22/12 Under ‘High-Tech House Arrest,’ WikiLeaks Founder Takes the Offensive

By JOHN F. BURNS and RAVI SOMAIYA
Published: December 22, 2010

BUNGAY, England — When Julian Assange wakes these days, he looks out from a three-story Georgian mansion house overlooking a man-made lake. Under a blanket of snow, the 650-acre Ellingham Hall estate, a mile back from the closest public road, is as tranquil a spot as can be found in eastern England.

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Carl Court/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, held a news conference last Friday on the grounds of Ellingham Hall estate.

State’s Secrets
Articles in this series examine American diplomatic cables as a window on relations with the rest of the world in an age of war and terrorism.
Documents:
Selected Dispatches

Related
Leaked
Cable Stirs Animosities Between Palestinian Sides
(December 23, 2010)

But Mr. Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, who is fighting accusations of sexual misconduct in Sweden, strolls through this bucolic idyll with an electronic tag on his ankle and a required daily 20-minute drive to the part-time police station in the neighboring town of Beccles. There he signs a register and chats “pleasantly” with the officers, according to their account, and returns to his curfew at the hall.
It is what Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, has laconically referred to as “my high-tech house arrest” in interviews since arriving last week from the High Court in London, where he was granted bail of $370,000, much of it provided by wealthy celebrities and friends, including Vaughan Smith, Ellingham Hall’s owner.
From his rural redoubt, Mr. Assange has gone on a media offensive, continuing to charge that he is the victim of a smear campaign led by the United States, which is weighing criminal prosecution for the leaks of nearly 750,000 classified documents.
In an interview with The Times of London on Tuesday, he compared himself to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying that when he was jailed at Wandsworth Prison in London, a black guard handed him a card saying, “I only have two heroes in the world, Dr. King and you.” Mr. Assange added, “That is representative of 50 percent of people.”
In the interview, he also compared the obloquy directed at WikiLeaks by the Obama administration and other critics with the “persecution” endured by American Jews in the 1950s. He added, “I’m not the Jewish people,” but suggested that the common thread was that supporters of WikiLeaks and American Jews were “people who believe in freedom of speech and accountability.”
Mr. Assange also denied prior contact with Bradley Manning, the Army private jailed on charges that he leaked thousands of classified government documents to WikiLeaks. “I never heard of the name Bradley Manning before it appeared in the media,” he said in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday.
While there have been a number of prosecutions of government employees under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information, there has never been a successful prosecution of a journalist for receiving and publishing such information. But prosecutors have been studying online chats in which Private Manning reportedly talked about contacts with Mr. Assange to see if they suggest that the WikiLeaks leader solicited or encouraged the leaks.
Mr. Assange noted that it was standard journalistic practice to call government officials and ask for information. Criminalizing such conduct would threaten the freedom of the press, he said.
“If they want to push the line that when a newspaperman talks to someone in the government about looking for things relating to potential abuses, that that is a conspiracy to commit espionage, that is going to take out all the good government journalism that takes place in the United States,” Mr. Assange said.
In the interview with The Times of London, Mr. Assange also spoke of his “feeling of betrayal” toward the two women in Sweden, who have said he forced sex on them without using a condom, and in one case while the woman, according to her account, was asleep. Over the weekend, The Guardian and The New York Times obtained copies of a 68-page police document detailing the accusations against Mr. Assange, leaks he said were “clearly designed to undermine” his bail arrangements.
“Somebody in authority clearly intended to keep Julian in prison,” he said of himself.
Mr. Assange said the accusations had put at risk what WikiLeaks had achieved. “We have changed governance, we have certainly changed many political figures within governments, we have caused new law reform efforts, we have caused police investigations into the abuses we expose, U.N. investigations, investigations here in the U.K., especially in relation to our revelation of the circumstances of the deaths of 109,000 people in Iraq,” he said. He added, “We are also changing the perception of the West.”

Attempts by The New York Times to interview Mr. Assange in recent days were unsuccessful. For months, he has regularly changed cellphones, and had members of his close-knit entourage answer them for him.

State’s Secrets
Articles in this series examine American diplomatic cables as a window on relations with the rest of the world in an age of war and terrorism.
Documents: Selected Dispatches
Related
Leaked Cable Stirs Animosities Between Palestinian Sides (December 23, 2010)
Recently, even those have been switched off, and Ellingham Hall has padlocked its gates against intruders. Telephones there go unanswered, and the hall’s Web site for weddings and shooting parties, during which the public is charged $40 to shoot a pheasant, has been taken off-line.
Where the private road leading to Ellingham Hall begins, WikiLeaks supporters who have gathered to support Mr. Assange have taped a hand-lettered placard to an electricity junction box, next to one posted by Mr. Smith advertising “fresh eggs,” saying “Free Bradley Manning.”
Mr. Assange has given conflicting accounts of the handling of his case in Sweden. Immediately after an initial warrant was issued for his arrest in August, he said he had “no idea” who his accusers were; he has since acknowledged that he slept with both of the women over a four-day period before the warrant was issued. He has said he waited weeks to be interviewed by the police in Sweden; they have said that it was Mr. Assange who delayed meeting with them.
He said in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday that he saw no reason to return to Sweden to answer the allegations. Asked why he would not comply with the legal processes of a country with a respected system of jurisprudence, he described Sweden as “a bit more of a banana republic” than its reputation suggested, and said his WikiLeaks work was too important to answer to “random prosecutors around the world who simply want to have a chat.”
“They can come here, or we can have a video linkup, or they can accept a statement of mine,” he said. In the BBC interview, Mr. Assange acknowledged obliquely that he had high ambitions for himself, saying, “Everybody would like to be a messianic figure without dying.”
At times in the interviews, he seemed conflicted about the impact of the Swedish allegations. Speaking to the BBC, he said he thought they could be “quite helpful to our organization” because “it will expose a tremendous abuse of power.” But he also rued the impact on his own reputation, saying that his name was now linked widely on the Internet with the rape allegation.
Using Google, he said, and “searching for my name and the word ‘rape,’ there are some 30 million Web pages. So this has been a very successful smear.”

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About Uy Do

Banking System Analyst, former NTT data Global Marketing Dept Senior Analyst, Banking System Risk Specialist, HR Specialist
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