Russians targeting Wikileaks to stop new data dump

posted at 1:35 pm on November 30, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Until now, Julian Assange has selected his adversaries rather well.  Despite humiliating the Obama administration three times, the White House has done little except announce a preliminary probe into potential criminal charges against Assange and his team at Wikileaks.  The Daily Beast reports that when it came to Assange’s next adversary, he may have chosen … poorly:

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 whistle-blowing 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.”

The Russians, under the leadership of former KGB officer Vladimir Putin, have not blanched at, well, much of anything.  The death of Alexander Litvinenko from a slow-acting poison is widely believed to have been an assassination conducted by the FSB.  The poisoning of Ukrainian leader Viktor Yushchenko in the Orange Revolution was similarly suspicious, and dissident Boris Berezovsky survived at least one attempt on his life as well.

That problem may be more acute for the people who supplied Assange with the data rather than Assange himself.  The FSB has restrained itself mainly to attacking Russian expatriates rather than Westerners, but as the DB reports, Wikileaks almost certainly got whatever they have through that route, especially from the super-rich Russian industrialists that had to flee after Putin took power.  Given Assange’s predilection for releasing information in its raw form, the FSB will likely have little problem finding the sources of the data and making sure that they won’t give Assange anything else ever.

Russia will most likely contain itself to cyberwarfare on a massive scale to shut down Assange rather than violence.  If they succeed, they may wind up doing Barack Obama a huge favor, since the continuing exposure of communications data has the White House continually on the defensive.  But if someone winds up grabbing Assange, he may want to pray that it’s the Americans rather than the FSB.

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