Stories & Grievances
Julian Assange of Wikileaks Is Arrested In London
Police in Britain arrested Julian Assange on Tuesday on a Swedish warrant issued in connection with alleged sex offenses, British police officials said, the latest twist in the drama swirling around the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks and its beleaguered founder.
December 7, 2010
Britain Arrests WikiLeaks Founder in Sex Inquiry
By ALAN COWELL AND JOHN F. BURNS, NY TIMES
LONDON — Police in Britain arrested Julian Assange on Tuesday on a Swedish warrant issued in connection with alleged sex offenses, British police officials said, the latest twist in the drama swirling around the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks and its beleaguered founder.
But his associates said his detention would not alter plans for further disclosures like those it has made in recent months relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and, over the past 9 days, disclosing confidential diplomatic messages between the State Department and American representatives abroad.
“Today’s actions against our editor-in-chief Julian Assange won’t affect our operations: we will release more cables tonight as normal,” a posting on the WikiLeaks Twitter account said.
Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, was arrested by officers from Scotland Yard’s extradition unit when he went to a central London police station by prior agreement with the authorities, the police said. A court hearing was expected later in the day.
In a statement, the police said: “Officers from the Metropolitan Police extradition unit have this morning arrested Julian Assange on behalf of the Swedish authorities on suspicion of rape.”
Mr. Assange denies the charges of sexual misconduct said to have been committed while he was in Sweden in August. It was not immediately clear if Mr. Assange would resist extradition to Sweden for questioning by prosecutors there.
Previously, his British lawyer, Mark Stephens, has suggested Mr. Assange might resist on the grounds that Swedish authorities could interview him by video-link from Stockholm or at their embassy in London and that the extradition request itself is politically-motivated.
“It’s about time we got to the end of the day and we got some truth, justice and rule of law,” Mr. Stephens told reporters on Tuesday. “Julian Assange has been the one in hot pursuit to vindicate himself to clear his good name.”
Mr. Stephens said his client had been seeking to learn from the Swedish prosecutor “what the allegations are he has to face and also the evidence against him, which he still hasn’t seen,” The Press Association news agency reported.
While widely anticipated, the arrest opened an array of new questions about Mr. Assange’s future, even as the Justice Department in Washington said it was conducting what Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called “a very serious, active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature” into the WikiLeaks matter.
Since late November, WikiLeaks has been publishing documents from a trove of over 250,000 diplomatic cables. Mr. Assange has threatened to release many more if legal action is taken against him or his organization.
“Over 100,000 people” were given the entire archive of 251,287 cables in encrypted form, Mr. Assange said on Friday in a question-and-answer session on the Web site of the British newspaper The Guardian.
“If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically,” Mr. Assange said
Mr. Assange’s threat of further disclosures poses a problem for the Obama administration as it explores ways to prosecute Mr. Assange or the group in relation to the archive of diplomatic cables it obtained, reportedly from a low-ranking Army intelligence analyst.
The British police statement said Mr. Assange was “accused by the Swedish authorities of one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010.”
The arrest was made under a European arrest warrant “by appointment at a London police station at 09:30 today,” the statement said.
The charges involve sexual encounters that two women say began as consensual but became nonconsensual after Mr. Assange was no longer using a condom. Mr. Assange has denied any wrongdoing and suggested that the charges were trumped up in retaliation for his WikiLeaks work, though there is no public evidence to suggest a connection.
His arrest came challenges mounted to his operations, as computer server companies, Amazon.com and PayPal.com, have cut off commercial cooperation with WikiLeaks.
On Monday, a Swiss bank froze an account held by Mr. Assange that had been used to collect donations for WikiLeaks. Marc Andrey, a spokesman for the bank, PostFinance, an arm of the Swiss postal service, said the account was closed because Mr. Assange “gave us false information when he opened the account,” asserting inaccurately that he lived in Switzerland.
His threat is not idle, because as of Monday night the group had released fewer than 1,000 of the quarter-million State Department cables it had obtained, reportedly from a low-ranking Army intelligence analyst.
So far, the group has moved cautiously. The whole archive was made available to five news organizations, including The New York Times. But WikiLeaks has posted only a few dozen cables on its own in addition to matching those made public by the news publications. According to the State Department’s count, 1,325 cables, or fewer than 1 percent of the total, have been made public by all parties to date.
There appears to be no way for American authorities to retrieve all copies of the cables archive. And legal experts say there are serious obstacles to any prosecution of Mr. Assange or his group.
But the disclosure of the confidential communications between the State Department and 270 American embassies and consulates has infuriated administration officials and prompted calls from Congress to pursue charges.
Justice Department prosecutors have been struggling to find a way to indict Mr. Assange since July, when WikiLeaks made public documents on the war in Afghanistan. But while it is clearly illegal for a government official with a security clearance to give a classified document to WikiLeaks, it is far from clear that it is illegal for the organization to make it public.
The Justice Department has considered trying to indict Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act, which has never been successfully used to prosecute a third-party recipient of a leak. Some lawmakers have suggested accusing WikiLeaks of receiving stolen government property, but experts said Monday that would also pose difficulties.
Perhaps in a warning shot of sorts, WikiLeaks on Monday released a cable from early last year listing sites around the world — from hydroelectric dams in Canada to vaccine factories in Denmark — that are considered crucial to American national security.
Nearly all the facilities listed in the document, including undersea cables, oil pipelines and power plants, could be identified by Internet searches. But the disclosure prompted headlines in Europe and a new denunciation from the State Department, which said in a statement that “releasing such information amounts to giving a targeting list to groups like Al Qaeda.”
Asked later about the cable, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the continuing disclosures posed “real concerns, and even potential damage to our friends and partners around the world.”
In recent months, WikiLeaks gave the entire collection of cables to four European publications — Der Spiegel in Germany, El País in Spain, Le Monde in France and The Guardian. The Guardian shared the cable collection with The New York Times.
Since Nov. 28, each publication has been publishing a series of articles about revelations in the cables, accompanied online by the texts of some of the documents. The publications have removed the names of some confidential sources of American diplomats, and WikiLeaks has generally posted the cables with the same redactions.
But with the initial series of articles and cable postings nearing an end, the fate of the roughly 250,000 cables that have not been placed online is uncertain. The five publications have announced no plans to make public all the documents. WikiLeaks’s intentions remain unclear.
Reporting was contributed by Scott Shane, Charlie Savage and Brian Knowlton from Washington. Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting from London.