Five things to know about WikiLeaks

web_photo_Julian Assange_20052017

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, May 19, 2017.

PARIS - WikiLeaks has been making headlines for more than a decade by releasing millions of classified documents, embarrassing governments worldwide while also raising fears that its activities may have put lives in danger.

The controversy surrounding founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden over rape accusations, has also polarised opinion on the group.

FILE: Ecuador's Foreign Minister Guillaume Long addresses the media after Swedish prosecutors dropped an investigation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Friday over a rape allegation, in Quito, Ecuador. CREDIT: Reuters.

Swedish prosecutors on Friday dropped their investigation, but Assange still faces the risk of arrest in Britain, and he fears he will be extradited to the United States and tried over the leaking of hundreds of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic documents.

Here are five things to know about WikiLeaks.

10 million leaks

While the WikiLeaks website was registered in 2006, the group began its operations in 2007, with Assange saying it would use encryption and a censorship-proof website to protect sources and publicise secret information.

WikiLeaks first caught the world's attention when it released manuals for US prison guards at Guantanamo Bay.

But it really hit its stride in 2010, when it worked with The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais to publish millions of classified diplomatic cables.

It has published more than 10 million leaked documents, to the dismay of politicians, governments and corporations.

Controversy strikes 

In its early days, WikiLeaks worked with dissidents worldwide to expose government secrets from the United States to Europe, China, Africa and the Middle East.

But over time, it has increasingly set its sights on the US and even come under suspicion that it might be working with Russia, claims that Assange has denied.

WikiLeaks raised a storm in July 2016 by releasing emails showing US Democratic Party officials favouring Hillary Clinton over left-winger Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary elections, forcing high-ranking party members to resign.

WikiLeaks was also accused of revealing the identity of a gay man in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. Again, the group denied the accusation.

Arrest warrant 

The worst scandals to affect WikiLeaks have been those involving Assange.

Hailed as a hero by supporters and reviled as a manipulator by critics, the white-haired Australian has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over rape allegations.

Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation on May 19, 2017.

British police, however, said they would still have to arrest Assange if he left the embassy, on the grounds that he had breached his bail.

Snowden and Manning

The huge release of memos known as "cablegate", which embarrassed governments worldwide, would not have been possible had it not been for US soldier Chelsea Manning, who handed WikiLeaks 700,000 classified documents.

FILE: Chelsea Manning, the transgender US Army soldier responsible for a massive leak of classified material, poses in a photo of herself for the first time since she was released from prison and post to social media on May 18, 2017. CREDIT: Reuters

She was given a 35-year prison sentence, which former US president Barack Obama commuted in January. Manning was freed on May 17, 2017.

Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has also received WikiLeaks's backing, though he did not use the group's site to publish his leaks about the National Security Agency.

Assange recommended he quickly flee to Moscow to evade prosecution in the US -- advice he heeded.

In the movies 

Two major films have been made about WikiLeaks -- "The Fifth Estate" (2013) and "Risk", a documentary that was screened at the Cannes film festival last year.

Assange meanwhile guest-starred as himself in an episode of "The Simpsons", recording his lines over the phone from the Ecuadoran embassy.