Is Bank of America WikiLeaks next target? Website boss pledges to release new dossier that will rival Enron scandal


  • Assange: Major financial institution will be target of next WikiLeaks

  • 2009 interview hints website has documents from Bank Of America executive

  • Bank executives use 'unethical practices' and will be exposed as corrupt

  • Pressure grows on authorities to charge Assange with espionage

The financial system is today bracing itself for a fresh scandal after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange revealed the next target of his whistle-blowing website will be a major U.S. bank.

While Assange - the man behind the diplomatic dossier which this week rocked the Obama administration - did not say which bank will be exposed or when it will happen, he revealed in a 2009 interview with news website Computerworld that his organisation had obtained large amounts of data from the hard drive of an unnamed Bank of America executive.

Although he has yet to provide any details of the dossier, he compared the information contained in the documents with the Enron scandal.

His threat will reverberate throughout Wall Street as bankers fear they too will be subjected to damaging revelations.

Assange told Forbes magazine: 'It (the WikiLeaks dossier) will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume.'

Enlarge   WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said the next major reveal by his whistleblowing website will be about a major bank

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said the next major reveal by his whistleblowing website will be about a major bank

'You could call it the ecosystem of corruption,' Assange added.

'But it’s also all the regular decision-making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest.

He promised tens of thousands of documents from a major U.S. financial firm will hit the web sometime in early 2011.

'It’s not as big a scale as the Iraq material, but it’s either tens or hundreds of thousands of documents depending on how you define it.'

He would not name the firm but called it a 'big U.S. bank.'

He claimed the dump would have a similar impact as the Enron scandal.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Tricky summit: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have to face the heads of Russia and Germany after they were criticised in leaked documents

'When Enron collapsed, through court processes, thousands and thousands of emails came out that were internal, and it provided a window into how the whole company was managed,' he explained to Forbes.

'It was all the little decisions that supported the flagrant violations.'

But he backed away from calling the bank's actions criminal.

'All I can say is it’s clear there were unethical practices, but it’s too early to suggest there’s criminality. We have to be careful about applying criminal labels to people until we’re very sure.'

Assange has been criticized for targeting the US government and military with WikiLeaks, but he says he just posts what he gets.

'People say, why don’t you release more leaks form the Taliban. So I say hey, help us, tell more Taliban dissidents about us,' he told Forbes.

The anti-American criticism comes as the Obama administration opens a criminal investigation into Assange for possible espionage.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will today be the first American politician to face the possible wrath of world leaders humiliated in secret documents released by the whistleblowing website.

Mrs Clinton has set off on a potentially embarrassing tour of central Asia - where she will doubtlessly share awkward moments and perhaps be called upon to explain disclosures in the published documents.

She is travelling to  a summit which will also be attended by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

And she will end the four-nation tour in Bahrain by delivering a speech to Middle East leaders from many of the countries whose confidences were compromised by the leaks.

Mr Medvedev was portrayed as being the Robin to Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin’s Batman in the Kremlin, and his country was described in the leaked cables as being a ‘virtual mafia state’.

Mrs Merkel was portrayed as an unimaginative leader who ‘avoids risk and is rarely creative'.

Mrs Clinton has already apologised to Russia and Germany for the leaks, but aides fear it could still be ‘uncomfortable’ for her during the trip.

Despite the obvious damage to international relations that the WikiLeaks dossier has caused, Mrs Clinton said she was 'confident' that U.S. partnerships would withstand the diplomatic crisis.

She even managed a joke about the crisis, saying that one senior U.S. diplomat had told her: 'Don't worry, you should see what we say about you.'

The Obama administration launched a full-bloodied assault on Wikileaks just hours after the whistle-blowing website plunged the U.S. into an unprecedented diplomatic crisis.

As the White House began a frantic damage limitation exercise, Mrs Clinton said the government was taking 'aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information'.

In a defiant press conference in Washington, she said: 'This disclosure is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community: the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.'

Dmitry Medvedev
Angela Merkel

Frosty reception: Mrs Clinton can expect a few awkward moments when she meets heavily criticised Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and German chancellor Angela Merkel at a Middle East summit this week

In a co-ordinated retaliation by the Obama administration, the Attorney General launched a criminal investigation into the WikiLeaks dossier - the biggest intelligence leak in history.

Eric Holder pledged to prosecute those behind the publication of the confidential documents.

He said: 'To the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law, they will be held responsible.'

On Capitol Hill, the reaction was less guarded.

Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, said those responsible for the 'outrageous, reckless and despicable' leaks are going to have blood on their hands'.

He urged the US to do everything it could to shut down the whistle-blowing website.

According to Peter Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the House intelligence committee, the documents contained a 'whole number of time bombs' and he described the likely breakdown in trust between the US and other countries as a 'catastrophic issue'.

Pete King

Angry reaction: Republican congressman Pete King said the disclosures were 'worse than a military attack' on the country

Earlier a senior Republican had urged the Attorney General to designate WikiLeaks a 'foreign terrorist organisation'.

