Entering The Secret World Of Wikileaks Wikileaks is a secretive website with no official headquarters and thousands of leaked, untraceable documents. Investigative reporter Philip Shenon explains the history of the site -- and recent developments since the April release of a classified U.S. military video showing a civilian massacre.
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Entering The Secret World Of Wikileaks

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Entering The Secret World Of Wikileaks

Entering The Secret World Of Wikileaks

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

In April of this year, a disturbing video appeared on the Internet, showing a deadly 2007 attack by a U.S. Army helicopter that killed 12 people in Baghdad, including two employees of the Reuters News Service. It was an American military video shot from the helicopter, but it was posted on a website devoted to leaking government and corporate secrets called Wikileaks.

Wikileaks was founded by Julian Assange, an eccentric computer expert who's described himself as an information activist. Wikileaks invites whistleblowers to share information through a secure Web portal, and thousands of classified documents have been posted on the site.

Last week, a U.S. Army intelligence officer was charged with providing the Iraq video to Wikileaks, along with 150,000 classified diplomatic cables. U.S. officials are concerned that releasing the cables could endanger national security and have been trying to contact Julian Assange, but he's proven to be an elusive character, surfacing only occasionally at conferences or in media interviews.

For some perspective on Wikileaks and the issues it raises, we turn to Philip Shenon, an investigative reporter who spent much of his career at the New York Times. He's now a contributor to The Daily Beast.

Philip Shenon, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's give the audience a little bit of an introduction to what Wikileaks is. First of all, give us some examples of the kind of leaked material it has posted.

Mr. PHILIP SHENON (Journalist; Contributor, The Daily Beast): They have posted a tremendous variety of formerly secret documents, everything from investigative reports about corruption in the nation of Kenya to manuals from the Church of Scientology to Sarah Palin's hacked emails.

They very famously released the so-called Climategate memos that were these emails among a group of climate scientists that were seized upon by conservative groups to argue that global warming was a fraud.

DAVIES: All right, tell us about the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange. He's a real character.

Mr. SHENON: He's a real character. He is a former computer hacker turned anti-censorship activist who, in 2006, created Wikileaks, as I say, with the intention of making public all that had once been secret.

DAVIES: And he has an interesting personal history, right? Grew up in Australia.

Mr. SHENON: We know he was born in 1971 in Australia. He was homeschooled by a mother who apparently liked to move a lot. She moves the family something like 40 times in a dozen years.

Assange has no formal education, certainly not in his early years. He becomes he gains a certain international notoriety in the late 1980s when he becomes a computer hacker and manages to break into a variety of prominent institutions, everything from the Defense Department to the Los Alamos nuclear weapons facility to a variety of banks.

He's arrested. He is goes through a long court process and is found pleads guilty to a lot of these hacking charges, gets a small fine, then goes onto a career as an academic, as a physicist, as a computer scientist.

That apparently bores him. He aligns himself, as I say, with anti-censorship groups, and in 2006, we get Wikileaks.

DAVIES: And when he was hacking into government institutions and banks and the like, what was his motive?

Mr. SHENON: I believe his motive was largely fascination, both with the ability to break into what were supposedly impenetrable institutions and also this belief that information should be free and that he should be able to have access to it.

DAVIES: So he wasn't extorting the banks for cash or anything like that?

Mr. SHENON: No, not at all. He has said his philosophy was that he would do no damage to the institutions that he broke into, breaking into their computer networks, apart from covering up his own tracks.

DAVIES: All right, so he establishes Wikileaks, this site that, you know, invites leakers and whistleblowers to provide information in 2006, right?

Mr. SHENON: Right.

DAVIES: And I've read that he said his goal is scientific journalism, meaning what?

Mr. SHENON: Well, he believes that when he puts material out, it should be put out to some degree in context and that he should be able or he should, in putting that material out, prove that it is: A, authentic; and B, of significance. He believes that a lot of, you know, there's he has a very difficult relationship with most mainstream news organizations because he believes they do not do that, they do not prove the truth of what they are offering up to their readers or viewers.

