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WikiLeaks Founder Arrested

December 7, 2010

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder whose website has gained notoriety in recent months for publishing classified diplomatic and military documents, has been arrested in London, the Associated Press (AP) is reporting.

According to the AP’s Raphael G. Satter, the 39-year-old Assange surrendered to police on Tuesday in connection with rape, sexual molestation, and unlawful coercion charges he faces in Sweden. He denies the allegations, which his British attorney Mark Stephens told Satter stemmed from a “dispute over consensual but unprotected sex.”

Assange has said that the warrants issued for his arrest are politically motivated–an accusation that has been denied by Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny. He is due to appear later today at Westminster Magistrate’s Court, where he is expected to fight extradition to Sweden and either remain in British custody or be released on bail pending a ruling on the matter.

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told Satter that the arrest was an attack on freedom of the press, and that it “will not change our operation.” Hrafnsson added that the organization currently had no plans to release the key to a heavily encrypted ‘insurance’ file which contains all of the documents the website had leaked thus far. The key would only be released if “grave matters” involving WikiLeaks staff members were to occur, he told Satter, without going into further detail.

One of the documents leaked by Assange’s group–a catalogue of international sites that American government officials considered of vital importance–drew the ire of the U.S. State Department on Monday, who said that it could be used as a “targeting list” for terrorist groups.

“It is irresponsible. Information is classified for good reason, most especially information involving critical infrastructure that supports our economy and those of other countries,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told Reuters in an e-mailed statement. “Julian Assange has released what amounts to a targeting list that will be of interest to groups like al Qaeda.”

On Monday, Swiss authorities had closed Assange’s bank account in that country, and according to a CNET report cited by the AP, MasterCard had “pulled the plug on payments to WikiLeaks.” Those moves come day after several other firms, including Amazon.com, EveryDNS, and PayPal, cut tied with the controversial website, forcing it to begin utilizing overseas servers, mirror sites, and torrents to continue to spread their leaked classified documents.

The site had also become the target of distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) cyberattacks over the past several says, and according to Satter, “the attacks appeared to have been at least partially successful in stanching the flow of secrets: WikiLeaks has not published any new cables in more than 24 hours, although stories about them have continued to appear in The New York Times and Britain’s The Guardian, two of the newspapers given advance access to the cables.”

In spite of that, and in spite of Assange’s arrest, the website plans to continue releasing cables, Robert Booth of The Guardian reported Tuesday morning.

WikiLeaks “has made arrangements to continue publishing the classified documents, the airing of which has embarrassed the US government,” Booth said. “The leaked cables have provided a daily flow of revelations about the superpower’s involvement in the most sensitive issues around the world, including those affecting Iran, Afghanistan and China”¦ The decision to press on will help allay fears among Assange’s supporters that his arrest would hobble the organization’s work.”

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