WikiLeaks sets sights on major U.S. bank, founder says

Julian Assange won't identify bank, though he said last year that WikiLeaks has obtained over 5GB of Bank of America data

The next target of WikiLeaks could be a major U.S. bank.

In a story published yesterday on Forbes.com, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is quoted as saying that whistleblower Web site is sitting on tens of thousands -- possibly even hundreds of thousands -- of sensitive internal documents from a large U.S. bank.

Assange did not identify the bank to Forbes, but he said that WikiLeaks will start posting the documents early next year. The leaked documents, he added, will offer a "true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms."

The documents are not isolated to a specific incident, but instead highlight a systematic pattern of what he called Enron-like violations and unethical practices.

"When Enron collapsed, through court processes, thousands and thousands of e-mails came out that were internal, and it provided a window into how the whole company was managed. It was all the little decisions that supported the flagrant violations," he said. "This will be like that."

In an interview with the IDG News Service last year, Assange contended that WikiLeaks had obtained a hard drive of an executive officer at the Bank of America that held close to 5GB of data.

During the interview at the 2009 Hack In The Box security conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Assange said WikiLeaks was working to find a way to present the leaked Bank of America material in an easy-to-browse fashion.

"It's a difficult problem," Assange had said at that time. "We could just dump it all into one giant Zip file, but we know for a fact that has limited impact. To have impact, it needs to be easy for people to dive in and search it and get something out of it."

Assange did not identify the targeted bank in the Forbes interview. Bank of America officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

News of the latest WikiLeaks plan comes amid growing questions about the legality of the whistleblower Web site's actions.

On Sunday, WikiLeaks released thousands of classified U.S. State Department cables that were apparently obtained from a relatively low-level U.S. Army intelligence officer. Earlier this year, the site released a similar set of documents pertaining to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were also obtained from the officer.

The release of the documents has stirred considerable outrage both domestically and on the international stage.

According to yesterday's Washington Post, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Defense are in the midst of an investigation to determine whether Assange has violated criminal laws in releasing the documents. According to the paper, the government is considering whether Assange can be charged with violating the Espionage Act.

Meanwhile, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to label WikiLeaks a terrorist organization and prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act.

Also following the latest release of classified documents, White House and Pentagon officials ordered sweeping reviews of processes for protecting classified data, and of policies on the use of USB drives and other removable storage media on government and military networks.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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