DAVIES: Now, and I guess the other interesting question is if people are going to be providing confidential information over the Internet, they have to be careful. They have to be confident that it is secure. Give us a little bit of a sense of the technical structure that supports Wikileaks.

Mr. SHENON: Well, Wikileaks, part of Assange's goal here is to make sure that no government, no institution can shut down Wikileaks. So it exists on a large number of computer servers all around the world. It has hundreds of domain names. So you could attack one Wikileaks website but not shut them all down.

DAVIES: And just to complete the picture here, is Wikileaks based at an office that people can find? Is Assange someone who, you know, is at a location where you can find him?

Mr. SHENON: Assange apparently has no real home. He mostly lives with a knapsack and travels the world, living in the homes of friends and supporters.

He was, we know, for a time earlier this year in Iceland. I believe he was last month in his native Australia. He was in Europe a couple of days ago. No, he travels the world in part because he wants to, he says, avoid surveillance by intelligence organizations.

DAVIES: Now in April of this year, Wikileaks made public a military video from 2007 in Iraq, right? And this changed a lot for the organizations. Tell us about this video.

Mr. SHENON: This was their biggest of all their leaks. It was a 2007 video of an American helicopter strike in Baghdad in which about a dozen civilians were killed, including two employees of the Reuters News Agency.

DAVIES: A lot of listeners have probably seen this video. Many haven't. Just describe what you see.

Mr. SHENON: It's a pretty horrifying video. It is an attack by an American Apache helicopter, the video taken from within that helicopter, in which American soldiers fire down on a group of men they apparently suspect of being insurgents but on the basis of what seems to be very little evidence and really just mow these men down.

The victims include 12 people died, including two employees of the Reuters News Agency. There's also a separate blast into a nearby van. We now know that there were two young children in that van, and they were very seriously injured in the attack.

DAVIES: Yeah, and the van is an interesting piece of this because it appeared in the initial salvo, one of the men was injured and was crawling away when the van arrived, right?

Mr. SHENON: The van arrived, and apparently the driver, seeing these injured people in the streets, does what a good citizen should do: He gets out and tries to help. And in trying to help, he comes under attack by the helicopter. And the helicopter, as I say, then turns its sights on the van and fires and does this apparently horrible damage to these young kids.

DAVIES: Now, Reuters, of course, protested this incident to the Army when it happened and sought to get the video through a Freedom of Information Act request. Did the military ever verify that this was indeed the attack that Reuters had complained about?

Mr. SHENON: They don't deny that fact. Reuters put in a Freedom of Information Act request, as you say, and got nothing but silence from the Pentagon over a course of many, many months. And, as I say, the video was then leaked to Wikileaks, which made it public, and Reuters finally got to see what had actually happened to its employees.

DAVIES: And was there any fallout for this? Were there any charges or discipline that resulted from these events?

Mr. SHENON: Very little, actually, and this is something that Assange has been talking about, that he put out for all the world to see the evidence of what Assange clearly believes was a war crime. And there's been really no follow-up from within the Pentagon that we know of.

DAVIES: And when it was posted, it wasn't simply the raw video, right? I mean, there was a decision made to, well, for lack of a better word, package it, right?

Mr. SHENON: Absolutely, and, you know, we talked earlier about what Assange describes as scientific journalism. He wanted to put it out in context. So he released the video with an awful lot of documents, internal military documents about the attack. And he packaged the video itself in a variety of formats, including shorter versions and longer versions.

And he put it on a special website that had the domain name collateralmurder.com. And, you know, his decision to label this collateral murder obviously suggests he had a strong view as to what that video represented.

DAVIES: Right, and while he did post the full 38-minute video, there was an edited and annotated version, right?

Mr. SHENON: Right. And that edited version, and in fact this whole editing effort on Assange's part, has drawn criticism because, you know, there's an argument that it would have been better for Assange to put it out there and let people make their own judgments as to what happened. Assange chose not to do that and made very clear that he thought that what was being depicted here was a war crime.

