Pentagon investigators are trying to determine the whereabouts of the Australian-born founder of the secretive website Wikileaks for fear that he may be about to publish a huge cache of classified State Department cables that, if made public, could do serious damage to national security, government officials tell The Daily Beast.
The officials acknowledge that even if they found the website founder, Julian Assange, it is not clear what they could do to block publication of the cables on Wikileaks, which is nominally based on a server in Sweden and bills itself as a champion of whistleblowers.
American officials said Pentagon investigators are convinced that Assange is in possession of at least some classified State Department cables leaked by a 22-year-old Army intelligence specialist, Bradley Manning of Potomac, Maryland, who is now in custody in Kuwait.
And given the contents of the cables, the feds have good reason to be concerned.
As The Daily Beast reported June 8, Manning, while posted in Iraq, apparently had special access to cables prepared by diplomats and State Department officials throughout the Middle East, regarding the workings of Arab governments and their leaders, according to an American diplomat.
The cables, which date back over several years, went out over interagency computer networks available to the Army and contained information related to American diplomatic and intelligence efforts in the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, the diplomat said.
American officials would not discuss the methods being used to find Assange, nor would they say if they had information to suggest where he is now. "We'd like to know where he is; we'd like his cooperation in this," one U.S. official said of Assange.
Assange, who first gained notoriety as a computer hacker, is as secretive as his website and has no permanent home.
He was in the United States as recently as several weeks ago, when he gave press interviews to promote the website's release of an explosive 2007 video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad that left 12 people dead, including two employees of the news agency Reuters.
Wikileaks has not replied directly to email messages from The Daily Beast.
However, in cryptic messages he sent this week via Twitter, Wikileaks referred to an earlier Daily Beast article on the investigation of Manning and said that it "looks like we're about to be attacked by everything the U.S. has."
In an earlier post, the site said that allegations that "we have been sent 260,000 classified U.S. embassy cables are, as far as we can tell, incorrect."
This morning, a new Wikileaks tweet went out: "Any signs of unacceptable behavior by the Pentagon or its agents towards this press will be viewed dimly."