WikiLeaks Helps NSA Leaker As It Works To Stage A Comeback

The group WikiLeaks has played a key role in the case of Edward Snowden, the former contractor who has admitted leaking top secret documents about surveillance. Snowden is now trying to elude U.S. authorities, and is seeking asylum in Ecuador. WikiLeaks has helped plan his escape and Julian Assange, the group's leader, came to Snowden's defense on Monday.

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Edward Snowden's travels have been underwritten in part by Wikileaks. That organization, of course, has also attracted scrutiny for publishing government secrets. Lately, Wikileaks has retreated from the headlines, but as we hear from NPR's Larry Abramson, the organization has been slowly staging a comeback.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: In 2010, Wikileaks was riding high. That was the year the organization published thousands of documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including a video that showed U.S. helicopters targeting Iraqis on the ground. Some of the dead included Reuters news reporters. Back then, Wikileaks media-savvy founder, Julian Assange, was on every news show. On the "Colbert Report," Assange admitted he titled that video "Collateral Murder" to get maximum coverage.

JULIAN ASSANGE: But we will try and get the maximum possible political impact for the material that they give to us.

STEPHEN COLBERT: And "Collateral Murder" is to get political impact?

ASSANGE: Yes. Absolutely.

ABRAMSON: That political impact included an investigation of Wikileaks by the U.S. Justice Department and a court martial for Bradley Manning. He's the Army private who delivered that video to Wikileaks, along with thousands of diplomatic cables. Wikileaks continued to publish documents through 2010, but toward the end of that year, the banking industry shut down the group's online fundraising system.

Meanwhile, Assange himself was detained by U.K. police in connection with an allegation of sexual assault in Sweden. He was released on bail, taken in by supporters who put up Assange in a large estate in the countryside. During that time, Assange continued capitalizing on his fame.

ASSANGE: I'm Julian Assange...

ABRAMSON: In his show, "The World Tomorrow," Assange thumbed his nose at Western governments.

ASSANGE: Editor of Wikileaks, who've exposed the world's secrets.

ABRAMSON: He interviewed the infamous such as Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah. Assange's legal troubles continued and he ended up taking refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London a year ago. He gave crowds stirring speeches from the embassy's balcony, which he said he could not leave for fear of arrest.

ASSANGE: Six months ago, 185 days ago, I entered this building. It has become my home, my office and my refuge.

ABRAMSON: Assange is still in that embassy. Today, he gave a telephone news conference from there saying he could identify with Snowden.

ASSANGE: He's not a traitor. He is not a spy. He is a whistleblower who has told the public an important truth.

ABRAMSON: Assange said his own experience getting asylum in Ecuador's embassy was useful. He said it aided in preparing Snowden's application for asylum in Ecuador, which is still pending. During that news conference, Assange seemed subdued. He spoke in a painfully halting voice but he continued to attack the governments that are pursuing Edward Snowden.

ASSANGE: I have personal sympathy with Mr. Snowden, having lived through a very similar experience.

ABRAMSON: Over the past year or so, Wikileaks has set up shop in Iceland and has found a way around the banking blockade for the time being, at least. Some of Wikileaks' money is helping to defray Snowden's travel expenses and a Wikileaks representative is traveling with Edward Snowden as he looks for a safe place to land.

Meanwhile, Assange says the organization he helped found has not retreated from its original mission. Assange says Wikileaks has published over a million documents in the past 12 months. Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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