Is Putin planning to whack WikiLeaks?
American intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, outraged by their inability to stop WikiLeaks and its release this week of hundreds of thousands of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables, are convinced that the whistleblowing website is about to come up against an adversary that will stop at nothing to shut it down: the Russian government.
National-security officials say that the National Security Agency, the U.S. government’s eavesdropping agency, has already picked up tell-tale electronic evidence that WikiLeaks is under close surveillance by the Russian FSB, that country’s domestic spy network, out of fear in Moscow that WikiLeaks is prepared to release damaging personal information about Kremlin leaders.
“We may not have been able to stop WikiLeaks so far, and it’s been frustrating,” a U.S. law-enforcement official tells The Daily Beast. “The Russians play by different rules.” He said that if WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, follow through on threats to post highly embarrassing information about the Russian government and what is assumed to be massive corruption among its leaders, “the Russians will be ruthless in stopping WikiLeaks.”
A U.S. military official said the U.S. assumed that WikiLeaks had access to sources who could supply the site with detailed, damaging information about Russian leaders; those sources would likely include wealthy Russian expatriates who have had the resources over the years to conduct far-ranging private investigations of graft among Kremlin leaders, including their movement of assets outside Russia.
“We may not have been able to stop WikiLeaks so far, and it’s been frustrating,” says a U.S. law-enforcement official. “The Russians play by different rules.”
The London-based Russian billionaire and newspaper magnate Alexander Lebedev suggested that a government raid on the Moscow headquarters of his National Reserve Bank this month may have been a response to recent contacts between his Moscow newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, and WikiLeaks.
Lebedev, who is outspoken in his criticism of government corruption in his homeland—which he has described as comparable to the “evils of apartheid” in South Africa—has acknowledged that one of his reporters recently traveled to Sweden to meet with Assange.
Assange has courted attacks from the Russian government, telling a reporter from the pro-government daily newspaper Izvestia last month that WikiLeaks had obtained damaging information “about Russia, about your government and businessmen” and “we will publish these materials soon.” Another WikiLeaks spokesman was quoted as describing the Russian government as “despotic.”