WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Friday denied any knowledge of the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst accused of providing his organization with classified reports that could lead to Assange's indictment on spy charges in the United States.
In an interview ABC's "Good Morning America," the Australia-born computer expert said the WikiLeaks computer system is designed to maintain the anonymity of sources who give the organization sensitive government documents, including the classified U.S. diplomatic cables that have exposed candid and embarrassing assessments of world leaders.
And on NBC's TODAY show, Assange said that he had "no information" when asked whether his organization had supplied Army Specialist Bradley Manning with software the would have allowed him to download classified documents.
Manning, a 23-year-old intelligence analyst, was charged earlier this year with obtaining the classified video of a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq including two Reuters journalists and downloading more than 150,000 U.S. State Department documents.
U.S. authorities say Manning leaked some of the cables he downloaded but decline to say whether they are the same ones released by WikiLeaks.
The video of the helicopter attack was released by WikiLeaks in April. Manning is detained at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia.
U.S. media reports say U.S. prosecutors could charge Assange with espionage and seek his extradition to the United States if they can show that he helped Manning collect the classified material.
"I had never heard of the name Bradley Manning before it was published in the press," Assange told ABC as he made the rounds of U.S. breakfast television shows.
"WikiLeaks technology (was) designed from the very beginning to make sure that we never know the identities or names of people submitting us material. That is, in the end, the only way that sources can be guaranteed that they remain anonymous."
Assange, 39, walked free from a London court on Thursday, freed on 200,000 pound ($312,500) bail after nine days in London's largest jail. Sweden wants to extradite him for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two WikiLeaks' volunteers.
But Assange told reporters soon after his release that he was more concerned the United States might try to extradite him than he was about being extradited to Sweden.
Assange and his lawyers have voiced fears that U.S. prosecutors might be preparing to indict him for espionage over WikiLeaks' publication of the documents.
"Something is very wrong with that situation and something is wrong in the United States that such an investigation against me and, in effect, my organization, and indeed now we see serious calls against the New York Times as well — that all that is to be conducted in secret," he said in an interview with NBC's TODAY show.
Vice President Joe Biden, in a
"Meet the Press" interview to air Sunday morning, reiterated the U.S. government's position that Assange's acts have hurt the U.S. and endangered people abroad.
"He's made it more difficult for us to conduct our business with our allies and our friends," Biden said. "For example in my meetings, you know I meet with most of these world leaders, there is a desire now to meet with me alone, rather than have staff in the room. It makes these things more cumbersome. And so it has done damage."
Assange told reporters Friday outside a supporter's country mansion where he is confined that he was being subjected to "what appears to be a secret grand jury investigation against me or our organization."
But Assange says his organization was resilient and designed to withstand "decapitation attacks."
He adds that the allegations against him of sex crimes are part of a smear campaign, but Sweden says they stem from serious allegations made by two women.
Assange also promised Friday that the flow of leaked U.S. diplomatic documents will quicken now that he's back at the helm of the secret-spilling website.
A High Court judge freed Assange on bail Thursday on condition he reside at a supporter's 600-acre estate in eastern England, wear an electronic tag and report to police daily.
But there are no restrictions on his Internet use, even as U.S. authorities consider charges related to thousands of leaked diplomatic cables and other secret documents WikiLeaks has released.
'Sun and snow'Assange told the TODAY show on Friday that it was "very nice to be out in the sun and snow and amongst good and courageous friends."
"We must remember that this is not the beginning of the end, it's the end of the beginning," he added.
Citing sex assault allegations in Sweden, Assange said that a "very successful smear campaign" had been waged against him but suggested that "people are beginning to wonder ... where's the evidence."
WikiLeaks has released just 1,621 of the more than 250,000 State Department documents it claims to possess, many of them containing critical or embarrassing U.S. assessments of foreign nations and their leaders.
Assange was arrested not because of WikiLeaks, but because Swedish officials are seeking him for questioning on allegations stemming from separate encounters with a pair of women in Sweden over the summer. The women have accused Assange of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion. Assange denies the allegations, which his lawyers say stem from a dispute over "consensual but unprotected sex."
After his release, Assange said he will "continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal, as we get it, which we have not yet, the evidence from these allegations."
Although Swedish officials insist the extradition effort has nothing to do with the WikiLeaks controversy, Assange's supporters say the timing of the allegations suggest that the case has been tainted by politics.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley stressed that the U.S. has no involvement in Sweden's case. He said of Assange's release, "Perhaps that will put the conspiracy theories to bed once and for all."
The Swedish moves could complicate any potential U.S. effort to bring Assange to trial for revealing classified information. A U.S. extradition request would have to compete with the Swedish one, and the legal wrangling could drag on for months or years.
Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny said the bail decision would not change the ongoing investigation in Sweden, and the extradition case would be handled by British authorities. Assange's next hearing is set for Jan. 11.