DAVIES: And how did the Army respond to the release of this?

Mr. SHENON: Defense Secretary Gates was hugely annoyed by its release. He described this as sort of to view this video is to see war through a soda straw, that it was presented without the real context of what had happened in that attack.

And the context, as far as the Pentagon is concerned, is that these young soldiers aboard the helicopter were in an extraordinarily dire situation. They'd come under attack earlier in the day, they had every reason to believe that the folks on the ground meant them harm.

DAVIES: You know, I'm interested in your opinion here because if you look at the video, you don't see people who look like warriors. I mean, they look like guys just walking along the street. They're walking in a relaxed, casual way. A couple are carrying things that appear to be described by the American soldiers as weapons, but from the distance, you can't tell what they are. And in fact, the Reuters folks indicated that one of the things they were carrying was a camera.

When you look at this, what do you make of the argument that these were, in fact, combatants who posed a threat?

Mr. SHENON: I think I agree with you. I think it's a hard argument to make. Theres - I know within Wikileaks, when they were preparing this video, they did tend to agree that some of the items that these men were carrying could possibly have been perceived as a weapon of some sort, an RPG in the case of the camera that the Reuters journalist was carrying.

But no, I agree with you. It's hard to see where these men posed any sort of direct threat to the helicopter.

DAVIES: We're speaking with investigative reporter Philip Shenon. He writes for The Daily Beast, spent many years as an investigative reporter for the New York Times. We're talking about Wikileaks, and we'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is veteran investigative reporter Philip Shenon. He spent many years at the New York Times. He now is a contributor to The Daily Beast. We're talking about Wikileaks, the website which invites whistleblowers and leakers to post secret information from government and corporations.

We were just talking about its release in April of this year of military video from an attack by an American Apache helicopter in Iraq on a group of men.

And there's word now that another military attack video may be coming, right?

Mr. SHENON: I think people are quite convinced there is one coming. It will be a video of a 2009 air strike on a village in Afghanistan. Apparently, in terms of civilian casualties, the most lethal American attack in Afghanistan since the war began there in 2001.

And it will apparently depict the death of, I'd say, up to 140 people, most of them children and teenagers.

DAVIES: Let's talk just a little bit about kind of how others view the Wikileaks methodology. They get a lot of stuff, right, I mean, as many as 30 submissions a day, right? Is it clear how carefully they vet do they attempt to vet it and, you know, verify its authenticity?

Mr. SHENON: They do. In particular cases, they clearly do make a real effort to determine the authenticity of the material. In the case of the 2007 video from Baghdad, they actually sent two reporters to Iraq to try to track down some of the victims to try to piece together more of what actually happened in this attack.

In other cases, it appears they put out material, less interesting or less important material, without making real efforts to verify its authenticity.

DAVIES: And are they criticized as, you know, loose cannons of disclosure, I mean, people who might put out information which could threaten national security, could endanger lives?

Mr. SHENON: Well, certainly, that's the larger fear of Wikileaks, that down the road, they're going to come up with even more explosive material that really could harm national security, and they'll put it out without much filtering.

They have come under criticism in the past for that. They put out some time ago a text from Army material about IEDs in Iraq and how they functioned and American efforts to try to overcome the IED threat in Iraq. And this was scientific material that if available to the insurgents in Iraq could have presumably put American soldiers' lives at risk.

DAVIES: Well, since Wikileaks released the Iraq video, there have been developments and a potential source has emerged. Tell us what's happened.

Mr. SHENON: A young soldier, Bradley Manning, working in Iraq, was arrested in June and accused of leaking classified material. It emerged pretty quickly that he is believed to be the principle source for Wikileaks, that he leaked the 2007 Iraq video and the 2009 Afghanistan video, and he may have also leaked as many as a quarter-million State Department cables to Wikileaks.

