6 Dec 2010

Wikileaks’ facilities list ‘will not endanger lives’

The DA Notice committee has told Channel 4 News that Wikileaks’ publication of a list of foreign infrastructures “critical” to US national security is not as damaging as it may have first seemed.

In what has been seen by many as the most compromising disclosure of the latest batch of leaks, the whistleblower website published a list of installations worldwide including more than a dozen sites in the UK such as BAE Systems sites, satellites and cable locations.

The cable catalogues cobalt mines in Congo, arms and chemical manufacturers in Germany, a smallpox vaccine plant in Denmark, Hitachi large electric power transformers in Korea, hydroelectric production in Quebec, and dozens of undersea cable landings around the world.

The Government had condemned the release of the list, with Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, chairman of the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, today saying: “This is the kind of information terrorists are interested in knowing.”

But the details within the list are not as damaging as initially thought, according to the DA-Notice committee, which provides guidance about defence and counter-terrorist information the publication of which would be damaging to national security.

Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Vallance told Channel 4 News: “The publication has not transgressed our guidelines because the list has only identified the infrastructures, not their exact locations, and they were facilities deemed critical to US and not British interests.

“However, such a disclosure is undoubtedly unhelpful and could attract elements of terrorism.”

Among the UK sites listed are a transatlantic undersea cable landing in Cornwall; naval and motoring engineering firm MacTaggart Scott, based in the small Scottish town of Loanhead; and BAE Systems sites in Preston and Chorley, and one in Plymouth.

However, a BAE Systems spokeswoman told Channel 4 News that the sites in Chorley and Plymouth are no longer in operation and had been relocated.

She said: “The information in the list was incorrect.

“The site in Plymouth was sold in 2007, and in Chorley, there are no longer any weapons manufacturing, although there is still an office there. The information about Preston was correct.

“The safety and security of our people and facilities is of highest priority”

Three BT-owned satellite centres were also named on the list; at Goonhilly, in Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula, at Madley in Herefordshireand and at Martlesham in Suffolk.

All are connected by fibre optic cable and overland microwave radio links to BT’s nationwide broadcast and communications network.

A spokesman for BT said: “BT does not comment on the security of its networks, but the proper security is in place.”

Outside the UK, the list also includes strategically vital sea lanes such as Singapore’s Straits of Malacca and Spain’s Strait of Gibraltar; and key energy facilities, such as Russia’s Nadym Gas Pipeline Junction (“the most critical gas facility in the world”) and Qatar’s Ras Laffan Industrial Center.

The cable was sent in February 2009 to US embassies around the world by the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP), which operates under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.

Embassy staff were asked “for their input on critical infrastructure and key resources within their host country which, if destroyed, disrupted or exploited, would likely have an immediate and deleterious effect on the United States.”

Responding to what is arguably the most compromising leak released by Wikileaks to date, a Downing Street spokesman said this morning: “We unequivocally condemn the unauthorised release of classified information.

“The leaks and their publication are damaging to national security in the United States, Britain and elsewhere.

“It is vital that governments are able to operate on the basis of confidentiality of information.”

Extradition fight

The latest batch of disclosures come as the lawyer for the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange vowed to fight moves to extradite his client from the UK to Sweden.

“An anti-American operative with blood on his hands” Sarah Palin’s description of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

Swedish authorities are seeking to question Mr Assange regarding sex allegations, which his lawyer Mark Stephens has branded a “political stunt”.

Mr Stephens said Mr Assange would “certainly” fight deportation on the grounds that it could lead to him being handed over to the US, where senior politicians have called for him to be executed.

He said that the WikiLeaks site – which was last week forced to move to a Swiss host after being dumped by US internet companies – had come under siege from “a huge number of cyber-attacks”.

The organisation held further secret material which it regarded as a “thermo-nuclear device” to be released if it needs to protect itself, he said.

Mr Assange has come under growing pressure from politicians in the US and around the world after his WikiLeaks site started publishing excerpts from a cache of 250,000 secret American diplomatic cables last week.

Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has described him as “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands” and called for him to be hunted down like a Taliban leader, while another senior Republican Mike Huckabee has said that “anything less than execution is too kind a penalty” for what he has done.

International arrest warrant

Swedish prosecutors have sent an international arrest warrant to the Metropolitan Police, seeking his extradition for questioning on allegations – which he strongly denies – of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.

The international police agency, Interpol, has issued a “Red Notice” branding Mr Assange “Wanted”, urging people to contact police with information about his whereabouts.

Meanwhile, the isolation of Mr Assange continued with Switzerland’s PostFinance closing his bank account.

A statement on PostFinance‘s website read: “The decision comes after it was revealed that Assange provided false information regarding his place of residence wehn opening the account.

“Assange cannot provide proof of residence in Switzerland and thus does not meet the criteria for a customer relationship with PostFinance.”

Mr Stephens said today that Sweden’s chief prosecutor had told Mr Assange in September that there was no case for him to answer, following complaints against him by two women, but the investigation was revived following the intervention of a Swedish politician.

He said that Swedish prosecutors knew where Mr Assange was and urged them to call him to discuss the case.

He added: “It is interesting to note that people as high up the American tree as Sarah Palin have called for him to be hunted down by American forces like the Taliban and assassinated.

“This is about a man who is a journalist. He received, unbidden, an ‘electronic brown envelope’ like journalists receive every day of the year.

“This particular journalist has put it out and what they are doing is criminalising him, criminalising journalistic activity.”