BERLIN (AP) — Wikileaks founder Julian Assange blasted the Guardian on Tuesday, saying the British paper’s “negligence” in publishing an encryption key to uncensored files forced his organization’s hand in publishing the secret U.S. diplomatic memos.
It was Assange’s first public comments since Wikileaks disclosed its entire archive of U.S. State Department cables last week. The United States has fiercely criticized the move, saying it could endanger the lives of the sources named in the cables, including opposition figures or human rights advocates.
Assange told a Berlin technology trade fair audience that a Guardian journalist had published the password to the encrypted files in his book, creating a situation where some people got access to the uncensored files while others did not.
“We had a case where every intelligence agency has the material and the people who are mentioned do not have the material…” he said by video link from a mansion about two hours’ drive from London, where he is under virtual house arrest pending extradition proceedings to Sweden on unrelated sexual assault allegations.
“So you have a race between the bad guys and the good guys and it was necessary for us to stand on the side of the good guys,” he said.
WikiLeaks on Friday posted the 251,287 cables on its website, making potentially sensitive diplomatic sources available to anyone.
A joint statement published that day on the Guardian’s website said it and its international media counterparts — The New York Times, France’s Le Monde, Germany’s Der Spiegel and Spain’s El Pais — “deplore the decision of WikiLeaks to publish the unredacted State Department cables, which may put sources at risk.”
Previously, international media outlets — and WikiLeaks itself — had redacted the names of potentially vulnerable sources, although the standard has varied and some experts warned that even people whose names had been kept out of the cables were still at risk.
But Assange specifically blamed the Guardian, pointing out that a sensitive password used to decrypt the files was published in a book by David Leigh, one of the paper’s investigative reporters and a collaborator-turned-critic of Assange.
He also blamed Wikileaks defector Daniel Domscheit-Berg, though not by name, alleging he told media organizations where to find the encrypted files and how to use the password.
“An individual in Berlin had been spreading the location of a hidden encrypted file that had been encrypted with that password with selected media organizations in order to gain personal benefit,” Assange said.
With the information available to some people, Assange said he decided to make it available to everyone.
“It was necessary to give the information in an authenticated way to the general public, to journalists and to those people who might be mentioned in those materials to show that they were mentioned and what might have been said about them,” he said.
The Guardian, Leigh and others have already rejected the claim that they were responsible for the leak. Guardian journalists have suggested that the real problem was that WikiLeaks posted the encrypted file to the Web by accident and that Assange never bothered to change the password needed to unlock it.
“We cannot defend the needless publication of the complete data — indeed, we are united in condemning it,” the statement from the Guardian and other publications read. “The decision to publish by Julian Assange was his, and his alone.”
Assange fired back that the accusation was “simply false.”
“Let us look at this case properly — the Guardian newspaper revealed the entire encryption password including that component they were instructed never to write about, and did so in breech of their contract,” he said Tuesday in the video link.
Assange said “Wikileaks is rightly to blame for working with the Guardian newspaper” but added that the negligence this particular case appeared to be an aberration.
“We cannot say overall that it (the Guardian) is a negligent media organization. It is overall … one of the better newspapers,” he said.