Technology > Internet >
WikiLeaks > Julian Assange
10 December 2010
WikiLeaks founder > Julian Assange
UK / USA
cartoons > USA > Cagle > Wikileaks founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks, a Postscript
February 19, 2012
The New York Times
By BILL KELLER
THIS is apparently the revenge of Julian Assange: everyone who
runs afoul of the rock-star leaker is condemned to spend eternity discussing the
cosmic meaning of WikiLeaks. As the editor of The Times during our publication
of many articles based on that treasury of military and diplomatic secrets, and
as the lucky man the WikiLeaks founder singled out as his Least Favorite
Journalist, I have participated in half a dozen panel discussions, and turned
down at least that many. I can’t complain about the one in Madrid, where, after
holding forth in a packed auditorium, the American, British, German, French and
Spanish editors who broke news based on WikiLeaks commemorated the collaboration
with an after-hours prowl through the Prado Museum and a 27-course meal cooked
by master chef Ferran Adrià. (If Europe is dying, Spain is where I plan to go
for the wake.) Unforgettable in a different way was the retrospective in
Berkeley, where Assange himself, then as now awaiting an extradition ruling in
England, was Skyped in on a giant screen, like the mighty Oz, to pontificate on
Western media’s failure to turn the files into a kind of Nuremberg trial of
American imperialism. About half the audience seemed on the verge of tossing
their underwear at the screen.
Add to that the three or four documentaries on the WikiLeaks adventure, the
dozen books — including, weirdly, Assange’s unauthorized autobiography — and a
couple speculative Hollywood projects, in which I have a twofold interest. (1.
The very slight possibility that I might make some money for my small piece of
the story. 2. The exceedingly remote chance that a director will take up my
wife’s brilliant idea that Assange be played by Tilda Swinton.)
It’s amazing they keep inviting me to these things, since I’m a bit of a
spoilsport. My consistent answer to the ponderous question of how WikiLeaks
transformed our world has been: really, not all that much. It was a hell of a
story and a wild collaboration, but it did not herald, as the documentarians
yearn to believe, some new digital age of transparency. In fact, if there is a
larger point, it is quite the contrary.
With the subject showing no signs of going away — one more documentary melodrama
of our WikiLeaks adventure will be featured at next month’s South by Southwest
festival — I decided to check up on the lingering fallout from what may be the
nation’s all-time greatest cascade of blown secrets.
Assange himself, who gave a handful of journalists early access to the pilfered
data, has moved from a supporter’s country mansion to much more modest digs
while he fights extradition to Sweden on sexual abuse charges. An American grand
jury is believed to still be mulling an indictment for his role in the leaks. He
compiled many hours of interviews for an autobiography, then backed out of the
project, but his publisher — in the proper anarchist spirit of WikiLeaks —
published it over his objections. (Evidently not for profit. It is No. 1,288,313
on the Amazon list of best-selling titles.) Assange’s newest project, announced
last month, is a television talk show in which he will interview “iconoclasts,
visionaries and power insiders.” So says the proud buyer of this series, RT
(formerly Russia Today), the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda arm and
keeper of the cult of Putin. No, not kidding.
Kremlin TV aside, Assange has declined from global notoriety to B-list
celebrity: he lacks enough star power for a hosting gig on “Saturday Night
Live,” but he did have a cameo in Sunday’s episode of “The Simpsons.”
Bart: “How ya doin’, Mr. Assange?”
Julian: “That’s my personal information, and you have no right to know about
The Army private accused of divulging three-quarters of a million secret
documents to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning — who was at first kept in such inhumane
custody that the State Department spokesman quit in protest — is scheduled to be
arraigned Thursday on charges that could mean life in prison. You don’t have to
excuse his alleged crime to think the original sin in the whole drama is that
this tormented soul had access to so many secrets in the first place.
What we cannot know for sure is the fate of the many informants, dissidents,
activists and bystanders quoted in the American cables. Assange published source
names over the strong objections of the journalists who had access to the data
(we expunged the names from our reports) and to the horror of human rights
groups and some of his WikiLeaks colleagues. I’ve been told that a few exposed
sources fled their countries with American help, a few others were detained by
authorities, and none are known to have been killed. But would we even know?
