US has never asked WikiLeaks rival to remove leaked cables, court told

By Ben Quinn

US authorities have never asked a WikiLeaks rival to take down unredacted cables that have been among those at the centre of the legal battle to send Julian Assange to the US, his extradition hearing has been told.

The evidence was given by a veteran internet activist whose website, Cryptome, published more than 250,000 classified documents a day before WikiLeaks began placing them online.

In a short statement submitted by Assange’s team at the Old Bailey, John Young said he had published unredacted diplomatic cables on 1 September 2011 after obtaining an encrypted file, and that they remained online.

Young, who founded Cryptome in 1996, added: “Since my publication on of the unredacted diplomatic cables, no US law enforcement authority has notified me that this publication of the cables is illegal, consists or contributes to a crime in any way, nor have they asked for them to be removed.”

Assange, 49, is fighting extradition to the US, where he is facing an 18-count indictment alleging a plot to hack computers and conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information.

Timeline Show Hide

WikiLeaks releases about 470,000 classified military documents concerning American diplomacy and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It later releases a further tranche of more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables.

A Swedish prosecutor issues a European arrest warrant for Assange over sexual assault allegations involving two Swedish women. Assange denies the claims.

A British judge rules that Assange can be extradited to Sweden. Assange fears Sweden will hand him over to US authorities who could prosecute him.

Assange is questioned in a two-day interview over the allegations at the Ecuadorian embassy by Swedish authorities.

Britain refuses Ecuador's request to accord Assange diplomatic status, which would allow him to leave the embassy without being arrested.

Police arrest Assange at the embassy on behalf of the US after his asylum was withdrawn. He is charged by the US with 'a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer.'

Assange's extradition hearing begins at Woolwich crown court in south-east London. After a week of opening arguments, the extradition case is to be adjourned until May. Further delays are caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

A hearing scheduled for four weeks begins at the Old Bailey with the US government expected to make their case that Assange tried to recruit hackers to find classified government information. If the courts approve extradition, the British government will still have the final say.

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Medical experts have also given evidence to the Old Bailey this week. On Tuesday, a psychiatrist called by Assange’s team who has visited him in Belmarsh prison said the WikiLeaks founder would be at a “high risk” of taking his own life if extradited.

Michael Kopelman, an emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at King’s College London, who has visited Assange 20 times in prison, added: “The risk of suicide arises out of clinical factors ... but it is the imminence of extradition and/or an actual extradition that would trigger the attempt, in my opinion.”

However, a psychiatrist giving evidence for the US government on Thursday said Assange’s suicide risk was “manageable”.

Dr Nigel Blackwood, an NHS doctor, described Assange as a “resilient” and “resourceful” man who had defied predictions over his mental health.

Assange has been held on remand in prison in south-east London since last September after serving a 50-week jail sentence for breaching bail conditions while he was in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for almost seven years.

The hearing also heard from a Swiss computer science expert that unredacted US diplomatic cables came into the public domain following the publication of a passcode in a book by Guardian journalists in February 2011.

Prof Christian Grothoff, of the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland, said it had later been discovered the code could be used to decrypt a “mirrored” version of WikiLeaks’ online encrypted store of cables. The full cache – including classified documents – was made available through Cryptome and another website on 1 September, he said.

The Guardian denied the claim, which has also been made by Assange’s legal team.

“The Guardian has made clear it is opposed to the extradition of Julian Assange. However, it is entirely wrong to say the Guardian’s 2011 WikiLeaks book led to the publication of unredacted US government files,” a spokesman said.

“The book contained a password which the authors had been told by Julian Assange was temporary and would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours. The book also contained no details about the whereabouts of the files. No concerns were expressed by Assange or WikiLeaks about security being compromised when the book was published in February 2011. WikiLeaks published the unredacted files in September 2011.”