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Will WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, now arrested, take the 'nuclear' option?

WikiLeaks' Julian Assange has threatened to release 'key parts' of secret US documents if anything happened to him or WikiLeaks.

By Staff writer / December 7, 2010

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is shown as he speaks during a NGO conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 5.

Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/AP/File

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Now that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested, will he unleash his "thermonuclear device?"

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He appeared to hint at the option last week, when he threatened that “key parts” of secret US government cables would be released if anything happened to him or WikiLeaks.

The "thermonuclear device," so named by Mr. Assange's lawyer, is believed to refer to a mysterious 1.4 GB file labeled "insurance" that was uploaded onto the WikiLeaks website in late July, just after the website published 77,000 Afghan war documents.

The file, believed to include the more than 251,000 US State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks, is seen as an insurance policy for the embattled WikiLeaks in case of potential attacks on its founder or its website before the full trove is made available to the public.

“... this is, I think, what they believe to be a thermonuclear device effectively in the electronic age,” Mr. Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, said Sunday during an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

The encrypted file has since been downloaded by tens of thousands of supporters, according to The Sunday Times, though the 256-digit code believed to unlock it has not yet been released. The Times added that the cache was suspected to include unredacted documents on BP and the US-run Guantánamo Bay detention facility.

'Insurance policy'

Assange appeared to refer to the file on Dec. 3 during a Q&A with the public on the Guardian’s website, but characterized it only as including the State Department cables.

“The Cable Gate archive has been spread, along with significant material from the US and other countries to over 100,000 people in encrypted form," he said in the online forum. "If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically. Further, the Cable Gate archives is in the hands of multiple news organizations.”

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