U.S. Soldier Suspected Of Leaks Tied To New Video
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
We're hearing a few words now from the elusive founder of a whistle-blowing website, Julian Assange, from Wikileaks. That's the website that published video of U.S. troops on a helicopter killing civilians on the ground in Iraq.
A U.S. Army intelligence analyst has been questioned for allegedly releasing that video, and Julian Assange has been staying away from investigators who want to question him. Now he's sent an email message to supporters, and Philip Shenon of The Daily Beast has seen that email.
Mr. PHILIP SHENON (The Daily Beast): Good morning.
AMOS: Tell us what he is saying about this U.S. Army intelligence analyst who has been detained.
Mr. SHENON: He is saying that he is not necessarily in any sort of relationship with this soldier. The soldier is alleged to have leaked the information. But he is defending him as a soldier, a man of conscience who seems to be eager to blow the whistle on wrongdoing by American officials.
AMOS: Now, does Julian Assange have some reason for distancing himself from Bradley Manning?
Mr. SHENON: The same one you and I might have to protect a source, which is Wikileaks exists to protect its sources, and Assange is not acknowledging the soldier as a source, but if he were, he would defend him.
AMOS: What information, what other information, might Wikileaks have now, and why is Julian Assange becoming more public?
Mr. SHENON: The soldier has bragged, apparently, in an Internet chat with a former computer hacker, a separate former computer hacker, that he indeed stole two very classified videos from the Pentagon as well as 260,000 State Department cables, cables involving a whole range of subjects, passed them on to Wikileaks.
We know one of those videos has already appeared on the Wikileaks website and the fear is that the other one will appear soon. There is still a question as to what will happen with these if they exist these 260,000 diplomatic cables and what Assange might do with them if he indeed has them.
AMOS: Has he said what he will do with those cables? The State Department, the White House, is quite exercised about the fact that they're out there.
Mr. SHENON: He has claimed thus far that he does not have 260,000 State Department cables. The suspicion is that is a word game, that indeed he has some number of these diplomatic cables, he just doesn't have 260,000 of them. And the fear is within the United States government that Assange is sitting in some dark room somewhere in the world at this moment orchestrating the release of those 260,000 cables.
AMOS: Let's talk for a minute about this second video. There are reports about what's on it. Can you tell us?
Mr. SHENON: The first video that was released involved an American airstrike in Baghdad in 2007. The one Assange is now talking about is an airstrike in Afghanistan that occurred last year that is apparently it is believed to have been, in terms of civilian casualties, the most lethal American attack in Afghanistan since the war began.
AMOS: So has anybody seen this second video of the aftermath of a bombing in Afghanistan?
Mr. SHENON: To the best of my knowledge, it's only been seen within the Defense Department. This will be the first time that it's had any sort of public viewing.
AMOS: And how do we know that this is the same one?
Mr. SHENON: Well, we only have at this point Assange's claims that he has it, and we also have these Internet chat logs in which the young soldier in Iraq boasts of having stolen that video.
AMOS: Do you expect that this one will be every bit as explosive as the first one?
Mr. SHENON: I can't say, and it's pictures of an airstrike, so presumably the images were taken from quite far away. What was really so horrifying about the earlier video is how close you get to the images of death.
AMOS: Now - though we have not seen any on the ground aftermath in Afghanistan, so presumably that's what's new.
Mr. SHENON: It will be new and certainly this will be apparently an image of widespread carnage, unlike what we saw in Baghdad in 2007.
AMOS: Where exactly is Julian Assange?
Mr. SHENON: Ah, the $64,000 question. He was supposed to appear last week in Las Vegas at a journalist convention. He cancelled at the last minute, citing security concerns. There's some reason to believe he's in his native Australia. But he really has gone to ground. He's out of contact, except through occasional emails to supporters and appearances on Twitter.
AMOS: As a journalist who breaks and has in your career broken stories, what do you think about this kind of journalism?
Mr. SHENON: It's frightening and fascinating. I mean as we both know, at large news organizations when there's a question of the leak of national security information, our news organizations go through long, tortured conversations about what to do with that information, whether or not it would indeed endanger national security if we were to make it public. In the case of Wikileaks, the decision has been made to very quickly release that information, largely unfiltered, regardless of the national security implications of it.
AMOS: Thanks very much.
Mr. SHENON: Thank you.
AMOS: Philip Shenon is with The Daily Beast and he's written on the leaks from Wikileaks.
This is NPR News.