Twitter users who follow whistleblower Web site WikiLeaks may have experienced chills down the spine yesterday, as a series of ever-more-worrisome tweets appeared to describe how members of its staff were tailed and detained by United States spies.
“WikiLeaks is currently under an aggressive US and Icelandic surveillance operation. Following/photographing/filming/detaining,” Wikileaks posted.
“If anything happens to us, you know why: it is our Apr 5 film. And you know who is responsible,” it added, about an hour later.
News reports said the US Defence Department had identified the site as a potential threat to national security, after it published 2,000 pages of documents with details of military equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan from April 2007.
“We have airline records of the State Dep/CIA tails. Don’t think you can get away with it. You cannot. This is WikiLeaks,” warned a later tweet.
Before going silent for 16 hours, WikiLeaks urged its Twitter followers to get in contact if they knew anything about the ‘operations against us’.
It then announced: “To those worrying about us–we’re fine, and will issue a suitable riposte shortly,” and went very, very quiet.
Upon reading the ominous tweets, the Media140 team hurried to contact Julian Assange, editor and co-founder of WikiLeaks. Cynics may say we were concerned that being detained by the CIA may cause Julian to miss his slot as a Media140 speaker at the International Journalism Festival next month. While Julian will no doubt provide fascinating insights in Perugia, the truth is we were genuinely worried for his safety.
Naturally, we were relieved and thrilled to receive the email below from Julian less than 12 hours ago. He is OK, and he even took a few moments to describe WikiLeaks’ dealings with the Pentagon to date.
Over the last few years, WikiLeaks has been subject to a number of actions around the world by public and private security organizations.
They range from the appalling assassination of two related human rights lawyers in Nairobi last March and an armed attack on my compound in 2007, to, in the West, an ambush by an apparent British intelligence agent in a Luxembourg car park, which merely ended with “we think it would be in your interest to..”
Developing-world violence aside, we’ve become used to the level of security service interest in us and have established procedures to deal with that interest.
But the escalation of surveillance activities over the last month, most of which appears to be the result of U.S. “interests”, although some may be unrelated, deserves comment. These actions include many attempts at covert following, hidden photography and the detention & questioning of a WikiLeaks’ volunteer in Iceland on Monday night.
WikiLeaks’ staff have been in Iceland to advise Icelandic parliamentarians on the a package of laws, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, designed to protect investigative journalists and internet services from spying and censorship.
Possible triggers for the surveillance actions are
(1) our release of a classified US intelligence report on how to fatally marginalize WikiLeaks (expose our sources, destroy our reputation for integrity, hack us),
(2) 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 and, most significantly,
(3) our ongoing work on a classified film revealing civilian casualties occurring under the command of the U.S, general, David Petraeus.
U.S. sources told Icelandic state media’s deputy head of news, that the U.S. State Department was aggressively investigating the leak from the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik.
I was seen at a private U.S Embassy party at the Ambassador’s house, late last year.
Then on Thursday March 18, 2010, I was followed on the 2.15 PM flight out of Reykjavik to Copenhagen–on the way to speak at the SKUP investigative journalism conference in Norway. According to airline records, two individuals, brandishing diplomatic credentials and registered under the name of “US State Department”, collected boarding passes for the same flight within three minutes of each other. They are not recorded as having checked in any luggage.
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 approximately 21 hours after police attended the volunteer’s fathers place of work on an unrelated matter. The volunteer was inexplicably detained over night. The next day, during the course of interrogation, the volunteer was shown covert photos of myself outside a Reykjavik restaurant, the back room of which was used last week to hold a production meeting on a classified U.S. military video exposing civilian kills by U.S. pilots.
Specific references were made to the subject of video and “important” Icelandic figures. No charges were filed. The names of well known journalists involved in the production were referred to in the police questions.
Who are the Icelandic security services loyal to? The new government of April 2009, or the old pro-Iraq war government of the Independence party, or perhaps their connections with another country entirely?
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 security services, the first step, discovery, is awry.
Congenitally scared of the light, such services hide their activities; if it is not known what they are doing, then it is surely impossible to know who they are doing it for.
We have written to both U.S. and Icelandic authorities to demand an explanation.