When I read stories like the Reuters account last week of the three men beheaded
in Yemen for giving information to Americans, I worry anew about the many
innocent witnesses named in the WikiLeaks cables.
The publication of so many confidences and indiscretions did not bring U.S.
foreign policy to a halt. But it did, at least temporarily, complicate the lives
of U.S. diplomats. American officials say that foreign counterparts are
sometimes more squeamish about speaking candidly, and that it is harder to
recruit and retain informants around the world.
As raw material for journalists, the cache of secrets has had a phenomenal
afterlife. It’s been 10 months since The Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and
the other partners in this project filed their last major extracts from the
files. And still, literally every day, stories based on the trove appear
somewhere in the world, either because local news organizations are catching up
with morsels of scandal that did not attract major newsrooms, or because new
events cast the cables in a more interesting light. Notably, State Department
dispatches reporting on the dissolute lifestyles of Mideast autocrats provided a
little extra kindling for the bonfires of the Arab Spring.
But the idea that this was the opening of a floodgate has proved exactly wrong.
In the immediate aftermath of the breach, several news organizations (including
this one) considered creating secure online drop-boxes for would-be leakers,
imagining that new digital Deep Throats would arise. But it now seems clear that
the WikiLeaks breach was one of a kind — and that even lesser leaks are harder
than ever to come by.
Steven Aftergood, who monitors secrecy issues for the Federation of American
Scientists, said that since WikiLeaks the government has elevated the “insider
threat” as a priority, and tightened access to classified material. Nudged by an
irate Congress, the intelligence agencies are at work on an electronic auditing
program that would make illicit transfer of secrets much more difficult and make
tracking the leaker much easier.
“A lot of attention has been focused on WikiLeaks and its colorful proprietors,”
Aftergood told me. “But the real action, it turns out, is not at the publisher
level; it’s at the source level. And there aren’t a lot of sources as prolific
or as reckless as Bradley Manning allegedly was.”
For good reason. The Obama administration has been much more aggressive than its
predecessors in pursuing and punishing leakers. The latest case, the arrest last
month of John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. terrorist-hunter accused of telling
journalists the names of colleagues who participated in the waterboarding of
Qaeda suspects, is symptomatic of the crackdown. It is this administration’s
sixth criminal case against an official for confiding to the media, more than
all previous presidents combined. The message is chilling for those entrusted
with keeping legitimate secrets and for whistleblowers or officials who want the
public to understand how our national security is or is not protected.
Here’s the paradox the documentaries have overlooked so far: The most palpable
legacy of the WikiLeaks campaign for transparency is that the U.S. government is
more secretive than ever.
WikiLeaks, a Postscript,
in a Gilded British Cage
The New York Times
By DAVID CARR
The man in the rubber boots and a thick coat to protect against the evening
chill walked purposefully about a farm here, scattering pheasants as he went. He
could have been an English gentleman out for a bit of hunting, except he carried
In his current circumstance, the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is more hunted
than hunter, fighting extradition to Sweden on accusations of sexual misconduct
while struggling to maintain the influence of WikiLeaks even as he remains here
at Ellingham Hall, the country manor house of Vaughan Smith, a former soldier
and journalist who runs a restaurant and club for journalists in London.
Mr. Assange and a few WikiLeaks staff members who are staying at the farm joined
some friends of Mr. Smith on Saturday for an outdoor lunch. I took the train up
from London to get a first-hand look at Mr. Assange’s gilded, remote sanctuary.
In December, Mr. Assange was unable to meet the terms of bail because he had no
permanent address — he is an itinerant who leads a stateless organization that
operates in an online world without borders. Mr. Smith, after consulting his
wife, Pranvera Shema, decided they would provide Mr. Assange with an address, a
roof over his head and a place to manage his legal case.
“None of us knew it would go on this long,” Mr. Smith said, “but I think that
Julian deserves justice in the same way as anyone else, so we have found a way
to make it work.”
