WikiLeaks and Julian Assange: Stateless, penniless pariahs?

In the latest blow, online payment service PayPal has cut off WikiLeaks. Meanwhile, WikiLeaks has been forced to move from website to website, and Julian Assange has gone to ground.

By , Staff writer

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    WikiLeaks' American domain name system provider withdrew service to the wikileaks.org name after the website became the target of hacker attacks. EveryDNS said in a statement that it dropped the website late Thursday because the attacks threatened the rest of its network. WikiLeaks responded by moving to a Swiss domain name, wikileaks.ch.
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WikiLeaks and its beleaguered founder Julian Assange are beginning to look like stateless, penniless pariahs. And yet they continue to dominate the news as government secrets keep emerging, along with the likelihood that inside information about US corporations will be revealed as well.

In the latest blow, the online payment service PayPal has cut off WikiLeaks. On its blog, PayPal says that WikiLeaks has violated a policy "which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity."

Trying to donate money to WikiLeaks via PayPal now generates an error message saying "this recipient is currently unable to receive money."

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Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports from Berlin, WikiLeaks has become an “Internet vagabond … forced to move from one website to another as governments and hackers hounded the organization, trying to deprive it of a direct line to the public.”

That began Wednesday when Amazon bounced WikiLeaks from its cloud-based servers.

Another major provider of domain name system services, EveryDNS in Manchester, New Hampshire, stopped directing traffic to wikileaks.org Thursday after it said cyber attacks threatened the rest of its network.

“Wikileaks.org has become the target of multiple distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks,” the company reported on its website. “These attacks have, and future attacks would, threaten the stability of the EveryDNS.net infrastructure, which enables access to almost 500,000 other websites.”

It was a tough decision for the New Hampshire company.

“First, let’s be clear, this is a difficult issue to deal with and there are opinions on all sides,” the company post reads. “Second, EveryDNS.net, the world’s largest free managed DNS provider, is not taking a position on the content hosted on the wikileaks.org or wikileaks.ch website, it is following established policies so as not to put any one EveryDNS.net user’s interests ahead of any others. Lastly, regardless of what people say about the actions of EveryDNS.net, we know this much is true – we believe in our New Hampshire state motto, Live Free or Die.”

On Saturday, WikiLeaks was still available on two European-based domains, http://www.wikileaks.nl/and www.wikileaks.de. And on Twitter, WikiLeaks showed no signs of backing down: “The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops.”

Speaking of troops, American service personnel and other government employees now are being dissuaded from perusing WikiLeaks online.

According to an e-mail sent to all federal offices Friday and obtained by Talking Points Memo, agencies are to immediately tell their employees to “safeguard classified information” by not accessing WikiLeaks via the Internet.

US politicians have been swift to criticize WikiLeaks and the media outlets that published more than 250,000 sensitive and classified diplomatic cables – some calling for prosecuting the website and its founder for treason. But the rogue website is not without its defenders.

“In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth,” Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas tweeted. “In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble.”

Although he’s remained out of sight in recent days, Julian Assange is being heard from – including in an online chat Friday with readers of the British newspaper the Guardian.

At one point in the Guardian chat, Assange was asked whether it might not have been better if WikiLeaks had remained anonymous rather than focused on one controversial individual such as himself.

“I originally tried hard for the organization to have no face, because I wanted egos to play no part in our activities,” he replied, but then added: “In the end, someone must be responsible to the public and only a leadership that is willing to be publicly courageous can genuinely suggest that sources take risks for the greater good. In that process, I have become the lightening rod. I get undue attacks on every aspect of my life, but then I also get undue credit as some kind of balancing force.”

WikiLeaks and Assange could be put out of business one day. But it may be impossible to prevent other self-styled “watchdog” organizations from doing the same thing.

“I think the basic concept has a future,” Steven Aftergood, who works on government secrecy policy for the Federation of American Scientists, told the AP. “Anonymous disclosure of restricted records is easier than it has ever been. The virtues of transparency and government accountability are more widely recognized than they have ever been. Those two factors together provide a foundation for this kind of activity.”

“Whether it will be Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks or … another initiative remains to be seen,” he said.

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