The editor-in-chief of whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, told the Belfast Telegraph that the United States was working behind the scenes to put WikiLeaks and himself out of business.
He said: “The United States has brought out to the public an extremely aggressive response. In private, it is also doing other things.
“That response has been the most aggressive response to an international publisher ever.”
Such moves were confirmed by investigative journalist Glen Greenwald in an April 27 Salon.com article.
Greenwald said a subpoena had been issued for an unknown person to testify at a secret grand jury hearing on May 11. The subpoena said the investigation related to matters involving the draconian 1917 Espionage Act and for “knowingly accessing a computer without authorization”.
These details had been linked to potential charges against Assange and US soldier Bradley Manning, who has spent a year in jail without trial over allegations he was responsible for leaking confident US military documents.
Greenwald said: “The serving of this subpoena strongly suggests that the DOJ [Department of Justice] criminal investigation into WikiLeaks and Assange continues in a serious way.
“It also appears clear that the DOJ is strongly considering an indictment under the Espionage Act — an act that would be radical indeed for non-government-employees doing nothing other than what American newspapers do on a daily basis (and have repeatedly done in partnership with WikiLeaks).”
Assange has been subject to personal attacks in the media as part of the campaign to discredit him and his work.
He will face court over July 12-13 to appeal a British judge's decision to extradite him from Britain to Sweden, where he would face questioning over sexual assault allegations.
The timing of Assange's arrest — immediately after WikiLeaks began to release thousands of secret US diplomatic cables — the lack of any formal charges and potential for his extradition to the US make it clear that his persecution is based on a desire to stop his political work.
Assange told the Belfast Telegraph: “I have been detained — imprisoned or under house arrest — without being charged for six months on June 6.”
The US Public Broadcasting Service had its website hacked after airing a documentary critical of WikiLeaks, Forbes.com said on May 30.
Hacker group LulzSec released administrator passwords for PBS.org and its affiliate websites, TheRegister.co.uk said on May 31.
LulzSec also defaced PBS.org by posting a fake news story that said late US rapper Tupac Shakur was alive and residing in a small New Zealand town.
WikiLeaks said in a statement on May 24 that the documentary, produced by PBS's Frontline program, was “hostile and misrepresents WikiLeaks’ views and tries to build an ‘espionage’ case against its founder, Julian Assange, and also the young soldier, Bradley Manning”.
LulzSec's actions are an example of the support WikiLeaks has around the world from people who recognise the importance of exposing governments' secrets and of the public's right to know, in the face of attacks from governments and sections of the mainstream media.
In a May 11 Salon.com article, Greenwald said the US government's pursuit of WikiLeaks and Manning was part of a broad crackdown on whistleblowers.
NPR.org said on May 11 that the Obama administration had prosecuted more whistleblowers than any administration before it.
Before his election, Obama promised to protect whistle-blowers and said: “Such acts of courage and patriotism … should be encouraged rather than stifled.”
Since taking office, Obama has let off members of the previous George W Bush administration while prosecuting those who exposed their crimes.
On May 23, the New Yorker exposed the case of former National Security Agency executive Thomas Drake.
Drake faces 35 years in jail under the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking secret information about “financial waste, bureaucratic dysfunction, and dubious legal practices in N.S.A. counterterrorism programs” to the Baltimore Sun.
Despite the crackdown, politicians are pushing for more action against whistle-blowers. NPR.org said: “House and Senate intelligence committees have proposed directing the intelligence community to create new computer systems to detect leaks and give government officials the power to yank away the pensions of suspected leakers.”
The reasons for the crackdown are clear — the Obama administration, like other corporate-backed governments, fears the public learning the full nature of its activities.
In a system in which governments facilitate exploitation of the majority by a small minority, secrecy and lies are vital to keep the exploited passive.
WikiLeaks has been the biggest publisher of this kind of information in recent history, making the US government's need to persecute and intimidate those involved all the more urgent.
The Australian government shares the same attitude.
The government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard went into panic mode before WikiLeaks' release of US embassy cables in December, the Age said on May 23. WikiLeaks obtained 260 pages of secret prime ministerial briefs, situation reports and other papers prepared last November and December relating to the whistleblowing website.
“The released papers show the Labor government went into crisis mode immediately after the US government alerted Australian officials on November 24 about WikiLeaks' prospective publication of US cables,” the Age said.
The documents confirmed that Australian intelligence agencies investigated WikiLeaks and Assange for the potential disclosure of “highly sensitive and politically embarrassing matters”.
The government introduced new laws into parliament in March to expand the powers of ASIO and legalise spying on foreign-based organisations such as WikiLeaks.