We learned that he apparently confessed much of this in an email chat with a former computer hacker in California whose name came to Bradley Manning through press reports. These voluminous Internet chats really do suggest that Manning was the source of all this material that Wikileaks has put out and intends to put out in the near future.

DAVIES: Does the government say he's the source of the Iraq video?

Mr. SHENON: They do.

DAVIES: And...?

Mr. SHENON: The government several days ago, Manning was formally charged with crimes, including the release of the video.

DAVIES: The computer hacker that Bradley Manning appears to have confessed his leaking to, what did he do with that information, this hacker?

Mr. SHENON: The hacker, a fellow by the name of Adrian Lamo out in California, is a fairly well-known figure in the hacking community. Manning becomes aware of him through news accounts. He reaches out to Lamo in California, looking for sort of a kindred soul on hacking questions and confesses in the course of this long email chat what he's done.

Lamo says he becomes really alarmed at what Manning is confessing to, especially the leaking of those, you know, quarter-million State Department cables. Lamo has said that he thought that the release of those cables might put people's lives in danger. He saw, you know, this was a real criminal act. He, Lamo, then calls the FBI and the Army and turns in Manning.

DAVIES: So what a strange case. Manning, this Army intelligence guy, allegedly reaches out to someone he has never met face to face, in an Internet chat exchange confesses all of this material, and then this former hacker goes to the FBI and eventually tells the story to another journalist from Wired magazine.

Mr. SHENON: Who is himself a former hacker. There are former hackers everywhere in this story. Assange is a former hacker. Manning, the soldier in Iraq, appears to be essentially a hacker. He confesses to another former hacker in California. The former hacker in California calls his calls a journalist at Wired magazine, who is himself a former hacker, who then releases the story to the world.

DAVIES: You know, the details get a little dense here, but one of the things that if you really read the stuff on the net you discover is that Bradley Manning, this soldier, was hospitalized for mental or emotional distress some time before he allegedly boasted in this Internet chat about being the source of these leaks.

Is it possible that he is not a source, that he was somebody who bragged to somebody who in this case apparently he had never actually met, this computer hacker that he confessed these things to. Is there is it possible that he isn't the source, that he's a disturbed guy who was boasting, and the government, who wants to build a case against Wikileaks because they hate them, find it convenient to have somebody to pin this on and make a public case that Wikileaks is a threat?

Mr. SHENON: I've heard that theory offered, but if you take a look through the Internet chats, Manning writes with such detailed knowledge of the videos and the State Department cables that it's very hard to believe that he is not responsible for the leaks.

DAVIES: What charges is Bradley Manning facing?

Mr. SHENON: He's accused of a variety of charges of improper access to and leaking of classified documents. You know, I believe he faces many decades in prison if he's convicted of all of these charges.

One thing that's been very frustrating for news organizations is the fact that the Pentagon absolutely won't grant us any sort of access to Manning or to his lawyers. We really at this point have nobody speaking for Bradley Manning.

DAVIES: And is he in this country? He was arrested in Kuwait, right?

Mr. SHENON: He was held for a good long while in Kuwait. He may still be there. As I say, we have very we have really no information about his whereabouts or his status or, you know, how he's defending himself. We have no, we have no we do not have the words of Bradley Manning, apart from the computer chat logs that existed from several weeks ago.

DAVIES: And his trial would be in military court, right?

Mr. SHENON: Yes, yes.

DAVIES: It would be public?

Mr. SHENON: A good question. I don't know the answer. You would think that because we're talking about classified information that they may do their darnedest to restrict access to the trial.

DAVIES: Philip Shenon is an investigative reporter and a contributor to The Daily Beast. He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

We're speaking with investigative reporter Philip Shenon about WikiLeaks, the website that invites whistleblowers to share classified government and corporate documents. In April, WikiLeaks posted an American military video showing a helicopter attack that killed 12 civilians in Iraq. An American Army intelligence analyst has been charged with providing that video and 150,000 classified State Department cables to WikiLeaks.

