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CNN Presents: WikiWars: The Mission of Julian Assange
Aired June 12, 2011 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JULIAN ASSANGE, WIKILEAKS FOUNDER: The "Guardian" from this morning. Fourteen pages.
DAVID LEIGH, JOURNALIST, THE GUARDIAN: Julian believes that if you overthrow secrecy in the world, you will overthrow the corrupt political establishments that are oppressing it.
ASSANGE: We don't see any difference in the White House's response to this case to the other group that we have exposed.
For the Internet generation this is our challenge and this is our time.
KAJ LARSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Over 20 years ago, the Berlin Wall came down and it marked the end of the cold war between two super powers. Now there's a new battle that's being waged for control of information. Its frontlines aren't brick and mortar walls. They're firewalls. Its weapons are computers, not missiles. And its warriors, hackers, activists, even anarchists.
It's an epic struggle for state secrets between institutions and individuals. And at the center of this war is Julian Assange.
ASSANGE: My function in WikiLeaks is to take all the heat.
LARSEN (voice-over): The 39-year-old Australian founder of WikiLeaks has risen from obscurity to be weed a whistle-blowing insurgency.
ASSANGE: The state has asserted its authority by surveilling, monitoring and regimenting all of us, all the while, hiding behind cloaks of security and opaqueness.
LARSEN: Armed with virtual army of volunteers, Assange has taken aimed at corporations and nations.
ASSANGE: The material exposes an extraordinary range of abuses.
LARSEN: Exposing secrets that have helped fuel anger and revolt in the Middle East. Drawing the ire of the most powerful government in the world. And galvanizing a global following of cyber warriors ready to fight.
BASE, ANONYMOUS MEMBER: We feel obligated to step out in WikiLeaks' defense. Because if WikiLeaks goes down then that leaves very bad implications for the rest of us.
LARSEN: A maverick and a game changer, he's also under attack for his own behavior.
NICK DAVIES, JOURNALIST, THE GUARDIAN: He's taken aim at his foot and shot it.
LARSEN (on camera): Assange actually just arrived at the courthouse. You can see him and he's going to come right through this gated area into the courthouse. That's my first glimpse of Julian Assange.
(Voice-over): This is one of the most intimate portraits yet of Julian Assange.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: All this lead. How far will his group go? Locations of weapons? Absolutely.
ASSANGE: Thanks, Steven. Thanks. Now I have every (EXPLETIVE DELETED) gun pointed at me. And he is person number 21.
LARSEN: Rare candid moments captured by Australian journalist Mark Davis who spent months traveling with the enigmatic leader of WikiLeaks.
MARK DAVIS, JOURNALIST: He went from that kind of hobo character, if you like, into a -- to a rock star.
LARSEN (on camera): You followed him for months, spending time on the road with him. What's he like?
DAVIS: I think in private he's actually very charming guy when he relaxes. And it comes in flashes, you know, he has that sort of intense, kind of computer nerd sort of mind. But when he is off on that, he's very funny droll (ph).
ASSANGE: My voice will get sexier and sexier, you know, as the day goes on.
LARSEN (voice-over): Nomadic and secretive, like the hero of a spy novel.
DANIEL DOMSCHEIT-BERG, FORMER WIKILEAKS SPOKESPERSON: See, he's seeing this whole thing as some kind of a -- I don't know. Weird James Bond kind of thriller. He believes that everyone's co constantly being tapped and followed.
LARSEN: At his core, Assange is a hacker. An outsider mining secrets that are supposed to off limits. His outsider persona has its roots in an unusual nomadic childhood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARSEN (voice-over): This is Magnetic Island, a place of exotic wild life and untouched beauty off the coast of Australia. A place Julian Assange once called home. But as a boy, he was often on the move. Assange claims he attended 36 different schools. Julian's Bohemian mother Christine and his stepfather together ran a traveling theater company.
ASSANGE: I enjoyed this as a child. Until I was about 10, we had a sort of mixed experience.
