Could WikiLeaks survive without Julian Assange?
Its founder is a wanted man, and its systems are under attack. But the website dedicated to releasing classified information has opened a Pandora’s Box that will be difficult to close.
Its founder is a wanted man, its systems are under attack, it is condemned from the capitals of the world.Skip to next paragraph
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But although the future is uncertain for WikiLeaks, the website dedicated to releasing classified information has opened a Pandora’s Box of secret-spilling that will be difficult to reverse.
WikiLeaks, which has triggered global governmental alarm by releasing reams of classified U.S. diplomatic cables, is facing attacks in cyberspace and in the legal sphere. The site is assailed by hackers and has been booted from its U.S. server. Frontman Julian Assange is in hiding and faces allegations of sexual misconduct.
“Whatever happens to the domain name and the actual organization, the idea unleashed by WikiLeaks is going to continue,” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab.
Ben Laurie, a data security expert who advised WikiLeaks before it launched in 2006, agreed.
“The concept is not going to die. It’s really hard to keep things shut down if they want to stay up,” he said. “Look at everything else people would like not to happen online – phishing, spam, porn. It’s all still there.”
Little is known about the day-to-day functioning of WikiLeaks. It has no headquarters, few if any paid staff – but a famous public face in Assange, a wiry 39-year-old Australian computer hacker with no permanent address.
Where is Julian Assange?
He’s on the cover of newspapers and magazines around the world, but he has not appeared in public for a month.
If British police arrest him, he will likely be caught up in a lengthy legal fight against extradition and could be jailed, his ability to operate as the face of WikiLeaks curtailed even further.
Assange denies the Swedish allegations, which his British lawyer, Mark Stephens, has said stem from a “dispute over consensual but unprotected sex.” (Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had Assange denying the "charges." He has not been charged.) He said Assange was happy to speak to Swedish prosecutors and had provided his contact details to authorities there and in Britain.
Assange also has made powerful enemies in the United States, especially since WikiLeaks released thousands of secret logs from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan earlier this year. With the latest leaks, U.S. politicians have called for him to be prosecuted for espionage – or worse.