Julian Assange, I mean the founder and operator of WikiLeaks has been this interesting and elusive character. Some very high stakes stuff is happening here. I mean there is this damaging video of a U.S. military action and the arrest of a soldier for leaking it. And Julian Assange, I gather, has been in semi hiding for many of the past months saying he fears, I don't know what, arrests, subpoena. Has the U.S. government been trying to track him down?

Mr. SHENON: I know they were interested several weeks ago in trying to contact him, if only to open up some sort of line of communication about whether or not he really wanted to make public the State Department cables if he had them. We know that Assange apparently has hired lawyers to open up some sort of communication with the State Department and the CIA and the White House. I can't tell you at this moment where those conversations stand. But Assange has largely lived in the shadows for many years now. You know, he doesn't like to let people know of his whereabouts, with the occasional exception of the public appearance or a public speech.

DAVIES: Now it's interesting, if there are a couple of hundred thousand secret State Department cables which are now in WikiLeaks' possession, and the government wants to talk to Assange, perhaps to make the case that he should use his discretion not to post all of this stuff, is Assange saying well, he would be open to such a conversation? Or is this a case where he believes information should be free, let's put it out there and let the people of the world figure out what it means, what its significance is?

Mr. SHENON: You know, I can't tell you what's in Assange's head on that point. And again, he insists he doesn't believe he has those memos. It's hard to believe though that if he didn't have them available he wouldn't consider making an enormous part of it public. He, you know, he acknowledges that on occasion his release of material may do damage to American national security, to American diplomacy, to the diplomacy of other nations, to, you know, global economic systems.

He's talked about the fact that over time his release of public material may leave WikiLeaks with, I think his words were, blood on our hands. But he still believes that the effort to overcome censorship all around the world is too important to not take those risks.

DAVIES: Now I read that Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Secrecy News blog was invited at some point to get involved with WikiLeaks and looked it over, and he's somebody who believes in disclosure, and declined. Do you have cases like this where people who are interested in whistle-blowing and exposing government wrongdoing look at WikiLeaks and say, not so sure about this?

Mr. SHENON: I think there are a good number of people who have that criticism of WikiLeaks. You know, there are folks who believe that WikiLeaks and Assange don't respect privacy. Certainly, they don't respect copyright in certain circumstances, that this is all a form of sort of information vandalism. You know, what is on the WikiLeaks site, much of it is really quite fascinating and quite important. But at the same time they, you know, they put out documents about the secret rituals American sororities and what goes on, you know, the guidebooks for the Masons or for the Mormon Church.

They put out last year the full text of a book, a 2009 book about corruption in Kenya and the author and the publisher were very, you know, upset about that. That suddenly, a book they expected to make a profit on was suddenly available to the world free because of WikiLeaks. That, you know, there are probably some secrets, certainly there is some privacy that is worth respecting.

DAVIES: You know, one of the people who has weighed in on this debate is Daniel Ellberg who, you know, people will remember was prosecuted in the early 70's for his leaking of "The Pentagon Papers".

What does he say and what parallels do you see between his case and this one?

Mr. SHENON: Well, Ellsberg sees Assange as somebody who is doing the sort of work - the sort of leaking, valuable leaking that Ellsberg himself did in the time of "The Pentagon Papers". Ellsberg thinks, he said repeatedly recently, that he thinks that Assange's life is in danger, that there would be good reason for the United States government and for other governments to try to do harm to Assange.

I personally don't find that a very persuasive argument but that certainly is what Mr. Ellsberg feels very strongly.

DAVIES: Well, what's the Obama administration's record been on government leakers? I mean they've taken a number of actions haven't they?

Mr. SHENON: They've been very tough and it's been greatly disappointing to a lot of my colleagues in the news business and to an awful lot of First Amendment advocates. But the Obama administration, just as much as the Bush administration, seems determined to crack down on leaks.

DAVIES: Can you give us an example of a case that troubles you?