It has not all been rural bliss. There have been times when as many of 20 people
from WikiLeaks stayed at the house. “I’d open a cupboard and another one would
fall out,” Mr. Smith said. And then there is the matter of the farm animals.
“Julian messed with my pigs,” Mr. Smith said, smiling.
Ellingham Hall, 130 miles north of London, is a working farm, and Mr. Assange
decided to use the pigs to make a film about the credit card companies that have
denied him the means to raise donations. Mr. Smith said Mr. Assange induced the
pigs to break through an electric fence and make themselves at home in a nearby
berry patch, a bit of porcine anarchy that did not amuse the farm manager.
Standing near the pig pen at dusk, Mr. Assange said it was not his fault,
pointing to two young males. “They hacked the fence,” he said, deploying the
terminology that has made WikiLeaks and its founder household names.
Mr. Assange, who has become “Uncle Julian” to Mr. Smith’s young children, seems
less international man of mystery than a person frozen in the odd circumstance
of the moment. He wears an electronic bracelet, reports to the local police
every day and, to the extent he can, continues to push the WikiLeaks agenda.
Even here he sees enemies everywhere, suggesting helicopters have swooped in for
occasional reconnaissance, and at one point backing me out of a kind of war room
near the kitchen. “You can’t be in here,” he said, closing the door with a wan
But if Mr. Assange is in compliance with the conditions of his bail, he remains
at the margins of the law. Federal authorities in the United States and
Australia continue to investigate whether the release of classified information
by WikiLeaks constitutes criminal behavior that has endangered various
operatives. And Swedish prosecutors are seeking his extradition for questioning
— he has yet to be charged — on accusations of sexual misconduct with two women.
As the controversy has grown, some WikiLeaks staff members have left, saying Mr.
Assange runs the organization less transparently than he should. In his view, he
is guilty of nothing more than challenging powerful elites, but his current
isolation, in acute relief in the English countryside, is a consequence of his
After a week in which his autobiography was published against his wishes, he was
not much in the mood for another media moment, but he was friendly in an
argumentative way as long as I did not take out a notebook.
Mr. Assange was willing to say on the record that he was “very grateful” for the
refuge provided by Mr. Smith, and then spent time after lunch chatting about his
long list of enemies: The New York Times, The Guardian, the governments of
Britain, Sweden and the United States. He sees his tendency to end up at
cross-purposes with almost everyone who does business with him as a measure of
the threat he presents to the status quo, and not, as some have said, as a
byproduct of his habit of acting unilaterally according to rules only he knows.
He has, however, not worn out the patience of Mr. Smith. Now 48, Mr. Smith has
done a fair amount of brave — and perhaps foolhardy — things in his life. He was
an officer in the British Army’s Grenadier Guards, serving in Northern Ireland,
Cyprus and Germany.
In the 1990s, he worked as a freelance video journalist, covering conflicts in
Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo and elsewhere. He was shot twice,
and in one instance was saved by a cellphone and a wad of cash tucked into his
waist. The wad is on display in the Frontline Club, a hangout for journalists
that Mr. Smith runs in the London neighborhood of Paddington. It is financed in
part by a restaurant of the same name that sits beneath the club and serves some
of the food grown at Ellingham.
His decision to house Mr. Assange, who is not especially popular in the British
press circles of which Mr. Smith is very much a part, carries its own kind of
risks. A member of the Frontline Club, who asked not to be identified because he
and Mr. Smith are friendly, said he thought Mr. Smith meant well, but was
leaving himself exposed. “He has been a very visible supporter of Julian and has
no control over what he does while he is free on bail. It’s worrisome at the
very least,” the man said.
While no one, including Mr. Smith, thought Mr. Assange would still be at
Ellingham 10 months later, Mr. Smith says he “made a commitment and I plan on
keeping it. People support WikiLeaks, but they don’t seem to have much in the
way of support for Julian.”
“Look,” he added, “you can see Julian as a kind of Bond villain, stroking a
white cat and contemplating his next evil act, or you can see him as a
complicated and interesting person who has really altered journalism in a
historic way. I think many people in our business took an immediate dislike to
him, and there has been a lot of lazy and unfair coverage.”
