Assange’s Tenth Day at the Old Bailey: Bolting Horses, Death Penalties and Plots of Eviction

September 21.  Central Criminal Court, London. 

Today was one of reiteration and expansion.  Computer scientist Christian Grothoff of the Bern University of Applied Sciences supplied the relevant chronology on what led to the publication of unredacted US State Department cables, the subject of such concern for the prosecution.  This proved a mild taster of what was to come: the alleged deal brokered by Richard Grenell, when US ambassador to Germany, with the Ecuadorean government for the arrest and eviction of Julian Assange from the London embassy in April 2019.

Grothoff, publication and chronology

With three of the 18 counts against Assange trained on the issue of publishing unredacted cables, Grothoff’s testimony served to recapitulate the importance of timing.  By the time the organisation had published the archive, others had done so.  The horse, having bolted, would not be returning.  While WikiLeaks had taken steps to encrypt the relevant file with the documents, things went awry with its sharing with David Leigh of The Guardian in the summer of 2010.  Uploaded to a temporary website, it had a strong, decrypting passphrase.  Assange had committed only part of that passphrase to paper.

November 2010 arrived.  WikiLeaks and its media partners began releasing redacted cables.  “The embassy cables will be released in stages over the next year,” promised WikiLeaks.  “The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do so otherwise would not do this material justice.” 

The organisation’s website then became the target of Distributed Denial of Server attacks.  Assange put the word out to supporters: replicate site data on various servers; create mirror sites.  In February 2011, Leigh and fellow Guardian colleague Luke Harding published their account working with Assange and WikiLeaks.  It was a hurried, and, it transpired, sloppy effort.  The full, decrypting passphrase had found its way into one chapter title.  Der Freitag caught the scent in August, supplying a few breadcrumbs to the enterprising, not least the sense that the password to the file was rather easy to locate.  Der Spiegel, one of the media partners, gave confirmation of the account.  Nigel Parry, self-described as “the first person out of the loop and in the wild to have unzipped the unreduced Cablegate cables,” merely sealed the matter.

Assange and Sarah Harrison, also of WikiLeaks, scrambled.  The US State Department was warned that the unredacted files were ready to course their way through cyberspace.  The US-based leaking outfit Cryptome gave the push along, publishing the archive.  By September 2, 2011, the deed for WikiLeaks was done: the archive was released on its site.  As Grothoff told the court, “[The password] was actually available on the internet in a way that would be virtually impossible to stop.”

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