In October, WikiLeaks posted hundreds of thousands of classified documents relating to the war in Iraq. This time, it was more than a quarter million documents dealing with diplomatic directives and intelligence. The response? State Department lawyer Harold Koh sent a letter to Assange's attorney--apparently they didn't have an address for which friend's couch Assange was on at the time—again telling him to return the documents. "As long as WikiLeaks holds such material, the violation of the law is ongoing," Koh wrote. No mention of which law that would be, or of any sort of criminal penalties, or even of crossing the next bridge when we come to it. Attorney General Eric Holder held a press conference later to say an investigation is ongoing, but sources tell the Washington Post that "no charges are imminent." White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs downplayed Assange as just a "guy with a laptop."
Not everyone agrees. Rep. Peter King, the incoming chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, called for Holder to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks under the Espionage Act, and asked Secretary Clinton to look into putting Assange on the terrorist watch list. King called the leaks "worse than a military attack," adding that they have "put American lives at risk all over the world." King is right, although it may be easier to stop Assange by going after him on sex charges, much like Al Capone was stopped by the tax laws.
Clearly Assange is two steps ahead of our current laws and one step ahead of our government. He's done something no one has done before: He has created an untrackable, hidden network of computers around the world and is using them to expose America's military and diplomatic secrets and, really, to threaten our national security. After the latest release, Assange told the Herald Sun of Melbourne, Australia, that his goal is to expose "the ecosystem of corruption." "These megaleaks, they're an important phenomenon," he said, "and they're only going to increase." With that he announced his next targets: a major American bank (the Wall Street Journal is predicting Bank of America), followed by pharmaceutical, finance, and energy companies.
This week, Wikileaks supporters from around the world launched a series of retaliatory cyber attacks on companies or entities that had cut ties to Wikileaks--Mastercard and Pay Pal, for example, had stopped processing donations to Wikileaks, and Amazon.com had revoked server space from it. According to the Times, "a leaderless group of activist hackers that had vowed to wreak revenge on any organization that lined up against WikiLeaks claimed responsibility for the Mastercard attack, and, according one activist associated with the group, was conducting multiple other attacks." Mastercard confirmed that its website was brought down in the attack.
That's the threat here--that there is a global computer network run by a physicist who is also allegedly a violent fugitive, a man who previously hacked into the U.S. Defense Department and nuclear weapons facilities, who has as his mission to expose what he sees as "corruption" in American diplomacy, the military, finance, and commerce—and who is planning to increase his attacks with the help of a network of supporters. At what point does just a "guy with a laptop" become an enemy combatant? This is already a national security threat, but when does it become a new form of terrorism?