Mr. SHENON: Sure. There are several of them. My former colleague at The New York Times, Jim Risen, who came up with the spectacular scoop a couple years ago about the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, he is now under very serious threat from the Justice Department to reveal the sources of material in a recent book. And, you know, I think there is sort of the threat on the table that if Risen doesn't give in to the Justice Department's demands, you know, he could face some jail time.

DAVIES: You've also written that there's legislation now before Congress which would give the president new authority over the Internet, at least in some extreme circumstances. Tell us about that.

Mr. SHENON: Yeah. This is a bill that is really moving very quickly through Congress that would allow the White House in a period of national emergency to declare something called a cyber emergency, and really, in extreme situations, really sort of shut down portions of the Internet or at least block them - block Americans from having access to them. And that's produced an awful lot of concern among civil liberties groups.

DAVIES: So would that law allow the government to take action against WikiLeaks, for example?

Mr. SHENON: You know, it would be tough to do directly, because WikiLeaks exists everywhere. It exists on a whole bunch of computer servers, exists on a whole bunch of domain names so you'd kind of have to shut down the whole Internet to shut down WikiLeaks. But, you know, if there was a determination made by the White House that there was some national security threat by material out on the Internet they could try to block that material from American Internet customers.

DAVIES: We're speaking with investigative reporter Philip Shenon. He writes for The Daily Beast - spent many years as an investigative reporter for The New York Times. We're talking about WikiLeaks and we'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is Philip Shenon. He's a veteran investigative reporter. He is now a contributor to The Daily Beast and we're talking about WikiLeaks, the website that offers leakers and whistleblowers a chance to provide confidential information from government or government sources or corporations. They got a lot of attention in April when they posted a video of an attack by an American helicopter on some men in Baghdad.

One of the places that WikiLeaks has been active in the past year is Iceland. What's special about Iceland?

Mr. SHENON: Iceland in the wake of its economic collapse is trying to recreate itself now as the great haven of free speech. And Assange has been very actively involved in Iceland in trying to rewrite the laws there to give absolute protection to news organizations, to journalists and to their sources, you know, to really sort of shut down the process of libel suits to make it impossible for writers and journalists working in Iceland to be punished for any material they put out to the world.

DAVIES: So has the parliament of Iceland actually enacted these new protections for journalists?

Mr. SHENON: The Icelandic parliament has announced its intention to create a whole range of laws to protect free speech. It is now moving into the process of actually writing the regulations and laws that will do that. But it has committed itself to turning Iceland into this free speech haven.

DAVIES: And what are some of the ways that it would function differently than other countries when it comes to, you know, free speech in journalism?

Mr. SHENON: There would be absolute protections for journalists not to reveal their sources. Libel litigation would be, you know, effectively ended, that there would be no ability of foreign governments to insist that damages be obtained from people living in Iceland or working in Iceland.

DAVIES: You know, it's interesting, have other countries discouraged them from taking this course?

Mr. SHENON: You know, Iceland has a big problem which is that its economy collapsed and it has a need to recreate itself as something new. And the decision's been made that, you know, for many reasons, including economic ones, this is a great step forward for the country.

I've not seen any criticism of Iceland from other governments so far about they're doing. I think that may come down the road, however.

DAVIES: Do they think journalists are going to move there? Is this going to be like an economic development to look for?

Mr. SHENON: Right. Absolutely. This is a very useful industry to bring to Iceland, and you certainly do hear the rumor that WikiLeaks would among the organizations setting up shop in Iceland.

DAVIES: So they'll have cable TV ads for journalist colonies then.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHENON: Something like that. You and I might want to consider it.

DAVIES: Never know. You know, WikiLeaks raises a lot of interesting questions that journalists have struggled with for years. And I'm kind of interested in your views on, you know, the nature of secrecy and disclosure. I mean I guess the fundamental questions is, are all secrets in government and corporations bad and thus, all leaks good?

