LONDON — Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, and Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, lashed out together on Saturday at the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of whistle-blowers, including those responsible for the release of secret documents on the Iraq war.
Mr. Assange also said that WikiLeaks, which released the trove of almost 400,000 Iraq war documents on Friday, would shortly be posting an additional 15,000 remaining secret documents on the Afghan war.
Mr. Assange, speaking at a news conference in a London hotel a stone’s throw from the headquarters of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6, was joined by Mr. Ellsberg, 79, the former military analyst who leaked a 1,000-page secret history of the Vietnam War in 1971 that became known as the Pentagon Papers.
Mr. Ellsberg, who said he had flown overnight from California to attend, described Mr. Assange admiringly as “the most dangerous man in the world” for challenging governments, particularly the United States. He said the WikiLeaks founder had been “pursued across three continents” by Western intelligence services and compared the Obama administration’s threat to prosecute Mr. Assange to his own treatment under President Richard M. Nixon.
DEMOCRACY NOW INTERVIEW: Pentagon Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg on Upcoming Iraq War Wikileaks Docs (October 22nd) (Part 1 of 2)
(Part 2 of 2):
Both men hit out at what they described as the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of whistle-blowers, which Mr. Ellsberg said put the United States on a path to the kind of repressive legal framework that Britain has under its broad Official Secrets Act. He said the criminal investigations under President Obama of three Americans accused of leaking government secrets represented a new low.
The three men he was referring to were Pfc. Bradley Manning, a former military intelligence analyst suspected of providing the documents on Afghanistan and Iraq to WikiLeaks; Thomas Drake, an official with the National Security Agency who was indicted this year; and Shamai Kedem Leibowitz, an F.B.I. linguist who pleaded guilty to leaking five classified documents in late 2009.
Mr. Ellsberg said the Pentagon’s demand that Mr. Assange “return” any classified materials in his possession was carefully couched in language similar to that used in the aftermath of the Pentagon Papers release, when he was threatened with criminal prosecution for espionage. “Secrecy,” Mr. Ellsberg said, “is essential to empire.”
Mr. Assange also dismissed what he described as the Pentagon’s deliberately “nonchalant” reaction to his release of the Iraq documents on Friday. He said they “constituted the most comprehensive and detailed account of any war ever to have entered the public record.”
The Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell condemned the Iraq leak on Friday, saying that these documents, and a previous WikiLeaks release of classified material on the war in Afghanistan, were a gift to “terrorist organizations” and “put at risk the lives of our troops.” But he also played down the historical significance of the latest leak, characterizing the reports as “mundane” and saying that much of the material had been well chronicled in past accounts of the war.
Mr. Assange said the response was “not credible,” since the comment was issued before the Pentagon could feasibly have read the vast archive posted on the organization’s Web site on Friday night. He said the statement had been “an attempt to act in a nonchalant manner” to convey the sense that the documents were “of no consequence.”
He said that the documents showed “Iraq was a bloodbath on every corner,” and that they chronicled 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths there. Adding those deaths to 107,000 others that had been recorded by the group Iraq Body Count, WikiLeaks has estimated the civilian toll since 2003 at more than 120,000. That, he said, put the human cost of the Iraq conflict five times higher than that of Afghanistan.
Mr. Ellsberg, who described Iraq as a “hopeless, deadly, stalemated war,” said many of the civilian deaths there could be counted as murder.