WikiLeaks spokesperson Julian Assange has finally been arrested in Britain and, ostensibly, not for leaking classified information; the European warrant he was arrested on was issued by Sweden and refers to sexual impropriety charges. As late as Monday, Assange had threatened to unleash the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse should he be forced to appear before the authorities. So, will he? BY SIPHO HLONGWANE.
Assange handed himself over to the police at 11:30 (SA time) in London on Tuesday. The European arrest warrant relates to allegations in Sweden that in August the 39-year-old Australian committed one count of rape, one count of unlawful coercion and two counts of sexual molestation. The warrant seeks to detain Assange for questioning. He is due to appear before a magistrate in Westminster, London, later on Tuesday, who will most probably consider whether the grounds to extradite him to Sweden are valid.
The WikiLeaks spokesperson had previously denied all allegations of impropriety in Sweden. The Globe and Mail reported that Assange threatened to unleash a “thermonuclear device” of unredacted files if he were made to face authorities. “The 1.3-gigabyte file, distributed through file-sharing services this summer and protected with an unbreakable 256-bit encryption key, contains full versions of all the US documents received by WikiLeaks to date – including those that have been withheld from publication or have had names and details removed in order to protect the lives of spies, sources and soldiers,” the G&M said.
According to Assange’s lawyer Mark Stephens, Assange would release the key if he were arrested and made to face rape charges in Sweden, or “treason” charges in the US, which is what some American politicians wanted. Assange could have set up a dead man’s switch system where he needed to enter a code into a system at regular intervals, and in the event of his arrest and failure to enter the code, the key would be released.
Or, depending on what the power structure within WikiLeaks looks like, the key could have been divided among multiple people, and in the event of Assange’s arrest, it would be put together. The assumption is that the WikiLeaks committee that chose Assange to be the editor-in-chief and chief spokesperson still exercises enough control over the organisation to ensure that Assange doesn’t have the unilateral power to detonate the information “thermonuclear device”. If this is indeed the case, it’s more likely that bits of the key were distributed among a larger group, and need only a few of these people to activate it.
If the faceless committee behind Assange does indeed still have control over him, then maybe, just maybe, cool heads will prevail and the Four Horsemen will not be released. The operational word is “if”, and the signs over the past months have been that Assange has seized control of WikiLeaks and turned it into an authoritarian organisation.
According to the Guardian blog following the goings-on in London, WikiLeaks insiders say that there is no plan to activate the key just yet.
Another spokesperson, Kristinn Hrafnsson, has already stepped up in the wake of Assange’s arrest and said that the arrest wouldn’t deter the organisation. It will be interesting to see what happens to WikiLeaks now. Will there now be a Crimson Tide-style internal power struggle, which would suggest that Assange exercises dictatorial powers over the organisation? Will it adopt a softer line (not release the unredacted documents), which would prompt the question: why? Does the committee consider that Assange has strayed too far from the organisation’s founding principles, and feel the need for calm, cool heads to prevail at last?
Watch this increasingly turbulent space. DM
Photo: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange attends a news conference at the Geneva Press Club in Geneva, in this November 4, 2010 file photo. Assange said on December 3, 2010 that he and colleagues were taking steps to protect themselves after death threats following the publication of leaked US diplomatic cables on their website. One of Assange’s lawyers said he would also fight any attempt to extradite his client to face questions over alleged sexual misconduct, adding that he believed foreign powers were influencing Sweden in the matter. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud
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