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Assange relishes US banks 'squirming' over 'megaleak'

Accuses America of chucking free speech in rubbish bin

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he enjoys watching US banks "squirm" as he threatens to expose them with a "megaleak" of confidential documents.

"I think it's great," Assange told the venerable US television news magazine 60 Minutes on Sunday evening. "We have all these banks squirming, thinking maybe it's them."

"You seem to enjoy stirring things up," said his questioner, CBS newsman Steve Kroft.

"Well," Assange said, "when you see abusive organizations suffer their consequences as a result of their abuse and you see victims elevated, yes, that's a very pleasurable activity to be involved in."

Throughout the interview, Assange described WikiLeaks as an organization that merely publishes material it receives from others. "We don't go after a particular country. We don't go after a particular organizational group," Assange said. "We just stick to our promise of publishing material that is likely to have a significant impact." But at times during the interview, his deep disdain for authority – and his self-promotional streak – showed up as well.

This past fall, after WikiLeaks released roughly 50,000 classified US military documents on the Iraq and Afghan wars and some of 250,000 confidential US State Department cables, Assange told Forbes that WikiLeaks was preparing a "megaleak" involving an unnamed major US bank, and the assumption is that the documents were lifted from Bank of America. A year earlier, Assange told Computerworld that WikiLeaks had obtained 5GB of data from the hard drive of a Bank of America executive.

But on 60 Minutes, the Australian played coy, declining to name the bank in question. "I won't make any comment in relation to that upcoming publication," he said when asked if Bank of America was the bank in question.

"You're certainly not denying it," said Kroft.

"You know, there'll be a process of elimination if we denied some and admitted others," Assange said, before saying he enjoyed watching all those banks squirm. On November 30, following the Forbes story, Bank of America shares took a 3 per cent drop.

Speaking with Kroft, in what 60 Minutes described as Assange's most extensive television interview to date, the WikiLeaks founder declined to discuss the rape allegations he faces in Sweden, citing advice from his lawyer. But he talked at length about the reaction of the US government to his whistleblowing organization.

When it was pointed out that many in the government are calling him anti-American, he said the opposite was true. "[WikiLeaks'] founding values are those of the US revolution," he said. "They are those of people like Jefferson and Madison. And we have a number of Americans in our organization. If you're a whistleblower and you have material that is important, we will accept it, we will defend you, and we will publish it. You can't turn away material simply because it comes from the United States."

He also said that no matter how hard it tried, the US government would never bring WikiLeaks down. "The US does not have the technology to take the site down... just the way our technology is constructed, the way the internet is constructed," he said. "It's quite hard to stop things reappearing. So, we've had attacks on particular domain names. Little pieces of infrastructure knocked out. But we now have some 2,000 fully independent in every way websites, where we're publishing around the world. I mean, it's not possible to do."

But this is merely stating the obvious.

Following the release of the US diplomatic cables, multiple US-based operations – including web host Amazon.com and DNS provider EveryDNS – booted WikiLeaks from their services, but the site has simply fallen back on others. It has even returned to US servers, moving its DNS service to American outfit Dynadot.

It's unclear whether the US government has pressured US operations to remove WikiLeaks from their services – Amazon has denied the government was involved – but the Department of Justice has said that the DoJ and the Pentagon are investigating Assange, and they're reportedly working to prosecute him under the 1917 Espionage Act and other laws. According to some reports, the government is trying to demonstrate that Assange collaborated on the release of US documents with Army private Bradley Manning, a low-level intelligence analyst who is now being held in solitary confinement at a Marine Corps brig in Virginia.

Asked if he has encouraged anyone to leak the US wars documents and diplomatic cables, Assange said: "No. Never." And he decried the government's apparent attempts to prosecute him. "If we're talking about creating threats to small publishers to stop them publishing, the US has lost its way. It is abrogating its founding traditions," Assange said. "It has thrown the First Amendment in the bin." ®

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