Julian Assange didn’t say whether he meant he had no idea who leaked the documents or whether his organisation simply could not be sure. But he did say the added layer of secrecy helps protect the site’s sources from spy agencies and hostile corporations.
“We never know the source of the leak,” he told journalists in London’s Frontline Club.
“Our whole system is designed such that we don’t have to keep that secret.”
US officials said US operatives inside Afghanistan and Pakistan may be in danger following the massive online disclosure Sunday.
In his first public comments, President Barack Obama said the leak of classified information “could potentially jeopardise individuals or operations”. He spoke in Washington after meeting on Tuesday with Congressional leaders from both parties.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said a Pentagon investigation will determine whether criminal charges will be filed in the leaking of Afghanistan war secrets.
Holder said the Justice Department is working with the Pentagon-led investigation to determine the source of the leak.
In Baghdad, Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters he was “appalled” by the leak. “There is a real potential threat there to put American lives at risk.”
While Assange acknowledged that the site’s anonymous submissions raised concerns about the authenticity of its material, he said Wikileaks had yet to be fooled by a bogus document. “We do see wholly fabricated submissions, usually around election time,” he said, but added that they were “quite rare”.
Assange added that Wikileaks used ex-military and former intelligence workers to help evaluate whether documents leaked from the armed forces or spy agencies were genuine.
The website’s worst fear, he said, was not a complete forgery but a real document subtly altered, but he had yet to see that happen.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden denounced the leak as a gift to America’s enemies.
“If I had gotten this trove on the Taliban or al-Qaida, I would have called it priceless,” he said. “If I’m head of the Russian intelligence, I’m getting my best English speakers and saying: ‘Read every document, and I want you to tell me, how good are these guys? What are their approaches, their strengths, their weaknesses and their blind spots?’”
Assange agreed that the files offered insight into US tactics. But he said that was none of his concern, and his site already carried a copy of the US Special Forces’ 2006 Southern Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Manual, among other documents.
He cast some light on the way his site operates, describing an online submission system “like nothing else you’ve ever seen”.
“We encrypt all the information, it is routed through protected legal jurisdictions, multiple servers,” he said.
But, the former computer hacker said one of the best ways to submit classified material remained the international postal system.