by Joe Shea
December 8, 2010
WIKILEAKS: WHAT NOW?
BRADENTON, Fla., Dec. 8, 2010 -- Now, Julian Assange's "insurance" file - the secret cache of documents he has vowed to release if any harm comes to him - is his greatest liability.
Any number of people want to know what is in it. If you're Bank of America, you want to know very badly -is there a new smoking gun like the one that forced them to pay $137 million yesterday to settle cases in which they defrauded schools, hospitals and at least 20 other state-run organizations? And Bank of America's rivals and enemies want to know, too.
Is there something in there that wuill give them a permanent leg up against a giant competitor? Is there something that will yield millions, or even billions, for trial lawyers? Lots of people want to know.
Beyond Bank of America, are there important state secrets about military alliances, arms sales, corruption here and abroad?
While those who wrote State Department cables know what's in them, and the Bank of America executives know what they've done, the yawning maw of the media awaits their receipt with great enthusiasm. Journalists like me and thousands of others want to know what was so important and so valuable that it might somehow stop the clock-like machinery of prosecution that is winding away towards doomsday for Julian Assange.
Unfortunately, Assange himself has indicated that the only way to get the 256-bit encryption key away from him - other than the use of the massively parallel computer processing arrays that the government does have for such tasks, and has probably already used to break into the file - is for him to be arrested or to come to harm. He has already been arrested, but there has been no release we are aware of; he is now in jail, where, even in solitary confinement, he can certainly come to harm.
The problem is that the machinery won't stop - it can't and never does. Once begun, there is no one who can reverse it. President Obama can't suddenly turn it off, declare Assange a hero, and free him from jail, as he isn't in U.S. custody. He is in British custody only to the extent that he is wanted in Sweden.
Assange is limbo, held without bail, and all your favorite credit cards, bookstores and payment services - Visa, MasterCard, Amazon, PayPal, and even his Swiss bank - have sold him out. Only the people who really care about him, or can yet cash in on his fame, are backing him financially. And even though they have money, yet there's nothing they can do but pay for lawyers. Even a billionaire like George Soros can't spring him from jail until at least his Dec. 15 hearing on the extradition warrant, which Assange has vowed to fight.
No charges have actually been filed against him in Sweden, where he's wanted for questioning in a case Sweden's top prosecutor dropped several months ago, and then allowed to be reopened. His offense appears to be something the Swedes call "sex by surprise," and on one case he apparently is charged with having sex with a woman who was in bed with him but sleeping. In another, he is charged with not using a condom. A St. Petersburg Times article lays out the encounters in useful detail.
The Swedes, often portrayed as dimwits, are smart enough to know there's a huge wave of publicity available to the prosecutor who takes on Assange and gets him convicted. The prize could be a political post, even a stepping stone to election or a place in the Swedish prime minister's cabinet. It is too big to be ignored.
With the situation at a stalemate, then, what can happen next?
Assange can be released or remanded to jail for further hearings in his appeal of the extradition warrant. He can be sent to Sweden and held there for trial, possibly without bail. There is a great deal of talk but no hard news yet about the desire of the United States to get its hands on him. It's likely, now that his physical person is secured, that U.S. Atty. General Eric Holder will have a secret federal grand jury indict him on charges that may or may not stick, given the antiquity of the Espionage Act of 1917 and the First Amendment rights extended to those in American courts, especially in the press.
Remember, please, that Assange didn't steal anything. PFC Bradley Manning allegedly downloaded the State Dept. cables and the Afghan war logs before them onto a music CD he brought from home, and passed that on to Assange and WikiLeaks, which is not just Assange but thousands of other journalists, who added their own commentary and then released the raw data to five large media organizations - the New York Times, Le Monde, El Pais (Spain), the Guardian of Britain, and Der Speigel, Germany's leading news organization. They have further edited the documents, often collaborating with one another, cutting out whatever they thought might endanger some person or secret intelligence operation, and published them starting Nov. 28 with separately written articles in their respective newspapers.
The cables have made headlines all around the world for 10 days now, and while perhaps the most vitriolic and sensitive reactions have already been heard, it will be an awfully long time before the stories wear out and the researchers grow weary. For journalists, intelligence analysts, conspiracy theorists and the world's curious, the cache of cables are like being handed the Library of Congress when they didn't know it existed. There's a lot to explore. And all this is before the documents with significant state secrets and the skeletons of private corporations are unencrypted.
Assange not only gave a little more than a thousand of the 250,000 cables to the five news organizations, but also allowed about 100,000 people to download the "insurance" file with the special secrets. Those people await the release of the encryption key which will open the files to view. You can be sure that if they ever receive the key - and there's the rub, as Shakespeare's Hamlet said - they will make them available to everyone who wants them. The only way to make sure Assange doesn't release them is to hold him hostage against their release. But there are those who would kill to ensure their release, as well.
It may be that he has told his colleagues at WikiLeaks to release the insurance file upon some secret signal from him, or on a date certain if he remains in jail, or if he is killed or injured in jail, or whenever they think they should release them.
Assange is the spokesman for WikiLeaks, after all, not the "boss" of the operation. That person, unless it is him, is unknown, and the standard in organizations like WikiLeaks, which is to say groups of a somewhat anarchical bent, is to have no one leader but many strong individuals who act in a council or by consensus.
I don't see those folks hanging on to the insurance for very long at all. Yet that is what will kill Assange, in a sense. If they release, he will have no insurance and be at risk of all the anger and embarrassment he has caused to so many powerful people around the world. Some would happily kill him. For instance, what would the Saudi prince who hosted a Hallowe'en party at his well-guarded villa with booze, drugs and hookers have paid to keep that State Dept. cable out of the press, since it might get him killed? (Too late now.) Imagine what clever blackmailers would do with that kind of material if they could get it before any public release.
Even American neocons like Bill Kristol have called for his assassination, and Fox talk show host Mark Schnitt has offered a $50,000 reward for his arrest (I presume he'll pay that to Assange, who turned himself in). If Assange has to cash in his insurance policy, it may be because he is dead.
The machinery, again, is inexorable. If there are secrets out there, there are people who feel they must have them at any cost - much like they had to have Ché Guevara's battlefield diary 40 years ago. They will scheme, bribe, manipulate and even kill to get them.
What kind of insurance is that?