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WikiLeaks won’t release key to ‘insurance’ file, despite Assange arrest

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010 8:13 EDT
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The website Wikileaks will continue publishing leaked US embassy cables but won’t release the encryption key for its 200,000 cable “insurance file” despite the arrest of its founder, Julian Assange.

Assange was arrested early Tuesday morning by British authorities under a Swedish arrest warrant. He is accused of vague sex-related charges, which include sex without a condom. Reports The Guardian:

The whistleblowers’ website has made arrangements to continue publishing the classified documents, the airing of which has embarrassed the US government. The leaked cables have provided a daily flow of revelations about the superpower’s involvement in the most sensitive issues around the world, including those affecting Iran, Afghanistan and China.

The decision to press on will help allay fears among Assange’s supporters that his arrest would hobble the organisation’s work.

Assange has also pre-recorded a video message, which WikiLeaks is due to release today. But the Guardian understands the organisation has no plans to release the insurance file of the remaining cables, which number more than 200,000. It has sent copies of the encrypted file to supporters around the world. These can be accessed only by using a 256-digit code.

Titled “insurance.aes256″, the file was big enough to contain all the US cables said to be in WikiLeaks’s possession.

The encryption makes it unreadable until the key is supplied — at which time all its contents would be available to those who downloaded it from torrent-feeding sites such as ThePirateBay.org.

“It’s a ticking time bomb with a remote fuse,” one expert told NBC News. “So this bomb can go off the second that they release the key and the key will spread around the internet in a matter of seconds.”

Appearing on the BBC, Assange’s lawyer defended the move. “They need to protect themselves,” Mark Stephens said. “This is what they believe to be a thermo-nuclear device effectively in the electronic age.”

Assange’s attorney says they plan to fight extradition to Sweden, where he was in police custody. A full extradition hearing is expected sometime in the next 21 days. If he is successfully taken to Sweden, the Guardian noted, he could also be legally vulnerable to extradition requests from other countries as well.

His attorneys were reportedly negotiating a sum for bail, but his freedom was not certain as Swedish rape laws make bail more difficult to obtain when the charge is rape.

With additional reporting by David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster.

 
 
 
 
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