LARSEN: A life on the move turned into a life on the run. After his mother fled a troubled relationship there were difficult years. But Assange seems to relish his unconventional childhood.
ASSANGE: In fact when I speak to people, they tell me that they spent all their life in a town or city, I think, horrified. And he goes, poor thing. I mean, how did you survive?
LARSEN: Eventually, Julian and his mother settled outside of Melbourne.
ASSANGE: I had a horse. And I sold the horse and bought a computer and I was fascinated.
LARSEN (on camera): For Assange, it becomes a portal into an entirely new world. He joins a group of hackers known as International Subversives and under the screen name Mendax, he begins to tap into top secret networks, including the Pentagon.
(Voice-over): By the time he was 20, Assange was a sophisticated computer hacker.
ASSANGE: And this was before there was public access to the Internet. This was an incredibly a brave thing to go out and support the world with your mind.
LARSEN: But authorities would eventually bust the young Assange. In 1991, he was charged with 31 counts of hacking and related crimes. After a lengthy legal battle, he walked away with only a fine. But he caught a glimpse inside a hidden world.
ASSANGE: Read the general's e-mails at the Pentagon. (INAUDIBLE) incredible thrill.
LARSEN: That fascination would grow into a mission to change the world.
ASSANGE: The times we are going through at the moment constitute a generational challenge.
LARSEN: A mission that would expose some of America's most closely guarded secrets.
LARSEN (voice-over): As a teenager, Julian Assange believed he had the right to hack into any computer network that interested him.
ASSANGE: That needs to be thought about and then it needs to be set up.
LARSEN: But his ambition grew from cracking codes to helping whistle- blowers and dissenters anonymously divulge inside secrets.
ASSANGE: So when people have this information, they can behave differently. Choose to support something or not.
LARSEN: His cause, nothing less than a new world order where nations and corporations could no longer hide corruption and injustice.
(On camera): With a network of secure servers in 2007, Assange launches a Web site for whistle-blower where secret documents can be released to the public. He calls it WikiLeaks.
ASSANGE: I hack people's minds. I get people within those organizations to release their material for a just cause.
LARSEN (voice-over): I went to Berlin to meet one of the early WikiLeaks insiders and one of the few people who's worked closely with Assange.
Daniel Domscheit-Berg became WikiLeaks' spokesman.
DOMSCHEIT-BERG: I picked a pseudonym name which was Daniel Schmidt named after my cat so --
LARSEN (on camera): Named after your cat?
DOMSCHEIT-BERG: Yes. My cat is Mr. Schmidt.
LARSEN (voice-over): Assumed names and secret server locations, standard Wiki operating procedure. Assange himself, never in one place too long.
DAVIS: When I met him, he was notoriously difficult to track down. There's not a lot of people that are around him for a long time. They (INAUDIBLE) purpose at each point in time and move on.
DOMSCHEIT-BERG: He's a very smart person. Very intelligent. He doesn't really care what other people think of him. He's actually just his very own character. And that was kind of appealing.
LARSEN (on camera): What was it about WikiLeaks that appealed to you?
DOMSCHEIT-BERG: I thought that exposing such secrets, exposing immoral stuff that people are trying to hide from the public eye, that this actually is just a very simple but genius idea.
LARSEN (voice-over): Armed with a global troop of supporters, Assange shifted through secrets protected by hidden network of servers. He was on a mission to change the worlds, one leak at a time. Starting in Kenya.
After a violent disputed election in 2007, WikiLeaks posted a reported that revealed hundreds of killings at the hands of Kenyan police. The expose put WikiLeaks on the map, earning them an award from the human rights group Amnesty International.
There were leaks of everything from Sarah Palin's e-mail to the membership rosters of neo-Nazis. Then WikiLeaks began to turn its spotlight on the United States. And when the operating manual for the Guantanamo Bay prison camp was leaked, WikiLeaks published it. ASSANGE: So George John Tenet has honor bound to defend freedom on the front. The defense of freedom as a value is on the front of Guantanamo Bay.
