Investigators from the Pentagon are flocking out and “are desperately searching” for the white-haired sage of openness and accountability. The US is apparently convinced that whistleblower Bradley Manning, who was arrested two weeks ago, did indeed hand over 260,000 US diplomatic cables concerning the Middle East over to Wikileaks.
Due to the multinode nature of Wikileaks’, however, simply catching the website’s spokesperson Julian Assange and “asking” him for cooperation will not prevent the content of the cables from being publicised in the internet, now or in the future. This also means Assange is in relative security, as Wikileaks is a hydra with many heads. In ancient times before the internet, being connected by the US security apparatus with such a leak would have had greater ramifications. Assange being a public figure and Wikileaks receiving a lot of coverage from major news outlets means the US has to watch out how it will tread.
If Assange were on US soil, though, he would certainly be arrested due to a presumed connection to the Manning case. Indeed, US officials did not tell The Daily Beast how Assange would be processed if he were tracked down, they did however say ” they would have many more legal options available to them if he is still somewhere in the United States“.
Wikileaks has so far denied it is in possession of 260,000 diplomatic cables. The possession of 1000 would still have a very damaging effect. The site leaked two US diplomatic cables in January, one concerning a meeting in regards to Icesave, another containing profiles of the Icelandic prime minister, ambassador to the US and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade. The release caused quite a stir in Iceland and abroad. Wikileaks utilised the cables for the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a law proposal designed to bring in best-practice freedom of press standards.
The US intelligence apparatus is currently trying to figure out how to come to terms with Wikileaks. A counterintelligence report called the site “a potential force protection, counterintelligence, operational security (OPSEC, and information security(INFOSEC) threat to the US Army”. It recommended “the identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could potentially damage or destroy this centre of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the Wikileaks.org web site”.
Now that Bradley Manning has been arrested and is being investigated for his whistleblowing activities, the main focus of which has been the release of the Collateral Murder video showing US gunships in Baghdad indiscriminately killing civilians, the US might be making a slight inroad in regards to deterring potential leakers. However, Manning unfortunately simply couldn’t keep his lips tight about his actions, something which future whistleblowers will have to keep in mind.
Incarcerating Julian Assange would be a minor success, however this would not be legally possible outside of the USA. Any action against Assange could also backfire, making a martyr of the man. In the end, it will depend to what lengths the US is ready to go to keep diplomatic cables from being put out in the public, and if the apparatus would make the error of mistaking Assange as an individual, instead of the entire Wikileaks organisation.