Mr. Smith is something of a libertarian in his political beliefs, and a bit of a
renegade. As a freelance videographer, he obtained unauthorized footage of the
Persian Gulf war by impersonating a British officer and bluffing his way into an
active duty unit. He organized Frontline News TV as a press agency during the
1990s because he felt that video freelancers were not being credited for their
work, much of it obtained at great personal risk.
“We have 1,500 dues paying members of the Frontline Club and there has been a
fair amount of debate about it, but at this point, he is staying at my home, not
the club,” Mr. Smith said. “I wouldn’t say that having anybody stay at your
house for almost a year is a prescription for domestic tranquility, but I’m
proud of the fact that we’ve worked our way through a difficult situation.”
I suggested that it was an odd move for someone who was literally “to the manor
born.” Ellingham Hall has been in Mr. Smith’s family for hundreds of years.
“I was taught from a very young age that you need to stand up for the weaker
party,” Mr. Smith said. “If Julian had ended up at a flat in London, it would
have just been another sort of prison because of the press coverage of the
The distance keeps Mr. Assange safe from the prying eyes of the press, give or
take my visit, but it also means that someone who has remained in motion for
many years is now fixed in place, left to operate a shadowy global enterprise
from a country farm north of London.
Mr. Smith is proud of the place, but sees work to be done everywhere he looks.
Mr. Assange sees Ellingham Hall through a different lens. When we step into a
walled garden that would thwart any directional microphones, he looks around and
suggests, “This the only place you can have a really secure conversation.”
For the time being, it will have to do.
WikiLeaks’ Founder, in a Gilded British Cage,
to be extradited to Sweden
founder handed verdict
at Belmarsh magistrates court
Thursday 24 February 2011
This article was published on guardian.co.uk
at 11.23 GMT
on Thursday 24
Share Esther Addley and Alexandra Topping
founder Julian Assange is to be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape
and sexual assault.
Assange has been fighting extradition since he was arrested and bailed in
December. He has consistently denied the allegations, made by two women in
August last year.
Howard Riddle, the chief magistrate, delivered his ruling at a hearing at
Belmarsh magistrates court in London. It is unlikely to be the end of the
matter, however, because an appeal is expected, which would delay the final
decision until the summer at the latest.
At a two-day hearing earlier this month, his legal team argued that Assange
would not receive a fair trial in Sweden. They said the European arrest warrant
(EAW) issued by Sweden was invalid because the Australian had not been charged
with any offence and that the alleged assaults would not be legitimate
Assange fears that an extradition to Sweden would make it easier for Washington
to extradite him to the US on possible charges relating to the release by
WikiLeaks of leaked US embassy cables.
If this was to happen, Sweden would have to ask permission from the UK for the
onward extradition. No such charges have been laid, though the website's
activities are under investigation in the US.
The Swedish prosecutor, represented in court by the British Crown Prosecution
Service, argued that despite the lack of charge, Assange was being sought for
prosecution rather than merely for questioning, which meant the warrant was
The most serious of the four allegations relates to an accusation that Assange,
during a visit to Stockholm in August, had sex with a woman, Miss B, while she
was sleeping and without a condom, and without her consent. Three counts of
sexual assault are also alleged against another woman, Miss A. If found guilty
of the rape charge he could face up to four years in prison.
Assange will now be detained in custody, because there is no system of bail in
Sweden, until a possible trial or release.
The Australian ambassador to Sweden, Paul Stephens, wrote to the country's
justice minister last week to insist that, if extradited, any possible case
against Assange "would proceed in accordance with due process and the provisions
prescribed under Swedish law, as well as applicable European and international
laws, including relevant human rights norms".
EAWs were introduced in 2003 with the aim of making extradition swifter and
easier between European member states. But campaigners have raised concerns
about the application of the warrants, arguing that they are sometimes applied
before a case is ready to prosecute, and that while they were originally
intended to counter terrorism, their use has greatly increased. Seven hundred
people were extradited from the UK under the system last year.
Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden,
Related > Anglonautes >
Wikileaks > Julian Assange
Terrorism > USA >
international / diplomacy