LARSEN: WikiLeaks soon found itself in the crosshairs of the U.S. Army. This 2008 secret counterintelligence report ironically leaked to WikiLeaks identified it as a threat and revealed ways to shut it down. Assange, though, remained defiant.
ASSANGE: When we're attacked that is usually the worst move that someone can do. The information is not going to disappear any time soon.
LARSEN: Growing pressure drove WikiLeaks underground. Two of its servers were moved to a James Bond-style, bomb-proof bunker in Sweden. Assange went in search of a safe haven and found one in Iceland.
By 2009, Iceland was a country on its knees. A banking crisis had brought it to the edge of bankruptcy, causing riots in the streets. Banks went under and thousands lost their life savings.
ASSANGE: Iceland was hit harder than any other country by the international banking collapse.
LARSEN: Enter WikiLeaks. In July 2009, they posted a secret loan book from one of the largest failed banks, revealing risky loans to its own shareholders. The bank quickly launched a counterattack.
ASSANGE: We got letters from the bank saying that they could try to attack us and they're to put us in prison for a year unless we removed it. And of course we said, ridiculous. We're not going to remove it. We're not going to tell you our sources.
LARSEN: The leak became the story across island.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the news Sunday, August 1st. But not all the news we meant to tell.
LARSEN: But the bank won an injunction prohibiting RUVTV from airing the story.
ASSANGE: Five minutes before the news was going on the air, the news desk was injected.
LARSEN: But the network had another card to play. Directing the viewers to the WikiLeaks Web site.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all there for everyone to read on, www.WikiLeaks.org.
ASSANGE: We had tens of thousands of Icelanders defending on us to get this material.
LARSEN: The expose made Assange and WikiLeaks local heroes. Pushing the government to pass some of the strongest press protections in the world. Iceland became a haven for whistle-blowers and WikiLeaks. In a small apartment in Rajkovic, Assange and his team began working on a secret, their most explosive yet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He locks the door. We put the chain on and he types away his passwords into his laptop and he starts playing this film. I've never seen anything like that in my life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Found the missile.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger, I'll get you in the straight. You're clear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm firing.
LARSEN (voice-over): Iraq, 2007. U.S. military might on display. An Apache helicopter camera capturing raw images of combat and voices of war. Video kept hidden until someone leaked it to Julian Assange.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger. Building destroyed.
LARSEN: In a daring move, he crossed into enemy territory -- Washington, D.C. -- to release the video.
ASSANGE: We have a mission to promote political reforms by releasing suppressed information.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have individual with weapons.
LARSEN: Assange placed a George Orwell quote at the beginning and titled the video "Collateral Murder."
(On camera): What did you think of Julian Assange titling this video "Collateral Murder"?
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Julian Assange has an ideological point to make, a political agenda to push, and he doesn't understand what he's talking about.
LARSEN (voice-over): I met retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt at the CNN studios in Washington, D.C. He's the military's report and together we went through some of the video.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, roger. I just estimate there's probably about 20 of them.
KIMMITT: It is my understanding that this unit on the ground had been engaged in combat probably for the last couple of hours.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got an RPG.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. We got a guy with an RPG.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to fire. LARSEN (on camera): This clip is where they believe they identify an RPG. It turns out, as we know now, that that was a long lens telephoto camera held by a Reuters journalist. You can see him as he peeks around the corner there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep shooting.
LARSEN: That Reuters photographer, his assistant and the men around him, were all gunned down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes, look at those dead bastards.
KIMMITT: This photographer should not have been walking around with an instrument that looks very much like a weapon.
LARSEN (on camera): Is the blame on the photographer or is it a causal series of mistakes made by the crew there that led to the ultimate negative consequences?
KIMMITT: Warfare is not perfect. There are mistakes that are sometimes made. He shares much of the blame for what happened here.
