Wikileaks Draws Criticism, Censorship Threats
A week after Wikileaks' 100-megabyte disclosure of Afghan war files appeared, anger in U.S. political circles continues to grow, with some commentators calling for the U.S. government to find a way to pull the plug on the group's Web site.
On Fox News Sunday, conservative commentator Liz Cheney said that Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange clearly has "blood on his hands" and that Wikileaks.org should be taken offline.
"I would really like to see President Obama move to ask the government of Iceland to shut that Web site down," Cheney said. "I'd like to see him move to shut it down ourselves if Iceland won't do it." Wikileaks.org is hosted on a server in Sweden.
Marc Thiessen, formerly the chief speechwriter for George W. Bush and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a column for Tuesday's Washington Post calling Wikileaks a "criminal enterprise" and asking the U.S. government to employ "intelligence and military assets to bring Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business." The Pentagon recently created a unit that is charged with, in part, destroying enemy computers.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on Monday that Taliban members are "scouring these documents and identifying sources, and we have concerns about (Afghans') welfare."
Newsweek reported at the same time that the Taliban has begun to threaten Afghans listed in the document as aiding American troops; over at our sister site, CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan called the publication a "death sentence for those people." (Assange has denied those allegations, saying there's no evidence innocent people or informants have been harmed.)
Crowley had said earlier that the State Department has "reached out" to Wikileaks, but has not actually had discussions with the group's members.
That failed attempt at negotiation hints at the difficulties that official Washington is encountering when dealing with a still-secretive Internet organization with no fixed mailing address, comprised of an unknown number of contributors, who collectively possess an unknown number of sensitive U.S. government files. If traditional diplomacy fails, what next?
So far, politicians' response seems to be twofold: Warning of the dangers of a leak of that magnitude, coupled with vague threats of targeting even journalists who quoted from the leaked Afghan files.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked last week if the investigation into alleged leaker Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence specialist, "should go beyond the source or sources of the leak within the military to include those who received or used the information, Wikileaks, the news media?"
Gates said his position is that "the investigation should go wherever it needs to go, and one of the reasons that I asked the director of the FBI to partner with us in this is to ensure that it can go wherever it needs to go."
CNET first reported over the weekend that Wikileaks contributor Jacob Appelbaum was detained by U.S. agents at Newark, N.J., airport and questioned for three hours after arriving on a flight from Amsterdam. Appelbaum, a U.S. citizen who was traveling to speak at the Defcon hacker conference, had his phone and at least some of his computer equipment seized.
Assange, on the other hand, never showed up at another hacker conference two weeks before in New York City. One reason he might be wary of visiting the U.S. is that the Espionage Act makes it a federal crime for anyone with unauthorized possession of "information relating to the national defense" to share it with anyone else.
On the other hand, the Espionage Act's sweeping prohibition would apply to many newspapers and magazine reporters as well who published leaked information, and the U.S. Justice Department may not want to risk a First Amendment challenge to its scope.
Perhaps as a way to avoid additional legal pressure or extralegal punitive measures on Assange and Appelbaum, a few days ago Wikileaks posted an intriguing 1.4GB file simply titled "Insurance." It's encrypted, meaning that if visitors are sent it in advance, Wikileaks would have to release only the key or passphrase to allow the contents to be read.
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