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Secrets are safe as WikiLeaks, starved of funds, halts operations

WikiLeaks will not release any more secrets until it can raise enough money to keep going, according to the clandestine group's website. It has been choked by financial institutions that no longer process online donations to WikiLeaks.

By Staff writer / October 24, 2011

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Call it "the empire strikes back" – against WikiLeaks.

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The self-described anticensorship website announced Monday that it is calling a halt to releasing secrets until it can raise enough money to keep its operation going. On the WikiLeaks website, its operators declared it to be the victim of a "blockade" by financial institutions that refuse to process online donations to the organization.

"We are forced to temporarily suspend publishing whilst we secure our economic survival," the website said. "For almost a year we have been fighting an unlawful financial blockade. We cannot allow giant US finance companies to decide how the whole world votes with its pocket. Our battles are costly. We need your support to fight back. Please donate now."

While the website lists a half-dozen ways to donate, including bank transfers and even "via good old fashion postal mail," most people have used credit cards such as MasterCard and Visa – and that method no longer works. Neither does PayPal. Those companies ended their business relationships with WikiLeaks after it began leaking official US secrets, saying the site risked involving them in activity the US government might deem illegal. A PayPal official in Paris last year acknowledged that PayPal felt pressure to cut its WikiLeaks ties after a State Department letter to WikiLeaks warned the group it was holding documents illegally.

WikiLeaks has given the US government fits by releasing hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and other secret documents on its many "mirror" websites all over the world.

Blocking or shutting down WikiLeaks itself was never a realistic option for US authorities, say experts who have studied the issue. But government might not need to bother – if banks choked off the flow of funds to WikiLeaks simply by not doing business with it, observers say.

"If you close down the avenues where people can contribute easily ..., by requiring them to use a different system or different means, then only the diehards will find a way to contribute," says Jez Littlewood, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies in the International Affairs Department at Carleton University, who has studied WikiLeaks. "It should be no surprise that part of the national-security response would likely focus on the finances of WikiLeaks."

WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange gained both applause and condemnation after releasing a trove of secret US documents, from diplomatic cables to military gun-camera video showing helicopter attacks that killed two unarmed Iraqi civilians.

But WikiLeaks may have also undercut its reputation by going public with information that seemed likely to cause harm, with little broad benefit. Last December, the group released a secret list of critical infrastructure worldwide that US officials said could easily be used by terrorists to pick targets.

It also released 91,000 documents WikiLeaks dubbed the "Afghan War Diary," leaked to newspapers worldwide. The documents contained names of dozens of Afghans who tried to help US forces – including their home villages and family names, according to a report by the Times of London. A Taliban spokesman later said it would target those people.

Even news organizations known for publishing anything blanched over that. While WikiLeaks said it withheld 15,000 documents in the Afghan War Diary case, and it got a flood of donations after the release, critics such as Reporters without Borders declared the naming of names to be "incredibly irresponsible," writes Joel Brenner, former national counterintelligence executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in his new book "America the Vulnerable."

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