LARSEN: I want to move to the van video.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where's that van at?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right down there by the bodies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
LARSEN: And what you see is a van that's coming to help grab some of the wounded people on the ground. The Apache crew asks for permission to engage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, let us shoot.
KIMMITT: Again, that is an active battle field. That van could have other fighters inside of it with weapons. Those fighters could put our soldiers at risk, could kill those soldiers that they're fighting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on.
ASSANGE: And we can see in this video that the young pilots in the Apache helicopters have become debased in their character.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, look at that. Right through the windshield.
ASSANGE: They are playing video games with real human lives and looking for excuses to kill people.
LARSEN (voice-over): It turned out that there were children inside of the van.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.
LARSEN (on camera): Sir, as you know, I have almost a decade in naval special ware fare. You're obviously 30 years in the army. Soldier to sailor, ground pounder to ground pounder, should these men have exercised more restraint?
KIMMITT: I don't think so. What we have here from everything that I have seen is that they followed the proper procedures.
LARSEN: So if they did everything by the book, is there something wrong with the book?
KIMMITT: I don't think so. The book doesn't have every scenario. Doesn't have every possible outcome.
LARSEN (voice-over): Secret U.S. military video. A stunning WikiLeaks exclusive. But who's responsible for leaking and it and why? Military investigators soon point the finger at one of their own. Private 1st Class Bradley Manning, who's since been arrested.
But Manning may have never come to their attention if not for this man.
(On camera): We're on the way to meet Adrian Lamo, who's the former computer hacker who turned Bradley Manning into authorities. And Lamo is kind of an -- (INAUDIBLE) character. He screens all his phone calls. He changes e-mails. He doesn't respond to messages. But he's got one condition for our interview today. And that's that his location had to remain completely anonymous.
Adrian, what's with all the cloak and dagger stuff?
ADRIAN LAMO, FORMER COMPUTER HACKER: There are people that are going beyond words in their opposition to my cooperation with the government in this case. And I just want to be able to sleep soundly at night.
LARSEN (voice-over): Bradley Manning first approaches Lamo by sending him an e-mail.
LAMO: Manning essentially opened by introducing himself saying he was an intelligence analyst at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq just outside of Baghdad.
LARSEN: Lamo and Manning then began chatting extensively online. Lamo says he provided the chat logs to the Web site wired.com who eventually published about a quarter of the transcripts.
And during one of those chats, Manning asked Lamo, if you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day, seven days a week, for eight plus months, what would do you? Alarmed, Lamo contacts U.S. officials. The convicted computer hacker says he took action because his own strong belief in government transparency is not without limits.
LAMO: Where I draw the line is when it comes to the point that it can cause real and articulable (ph) harm. LARSEN: We tried to get in contact with Manning's attorney but he never returned our calls. In the online chats Lamo, now a government informant, asked Manning how he got the information out.
Manning explains that he copied classified files and video on to a CD that he had labeled "Lady Gaga." No one suspected a thing. "Kind of sad." In their chat, Manning mentions Julian Assange. "I mean, I'm a high profile source and I've developed a relationship with Assange."
But Assange continuously denies knowing Manning.
ASSANGE: We don't know if this guy was our source or not.
LARSEN: Manning's confessions to Lamo have landed him at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Facing a possible life sentence, Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of U.S. secrets. Secrets he allegedly gave to Julian Assange. Soon, the press would pick up the scent.
DAVIES: So I decided running around the "Guardian" building saying this is the biggest story on the planet. We have to get ahold of this information.
RICHELLE CAREY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Richelle Carey. Here's a look at some of your top stories.
Take a look at this. The very first images of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords we've seen it first since she was shot back in January. They were posted today on her Facebook page. There's one with her -- there's on by herself, there's also one with her mother, looking happy and relaxed.
They were taken back on May 17th just a day before she underwent skull surgery. Here's a look at her before the shooting and after, still gorgeous. We learned today that Giffords could leave a Houston rehab hospital for outpatient treatment at the end of the month.