Pete King said the website 'posed a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.'

The WikiLeaks dossier revealed U.S. embassy cables exposing everything from secret discussions on bombing Iran to 'inappropriate behaviour' by a member of the British Royal Family.

The release of the dossier prompted President Obama to order U.S. agencies this morning to urgently review their safeguards on classified information.

Among the most damaging revelations is the file that showed the U.S. had ordered a spying operation on diplomats at the United Nations, in apparent breach of international law.

U.S. staff in embassies around the world were ordered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to obtain frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even iris scans, fingerprints and DNA of foreign officials.

WikiLeaks ignored a last-minute warning from the Obama administration that going ahead with publication of the first tranche of 250,000 classified documents would put 'many lives at risk'.

Yesterday the WikiLeaks website crashed.

In a Twitter statement the organisation said it had suffered a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack - ie an effort to make the site unavailable to users, usually by flooding it with requests for data.

But the damaging disclosures were already being published by international media.

Experts warned the revelation of repeated private calls from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme and 'cut off the head of the snake' risked destablising the Middle East.

President Barack Obama is revealed in one damaging cable as having 'no feelings for Europe' and preferring to 'look East rather than West'.

Others reveal withering assessments of the U.S. of a long list of world leaders.

The U.S. branded France's President Nicola Sarkozy an 'emperor with no clothes' with a 'thin-skinned and authoritarian personal style', Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as an 'alpha dog' and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as 'Hitler'.

Silvio Berlusconi of Italy's 'wild parties' were described by U.S. diplomats, who called him 'feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader'.

Another dispatch from Rome recorded the view that he was a 'physically and politically weak' leader whose 'frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest'.

Detailed in another document was Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi's fondness for a 'voluptuous' Ukranian blonde he apparently employs as a 'nursing sister' and who accompanies him everywhere.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is damned as 'risk aversive and rarely creative', while Dmitry Medvedev of Russia is a 'pale, hesitant' figure who 'plays Robin to Putin's Batman'.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy: ‘has a thin-skinned and authoritarian personal style’ and is an ‘emperor with no clothes’

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi: ‘feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader’. He is a ‘physically and politically weak’ leader whose ‘frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest’

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev: ‘plays Robin to Putin’s Batman’ and is ‘pale and hesitant’

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin: an ‘alpha dog’

Chancellor Angela Merkel: ‘avoids risks and is rarely creative’

Iranian President Mahmoud Amhadinejad: like ‘Hitler’

Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi: is ‘strange’ and ‘accompanied by voluptuous blonde Ukranian “nurse”’

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: governs with ‘a cabal of incompetent advisors’

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il: ‘flabby old chap’ who suffers from ‘physical and psychological trauma’

Afghan president, Hamid Karzai: ‘driven by paranoia’ and ‘an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him’

Zimbabwean tyrant, Robert Mugabe: ‘the crazy old man’

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is said to 'float along on paranoia' and is dismissed as 'an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him'.

Kim Jong-il, the ailing dictator of North Korea is described as a 'flabby old chap' who had suffered 'physical and psychological trauma'.

The White House has slammed the decision to publish the information.

Spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Obama supports open and accountable government, but the WikiLeaks was being 'reckless and dangerous'.

'By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals,' Gibbs said. 'We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.'

Today desperate efforts were being made on both sides of the Atlantic to shore up the special relationship in the wake of the revelations about the U.S. assessment of Britain.

There were no further details of the claims concerning the member of the British royal family or of the requests for intelligence about MPs, expected to emerge in the days ahead.

Criticism of British operations in Afghanistan were however said to be 'devastating', putting the U.S.-UK alliance under strain.

Remarks concerning Mr Cameron, who was said to have been deemed a 'lightweight' by U.S. President Barack Obama when the two first met, were described as 'serious political criticisms'.

The Obama administration told whistleblower WikiLeaks that its release of classified State Department cables will put 'countless' lives at risk, threaten global counterterrorism operations and jeopardise U.S. relations with its allies.

The State Department released a letter from Harold Koh, its top lawyer, to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his attorney telling them that publication of the documents would be illegal and demanding that they stop it

He said the move would 'place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals', 'place at risk on-going military operations,'and 'place at risk on-going cooperation between countries.'

'They were provided in violation of U.S. law and without regard for the grave consequences of this action,' he said.



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Is Wikileaks right to publish documents that could threaten national security?

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The White House said that the disclosure of confidential diplomatic communications would 'deeply impact' U.S. foreign interests.

In London, the Foreign Office also condemned the leaks and was forced to insist they would not undermine the special relationship between the U.S. and UK.

'We condemn any unauthorised release of this classified information, just as we condemn leaks of classified material in the UK,' a spokesman said.

'They can damage national security, are not in the national interest and, as the U.S. have said, may put lives at risk. We have a very strong relationship with the U.S. Government. That will continue.'

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