Mr. SHENON: You know, it's painful for me to say as a journalist but, you know, there probably are some secrets worth keeping. And as somebody who existed - who worked at a large news organization for many years, you know, I can tell you that when national security leaks or information came into The New York Times there was, you know, a big debate within the paper about how to handle that material and whether or not its release was outweighed - the value of the release outweighed whatever damage might be done to national security.

You know, the warrantless wiretapping scoop of a couple of years ago, The Times had that story for about a year, or more than a year before it made it public. And you certainly hear at the Pentagon, at the White House, concern that, you know, one of these days somebody is going to leak something really important to an organization like WikiLeaks.

You know, examples given to me, you know, of the American nuclear secrets or, you know, the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, would WikiLeaks put those out to the world without much filtering and isn't there a real threat in that?

DAVIES: Right. And I guess the other side of the argument, and you read this in people who support WikiLeaks, is that it's a place that the government can't get to and pressure. If it had had the information about the electronic eavesdropping program that The New York Times had, it wouldn't have had an avenue to go in and make a case that you should hold this and therefore, the story would not have been held. And there are some who say given that the mainstream media can be pressured and cajoled by the government, we need WikiLeaks because it's truly independent.

Mr. SHENON: You know, you certainly hear that argument made and I think there must be an awful lot of people who have access to government secrets who now weigh in their own minds, well, do I want to leak this to a mainstream news organization that may sit on it forever or do I want to take it to WikiLeaks with the knowledge that WikiLeaks is much more likely to put it out to the world in a hurry. And you have to believe that if WikiLeaks disappeared tomorrow somebody else would try the same thing.

DAVIES: You know, investigative journalism everywhere has declined as mainstream media have had economic problems. And in one respect I would think that for any investigative journalist, having someone who is dumping a ton of raw data, you know, would be a terrific thing.

Have the mainstream media used WikiLeaks as an important source for their own investigations?

Mr. SHENON: I don't believe so. I don't think - and I know Assange has been very upset over the fact that mainstream news organizations have often not followed up on the material available on his website. And it is a remarkable website.

You know, a couple of days ago, I actually sat down and went through all the leaks on Wikileaks, and it is a, you know, an incredible collection of documents and videos and quite fascinating information that I don't think I've seen follow-up on by other news organizations.

DAVIES: Do you have any idea when this other video from this 2009 attack in Afghanistan might appear?

Mr. SHENON: You know, I talked to Assange a couple weeks ago, my one and only extensive conversation with him, and he said that he believed the video would be out this summer, that he intended to first put out on the website a variety of documents that would put the video into context. After the documents have been out for several days, the video would appear. And he seems to be off his time frame, since I think he believed he was going to do this all in the last couple of weeks. It hasn't happened yet, but apparently it will happen some time in the next several weeks.

DAVIES: You spoke to Assange, you said. How do you get a hold of him? What's it like?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHENON: It is not easy, and he really does seem to be, you know, the international man of mystery in this world. He has a variety of followers around the world who will pass messages to him, especially in Iceland. And after pressing and pressing and pressing, finally, one of the contacts in Iceland put a phone in his hand, and he talk to me.

DAVIES: And what was your sense of him?

Mr. SHENON: He is, obviously, an extraordinarily intelligent fellow who has a cause that he absolutely believes in, that he will do anything for, that he will sacrifice anything for. And I think he has made the determination that, you know, he is going to sacrifice any sort of real life in the cause of Wikileaks. That is to say, this is a guy who lives his whole life with a boarding pass in his hand and a knapsack over his back, and that's about it in terms of what his life is.

DAVIES: And what is that cause that he is so deeply committed to?

Mr. SHENON: The cause against censorship, the belief that governments and institutions are involved, essentially, in a conspiracy to hide the truth from the public. And he is going to make that material as public as he can.

DAVIES: Well, Philip Shenon, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. SHENON: Thank you.

DAVIES: Philip Shenon is an investigative reporter who spent many years at The New York Times. He's now a contributor to The Daily Beast.

Coming up: Ed Ward on a new release of music from the late Blues guitarist Freddie King.

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