Meanwhile more explicit and embarrassing photos of Congressman Anthony Weiner are cropping up. TMZ posed these pictures and says they were taken in the House members' gym. He's off seeking professional help after the Democratic leadership calls for his resignation yesterday.
And tomorrow night right here on CNN, seven Republicans aiming for the presidency will appear on stage in Manchester, New Hampshire to mark the first political debate of the 2012 president race. You do not want to miss that.
Those are your headlines this hour. I'm Richelle Carey. Now back to "CNN PRESENTS: WIKIWARS."
LARSEN (voice-over): Julian Assange's "Collateral Murder" video did not spark the outrage he had hoped for. And now his alleged source, Private Bradley Manning, was in custody.
Journalist Mark Davis was with Assange in the summer of 2010.
DAVIS: For me he was a little bit paranoid that I'm not surprised that he was in a state of high anxiety and highly security conscious.
LARSEN: Security conscious because Assange had another weapon in his arsenal. A secret data base of government documents from the war in Afghanistan. Assange was more and more focused on what he saw as abuses within the U.S. government. Now he believed he had evidence of actual war crimes.
(On camera): Does he operate as if he is constantly being followed, constantly being watched?
DAVIS: Yes, because he probably is. You know this information was known and essentially people, important people, knew he had this.
DAVIES: More surveillance around him.
LARSEN (on camera): Correct.
DAVIES: Than almost anybody else in the world.
LARSEN (voice-over): One of the people on Assange's trail was Nick Davies, an investigative journalist from the "Guardian" newspaper in London. He had read about Manning's alleged leak to WikiLeaks and sensed a big story.
(On camera): So you started looking for Julian Assange?
DAVIES: He was laying very low. So it took me four or five days to find out where he was and made contact.
LARSEN (voice-over): At a cafe in Brussels, Davies finally came face to face with Assange.
DAVIES: So my pitch was, let's create an alliance between the "Guardian" and other news organizations so that you get serious impact. And so then it becomes impossible to stop us because we're not just in one jurisdiction where the government or the courts might block us. We'll be scattered. And he rapidly locked on to that idea.
LARSEN: Straight out of a spy novel, Davies headed back to London with a secret pass code Assange had written on a napkin. One day later, he had the data base.
Assange invited "The New York Times" and German newspaper "Der Spiegel" to join him. In an unprecedented collaboration the three newspapers began to sift through the thousands of documents.
(On camera): So I've come here to London to the headquarters of the "Guardian" newspaper to meet up with some of the journalists who were hold up for weeks in a bunker with Julian Assange as they sifted through the secret cables and documents that were eventually to become known as the Iraq and the Afghanistan war logs.
This is the famous bunker? LEIGH: Yes, it is.
LARSEN (voice-over): David Leigh is another investigative journalist with the "Guardian."
LEIGH: These are some of the headlines that came out of the war logs actually. The earlier -- the first batch.
LEIGH: You know, by Afghan and Iraq.
LARSEN: What were your impressions Assange the man when you first met him?
LEIGH: He didn't behave like earthlings, you know? He could stay up all night, tapping away at his laptop and then suddenly he'd kill over and just let the jacket buttoned up at the neck, and like crash and go to sleep where he lay.
LARSEN (voice-over): The more than 90,000 documents revealed a side of the Afghan war hidden from public view.
DAVIES: We started coming across really interesting information about collusion between the Pakistani service and the Taliban. So this was rich stuff that was buried in this data base.
ASSANGE: If you want to see it on the map then you can erase this yellow map.
LARSEN: But there was growing tension with Assange.
DAVIES: All of us came across material which was clearly likely to lead to the death of innocent civilians if we publish it. All of us had the experience of bringing this to his attention and being told by him, in effect, if an Afghan civilian helps coalition forces then they deserve to die.
LARSEN (on camera): Does Assange understand that there are flesh and blood consequences to actions of, say, releasing secret documents?
