Tuesday night, the secret-sharing website Wikileaks.org accused the U.S. government of conducting an "aggressive surveillance" operation on its editors. In an email, a Wikileaks editor provided some new details about this alleged surveillance, including tails, detentions and covert photography
In a series of Tweets posted on Tuesday, Wikileaks alleged "State Dep/CIA tails" and "secret photos of our production meetings." (Read all the Tweets here.) They went suspiciously silent for a few hours. But yesterday, Wikileaks tweeted: "To those worrying about us—we're fine, and will issue a suitable riposte shortly." No official word on the Wikileaks site yet. But we asked for comment from Wikileaks, and editor Julian Assange sent us a lengthy email detailing this alleged surveillance—possibly stemming from Wikileaks' possession of classified video of a U.S. air-strike in Afghanistan.
Assange cites specific incidents on March 18th and March 22nd. In the first, Assange alleges he was tailed by two State Department officials from Iceland to a conference in Norway:
On Thursday March 18, 2010, I took the 2.15 PM flight out of Reykjavik to Copenhagen—on the way to speak at the SKUP investigative journalism conference in Norway. After receiving a tip, we obtained airline records for the flght concerned. 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.
And in a second alleged incident, a Wikileaks volunteer was detained and questioned about the site's work on a classified video of a U.S. air-strike in Afghanistan:
On Monday 22, March, at approximately 8.30pm, a WikiLeaks volunteer was detained by Icelandic police for over 20 hours on an insignificant matter. The police then apparently took the opportunity to detain the volunteer over night, without charge—an 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, 2010—the day before individuals operating under the name of the U.S. State Department boarded my flight to Copenhagen.
Assange also makes more general accusations of "half a dozen attempts at covert surveillance in Reykjavik both by native English speakers and Icelanders."
Why the increased pressure now? Assange offers a few possible explanations: Their release last week of a classified 2008 Pentagon report which labeled Wikileaks a security threat; The release of classified documents relating to Iceland's economic collapse; and "our ongoing work on a classified film revealing civilian casualties occurring under the command of the U.S, general, David Petraeus." This is encrypted, possibly-incriminating video from a May 2009 air-strike that killed up to 97 civilians in Afghanistan. Wikileaks says they have obtained a copy, decrypted it, and apparently plan to show the film on April 5th at the National Press Club. Assange says sources told Icelandic media that the "U.S. State Department was aggressively investigating the leak from the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik".
It's hard to divine from the email just how much of this is fact, and how much is fearful speculation. It seems a bit paranoia-tinged, but Wikileaks has good reason to be paranoid. They've already been labeled a security threat by the Pentagon, and if they do in fact have this air-strike video—and their past record suggests they do—there's no question that the U.S. is keeping a very close eye on them. And in 2007, a pair of human rights lawyers were murdered in Nairobi in connection to an investigation into extrajudicial political assassinations spurred by Wikileaks posts. Wikileaks, which is run by a 9-person advisory board, won Amnesty International's 2009 New Media Award for its reporting on the assassinations.
Asked for further comment, Assange replied: "Intimidation makes us stronger. We like crushing bastards."
We can't wait to see this video.
Here's the full email (Update: The email has been posted to Wikileak's front page)
SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF ICELAND
Over the last few years, WikiLeaks has been the subject of hostile
acts by security organizations. In the developing world, these range
from the appalling assassination of two related human rights lawyers in
Nairobi last March (an armed attack on my compound there in 2007 is still
unattributed) to an unsuccessful mass attack by Chinese computers on our
servers in Stockholm, after we published photos of murders in Tibet. In
the West this has ranged from a police raid in Germany over an Australian
censorship list, to an ambush by a "James Bond" character in a Luxembourg
car park, an event that ended with a mere "we think it would be in your
Developing world violence aside, we've become used to the level of
security service interest in us and have established procedures to ignore
But the increase in surveillance activities this last month, in a
time when we are barely publishing due to fundraising, are excessive.
Some of the new interest is related to a film exposing a U.S. massacre
we will release at the U.S. National Press Club on April 5.
The spying includes attempted covert following, photographng, filming and
the overt detention & questioning of a WikiLeaks' volunteer in Iceland
on Monday night.
I, and others were in Iceland to advise Icelandic parliamentarians on
the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a new package of laws designed
to protect investigative journalists and internet services from spying
and censorship. As such, the spying has an extra poignancy.
The possible triggers:
(1) our ongoing work on a classified film revealing civilian casualties
occurring under the command of the U.S, general, David Petraeus.
(2) our release of a classified 32 page US intelligence report on how to
fatally marginalize WikiLeaks (expose our sources, destroy our
reputation for integrity, hack us).
(3) our release of a classified cable from the U.S. Embassy in
Reykjavik reporting on contact between the U.S. and
the U.K. over billions of euros in claimed loan guarantees.
(4) pending releases related to the collapse of the Icelandic
banks and Icelandic "oligarchs".
We have discovered half a dozen attempts at covert surveillance in
Reykjavik both by native English speakers and Icelanders. 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 (
http://terr.is/ ). What does that mean? We don't know. But as you will
see, other events are clear.
U.S. sources told Icelandic state media's deputy head of news, that the
State Department was aggressively investigating a leak from the
U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik. I was seen at a private U.S Embassy party at
the Ambassador's residence, late last year and it is known I had
contact with Embassay staff, after.
On Thursday March 18, 2010, I took the 2.15 PM flight out of Reykjavik
to Copenhagen—on the way to speak at the SKUP investigative journalism
conference in Norway. After receiving a tip, we obtained airline records
for the flght concerned. 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
Iceland doesn't have a separate security service. It folds its
intelligence function into its police forces, leading to an uneasy
overlap of policing and intelligence functions and values.
On Monday 22, March, at approximately 8.30pm, a WikiLeaks volunteer
was detained by Icelandic police for over 20 hours on an insignificant
matter. The police then apparently took the opportunity to detain the
volunteer over night, without charge—an 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, 2010—the day before individuals operating under the name of
the U.S. State Department boarded my flight to Copenhagen.
The spied on production meeting used a discreet, closed, backroom.
The subject: a concealed, scandalous, U.S. military video showing civilian
kills by U.S. pilots. During the interrogation, a specific reference was
made by police to the video—-which could not have been understood from
that day's exterior surveillance alone. Another specific reference was
made to "important", but unnamed Icelandic figures. References were also
made to the names of two senior journalists at the production meeting.
Who are the Icelandic security services loyal to in their values? The
new government of April 2009, the old pro-Iraq war government of the
Independence party, or perhaps to their personal relationships with
peers from another country who have them on a permanment intelligence
Only a few years ago, Icelandic airspace was used for CIA rendition
flights. Why did the CIA think that this was acceptable? In a classified
U.S. profile on the former Icelandic Ambassador to the United States,
obtained by WikiLeaks, the Ambassador is praised for helping to quell
publicity of the CIA's activities.
Often when a bold new government arises, bureaucratic institutions remain
loyal to the old regime and it can take time to change the guard. Former
regime loyalists must be discovered, dissuaded and removed. But for the
security services, that first vital step, discovery, is awry. Congenitally
scared of the light, such services hide their activities; if it is not
known what security services are doing, then it is surely impossible to
know who they are doing it for.