Assange boosts WikiLeaks’ role in Arab world unrest
Wikileaks and Al Jazeera helped bring Hosni Mubarak down - not Facebook
Facebook and Twitter have been given too much credit by Hillary Clinton and other commentators for driving the pro-democracy campaigns in north Africa and the Arab world, according to Julian Assange. Al Jazeera TV and his own website WikiLeaks have had more of an impact, he said in a rare public appearance.
Speaking to more than 800 students at the Cambridge Union last night, Assange pointed out that Facebook had actually been used by Egyptian authorities to round up and incarcerate participants at a protest three or four years ago. The internet, said Assange, is "the greatest spying tool the world has ever seen".
Assange claimed - as others have done - that cables from US embassies in Tunis and Cairo, released by WikiLeaks last year, played a major role in the recent unrest.
"The Tunisian cables showed clearly that... if it came down to a fight between the military on the one hand, and Ben Ali's political regime on the other, the US would probably support the military.
"That is something that must have also caused neighbouring countries to Tunisia some thought: that is that if they militarily intervened [on behalf of President Ben Ali], they may not be on the same side as the United States."
As for Egypt, the release of embassy cables about Omar Suleiman's torture methods forced America to change its tune about the man they had hoped would take over from Hosni Mubarak.
"It was not possible for Joseph Biden to [repeat his earlier claim that Mubarak was not a dictator]. It was not possible for Hillary Clinton to publicly come out and support Mubarak's regime."
Assange, who is appealing a London court decision to extradite him to Sweden on what he claims are trumped-up sexual assault charges, had hoped to keep the contents of the Cambridge address secret.
He demanded a media blackout and made the unusual request of refusing to sign the release forms for official event footage until after the talk, according to a Union spokesman. "It is illegal to film, photograph or record," read signs plastered around the site. "You will be evicted and have your membership revoked".
The building was protected by eight security guards; six around the perimeter and two watching over proceedings inside.
Asked by an audience member whether Wikileaks could guarantee the safety of its sources, given the incarceration of Private Bradley Manning, Assange replied that he had "to be very careful about speaking about Mr Manning for obvious reasons".
Assange went on: "He is in a terrible situation. That said, there is no allegation being made that he was arrested as a result of anything to do with us. Rather the allegation is that his arrest was as a result of speaking to Wired magazine in the United States, who betrayed him".
The WikiLeaks editor also made these points last night:
• The FBI has carried out 42 raids on Wikileaks supporters in the United States, while UK authorities have conducted six raids.
• Wikileaks has lost at least $5 million from "illegal financial embargos" implemented after the diplomatic cables leak.
• Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times - which, Assange claims, now actively campaigns against WikiLeaks - deliberately "canned" a story about Taskforce 365, the secret US assassination squad in Afghanistan. ·
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