WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange breaks cover but will avoid AmericaUS desperate to ask hacker what he knows of classified messages about Iraq and
The elusive founder of WikiLeaks, who is at the centre of a potential US national security sensation, has surfaced from almost a month in hiding to
tell the Guardian he does not fear for his safety but is on permanent alert.
Julian Assange, a renowned Australian hacker who founded the electronic whistleblowers' platform WikiLeaks, vanished when a young US intelligence
analyst in Baghdad was arrested.
The analyst, Bradley Manning, had bragged he had sent 260,000 incendiary US state department cables on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to
The prospect of the cache of classified intelligence on the US conduct of the two wars being put online is a nightmare for Washington. The sensitivity
of the information has generated media reports that Assange is the target of a US manhunt.
"[US] public statements have all been reasonable. But some statements made in private are a bit more questionable," Assange told the Guardian in
Brussels. "Politically it would be a great error for them to act. I feel perfectly safe … but I have been advised by my lawyers not to travel to
the US during this period."
Assange appeared in public in Brussels for the first time in almost a month to speak at a seminar on freedom of information at the European
He said: "We need support and protection. We have that. More is always helpful. But we believe that the situation is stable and under control.
There's no need to be worried. There's a need always to be on the alert."
Manning is being held incommunicado by the US military in Kuwait after "confessing" to a Californian hacker on a chatline, declaring he wanted
"people to see the truth".
He said he had collected 260,000 top secret US cables in Baghdad and sent them to WikiLeaks, whose server operates out of Sweden. Adrian Lamo, the
California hacker he spoke to, handed the transcripts of the exchanges to the FBI.
Manning was promptly arrested in Baghdad at the end of last month and transferred to a US military detention unit in Kuwait. He has been held for more
than three weeks without charge.
Assange said WikiLeaks had hired three US criminal lawyers to defend Manning but that they had been granted no access to him. Manning has instead been
assigned US military counsel.
While WikiLeaks declined to confirm receipt of the material from Manning, it has already released a film of a US Apache helicopter attack on civilians
It has also posted a confidential state department cable on negotiations in Reykjavik over Iceland's financial collapse and is preparing to disclose
much more material, including film of a US attack that left scores of civilians dead in Afghanistan.
The material is believed to derive from Manning, although WikiLeaks does not reveal its sources and its operations are designed to mask the source of
the files it receives.
Prominent US whistleblowers and lawyers have advised Assange to stay out of the US and to be ultra-careful about his travel and public appearances.
"Pentagon investigators are trying to determine the whereabouts of [Assange] for fear that he may be about to publish a huge cache of classified
state department cables that, if made public, could do serious damage to national security," US web paper the Daily Beast reported 10 days ago.
"We'd like to know where he is – we'd like his co-operation in this," a US official was quoted as saying.