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Monday, December 6, 2010

Eric Holder Goes After Julian Assange (Again): Vows "Significant Action"

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Holder: "Significant Actions" Taken In WikiLeaks Investigation

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that he has authorized "significant" actions related to the criminal investigation of WikiLeaks as the website faces increasing pressure worldwide for publishing sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables.

"National security of the United States has been put at risk," Holder said. "The lives of people who work for the American people have been put at risk. The American people themselves have been put at risk by these actions that I believe are arrogant, misguided and ultimately not helpful in any way. We are doing everything that we can."

His comments came as a Swiss bank announced that it had closed the account of Julian Assange, the website's founder, dealing a second financial blow to the site in a matter of days.

"It was revealed that Assange provided false information regarding his place of residence when opening the account," Swiss PostFinance said in a news release announcing the decision.

Meanwhile, Swedish prosecutors said Monday that they have sent additional information to British authorities amid signs that an arrest of Assange may be imminent.

WikiLeaks said on its Twitter page Monday that British authorities had issued an arrest warrant for Assange, but the website soon backed off that statement and said only that the British had received a warrant. Several officials in Britain declined to comment.

Assange, 39, is wanted by Swedish authorities for sex-crime allegations that are not related to WikiLeaks' recent disclosure of secret U.S. documents.

Assange, who has said he has long feared retribution for his website's disclosures, has denied the rape allegations, calling them a smear campaign.

In Washington, Holder declined to answer questions Monday about the possibility that the U.S. government could shut down WikiLeaks, saying he does not want to talk about capabilities and techniques at the government's disposal.

"I authorized just last week a number of things to be done so that we can, hopefully, get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable as they should be," he said.

He declined to comment when asked whether the actions involved search warrants, requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes wiretaps or other means, describing them only as "significant."

Holder did, however, note the government is not limited by the Espionage Act of 1917, which prohibits interference of military operations.

"That is not the only tool we have to use in the investigation of this matter," he said. "People would be misimpressioned if they think the only thing we are looking at is the Espionage Act."

Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Assange last month, saying he is suspected of rape, sexual molestation and illegal use of force. The warrant was followed last week by a "Red Notice" from Interpol, placing Assange on a list of wanted suspects at the request of Sweden's Stockholm Criminal Court.

British police then asked Swedish authorities for additional details not specified in the initial arrest warrant, a possible indication that the location of the elusive Assange is known.

CNN has not confirmed that Assange is in the United Kingdom.

Swedish prosecutors said Monday that they had sent the additional information the British requested. They said the case was being handled by legal authorities in accordance with European laws.

Meanwhile, the website was imploring supporters to donate in other ways to keep WikiLeaks active in the wake of financial losses and denial of service attacks on its servers.

Swiss PostFinance's decided to end "its business relationship" with Assange based on a "technicality," WikiLeaks said in a press release.

The bank said Assange listed Geneva, Switzerland, as his home and "upon inspection, this information was found to be incorrect."

"Assange cannot provide proof of residence in Switzerland and thus does not meet the criteria for a customer relationship with PostFinance," the bank said.

WikiLeaks' statement said Assange used his lawyer's address in Geneva for bank correspondence.

The account closure, coupled with PayPal cutting off the site's online donation account late last week, has resulted in losses of 100,000 euros (U.S. $133,000) in assets, the website said.

WikiLeaks, which facilitates the anonymous leaking of secret information, began publishing last week what it says are 250,000 U.S. State Department documents that were never meant for public view.

Since then, the site has been hit with denial-of-service attacks, which seek to make a website unavailable. It also has been kicked off servers in the United States and France.

On Sunday, WikiLeaks appealed to supporters worldwide to mirror its website, saying the site "is under heavy attack. In order to make it impossible to ever fully remove WikiLeaks from the Internet, we need your help."

WikiLeaks tweeted Monday that the appeal has helped spawn several hundred mirror sites, even as the website said it continued to come under attack -- this time on its servers in Sweden.

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Sources: CNN, Fox News,, Meet The Press, MSNBC, Sunday Times, Youtube, Google Maps

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