LONDON From Monday’s Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Dec. 05, 2010 8:55PM EST
Last updated Sunday, Dec. 05, 2010 9:02PM EST
At the centre of a tightening web of death threats, sex-crime accusations
and high-level demands for a treason trial, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
threatened to unleash a “thermonuclear device” of completely unexpurgated
government files if he is forced to appear before authorities.
Mr. Assange, the 39-year-old Australian Internet activist whose online
document-leaking service has embarrassed the United States and other
countries by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic and
military documents, has referred to the huge, unfiltered document as his
“insurance policy.”
The 1.3-gigabyte file, distributed through file-sharing services this summer
and protected with an unbreakable 256-bit encryption key, contains full
versions of all the U.S. documents received by WikiLeaks to date – including
those that have been withheld from publication or have had names and details
removed in order to protect the lives of spies, sources and soldiers.
Silent for the better part of a week as WikiLeaks made daily headlines
around the globe, Mr. Assange has been increasingly vocal in recent days,
defending his actions, decrying his critics and defying world leaders.
Mr. Assange’s lawyer Mark Stephens warned that if Mr. Assange were to be
brought to trial on rape accusations he faces in Sweden, or for treason
charges that have been suggested by U.S. politicians, he would release the
encryption key. The tens of thousands of people who have downloaded the file
would instantly have access to the names, addresses and details contained in
the file.
WikiLeaks, Mr. Stephens said, has “been subject to cyberattacks and
censorship around the world and they need to protect themselves … This is
what they believe to be a thermonuclear device in the information age.”
He uttered that threat as his client was believed to be in hiding in
Britain, with prominent U.S. and Saudi officials calling for Mr. Assange’s
arrest or death, justice officials attempting to shut down his websites in
many countries, and the Swedish justice system seeking him for questioning
on the sexual-crime allegations.
Mr. Assange has denied the accusation, made by two women who hosted a party
for him in Stockholm in August. He has acknowledged having had consensual
sex with the complainants. Reports say the sex became non-consensual over
disagreements about condom use.
This weekend he refused to respond to a European arrest warrant issued by
Sweden, and an Interpol alert related to the accusation. His lawyers argued
that the accusations amount to a smear campaign and suggested that U.S.
officials might be behind them.
The Swedish prosecutor took the unusual step of going before the news media
to say she has received no pressure or communication of any sort from
international or political authorities and that the charges are unrelated to
the leaks scandal.
“This investigation has proceeded perfectly normally without any political
pressure of any kind,” prosecutor Marianne Ny told the Agence France-Presse
wire service. “It is completely independent.”
A number of high-profile U.S. figures, including Republicans Sarah Palin and
Newt Gingrich, have called for the prosecution of Mr. Assange.
“Julian Assange is engaged in warfare,” Mr. Gingrich said, echoing similar
words spoken by Ms. Palin and others last week. “Information terrorism,
which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism. And Julian Assange is
engaged in terrorism. He should be treated as an enemy combatant and
WikiLeaks should be closed down permanently and decisively.”
However, U.S. charges against Mr. Assange are unlikely: He is not a U.S.
citizen and, because he did not steal the documents himself, but only
participated in their publication, he would likely be protected under the
U.S. Constitution’s free-speech provisions.
The documents were reportedly stolen from a U.S. military installation by
Bradley Manning, a former private in the U.S. Army who copied years of
secret Pentagon and State Department communiqués and passed them to Mr.
Assange, who in turn brokered deals with worldwide media outlets to publish
details from them. Those details, despite some censorship by Mr. Assange and
the publishers, have shaken relations between the United States and Gulf
countries, Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mr. Manning is already being held in solitary confinement, and will likely
face treason and espionage charges. This has not stopped a growing chorus of
U.S. and foreign figures from pushing for punishment for Mr. Assange.
U.S. newspapers reported that a team of Justice Department and Pentagon
investigators is looking into the possibility of charges against Mr. Assange
under the Espionage Act. Attorney-General Eric Holder said “this is not
sabre-rattling” when asked by reporters about the possibility of charges.
Justice officials in Australia, where Mr. Assange was born, are reportedly
also looking into a prosecution.
That did not stop more figures from suggesting that Mr. Assange should be
harmed or killed – a circle that includes Canadian Tom Flanagan, a former
campaign manager to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who told a TV interviewer
last week that Mr. Assange should be assassinated (he later apologized for
the remark).
In an online interview with the Guardian newspaper, Mr. Assange said Mr.
Flanagan “should be charged with incitement to commit murder.”
He also told reporters Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary
Clinton, should resign if they are shown to have authorized an operation to
spy on United Nations top officials – one of the many secrets revealed in
the leaked State Department cables.
“Obama must answer what he knew about this illegal order and when. If he
refuses to answer or there is evidence he approved of these actions, he must
resign,” the WikiLeaks founder told the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
He suggested, not for the first time, that he believes his document service
has had a profound effect on world history: “I believe geopolitics will be
separated into pre- and post-Cablegate phases.”

“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821),

Greg L-W.

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