02-19-2017  10:49 am      •     

LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks' editor-in-chief claims his organization doesn't know who sent it some 91,000 secret U.S. military documents, telling journalists that the Web site was set up to hide the source of its data from those who receive it.
Julian Assange didn't say whether he meant he had no idea who leaked the documents or whether his organization simply could not be sure. But he did say the added layer of secrecy helps protect the site's sources from spy agencies and hostile corporations.
"We never know the source of the leak," he told journalists gathered at London's Frontline Club late Tuesday. "Our whole system is designed such that we don't have to keep that secret."
U.S. officials said U.S. operatives inside Afghanistan and Pakistan may be in danger following the massive online disclosure Sunday.
In his first public comments, President Barack Obama said the leak of classified information from the battlefield "could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations." He spoke in Washington after meeting Tuesday with Congressional leaders from both parties on the topic.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said a Pentagon investigation will determine whether criminal charges will be filed in the leaking of Afghanistan war secrets. Holder, speaking during a visit Wednesday to Egypt, said the Justice Department is working with the Pentagon-led investigation to determine the source of the leak.
In Baghdad, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters he was "appalled" by the leak.
"There is a real potential threat there to put American lives at risk," he said.
While Assange acknowledged that the site's anonymous submissions raised concerns about the authenticity of its material, he said WikiLeaks had yet to be fooled by a bogus document.
"We do see wholly fabricated submissions, usually around election time," he said, but added that they were "quite rare."
Assange added that WikiLeaks used ex-military and former intelligence workers to help evaluate whether documents leaked from the armed forces or spy agencies were genuine.
The Web site's worse fear, he said, was not a complete forgery but a real document that had been subtly altered. Still, he said he had yet to see that happen.
U.S. officials are also worried that the raw data may prove useful not only to the Taliban but to hostile intelligence services in countries such as China and Russia who have the resources to make sense of such vast vaults of data, said Ellen McCarthy, former U.S. intelligence officer and president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden denounced the leak as a gift to America's enemies.
"If I had gotten this trove on the Taliban or al-Qaida, I would have called it priceless," he said. "If I'm head of the Russian intelligence, I'm getting my best English speakers and saying: 'Read every document, and I want you to tell me, how good are these guys? What are their approaches, their strengths, their weaknesses and their blind spots?'"
Assange agreed that the files offered insight into U.S. tactics. But he said that was none of his concern, and his Web site already carried a copy of the U.S. Special Forces' 2006 Southern Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Manual, among other military documents.
"We put out that stuff all the time," he said.
He seemed irritated when a member of the audience pressed him on whether he believed there were ever any legitimate national security concerns that would prevent him from publishing a leaked document.
"It is not our role to play sides for states. States have national security concerns, we do not have national security concerns," he said.
"You often hear ... that something may be a threat to U.S. national security," he went on. "This must be shot down, whenever this statement is made. A threat to U.S. national security? Is anyone serious? The security of the entire nation of the United States? It is ridiculous!
But he admitted that individual cases were different.
"If we are talking a threat to individual soldiers ... or citizens of the United States, then that is potentially a genuine concern," he said.
Assange cast a bit of light on the way his organization operates, describing an online submission system "like nothing else you've ever seen."
"We encrypt all the information, it is routed through protected legal jurisdictions, multiple servers," he said.
But, to the amusement of the audience, the former computer hacker said one of the best ways to submit classified material remained the international postal system.
His comments also offered insight into his own motivation, referring to a statement he gave to German newspaper Der Spiegel in which he said he "loved crushing bastards."
He said the comment wasn't meant in jest, describing himself as a combative person who likes "stopping people who have created victims from creating any more."
Assange also expressed disdain for the military, invoking a quotation attributed to mathematician and noted pacifist Albert Einstein that describes soldiers as contemptible drones and attacks patriotism as a cover for brutality and war.
He scoffed when the Frontline's moderator spoke of teenage British soldiers "giving their lives" in Afghanistan.
"To what?" he asked.

 


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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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