Julian Assange
WikiLeaks has had to close its submission system while it deals with the amount of material it has accumulated and is facing "serious" financial threats, founder Julian Assange said at the Frontline Club last night.

Speaking at a debate following Friday's publication of the Iraq war logs, almost 400,000 military documents relating to the war in Iraq, Assange said the whistleblowing website could no longer fulfil its promise to publish material "in a timely manner".

"We make these promises about publishing everything that we receive provided it fits our editorial criteria," he said. "But we have so much material that we have accumulated as we have grown as an organisation, we no longer feel, that given the demands upon us, we can in fact hold to that promise in a timely manner.

"We are re-engineering those systems so the internal publishing pipeline can be sped up and as we acquire more financial and other resources and have better engineering to deal with this incredible growth and incredible threats that we are under, then we will re-enable the submission system to receive more material. I think it is not right to be receiving documents that people may wish to get out urgently if you are not in a position to publish them within a reasonable period of time.

"The financial threats: those are serious. All our money before January essentially came from me, all our money subsequent to January, as our costs were increasing and my bank reserves were decreasing, started to come from the general public.

"...It has primarily come through online credit cards and our credit card processor one week after the release of the Afghan War Diaries said 'we are not having you as a customer anymore'."

During the debate Assange discussed other 'threats' to WikiLeaks and the media in relation to the publication of the Iraq war logs. He said US officials had been considering a case of espionage against WikiLeaks and also alleged that they had warned media organisations that they would be "at risk of something" if they reported the material.

"There certainly has been an aggressive response by the Pentagon and some elements in the US administration in trying to get up an espionage case up against me personally and against other people that we work with, to the degree that last week Pentagon spokesperson [Colonel David] Lapan stated that the rest of the media, if they published our material, would be at risk of something. He didn't go into what that risk was but if you read carefully the little droppings that are left in the statement you see that he is trying to frame a situation where the rest of the press can be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for reporting our material," Assange said last night.

The 391,832 reports published by WikiLeaks on Friday were also made available to the Guardian, the New York Times, Der Spiegel, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Le Monde and the Iraq Body Count in advance.

The contents document the war and occupation in Iraq from 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2009, excluding the months of May 2004 and March 2009, based on reports of 'Significant Action' by soldiers in the US army.

But according to a report by AFP last week US officials "did not threaten any legal action" against the media.

"American newspapers have argued that media outlets are under no legal obligation to obey secrecy rules that are designed to apply to government employees, and that in the past the publication of classified documents has served the public interest," the report says.

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism Iain Overton said he thought there would be an "international outcry" if attempts to arrest journalists were made.

"I did actually wonder very seriously whether I would be able to travel to the US again when I was doing this," he said. "I haven't been given an indication otherwise... I think the international outcry if you started arresting journalists who work on stories - I mean for goodness' sake the whole of American journalism is based on Watergate isn't it? If you started arresting journalists for receiving data... I don't think they would extend it [the alleged espionage case against WikiLeaks]," he said.

"The right wing of America would react against it as they would see it as the suppression of freedom of speech. I think they would appreciate that there's a tangible difference. The [US] department of defense has not directly attacked us - even in its right to reply they attack WikiLeaks and not the bureau. On that level Julian Assange is a brave man. For all the critics in the press against him, I think ultimately whatever his motivations, he is a brave man because he has taken on organisations that certainly would arrest him and incarcerate him for a long time."

Image courtesy of Cirt on Wikimedia Commons

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).