Sunday, December 5, 2010

WikiLeaks Struggles to Stay Online as Hostility Grows

Hugh Collins

Hugh Collins Contributor

(Dec. 5) -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is working to keep his whistle-blower website online and the project funded amid growing hostility from governments and business partners.

"The man is a high-tech terrorist," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this morning on NBC's "Meet the Press." His website's release of thousands of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables caused "enormous damage to our country and, and to our relationships with our allies around the world."

"He needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," McConnell said.
Founder of the Wikileaks website Julian Assange arrives for a press conference on October 23, 2010 during a press conference at the Park Plaza hotel in central London to release previously secret files on the Iraq war.
Leon Neal, AFP/Getty Images
Founder of the Wikileaks website Julian Assange arrives for a press conference in central London on Oct. 23.

Assange has drawn the ire of governments across the world after WikiLeaks published thousands of confidential diplomatic messages. The messages, known as cables, showed fraught relations between the U.S. and countries such as Pakistan and Mexico.

This widespread anger is now translating into financial pressure on WikiLeaks. The site lost a major source of revenue on Friday when online payment service provider PayPal cut off the WikiLeaks account. PayPal said that WikiLeaks had violated its policy about using the system to "encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity."

Assange is now seeking donations to an account under his name with the Swiss postal service and using a Swiss-Icelandic credit card processing center, The Associated Press reported. A Swiss Post spokesman said that Assange would have to prove that he lives in or near Switzerland, or does business in Switzerland, if he wants to continue using a Postfinance bank account.

The Swiss domain WikiLeaks.ch became the site's main access point on Friday after a series of cyber attacks forced it to leave WikiLeaks.org.

But the website has had trouble staying online even since the move. The French server for WikiLeaks.ch went offline today, forcing the domain to be redirected to another server, The AP said. It is not clear why the French server stopped working.

Assange is currently wanted in Sweden on allegations of sexual offenses. The United States has not filed any charges against him.

Switzerland "should very carefully consider whether to provide shelter to someone who is on the run from the law," Donald Beyer, U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, said, according to the AP.

WikiLeaks first came to prominence earlier this year when it released a video that showed U.S. military personnel in Iraq shooting at civilians. A Reuters photographer and his driver died in the 2007 incident.

The site has published thousands of confidential documents this year.

The latest batch of documents showed the tense relationship between the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East over the issue of terrorist financing, The New York Times reported.

The diplomatic memos highlighted difficulties with terrorist financing in the United Arab Emirates ("a strategic gap" for terrorists to exploit), Qatar ("the worst in the region" for counterterrorism,") and Kuwait ("a key transit point").

The frustrations were particularly acute when dealing with ally Saudi Arabia. Diplomatic messages portray the Saudi authorities as unwilling or unable to take serious action against fundraising.

"It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority," a classified memo sent by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

"Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide," the message said, according to The New York Times.

Authorities in the United States suspect that huge sums of money are raised in Saudi Arabia for terrorists, including during the annual religious pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina.

Other diplomatic messages raise allegations about the dispute between Internet giant Google and the Chinese government.

One memo quotes an unnamed source as saying that high-level Chinese officials directed cyber attacks against the company, the AP reported.

Google has tense relations with Chinese authorities. In January, the company said it no longer wanted to cooperate with Chinese web censorship after a series of cyber attacks. In March, Google shut down its mainland China-based search engine.

A separate source mentioned in the cable said Chinese politicians were "working actively with Chinese Internet search engine Baidu against Google's interests in China," the AP said.

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Another cable suggested that a top Chinese official ordered that action be taken against Google after doing an Internet search for his own name and finding critical comments among the results.

WikiLeaks has found some allies as it deals with its own Internet problems.

The Swiss Pirate Party said that supporters of WikiLeaks were creating "mirrors" of the site on their own servers. This could mean that copies of the site will remain online, even if the main site is shut down. The Swiss Pirate Party controls the wikileaks.ch Web address.

"There are hundreds of mirrors of WikiLeaks now," Swiss Pirate Party Vice President Pascal Gloor said, according to the AP. "It's a test for Internet censorship. Can governments take something off the net? I think not."
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