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WikiLeaks hasn't fulfilled financial-aid pledge for suspect in leaks, group says

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 7, 2010; 10:36 PM

WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy Web site, has yet to make good on a July pledge to contribute financial aid to the legal defense fund of a U.S. Army private suspected of leaking classified documents to the site, the fund's director said Tuesday.

"It's a surprise to us that it hasn't happened yet," said Jeff Paterson, project director of Courage to Resist, an Oakland, Calif., group seeking to raise $100,000 toward legal fees for Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, who was charged five months ago in connection with the leaking of classified material.

Courage to Resist, a war resisters' group, so far has donated $50,000 to pay the fees of Manning's private attorney, David E. Coombs. But as of Tuesday, Paterson said, WikiLeaks had not transferred any money to him.

Late Tuesday, WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said in an e-mail that a misunderstanding about the status of the payment had been "rectified" and the "payment is being processed now."

At a panel discussion last week in London, Hrafnsson said the group had contributed to Manning's defense fund "a substantial amount of money," while insisting that WikiLeaks still does not know whether Manning was the source of the diplomatic cables and other classified material it has recently posted.

According to Paterson, Courage to Resist corresponded with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in July and on subsequent occasions confirming that WikiLeaks would cover about half of the expected fees, or $50,000, for Manning's defense. On its Twitter page, WikiLeaks frequently solicited donations for the defense fund through a German charity, the Wau Holland Foundation.

Paterson said that in an e-mail exchange Tuesday with a foundation official, he learned that the foundation had not yet been authorized by WikiLeaks to disburse the money. Foundation Vice President Hendrik Fulda said it was his understanding that 15,000 euros, about $20,000, would be set aside for the defense fund but he still needed to confirm that with WikiLeaks, according to Paterson.

"The contribution was informally agreed upon quite some time ago and that was relayed to the defense fund," Hrafnsson said in the e-mail. "I was under the impression it had been formally authorized as is required by the trustees [of the] Wau Holland Fund. This situation has now been rectified and the payment is being processed now."

Paterson said the development was "awesome." He said: "Super. I hope the check is in the mail."

WikiLeaks has engaged in an aggressive fundraising campaign and has raised about $1 million through Wau Holland, according to media reports.

But in recent days it has faced difficulties in keeping its conduits for donations open.

On Friday, the online money service PayPal cut off WikiLeaks' account, depriving the site of its principal - though not exclusive - means to receive contributions. The move froze 60,000 euros, or about $80,000, in donations to WikiLeaks, the group said in a statement.

The money was supposed to go to Wau Holland.

On Monday, Swiss bank PostFinance froze an account used for Assange's defense fund and personal assets of about 31,000 euros, or about $41,000, saying in a news release that Assange had "provided false information regarding his place of residence" when opening the account. Assange had stated he lived in Geneva. "Upon inspection, this information was found to be incorrect," the statement said.

Assange's failure to prove Swiss residency, a requirement to open an account with the banking arm of the Swiss postal service, entitled PostFinance to close the account, the statement said.

Fulda told Wired.com's Threat Level blog in September that WikiLeaks had authorized him to release funds from its account for Manning's defense. The money was expected to go to Courage to Resist, Wired.com reported.

At last week's panel discussion, Hrafnsson said Wau Holland would release a report by year's end detailing expenses and salaries for paid WikiLeaks staff, Wired.com said.

"We are a small but healthy organization," Hrafnsson told The Washington Post in October on the eve of WikiLeaks' release of more than 390,000 secret military field reports on the Iraq war. "We are limited in terms of money, but we have a lot of people who are active in their support in all aspects, both in technical expertise and journalists who are helping out and reviewing material."

Hrafnsson, an Icelandic journalist, put the number of volunteers "in the hundreds." He said a small number of people, including himself, are paid.

Manning is being held at a military facility in Quantico, pending the investigation. Coombs has said that he has yet to receive any evidence from the government to indicate that Manning was responsible for the alleged leaks.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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