In regards to the laptop, Helgason says “we only have the word of the police for what he said. And if he said it, we don’t know if it’s the truth.”
More broadly, the police and the Icelandic Minster of Justice denied to Hegalson that they are involved in any investigation of WikiLeaks.
Assange or someone else writing at WikiLeaks’ official Twitter account admitted that perhaps not all about the interrogation was as originally suggested. On March 28, after Icelandic journalists had had a chance to report out his claims, the account was updated with the following:
There is debate as to what happened during the interrogation in Iceland [not other matters]. We are seeking clarification.
Whatever clarification Assange may have sought, he hasn’t offered any himself—the WikiLeaks site and Twitter feed have since been essentially silent on Assange’s surveillance charges. (Hegalson and Ingólfur’s attempts to reach Assange failed or went without response, as did CJR’s.)
And while Assange’s brackets insist that there is no debate about other surveillance matters, Icelandic journalists have been unable to substantiate his claims about the two people “operating under the name of the U.S. State Department” who boarded his flight to Norway.
When asked about Assange’s allegations, State Department spokesperson Darby Holladay it was the “first anyone’s heard of this in the State Department.” Further inquiries made to spokespeople in the Diplomatic Security and Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs branches of the department were not responded to by press time.
While WikiLeaks’s front page offered a new document—the political profiles—on March 29, Assange has not released the purported passenger records that could help substantiate his claims that State Department officials tailed him on an international flight. He also says that he was able to trace the license plate of a car involved in surveillance to a private security company in Iceland.
Whatever the ultimate truth of these other claims, Assange’s haste to disseminate such baroque charges, based on the unproven claims of a possibly troubled youth with a criminal record, do not inspire the sort of cool-headedness, taut B.S. detector, judgement in personnel, or respect for accuracy that one would like to see in a journalist involved in disseminating and analyzing some of the world’s most sensitive documents.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Assange has stepped beyond the known facts in claiming persecution. Assange’s recent statement also mentioned the Pentagon’s 2008 reporton WikiLeaks, published by the site on March 15, that identified the site as a “potential … threat.”
There have been many overwrought takes about what’s in this document, starting with a typo-ridden tale that Assange wrote for a cover page WikiLeaks appended to the release:
It concocts a plan to fatally marginalize the organization. Since WikiLeaks uses “trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insiders, leakers or whisteblowers”, the report recommends “The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistlblowers could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the WikiLeaks.org Web site”. [As two years have passed since the date of the report, with no WikiLeaks’ source exposed, it appears that this plan was ineffective]. As an odd justificaton for the plan, the report claims that “Several foreign countries including China, Israel, North Kora, Russia, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe have denounced or blocked access to the WikiLeaks.org website”. The report provides further justification by enumerating embarrassing stories broken by WikiLeaks—U.S. equipment expenditure in Iraq, probable U.S. violations of the Cemical Warfare Convention Treaty in Iraq, the battle over the Iraqi town of Fallujah and human rights violations at Guantanmo Bay. Note that the report contains a number of inaccurances, for instance, the claim that WikiLeaks has no editorial control. The report concludes with 13 items of intelligence to be answered about WikiLeaks.
The quotes lifted from the document are accurate, but the spin around them is a step too far. While it’s written in an odd form of bureaucratese, the analyst’s musings about knocking WikiLeaks off its “center of gravity” boil down to exposing the people who leak to WikiLeaks, so that others will think twice before doing so in the future.
Leakers who provide the press or others with classified information are usually violating the conditions of their employment, or breaking some criminal code. That doesn’t mean their actions aren’t morally defensible or valiant—often, in effect, a form of civil disobedience. But it’s hardly news that their bosses have some obligation to uncover them and make them face the consequences. Nor is it news that superiors would hope such punishment would act as a deterrent.