NEW YORK CITY--Federal agents appeared at a hacker conference Friday morning looking for Julian Assange, the controversial figure who has become the public face of Wikileaks, an organizer said.
Eric Corley, publisher of 2600 Magazine and organizer of The Next HOPE conference in midtown Manhattan, said five Homeland Security agents appeared at the conference a day before Wikileaks Editor in Chief Assange was scheduled to speak.
The conference program lists Assange--who has been at the center of a maelstrom of positive and negative publicity relating to the arrest of a U.S. serviceman and videos the serviceman may have provided to the document-sharing site--as speaking at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday.
"If he shows up, he will be questioned at length," Corley told CNET. Assange did not immediately respond to questions late Friday.
Corley announced on April 19 that Assange would be a keynote speaker. But by June 14, after news of the arrest of Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning leaked, the conference was warning that Assange might remain outside of the United States for fear of being arrested on related charges.
One source close to Wikileaks indicated late Friday that it was still unclear whether Assange would show up in person or appear through a video conference (a third option would be for another Wikileaks representative to fill in). A conference security staffer said that after being told they needed search warrants to enter the event, at least two agents paid the $100 admission fee to get in.
"If they didn't have a search warrant, they'd have to pay to get in," said Corley, who also goes by the pen name Emmanuel Goldstein. "They did."
Assange has cancelled numerous public appearances in the United States in the last few months, or appeared through a video conference. But he did make a surprise appearance at the TED Global conference at Oxford University on Friday.
Manning was charged last week with sending classified information to a person not authorized to receive it and with obtaining "more than 150,000 diplomatic cables" from the State Department's computers.
In April, Wikileaks released a gritty video--which Manning allegedly sent to the organization--showing U.S. troops in Iraq destroying a vehicle that was preparing to rush a wounded Reuters journalist to the hospital. The Apache pilots appeared to mistake the Reuters news crew, who were holding cameras, for armed insurgents.
Manning is charged with two violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The charges could be heard by a court martial if a so-called Article 32 investigation, similar to a civilian grand jury hearing, decides there is enough evidence to proceed.