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WikiLeaks founder defends website in online session

By the CNN Wire Staff
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WikiLeaks army of secret spillers
  • NEW: U.S. effort on finding Assange in Britain is led by DOD, an official says
  • The British newspaper The Guardian promised an online chat with Assange
  • He said no information on WikiLeaks has been known to harm anyone
  • He blames "abusive elements of the United States government" for his website problems

Click here to see readers' questions and responses from Julian Assange.

London, England (CNN) -- WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange continued Friday to defend the website's posting of confidential U.S. documents, saying that no one in its four-year publishing history has been harmed as a result of material it put online.

"During that time there has been no credible allegation, even by (organizations) like the Pentagon, that even a single person has come to harm as a result of our activities," Assange said in written answers to readers' questions posted on the website of the British newspaper The Guardian.

"This is despite much-attempted manipulation and spin trying to lead people to a counter-factual conclusion," Assange said. "We do not expect any change in this regard."

Assange's whereabouts have been undisclosed since WikiLeaks began publishing 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables earlier this week. He is wanted by authorities in Sweden on unrelated allegations of sex crimes, including rape.

Assange has denied the accusations, calling them a smear campaign. He has said he has long feared retribution for his website's disclosures.

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Investigators have focused much of their effort on finding Assange in Britain, where U.S. investigative activity is being conducted by the Defense Department, a senior law enforcement official told CNN Friday.

The FBI's limited role in the case has centered on the exchange of investigative information with British authorities, the official said.

The FBI routinely staffs its permanent office in the U.S. Embassy in London with 12 people -- seven agents and five support personnel. It has not beefed up its presence since authorities began searching for Assange, the official said.

British police asked Swedish authorities Thursday for details not specified in an initial arrest warrant for Assange. That fact probably means a procedural problem is preventing them from arresting Assange, a U.S. expert on extradition said. The additional details could provide them with a valid warrant.

"They either know where he is or they have been watching him," said Douglas McNabb, a lawyer who specializes in federal criminal defense law and extradition cases. "There's some legal problem there."

Aggange has not been seen in public since November 18, when the Stockholm Criminal Court issued an international arrest warrant.

Swedish authorities said they do not know where Assange is, but Anne Ramberg, secretary general of the Swedish Bar Association, said Thursday that it would be reasonable to assume that Sweden suspects Assange is in Britain, given the exchange of information over the warrant.

Assange's British lawyer told CNN on Wednesday that security services in a number of countries know exactly where Assange is.

"We have a cooperative approach between our security services in the UK and those in Sweden," said Mark Stephens. "And they do with the U.S.A. So all the information about Julian and his movements, I think, would be pretty transparent amongst NATO allies."

Assange's answers to readers' questions on Friday began appearing on The Guardian's website an hour later than originally scheduled. He addressed a broad range of topics, from threats to his own safety to WikiLeaks' impact on the world.

Assange said he had become a "lightning rod" and urged that those who have said he should be killed should be charged with incitement to commit murder.

"I originally tried hard for (WikiLeaks) to have no face, because I wanted egos to play no part in our activities," he said.

"In the end, someone must be responsible to the public and only a leadership that is willing to be publicly courageous can genuinely suggest that sources take risks for the greater good. In that process, I have become the lightening rod. I get undue attacks on every aspect of my life, but then I also get undue credit as some kind of balancing force."

But he said the heroes of his endeavor are the sources who take the risks to deliver the information, and without whom journalists would amount to nothing.

"If indeed it is the case, as alleged by the Pentagon, that the young soldier -- Bradley Manning -- is behind some of our recent disclosures, then he is without doubt an unparalleled hero," Assange said.

The U.S. military has charged Manning, a U.S. Army private who was an intelligence analyst, with eight violations of the U.S. Criminal Code for transferring classified data.

Assange, 39, said he misses his native Australia but noted that that was unlikely.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Attorney General Robert McClelland "have made it clear that not only is my return impossible but that they are actively working to assist the United States government in its attacks on myself and our people.

"This brings into question what does it mean to be an Australian citizen -- does that mean anything at all?" Assange asked. "Or are we all to be treated like David Hicks at the first possible opportunity, merely so that Australian politicians and diplomats can be invited to the best US Embassy cocktail parties."

Hicks, an Australian citizen, was detained without charges at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He pleaded guilty to providing material support to the al Qaeda terrorist network and, under a plea deal, was sentenced to nine months in jail.

A question Assange did not answer came from someone using the handle of JAnthony and identified as a former British diplomat.

JAnthony wrote about his experiences and the importance of protecting diplomatic correspondence. He then asked Assange why he should not be held personally responsible when diplomats are not able to function confidentially any more and the next global crisis goes unresolved.

Assange, whose website has said it will take months to publish all of the cables, responded: "If you trim the vast editorial letter to the singular question actually asked, I would be happy to give it my attention."

Assange blamed "abusive elements of the United States government" for some of the technical problems his website has experienced since April. He said he was "deeply unhappy that the three-and-a-half years of my work and others is not easily available or searchable by the general public."

Early Friday,, a U.S.-based domain name provider, shut down WikiLeaks, announcing that it had to cut its relationship with Assange's website because it had received multiple cyberattacks.

WikiLeaks, however, said hours later that it had employed a company in Switzerland and was back up.

"WikiLeaks moves to Switzerland," the company said on its Twitter page.

Assange said the diplomatic cables that are being posted have been spread to more than 100,000 people in encrypted form, ensuring they can be released publicly if the main website is attacked or taken down.

He said the cables also are in the hands of multiple news organizations, ensuring their eventual release.

"History will win," Assange concluded. "The world will be elevated to a better place. Will we survive? That depends on you."

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