LEIGH: He has to have it explained to him. He is not a person who's very high on empathy with other humans.
DAVIES: Finally, in the last few days before we published he got it. And he made a rather crude attempt to make the material which he was publishing on the Web site safe by withholding 15,000 documents out of a total of 92,000. But it wasn't enough.
LARSEN (voice-over): On the eve of the launch date, names of Afghan civilians were still in WikiLeaks the documents.
ASSANGE: We go at 10:00 p.m. London time tomorrow.
LARSEN: On July 25th, 2010, WikiLeaks released over 70,000 classified documents on the Afghan war. ASSANGE: The material exposes an extraordinary range of abuses.
LARSEN: And all three newspapers published stories about the war logs.
DAVIES: Within 48 hours other news organizations were finding material on the WikiLeaks Web site which clearly was dangerous. And that meant that the political damage was done. His moral authority was reduced. He'd made a terrible tactical mistake.
LARSEN: The release set of a firestorm in Washington.
ROBERT M. GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The battle field consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies and Afghan partners.
ASSANGE: "Secret files exposes true Afghan war."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a dozen camera tracks outside. Surprising?
ASSANGE: No. I knew if we did our work right, it would have this effect. I knew the material was serious.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You've said that this is the most comprehensive history of the war.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why specific the folks in print?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are there any circumstances in which you wouldn't publish information?
LARSEN: Julian Assange finally had the world's attention.
ASSANGE: I think Twitter has just gone off the roof.
DAVIS: And he went from that kind of hobo character if you like into a rock star. It's like having a -- you know, a hit movie overnight and suddenly everyone wants to see you.
LARSEN: But that attention would come with a price. The press began to grill him.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Where on earth will it all this lead? How far will his group go? Locations of weapons?
ASSANGE: Thanks, Steve, thanks. Now I have every (EXPLETIVE DELETED) gun pointed at me.
LARSEN: Still, Assange seemed confident he was beyond the reach of governments.
ASSANGE: I'm untouchable now in this country.
LARSEN: Untouchable for now. But his star was about to be tarnished. This time, the leaks would be about him. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LARSEN (voice-over): By the summer of 2010, Julian Assange's war on secrecy is in high gear.
ASSANGE: The course of the war needs to change. This is "The Guardian".
LARSEN: The Afghan war logs are making headlines around the world.
ASSANGE: It's one damn thing after another.
LARSEN: And making Assange famous.
ASSANGE: I'm a combative person. I like crushing bastards.
LARSEN: But now, he is at the center of a scandal. The Swedish government had requested extradition in order to question him about allegations of sexual assault. Two Swedish women have come forward accusing Assange of aggressive or unwanted sexual advances, which under Swedish law can constitute rape. As yet no charges have been filed against Assange and he strongly denies the allegations.
ASSANGE: Surveillance have been -- people are intense.
LARSEN: Undistracted by what he calls a smear campaign, Assange begins working around the clock on what will become his biggest leak yet.
In October 2010, WikiLeaks releases the mother lode, nearly 400,000 secret U.S. documents on the Iraq war.
ASSANGE: The start of the Iraq involved very serious lies which were repeated and amplified.
LARSEN: The stories revealed troubling new details about the war. Numerous cases of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Iraqi police and soldiers and cases where U.S. troops killed innocent civilians. But this time, Assange sensors the documents.
ASSANGE: We have redacted everything except for things that we have cleared by hand. And that approach has left blank ink all over the material.
LARSEN: But that doesn't ease the fears of many, including General Kimmitt.
(On camera); Julian Assange has constantly put forward that nobody has been attacked or killed due to any of the disclosures from the WikiLeaks. Do you agree with that?
