NEW YORK – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, secreted away in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, entered into a “Mexican stand-off” Sunday night with John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
As the drama unfolded overnight, suspicions built that the Clinton campaign had grown tired of Assange’s daily “drip, drip, drip” release of Podesta emails, with the ninth drop occurring earlier Sunday. A total of 12,073 emails have been released of a suspected trove of 50,000.
Despite being largely ignored by establishment media, the emails have done obvious damage to Clinton’s candidacy through wide circulation on the Internet.
The problem Podesta and the others in charge of the Clinton campaign face is that any attempt to apprehend Assange may not prevent the future release of more adverse emails.
WikiLeaks appears to be giving out clear signals on Twitter that any attempt to apprehend Assange could trigger the release of the most damaging information WikiLeaks holds, not only on Clinton and her presidential campaign, but on the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, on Ecuador and on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Politico reported Monday, meanwhile, a source close to the Clinton family said Hillary Clinton was “not really focused on the hack” but remains worried about the political impact. One longtime aide said “she’s pissed.”
The WikiLeaks drama builds
At 12:33 a.m. Eastern Time on Monday, WikiLeaks tweeted: “Julian Assange internet link has been intentionally severed by a state party. We have activated the appropriate contingency plans.”
The tweet suggested the possibility authorities in the U.K., perhaps with the encouragement of the U.S., were in the process of pressuring the Ecuadorian government to release Assange from his current refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy, freeing him to be extradited to the U.S. for criminal prosecution.
Roger Stone, the former Trump adviser known for his outspoken comments, weighed in on theory: “John Kerry has threatened the Ecuadorian President with ‘grave consequences for Equador’ if Assange is not silenced,” he tweeted, adding “Reports the Brits storm the Ecuadorian Embassy tonite while Kerry demands the UK revoke their diplomatic status so Assange can be seized.”
At about 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, WikiLeaks tweeted what appeared to be three “dead man” files, the first dealing with UK FCO [Foreign & Commonwealth Office], the second with Ecuador and the third with John Kerry.
A “dead man” file, in the vernacular of cyber-hackers, is considered a fail-safe measure in which the hacker sets up a file of the most damaging information to be released on the Internet if he is killed.
Speculation immediately developed on the Internet that Assange was dead.
“Praying for Julian. I hope he isn’t dead. This does look like an emergency dead man’s switch,” wrote one Reddit user.
The hacktivist group Anonymous posted what appeared to be live-streaming of British police storming the Ecuadorian Embassy in London at night. But on closer inspection, it became clear the group, in typically mischievous fashion, had simply re-posted an incident that took place four years ago.
At 9:53 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, the U.K. Ecuadorian Embassy Security office tweeted a photograph of Assange holding a sign that read “Transparency for the state! Privacy for the rest of us!”
The sign appeared to confirm Assange was alive and still within the protective custody of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Monday: The Mexican Stand-off Begins
Through the night, Internet experts in the U.S. worked to open without success the three “dead man” files WikiLeaks had posted on Twitter.
During Sunday night, an anonymous post from a source identified as “a low level intelligence officer, not CIA,” appeared to solve the puzzle of why the WikiLeaks “dead man” could not be opened, explaining the posting was aimed not at making the files public, but to make clear the files existed and were ready for release at any time.
The post read:
I’m a low-level intelligence officer, not CIA. The Tweets are SHA256 hashes, not keys. They signify that the files to come are real.
Read it here first: Ecuador has caved to pressure from Clinton & Co. Assange is being extradited. The situation is very fluid and he has threatened to kill himself if removed from the embassy.
The file hash is directed at Sec. Kerry as a direct threat.
No, I don’t have any proof I can share; these are diplo [diplomatic] cables I’m getting this from. But Assange will likely be imprisoned or dead in the next 12 hours.
If they get me for sharing this, at least I died a patriot.
There is no definitive way to determine whether the post is legitimate or another fraudulent scheme designed to build the drama.
What is clear is that Assange, if he can re-establish an Internet connection, will most likely continue the daily release of what WikiLeaks is calling “the Podesta file.”