Julian Assange, the jailed founder of WikiLeaks, is distancing himself from the cyber-attacks on MasterCard, Visa, and other organizations deemed hostile to him and WikiLeaks.
In a telephone interview with FoxNews.com on Thursday evening, Mark Stephens, a defense attorney for Assange, said his client, whom he visited in a London jail Thursday, denied responsibility for or knowledge of the attacks on various companies and organizations that been subjected to on-line attacks since Assange was arrested and denied bail on Tuesday.
"He told me that he did not order the attacks and that he was surprised by them," Stephens said. "He said he was not happy about the cyber-attacks…because he believes in openness and free speech."
A growing list of companies and organizations -- from MasterCard to the Swedish Prosecutor's Service, which issued an international arrest warrant for him, have suffered on-line attacks by what appears to be hackers sympathetic to Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks. But Stephens said that Assange did not know or approve of such cyber-offensives.
The cyberattacks on the companies appear to have been coordinated by "Anonymous," a loosely affiliated activist Internet hackers who have singled out other groups for such attacks before, among them, the Church of Scientology.
In a press release issued Friday, members of Anonymous described themselves as "an Internet gathering," and took steps to qualify the meaning behind the attacks.
"We do not want to steal your personal information or credit card numbers. We also do not seek to attack critical infrastructure of companies such as Mastercard, Visa, PayPal or Amazon. Our current goal is to raise awareness about WikiLeaks and the underhanded methods employed by the above companies to impair WIkiLeaks' ability to function."
The group's identity remains unknown, but someone is coordinating its actions -- someone who may be held accountable, said Alex Cox, a principal research analyst at Netwitness and a former police officer.
"Who's responsible? Is it the person who voluntarily joined or the person who's controlling the bots?" Cox suggested that with the legality of the hacks in question, some Anonymous members may have second thoughts about their actions.
"Now you've got a lot of these guys involved, who may be teenagers in their mom's house with their mom's modem, saying 'someone got busted. I'm not going to do this anymore,' " Cox told FoxNews.com.
Stephens said that Assange himself disapproved of such hacking, "as a victim of cyber-crimes himself."
Stephens said that he was referring recent attacks that have been launched against various Wikileak sites and servers following Assange's clash with the U.S. government over WikiLeaks' release of thousands of secret American diplomatic cables.
Stephens said that WikiLeaks' technicians believe that the attacks on Wikileak websites appear to be coming from Russia and China. Stephens said he could only speculate about why either state would target WikiLeaks, but that internet experts who worked with WikiLeaks had concluded that the attacks on their sites seemed to be originating there.
The charge is surprising, since Russia has been critical of Assange's detention.
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow Thursday, Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blamed Washington for Assange's arrest. "If you have a democracy, then it should be full," Putin said.
"Why did they put Assange in prison? Is it a democracy? We have a saying here: 'Whoever's cow it was that mooed, yours should remain quiet.' So I would like to shoot the puck back at our American friends." Assange hasn't been formally charged with a crime.
But he was turned himself in and was arrested in London in response to an arrested warrant issued by Sweden, which seeks to question him about allegations by three women of rape, molestation, and unlawful coercion. Assange has previously acknowledged sexual encounters with the Swedish women, but denied that there was any assault or coercion involved.
Stephens said that Assange was "cheerful and in good spirits" despite what his lawyer termed "rather Victorian conditions."
He said that Assange had not permitted to exercise and that he is being held in a single cell in the prison where the Anglo-Irish writer Oscar Wilde was once detained. He said that prison authorities had not given Assange the internet-disabled computer that those who are being detained, but have not been convicted of a crime are usually entitled to have if they can pay for it. Mr. Stephens said he would seek bail once again for Assange at a hearing on Tuesday. His first appeal was rejected by a judge who considered Assange, an Australian national who has been roaming from country to country without a fixed address, a flight risk.
Stephens also asserted that Assange definitely considers himself a journalist and has publicly identified himself as the co-editor of WikiLeaks, whose websites claims it is a news organization dedicated to disseminating news of interest and value to the public. He said that prior to publishing the American diplomat cables, Assange had tried seeking the cooperation of the U.S. government in redacting information that might harm individuals.
He referred specifically to the Index on Censorship, a British-based organization --and in which he is a trustee -- that has published what purports to be excerpts of correspondence between Assange and Harold Koh, the State Department's Legal Adviser about such cooperation.
On its web site, the Index publishes what it calls Assange's "last-minute attempt" to secure American guidance in editing the cables. In a letter dated Nov. 26th to Louis Susman, Washington's ambassador to London, Assange says he would be "grateful" for Washington's assistance in identifying any "specific instances, (record numbers or names) where it considers the publication of information would put individual persons at significant risk of harm that has not already been addressed."
In what the Index of Censorship says is Washington's rejection of help the next day, Nov. 27th, Koh replies that the U.S. Government "will not engage in a negotiations regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials."
But Dianne Feinstein, writing in the Wall Street Journal, said that Assange's attempt was a little too late and railed against him for dismissing the Koh's warnings --citing how Koh said the document dump would endanger national security the following ways:
- "Place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals—from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security;
- "Place at risk on-going military operations, including operations to stop terrorists, traffickers in human beings and illicit arms, violent criminal enterprises and other actors that threaten global security; and,
- "Place at risk on-going cooperation between countries—partners, allies and common stakeholders—to confront common challenges from terrorism to pandemic diseases to nuclear proliferation that threaten global stability."
In his response to Koh's letter on Nov. 28th --the day the cables were released -- Assange is quoted as saying the Koh's refusal to help redact the documents "leads me to conclude that the supposed risks are entirely fanciful and you are instead concerned to suppress evidence of human rights abuse and other criminal behavior."