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Wikileaks hero, American whistleblower Bradley Manning has been arrested; Pentagon hunting WikiLeak’s Assange

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Phillip Shenon, The Daily Beast

BS Top - Shenon Bradley Manning

An Army intel analyst charged with leaking classified materials also downloaded sensitive diplomatic cables. Are America’s foreign policy secrets about to go online?

The State Department and American embassies around the world are bracing for what officials fear could be the massive, unauthorized release of secret diplomatic cables in which U.S. diplomats harshly evaluate foreign leaders and reveal the inner-workings of American foreign policy.

Diplomatic and law-enforcement officials tell The Daily Beast their alarm stems from the arrest of a 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst based in Iraq who has reportedly admitted that he downloaded 260,000 diplomatic cables from government computer networks and was prepared to make them public.

“If he really had access to these cables, we’ve got a terrible situation on our hands,” said an American diplomat.

Specialist Bradley Manning of Potomac, Maryland, who is now under arrest in Kuwait, is also accused of having leaked—to Wikileaks, a secretive Internet site based in Sweden—an explosive video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 that left 12 people dead, including two employees of the news agency Reuters. The website released the video in April.

“If he really had access to these cables, we’ve got a terrible situation on our hands,” said an American diplomat. “We’re still trying to figure out what he had access to. A lot of my colleagues overseas are sweating this out, given what those cables may contain.”

• Philip Shenon: Pentagon ManhuntHe said Manning apparently had special access to cables prepared by diplomats and State Department officials throughout the Middle East regarding the workings of Arab governments and their leaders.

The cables, which date back over several years, went out over interagency computer networks available to the Army and contained information related to American diplomatic and intelligence efforts in the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, the diplomat said.

He added that the State Department and law-enforcement agencies are trying to determine whether, and how, to approach Wikileaks to urge the site not to publish the cables, given the damage they could do to diplomatic efforts involving the United States and its allies.

Wikileaks, a website based in Sweden, that promotes itself as a global champion of whistleblowers, did not reply to emails from The Daily Beast.

In a comment on the social networking website Twitter, Wikileaks said that allegations that “we have been sent 260,000 classified U.S. embassy cables are, as far as we can tell, incorrect.” Wikileaks said it did not know the identity of the source who provided it with the 2007 video from Iraq. If Manning did leak the video, the site said, he is “a national hero.”

The State Department’s chief spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said Monday that the department was involved in the Pentagon-led investigation to try to track down any cables that Manning may have stolen from interagency computer networks.

“These are classified documents,” he said. “We take their release seriously.” He said the public release of diplomatic cables could do damage to national security since they could reveal the  “source and methods” used by the United States to gather intelligence overseas.

As feds hunt for Wikileaks’ Julian Assange in hopes of preventing him  from publishing diplomatic secrets, Samuel P. Jacobs talks with Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg about why he should stay out of America—and why some things should be kept secret.

Government officials tell The Daily Beast that they are searching for Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, whom they believe is in possession of State Department secrets leaked to him by an Army intelligence specialist now under arrest. As Assange, the Australian champion of whistleblowers cancelled a public appearance in Las Vegas Friday night, The Daily Beast talked with Daniel Ellsberg, the legendary leaker of the Pentagon Papers about Assange’s safety and what he would do if he were in possession of the State Department’s confidential traffic. Since standing trial for providing state secrets to newspapers—he was acquitted in 1973—Ellsberg has become an author and activist.

Having read a hell of a lot of diplomatic cables, I would confidently make the judgment that very little, less than one percent, one percent perhaps, can honestly be said to endanger national security.

The Daily Beast: Could the release of the diplomatic cables said to be in the possession of Wikileaks endanger national security?

Daniel Ellsberg: Any serious risk to that national security is extremely low. There may be 260,000 diplomatic cables. It’s very hard to think of any of that which could be plausibly described as a national security risk. Will it embarrass diplomatic relationships? Sure, very likely—all to the good of our democratic functioning. The embarrassment would be our awareness that we are supporting and facilitating dictators and corrupt and murderous governments, and we are quite aware of their nature.

• Exclusive: The Pentagon Manhunt for Wikileaks’ Julian AssangeAn example would be surrounding a visit of Hamid Karzai to this country…where he is given a special audience with the president. We know that privately he is seen realistically. We know that because of the leak, which I think started out of this investigation. We know that because of the leak from Ambassador Eikenberry. He describes him as irredeemably corrupt, not an appropriate partner for a pacification program, and cannot change.

They would regard this as very embarrassing, [since publicly they’ve been] saying, he is a perfectly suitable partner for pacification, working on corruption…Ha ha….Bullshit.

Do you think Assange is in danger?

I happen to have been the target of a White House hit squad myself. On May 3, 1972, a dozen CIA assets from the Bay of Pigs, Cuban émigrés were brought up from Miami with orders to “incapacitate me totally.” I said to the prosecutor, “What does that mean? Kill me.” He said, “It means to incapacitate you totally. But you have to understand these guys never use the word ‘kill.’”

Is the Obama White House anymore enlightened than Nixon’s?

We’ve now been told by Dennis Blair, the late head of intelligence here, that President Obama has authorized the killing of American citizens overseas, who are suspected of involvement in terrorism. Assange is not American, so he doesn’t even have that constraint. I would think that he is in some danger. Granted, I would think that his notoriety now would provide him some degree of protection. You would think that would protect him, but you could have said the same thing about me. I was the number one defendant. I was on trail but they brought up people to beat me up.

You believe he is in danger of bodily harm, then?

Absolutely. On the same basis, I was….Obama is now proclaiming rights of life and death, being judge, jury, and executioner of Americans without due process. No president has ever claimed that and possibly no one since John the First.

What advice would you give Assange?

Stay out of the U.S. Otherwise, keep doing what he is doing. It’s pretty valuable…He is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations, which are not laws in most cases, in this country.

He is doing very good work for our democracy. If [the alleged leaker, Bradley Manning] has done what he is alleged to have done, I congratulate him. He has used his opportunities very well. He has upheld his oath of office to support the Constitution. It so happens that enlisted men also take an oath to obey the orders of superiors. Officers don’t make that oath, only to the Constitution. But sometimes the oath to the Constitution and oath to superiors are in conflict.

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