KIMMITT: No, I think a lot of our soldiers have been put in harm's way. There is a reason and a purpose for operational security. For protecting our tactics, techniques and procedures. We don't want to give an advantage to our enemy that that can be used against our soldiers in combat. LARSEN (voice-over): And the steady leak of U.S. secrets doesn't end there. One month later, WikiLeaks publishes diplomatic cables. The U.S. government fires back. Secretary Clinton, who only months before had championed Internet freedom, is now on the warpath.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information.
LARSEN (on camera): So what has been the government's counterattack to WikiLeaks? The CIA has established the WikiLeaks Task Force known within the agency as the WTF. A cheeky acronym within cyberspace. And additionally the Justice Department has subpoenaed the Twitter accounts of WikiLeaks supporters, and is rumored to be marshaling an investigation that could lead to the extradition of Assange to the U.S.
(Voice-over): Then a series of blows. Amazon.com kicks WikiLeaks off its Web site. PayPal bars donations. And Sweden issues an arrest warrant.
On December 7th, 2010, Assange is put in jail. And in an ironic twist, a leak exposes the lurid details of the sexual assault allegations against Assange.
DAVIES: By sheer fluke, somebody I had dealt with in the past contacted me and said, guess what, I've got the whole preliminary police file from the Swedish investigation into these sexual assaults. Are you interested?
LARSEN: Nick Davies, a journalist with the "Guardian" newspaper who worked closely with Assange on the Afghan war logs was given a copy of the leaked report.
DAVIES: So what are we going to do? We put it in the paper. That's what journalists do.
LARSEN (on camera): What was Julian's reaction?
DAVIES: He went berserk. His attitude expressed through his lawyer while we were writing this piece was that we should suppress this information because he had been a source for us, for the "Guardian," and therefore we owed it to him to suppress him.
LARSEN (voice-over): CNN made several requests for another interview with Assange but got no response. Assange's attorney tells CNN that he asked for a delay in publication because Assange was in prison.
But "The Guardian" maintains Assange was given several days to respond.
(On camera): In rhetoric, Assange is a proponent of transparency but he doesn't seem to walk that walk. Is that true?
DOMSCHEIT-BERG: Yes. That's true. Certainly.
LARSEN (voice-over): Daniel Domscheit-Berg, then a WikiLeaks insider, says Assange kept him and others in the dark.
DOMSCHEIT-BERG: He just said it's not your business and next question. And that is one of the major reasons why I and a few others actually left the project. Because that's a contradiction.
LARSEN: Leak of leak, Assange's platform grows. But his relationships are fraying. Domscheit-Berg and others leave WikiLeaks.
DAVIES: You can see a pattern. He alienates most of the reporters and (INAUDIBLE) that he works with. He alienates most of the people who are working for WikiLeaks.
LARSEN: A man who spent most of his life on the move. Now is forced to stay in one place and face the accusations against him.
Coming up, in prison but not alone. Cyber-warriors in support of Assange go on the attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have the whole project of Freedom (ph) Assange. We feel obligated to do something about it. Reach out to other people and tell them that this is their fight as well.
LARSEN (voice-over): After nine days in prison, Julian Assange emerges into a crush of supporters and media.
ASSANGE: Well, it's great to smell fresh air of London again.
LARSEN: Vowing to continue the leaks and fight the sexual assault allegations against him.
ASSANGE: I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter.
LARSEN: By now, WikiLeaks is radioactive. PayPal, Visa, MasterCard have all cut its financeable lifeline. But a secretive global force of cyber hacktivists begins to mobilize a counterattack. They call themselves Anonymous.
(On camera): So we've actually been trying to get an interview with a member of Anonymous for weeks. And we finally tracked someone down who's willing to talk to us. And these guys are committed to the cause of defending WikiLeaks.
So we're Skyping now with Base and Chris, two members of Anonymous.
Base, what is Anonymous?
BASE: Anonymous is an Internet sub culture based around on anonymity. It's the freedom of thought, the freedom of speech and the freedom of information taken to a logical extreme.
LARSEN: Why do you have to remain anonymous?
