[UPDATE, Saturday, June 12: Assange did not appear at the Las Vegas panel discussion last night. His whereabouts are not publicly known.]
The Defense Department is upset at Wikileaks and Assange for publishing a number of secret and sensitive documents, and the "Collateral Murder" video. The big fear now, according to reports, is that Assange has access to up to 260,000 classified State Department cables leaked by 22-year-old Army intelligence
specialist Bradley Manning (now jailed in Kuwait after being outed by hacker Adrian Lamo). From The Daily Beast:
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.
Unless this tweet from Wikileaks (presumably Assange himself) is a diversion, if there is a manhunt... they won't have to look far.
Vegas, eh? Then again, maybe he'll be Skypeing in from overseas. The whole thing is feeling awfully Spy Vs. Spy. Like an '80s movie, Wargames-ish, with brilliant but dense hackers sniping at each other from behind DOS terminals and changing the world with shell scripts while the U.S. Military lumbers behind them, bellowing, "ASSSANNNNNNNNGE!"
It should be said that at this time, I have no way of verifying the reported "Pentagon manhunt" for Assange, nor do we know where Assange is, nor do we know much about the reportedly-hotly-sought 260,000 "diplomatic cables." The "manhunt" could be one guy with a dot-gov email, not a vast, coordinated effort with all phasers set to kill. But again, we don't know. Yet.
Related: Wired News reports more on the contents of the chat sessions between Manning and Lamo, who turned over Manning to the government.
There's some really key stuff in the transcripts—one incident in particular, about being asked to "[evaluate] the arrest of 15 Iraqis rounded up by the Iraqi Federal Police for printing 'anti Iraq' literature"—all of which sheds light on why the 22-year-old may have been motivated to do what he is alleged to have done (and why he may have been compelled to unload his troubles to a stranger, Lamo, who then outed him to authorities).
The Iraqi federal police wouldn't cooperate with U.S. forces, so I was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the 'bad guys' were, and how significant this was for the FPs," he wrote. But when Manning had the literature translated, he discovered it was a scholarly critique of Iraq Prime Minister Al-Maliki titled Where Did the Money Go?, he wrote. The document was nothing more than a "benign political critique ... following the corruption trail within the PM's cabinet.
"I immediately took that information and ran to the [U.S. Army] officer to explain what was going on. He didn't want to hear any of it. He told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding MORE detainees."
Everything started slipping after that. I saw things differently. I had always questioned the [way] things worked, and investigated to find the truth. But that was a point where I was a part of something. I was actively involved in something that I was completely against.
( * Military censor Rob Beschizza contributed to the hedging and intemperate tone of this piece, as did an unnamed remote source. )