The elusive founder of WikiLeaks, who is at the centre of a potential US national security sensation, has surfaced from almost a month in hiding to tell the Guardian he does not fear for his safety but is on permanent alert.
Julian Assange, a renowned Australian hacker who founded the electronic whistleblowers’ platform WikiLeaks, vanished when a young US intelligence analyst in Baghdad was arrested.
The analyst, Bradley Manning, had bragged he had sent 260,000 incendiary US state department cables on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks.
The prospect of the cache of classified intelligence on the US conduct of the two wars being put online is a nightmare for Washington. The sensitivity of the information has generated media reports that Assange is the target of a US manhunt.
“[US] public statements have all been reasonable. But some statements made in private are a bit more questionable,” Assange told the Guardian in Brussels. “Politically it would be a great error for them to act. I feel perfectly safe … but I have been advised by my lawyers not to travel to the US during this period.”
Assange appeared in public in Brussels for the first time in almost a month to speak at a seminar on freedom of information at the European parliament. He said: “We need support and protection. We have that. More is always helpful. But we believe that the situation is stable and under control. There’s no need to be worried. There's a need always to be on the alert.”
Manning is being held incommunicado by the US military in Kuwait after “confessing” to a Californian hacker on a chatline, declaring he wanted “people to see the truth”.
He said he had collected 260,000 top secret US cables in Baghdad and sent them to WikiLeaks, whose server operates out of Sweden.
Adrian Lamo, the California hacker he spoke to, handed the transcripts of the exchanges to the FBI.
Manning was promptly arrested in Baghdad at the end of last month and transferred to a US military detention unit in Kuwait. He has been held for more than three weeks without charge.