BASE: We have the government agencies after us. We have other people that don't appreciate what we're doing after us. So it would not be very good if our identities were exposed.
LARSEN: Why are you guys such ardent supporters of WikiLeaks?
BASE: They expose secrets, transparency, freedom of speech, freedom of information on the Internet. And that resonates with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corrupt governments of the world, we are Anonymous.
LARSEN (voice-over): In December 2010, Anonymous launched "Operation Payback."
BASE: In the beginning of "Operation Payback," we went after PayPal, Visa, MasterCard and eventually Amazon because they were the ones that publicly withdrew funding and support from WikiLeaks. Especially PayPal who actually held funds.
LARSEN: Anonymous unleashed a cyber-attack.
BASE: (INAUDIBLE) distributed denial service attack. Essentially you send so many requests to a server that it shuts down.
LARSEN: Temporarily, bringing down some of the Web sites.
(On camera): Do you think the government can stop groups like you or WikiLeaks?
BASE: They're not going to stop WikiLeaks. Even if the government were to take down WikiLeaks, they'd essentially be martyring WikiLeaks. And a hundred others sites would spring up. The only thing they can really do is turn the Internet off. And even then, that didn't stop the people in Egypt.
LARSEN: In some sense, the WikiLeaks phenomenon is unstoppable. Part of a new reality where whistleblowers can go global and make a government quake. Where a leak can add fuel to a revolution.
But governments will fight back. The U.S. Justice Department has Assange in its sight. Rumor has it, building a case for conspiracy.
ASSANGE: If I'm a conspirator to commit espionage, then all these other media organizations and (INAUDIBLE) journalists even are also conspirators to commit espionage.
LARSEN: For now, Assange remains in the UK under house arrest. Fighting the Swedish extradition request.
In February, I traveled there for his first hearing.
(On camera): We've come out 45 minutes outside of central London to the Woolwich Crown Court. Like everywhere Assange goes, he seems to draw a huge media crowd. There are representatives from every media source in the world here covering, just to get a glimpse of him as he walks from his car to the courthouse. Assange actually just arrived. And he's going to come right through this gated area into the courthouse. ASSANGE: A black box has been applied to my life. And on the outside of that black box has been written the word rape.
LARSEN (voice-over): He's at the center of attention. But still, very much alone.
DAVIS: He is an island and has become an island. The circle has become very small. And -- because he no longer trusts anybody. He's been betrayed by the people that have come into that circle.
LARSEN: To some, Assange is a clear danger, a self-appointed judge of good and evil.
KIMMITT: Julian Assange has this self-proclaimed mantle that he put around himself that he can be the judge for what governments can and can't do. And that's a very dangerous assertion on the part of any single individual.
LARSEN: Politicians have taken aim. On FOX News, former House speaker Newt Gingrich calls Assange a terrorist.
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Information warfare is warfare. And Julian Assange has engaged in warfare. Information terrorism which leads to people getting killed is terrorism and Julian Assange in terrorism.
LARSEN: Hero or villain, Julian Assange has created a powerful platform.
LEIGH: The more people get to read what really goes on in the world, the more chance they have on educating themselves about realities. And I think realities are what we need.
LARSEN: Even some of Assange's critics are following in his footsteps. Daniel Domscheit-Berg has launched a new whistle-blowing Web site, Open Leaks.
(On camera): So what is the future of WikiLeaks?
DOMSCHEIT-BERG: It has set something in motion all over the world that cannot be stopped anymore. And that has carried this debate of what is secrecy, what must be secret, and what must not be secret, into the living rooms and the 8:00 news, to people that never heard about this before and never thought about it before.
LARSEN (on camera): Julian Assange, the self-appointed champion of free speech, has dared to reveal the secrets of both dictators and democracies. He dropped a nuclear warhead of information on to the world stage.
The final chapter of the WikiLeaks saga has yet to be written. Its fate is inextricably linked to the fate of the man at the center of this radioactive storm. But for now, Julian Assange's war against secrecy rages on.