arrest.

Assange was was due to appear at City of Westminster Magistrate's Court later in the day, London's Metropolitan Police said. the 39-year-old Australian had been hiding out at an undisclosed location in Britain since WikiLeaks began publishing hundreds of U.S. diplomatic cables online last month.

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HUMAN-RIGHTS GROUPS WARN ASSANGE DISCLOSURES ENDANGER THEIR OVERSEAS ACTIVISTS

If Assange is arrested and he makes good on his threat to unlock the documents cache, U.S. government operatives won't be the only ones in danger. Several prominent human-rights organizations have voiced alarm that the safety of their activists in countries with repressive governments were also in danger as a result of WikiLeaks' disclosures.

Two of those organizations, the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights First, warned that WikiLeaks would be making "a grave mistake" if it published the names of human-rights advocates and organizations operating overseas whose work is supported by the U.S. government.

Elisa Massimo, president and CEO of HRF, in a letter to Assange issued several days before WikiLeaks made public more than 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables, warned that "publishing the names of individuals or organizations from repressive or authoritarian countries -- such as Iran, China, Russia, Cuba etc. -- is extremely reckless as it will increase their risk of persecution, imprisonment and violence.

"We support freedom of expression and greater transparency in government," Massimo wrote in her letter, dated November 29 and posted on the HRF Web site. "Yet, in releasing the information in the circumstances we describe above, the very real dangers to the health and well-being of human-rights activists would outweigh the benefits."

STATE DEPARTMENT REPORTEDLY OFFERING PROTECTION TO 'OUTED' RIGHTS WORKERS

Meanwhile, the State Department reportedly has offered to provide protection to human-rights workers whose identities already were exposed by WikiLeaks -- including evacuation from the countries they were working in.

"We have great concern," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was quoted as saying by Inter-Press Service on Thursday.

IPS, citing an earlier report by CNN, quoted Crowley as saying that "There are clearly sources identified in these documents, particularly in authoritarian states, that have talked to us and we believe the release of these cables definitely puts real lives at risk. We have taken steps, in anticipation of this release."

ASSANGE THREAT AMOUNTS TO 'INTERNET BLACKMAIL' AND MAKES MOCKERY OF ONLINE JOURNALISM

The file -- which already has been downloaded by thousands, and possibly millions, of Web users around the world -- is protected by a hacker-proof 256-bit encryption key. Mark Stephens, an attorney representing Assanage, told The Globe and Mail that if his client were to be arrested on the sexual-assault charges he faces in Sweden or on espionage charges he might face in the U.S., he would release the encryption key, giving Web users around the world full access to the documents contained in the file.

Assange calls the file -- which he called the Internet equivalent of a thermonuclear bomb -- his "insurance policy" against arrest.

Others would call it "blackmail" -- which is, in the opinion of this column, exactly what it is. One week after this column praised WikiLeaks for performing "a vitally needed public service" for alerting the world to North Korea's sale of nuclear-capable missiles to Iran, its founder has, for all intents and purposes, destroyed whatever credibility WikiLeaks had by resorting to blackmail to avoid arrest.

WikiLeaks proclaims on its "About Us" page that it is "a not-for-profit media organization" and that its goal "is to bring important news and information to the public." But what news organization would threaten to publish an entire cache of highly sensitive government documents with complete disregard to the potential danger posed to people either directly working for or having close ties with the government?

No responsible news organization, journalist or blogger would be that reckless. Make no mistake: Julian Assange is not a journalist. His rogue actions make a mockery of journalism and undermines the very media WikiLeaks claims to be -- especially the new and rising cyber news media, from giants such as The Huffington Post to blogging sites such as this one.

Many journalists have gone to jail rather than reveal their confidential sources of their investigations of government wrongdoing. No responsible journalist is going to risk his or her reputation -- not to mention his or her job -- by stooping to blackmail to get the story out.

Imagine if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who, more than 35 years ago, uncovered the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon, had resorted to blackmail to get to the bottom of the story, the Post would have fired them both.

WIKILEAKS POSTS LISTS OF SITES U.S. CONSIDERS VITAL TO ITS SECURITY

As if to demonstrate that Assange means business with his threat to open up the entire document cache, WikiLeaks on Monday published yet another secret U.S. diplomatic cable -- one that includes a list of places both inside and outside the U.S. that Washington considers vital to national security.

The list includes industrial complexes, research facilities, oil and gas pipelines, ports, undersea telecommunications cables and other sites -- including dams -- that Crowley said "gives a group like al-Qaida a targeting list" of places to attack.

Reaction in Britain was just as condemnatory. "It's a gift to any terrorist [group] trying to work out what are the ways in which it can damage the United States," Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee in the British Parliament, told CNN.

LATEST DISCLOSURE FOLLOWS INCREASING FINANCIAL, TECHNICAL PRESSURE ON WIKILEAKS

Wikileaks' latest publication of secret U.S. government documents comes as the site is coming under mounting financial -- and technical -- pressure. In Switzerland, the bank PostFinance closed Assange's account -- costing him and WikiLeaks about 100,000 euros, or $144,000 -- citing a lack of proof that Assange maintains a residence in Switzerland.

Assange, according to the bank, listed his residence as being in Geneva, the country's commercial capital, but found his statement to be false. "Mr. Assange cannot provide proof of residence in Switzerland and thus does not meet the criteria for a customer relationship with PostFinance," the bank said in a statement.

PostFinance -- the bank of the Swiss post office -- becomes the second major source of WikiLeaks' finances to pull out. Last week, PayPal.com, citing violations of its terms of service, cut off WikiLeaks, just days after its main Web host, EveryDNS, pulled the plug, citing repeated cyberattacks against WikiLeaks that threatened to paralyze the server.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks announced Monday that its supporters had set up more than 300 mirror sites to carry its content, to thwart any attempts to shut it down, with a goal to have 500 mirror sites in all.

"WikiLeaks is currently under heavy attack," the site said in a statement. "In order to make it impossible to ever fully remove WikiLeaks from the Internet, we need your help."

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Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.

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