02-19-2017  3:54 am      •     

LONDON (AP) -- WikiLeaks - whose spectacular publication of classified data shook world capitals and exposed the inner workings of international diplomacy - may be weeks away from collapse, the organization's leader warned Monday.

Although its attention-grabbing leaks spread outrage and embarrassment across military and diplomatic circles, WikiLeaks' inability to shake the restrictions imposed by American financial companies may prove its undoing.

"If WikiLeaks does not find a way to remove this blockade we will simply not be able to continue by the turn of the new year," founder Julian Assange told journalists at London's Frontline Club. "If we don't knock down the blockade we simply will not be able to continue."

As an emergency measure, Assange said his group would cease what he called "publication operations" to focus its energy on fundraising. He added that WikiLeaks - which he said had about 20 employees - needs an additional $3.5 million to keep it going into 2013.

WikiLeaks, launched as an online repository for confidential information, shot to notoriety with the April 2010 disclosure of footage of two Reuters journalists killed by a U.S. military strike in Baghdad.

The Pentagon had claimed that the journalists were likely "intermixed among the insurgents," but the helicopter footage, which captured U.S. airmen firing on prone figures and joking about "dead bastards," unsettled many across the world.

The video was just a foretaste. In the following months, WikiLeaks published nearly half a million secret military documents from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a whole the documents provided an unprecedented level of detail into the grueling, bloody conflicts. Individually, many raised concerns about the actions of the U.S. and its local allies - for example by detailing evidence of abuse, torture and worse by Iraqi security forces.

Although U.S. officials railed against the disclosures, claiming that they were putting lives at risk, it wasn't until WikiLeaks began publishing a massive trove of 250,000 U.S. State Department cables late last year that the financial screws began to tighten.

One after the other, MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and Western Union stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks, starving the organization of cash as it was coming under intense political, financial and legal pressure.

Assange said Monday that the restrictions - imposed in early December - had cut off some 95 percent of the money he thinks his organization could have received.

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnson defended the estimate as "conservative," noting that in 2010 the average monthly donation to WikiLeaks had been more than 100,000 euros ($140,000), while in 2011 the amount had fallen to between 6,000 and 7,000 euros.

WikiLeaks recently organized a series of auctions aimed at shoring up its finances. Among the items put for sale: Lunch with the 40-year-old WikiLeaks founder, and the laptop computer he used to organize the U.S. cables release.

Assange said Monday that until now his group had relied on small-time donations - he put the average figure at $25. But with the financial embargo in place, he said he would be looking to a "constellation of wealthy individuals" to help keep his organization going.

Assange has several wealthy backers, including Frontline Club founder Vaughan Smith, whose mansion in eastern England has been put at Assange's disposal while he fights extradition to Sweden on sex crime allegations.

A decision on whether to extradite him is expected in the next few weeks. Speaking to journalists after Monday's Frontline Club appearance, Assange put his chances of being extradited without the possibility of appeal at "30 percent."

Also looming in the background is a U.S. grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks' disclosures. Earlier this month a small California-based Internet provider became the second company to confirm it was fighting a court order demanding customer account information as part of the American WikiLeaks inquiry.

WikiLeaks' suspected source, U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, remains in custody at Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas.

---

Online:

http://wikileaks.ch/

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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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