In an extraordinary editorial, the whistleblower site WikiLeaks has demanded that the United States “stop spying” on its operations.
“Over the last few years, WikiLeaks has been the subject of hostile acts by security organizations,” founder Julian Assange writes. “We’ve become used to the level of security service interest in us and have established procedures to ignore that interest. But the increase in surveillance activities this last month, in a time when we are barely publishing due to fundraising, are excessive.”
On Tuesday evening, followers of the WikiLeaks Twitter feed were startled to read, “WikiLeaks is currently under an aggressive US and Icelandic surveillance operation.” This was followed a few minutes later by “If anything happens to us, you know why: it is our Apr 5 film. And you know who is responsible.” A succeeding message warned, “We have airline records of the State Dep/CIA tails. Don’t think you can get away with it. You cannot. This is WikiLeaks.”
Friday’s editorial finally fills in the background of those cryptic messages. Assange apparently believes that his group is under close surveillance by US intelligence because of its planned release of “a classified U.S. military video showing civilian kills by U.S. pilots” under the command of General David Petraeus.
Most of the incidents that he cites, however, have occurred in Iceland, where WikiLeaks representatives have been holding discussions with members of the Icelandic parliament about the possibility of turning that nation into a haven for investigative journalism.
“We have discovered half a dozen attempts at covert surveillance in Reykjavik both by native English speakers and Icelanders,” Assange writes. “On the occasions where these individuals were approached, they ran away. One had marked police equipment and the license plates for another suspicious vehicle track back to the Icelandic private VIP bodyguard firm Terr.”
Assange also notes that when he flew from Iceland to Norway last week to speak at an investigative journalism conference, “two individuals, recorded as brandishing diplomatic credentials checked in for my flight at 12:03 and 12:06 under the name of ‘US State Department’. The two are not recorded as having any luggage.”
In addition, “a WikiLeaks volunteer, a minor, was detained by Icelandic police on a wholly insignificant matter. Police then took the opportunity to hold the youth over night, without charge–a highly unusual act in Iceland. The next day, during the course of interrogation, the volunteer was shown covert photos of me outside the Reykjavik restaurant ‘Icelandic Fish & Chips’, where a WikiLeaks production meeting took place on Wednesday March 17–the day before individuals operating under the name of the U.S. State Department boarded my flight to Copenhagen.”
It is important to note that there has so far been no outside confirmation of Assange’s charges, and the Icelandic government has already denied his suggestion that it might be aiding in the surveillance. According to IceNews, “An assistant to the Minister of Justice said the ministry and its staff would like to distance themselves from the Wikileaks editorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s allegations and said that any such action, if it took place, would have been a police matter.” The Reykjavik chief of police, however, insists “that Icelandic police have not been working with the American secret services.”
The Australian-born Assange launched WikiLeaks in January 2007, and it has been a thorn in the side of governments ever since. In late 2008, for example, Raw Story reported on an attempt by the German intelligence service to force WikiLeaks to remove files revealing its bungled false flag operation in Kosovo.
Two years ago, Wired.com reported, “When online troublemaker Julian Assange co-founded Wikileaks, the net’s premiere document-leaking site last year, some were skeptical that the service would produce anything of interest. Now, after 18 months of publishing government, industry and military secrets that have sparked international scandals, led to takedown threats and briefly gotten the site banned in the United States, Assange says Wikileaks is just getting started changing the world.”
Last week, Wikileaks released a March 2008 document (pdf) suggesting that the United States was concerned about “the possibility that current employees or moles within DoD or elsewhere in the U.S. government are providing sensitive or classified information to Wikileaks.org” and was considering an attempt to “damage or destroy” the site by exposing or taking legal action against its sources.
The introduction to the document comments dryly that “as two years have passed since the date of the report, with no WikiLeaksÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ source exposed, it appears that this plan was ineffective.” If Assange’s current charges are justified, however, it would seem that the US government has continued to regard WikiLeaks as a genuine threat — one which might be intensified if Assange’s hopes to establish a “journalism haven” in Iceland are realized.
“In my role as WikiLeaks editor, I’ve been involved in fighting off more than 100 legal attacks over the past three years,” Assange wrote last month. “To do that, and keep our sources safe, we have had to spread assets, encrypt everything, and move telecommunications and people around the world to activate protective laws in different national jurisdictions. We’ve become good at it, and never lost a case, or a source, but we can’t expect everyone to make such extraordinary efforts.”
“That’s why I’m excited about what is happening in Iceland, which has started to see the world in a new way after its mini-revolution a year ago,” he continued. “Not surprisingly, the foreign press has developed an interest in the proposal. All over the world, the freedom to write about powerful groups is being smothered. Iceland could be the antidote to secrecy havens, rather it may become an island where openness is protected — a journalism haven.”