When Guernica saw Wikileaks’ cryptic tweets on early Wednesday just after midnight, we asked Wikileaks’ founder, Julian Assange, what gives.
Wikileaks is a government transparency site that enables anonymous whistle blowing. Their cryptic Wednesday morning tweets suggested U.S. and Icelandic intelligence operatives were spying on them or harassing them and even mentioned a Wikileaks volunteer being detained. This all came as Google was battling China over censorship, making clear that governments in Asia aren’t the only ones with interest in secrecy. One even noted, “If anything happens to us, you know why: it is our Apr 5 film. And you know who is responsible.”
Below is Assange’s (canned) reply. We still hope to catch up with him for a Q&A. Stay tuned…
Something is Rotten in the State of Iceland
By Julian Assange
Over the last few years, WikiLeaks has been subject to a number of actions around the world by public and private security organizations. They range from the appalling assassination of two related human rights lawyers in Nairobi last March and an armed attack on my compound in 2007, to, in the West, an ambush by an apparent British intelligence agent in a Luxembourg car park, which merely ended with “we think it would be in your interest to…”
Developing world violence aside, we’ve become used to the level of security service interest in us and have established procedures to deal with that interest.
But the escalation of surveillance activities over the last month, most of which appears to be the result of U.S. “interests”, although some may be unrelated, deserves comment. These actions include many attempts at covert following, hidden photography and the detention and questioning of a WikiLeaks volunteer in Iceland on Monday night.
WikiLeaks’ staff have been in Iceland to advise Icelandic parliamentarians on a package of laws, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, designed to protect investigative journalists and internet services from spying and censorship.
Possible triggers for the surveillance actions are (1) our release of a classified U.S. intelligence report on how to fatally marginalize WikiLeaks (expose our sources, destroy our reputation for integrity, hack us), (2) our release of a classified cable from the U.S. embassy in Reykjavik reporting on contact between the U.S. and the U.K. over billions of Euros in claimed loan guarantees and, most significantly, (3) our ongoing work on a classified film revealing civilian casualties occurring under the command of the U.S. general, David Petraeus. U.S. sources told Icelandic state media’s deputy head of news, that the U.S. State Department was aggressively investigating the leak from the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik. I was seen at a private U.S Embassy party at the Ambassador’s house, late last year.
Then on Thursday March 18, 2010, I was followed on the 2.15 p.m. flight out of Reykjavik to Copenhagen—on the way to speak at the SKUP investigative journalism conference in Norway. According to airline records, two individuals, brandishing diplomatic credentials and registered under the name of “U.S. State Department”, collected boarding passes for the same flight within three minutes of each other. They are not recorded as having checked in any luggage.
Iceland doesn’t have a separate security service. It folds its intelligence function into its police forces, leading to an uneasy overlap of policing and intelligence functions and values.
On Monday, March 22nd, at approximately 8.30 p.m., a WikiLeaks volunteer was detained by Icelandic police for approximately 21 hours after police attended the volunteer’s father’s place of work on an unrelated matter. The volunteer was inexplicably detained over night. The next day, during the course of interrogation, the volunteer was shown covert photos of WikiLeaks’ editor Julian Assange outside a Reykjavik restaurant, the back room of which was used last week to hold a production meeting on a classified U.S. military video exposing civilian kills by U.S. pilots. Specific references were made to the subject of video and “important” Icelandic figures. No charges were filed. The names of well known journalists involved in the production were referred to in the police questions.
Who are the Icelandic security services loyal to? The new government of April 2009, or the old pro-Iraq war government of the Independence party, or perhaps their connections with another country entirely? Often when a bold new government arises, bureaucratic institutions remain loyal to the old regime and it can take time to change the guard. Former regime loyalists must be discovered, dissuaded and removed. But for security services, the first step, discovery, is awry. Congenitally scared of the light, such services hide their activities; if it is not known what they are doing, then it is surely impossible to know who they are doing it for.
We have written to both U.S. and Icelandic authorities to demand
Julian Assange is founding editor of WikiLeaks.