Julian Assange has called on the Obama administration to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate claims that the National Security Agency and its British counterpart GCHQ targeted WikiLeaks and its users.
Documents leaked by former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden claim the surveillance agencies considered using its powers against WikiLeaks and The Pirate Bay file-sharing website, as well as foreign branches of hacktivist groups, particularly Anonymous.
One document, claimed reporter Glenn Greenwald, "shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site. By exploiting its ability to tap into the fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet, the agency confided to allies in 2012, it was able to collect the IP addresses of visitors in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines like Google."
The disclosure was made by The Intercept, the website set up by former Guardian reporter Greenwald, who first broke the news of NSA surveillance last year.
Reckless and unlawful behaviour
Assange said WikiLeaks "strongly condemns the reckless and unlawful behaviour" of the NSA.
"We call on the Obama administration to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the extent of the NSA's criminal activity against the media including WikiLeaks and its extended network."
Assange said the NSA and GCHQ showed no respect for the rule of law.
"No entity, including the NSA, should be permitted to act against journalists with impunity. We have instructed our General Counsel Judge Baltar Garzon to prepare the appropriate response.
"Make no mistake. Those responsible will be held to account and brought to justice."
Garzon said the documents showed "the political prosecution of Wikileaks is very much alive".
"The paradox is that Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks organisation are being treated as a threat instead of what they are: a journalist and a media organisation that are exercising their fundamental right to receive and impart information in its original form, free from omission and censorship, free from partisan interests, free from economic or political pressure"
The documents leaked by Snowden include a question-and-answer session between the NSA's Office of the General Counsel and the Oversight and Compliance Office of the agency's Threat Operations Center.
A transcript shows how the NSA considered classifying Wikileaks as a "malicious foreign actor". As Greenwald explains: "Such a designation would have allowed the group to be targeted with extensive electronic surveillance - without the need to exclude US persons from the surveillance searches."
Greenwald claimed the documents "call into question the Obama administration's repeated insistence" that US citizens were not being spied on by the NSA. When agencies officials are asked if WikiLeaks or The Pirate Bay could be classified as "malicious foreign actors," they are told: "Let us get back to you."
One question reads: "Is it okay to target the foreign actors of a loosely couple group of hackers such as with Anonymous?"
The answer given is: "As long as they are foreign individuals outside of the US and do not hold dual citizenship... then you are okay."