Activists behind a website dedicated to revealing secret documents have
complained of harassment by police and intelligence services as they prepare
to release a video showing an American attack in which 97 civilians were
killed in Afghanistan.
Julian Assange, one of the founders of Wikileaks, has claimed that a
restaurant where the group met in Reykjavic, the capital of Iceland, came
under surveillance in March and one of the group’s volunteers was detained
for 21 hours by police.
Assange, an Australian, says he was followed on a flight from Reykjavik to
Copenhagen by two American agents. The group has riled governments by
publishing documents leaked by whistleblowers.
Last week it released the cockpit recording from an American Apache helicopter
as it killed Iraqi civilians, including a Reuters photographer, in Baghdad
Assange claims surveillance has intensified as he and his colleagues prepare
to put out their Afghan film. It is said to concern the so-called “Granai
massacre”, when American aircraft dropped 500lb and 1,000lb bombs on a
suspected militant compound in Farah province on May 4 last year. Several
children were among those killed.
In messages on Twitter, the internet social networking site, Assange
complained of “covert following and hidden photography” by police and
foreign intelligence services. There have been thinly veiled threats, he
says, from “an apparent British intelligence agent” in a car park in
“Computers were also seized,” another member of Wikileaks said on Twitter,
raising alarm among supporters with a subsequent post: “If anything happens
to us, you know why ... and you know who is responsible.”
Their apprehension is perhaps understandable. America’s defence establishment
has made clear that it would like to silence the site. In 2008, the Pentagon
produced a report on how to undermine and neutralise Wikileaks. This, too,
emerged on the website.
Assange, who is believed to be 37, founded Wikileaks three years ago with a
group of like-minded computer programmers, academics and activists. The site
says it has had more scoops since then than The Washington Post in three
decades and has become a global clearing house for sensitive documents. It
has exposed crimes from toxic dumping and tax evasion to extrajudicial
murders in Kenya.
Assange says the 38-minute Iraqi video broadcast by the group is evidence of
“collateral murder” by American forces. It shows a group of Iraqi men being
killed by gunfire from the helicopter. A helicopter then shoots at a van
arriving to take the bodies away.
A crew member is heard saying: “Nice shooting.” When it emerges that two
children in the van have been injured, someone else says: “Serves them right
for bringing their children into a battle.”
The film, in which American forces kill with the seeming detachment of video
gamers, has been seen by millions on the internet since it was first aired
on Monday. The website, which claims to exist on a shoestring budget, says
it has since received more than £100,000 in donations.
America’s military defended the killings, saying no disciplinary action had
been taken at the time of the incident. However, Reuters has striven in vain
since 2007 to obtain access to the video under freedom of information laws.
Broadcasting such a film could expose Wikileaks to prosecution in America but
the organisation appears to have put itself beyond the reach of court
injunctions by existing only in the digital sphere.
There has been speculation that Wikileaks might be part of a sophisticated
“psy-ops” campaign by the CIA. If that is the case, says Assange, “I only
wish they would step forward with a cheque.”
Net Pimpernel leaks it here, leaks it there, Profile, page 19