WikiLeaks founder 'wanted' by Interpol over rape claims

Julian Assange placed on most-wanted list after Sweden issues arrest warrant against him; US State Department disconnects access to its files.

December 1, 2010 03:27
2 minute read.
Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton speaking to press. (photo credit: Associated Press)

WASHINGTON  — Interpol on Wednesday placed WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, on its most-wanted list after Sweden issued an arrest warrant against him as part of a drawn-out rape probe — involving allegations Assange has denied. The Interpol alert is likely to make international travel more difficult for Assange, whose whereabouts are publicly unknown.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the US State Department severed its computer files from the government's classified network, officials said, as US and world leaders tried to clean up from the leak that sent America's sensitive documents onto computer screens around the globe.

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By temporarily pulling the plug, the US significantly reduced the number of government employees who can read important diplomatic messages. It was an extraordinary hunkering down, prompted by the disclosure of hundreds of thousands of those messages this week by WikiLeaks, the self-styled whistleblower organization.

The documents revealed that the US is still confounded about North Korea's nuclear military ambitions, that Iran is believed to have received advanced missiles capable of targeting Western Europe and — perhaps most damaging to the US — that the State Department asked its diplomats to collect DNA samples and other personal information about foreign leaders.

While Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, taunted the US from afar on Tuesday, lawyers from across the government were investigating whether it could prosecute him for espionage, a senior defense official said. The official, not authorized to comment publicly, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

There have been suggestions that Assange or others involved in the leaks could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, but the question could be complicated. Who and what is he and his website? He has portrayed himself as a crusading journalist, and the Justice Department has steered clear of prosecuting journalists for publishing leaked secrets.

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Earlier on Tuesday US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley sought to reassure the world that US diplomats were not spies, even as he sidestepped questions about why they were asked to provide DNA samples, iris scans, credit card numbers, fingerprints and other deeply personal information about leaders at the United Nations and in foreign capitals.

Diplomats in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion, for instance, were asked in a secret March 2008 cable to provide "biometric data, to include fingerprints, facial images, iris scans, and DNA" for numerous prominent politicians. They were also asked to send "identities information" on terrorist suspects, including "fingerprints, arrest photos, DNA and iris scans."

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