‘Chaos’ at WikiLeaks Follows Assange Arrest
The arrest without bail of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Tuesday has left the organization in a state of uncertainty, despite transition plans laid out prior to his surrender to British police, according to one dispirited WikiLeaks activist who spoke to Threat Level on condition of anonymity.
Assange left Icelandic television journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson in charge of the group in his absence, the activist said. But now the embattled organization’s secrecy and compartmentalization are apparently hindering its operations.
Specifically, midlevel WikiLeaks staffers have been mostly cut off from communicating with hundreds of volunteers whose contact information was stored in Assange’s private online-messaging accounts, and never shared with others.
“There is an ongoing plan, but that plan was only introduced to a few staffers — key staffers,” explained the source. “We are experiencing chaos.”
WikiLeaks was scrambling to produce a statement in a dozen languages Tuesday to address Assange’s arrest.
Assange appeared in Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London Tuesday. The judge cited Assange’s itinerant lifestyle and denied him bail, despite the fact that he turned himself in.
The arrest came nine days after WikiLeaks began publishing from its cache of more than 250,000 leaked U.S. State Department diplomatic cables, which are trickling out at a rate of about a hundred a day.
That publication schedule will continue uninterrupted, according to a tweet on WikiLeaks’ Twitter feed following Assange’s detention. “Today’s actions against our editor-in-chief Julian Assange won’t affect our operations: We will release more cables tonight as normal,” read one message. A second tweet added: “Let down by the UK justice system’s bizarre decision to refuse bail to Julian Assange. But #cablegate releases continue as planned.”
Assange “is accused by the Swedish authorities of one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010,” British police said.
Assange indicated in court that he would fight extradition to Sweden, according to reports. He is set to appear in court again Dec. 14.
Charismatic and driven, Assange has been WikiLeaks’ public face and prime mover for four years. It was Assange who personally managed the site’s most important leaker — Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, according to Manning’s conversations with the ex-hacker who turned him in.
And when Assange’s autocratic leadership style was challenged by some staffers last year, he described his importance to the organization in no uncertain terms. “I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest.”
His absence, says the source, is being felt acutely. “The organization will most likely start to fall apart now.”
Photo: Kristinn Hrafnsson of Wikileaks
See Also:Kevin Poulsen is a senior editor at Wired.com and editor of the award-winning Threat Level blog. His new book on cybercrime, KINGPIN, comes out February 22, 2011 from Crown.
Follow @kpoulsen on Twitter.
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