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Julian Assange claims his site needs twice the weekly operating expenses of Wikipedia to stay afloat. Wikileaks does not publish how its funding is used or where it goes.  (Source: CNN)
Wikileaks demands twice the annual budget of Wikipedia as security community wages civil war over site

Wikileaks is and always has been both dependent and associated with its founder, Julian Assange.  Now it faces an uncertain future in many regards.

I. Wikileaks' Messy Predicament

Mr. Assange currently resides in Britain free on bail while awaiting extradition on sex crimes charges in Sweden.  While some believe the Sweden incident to be a setup by the U.S. and other enemies of the site, the U.S. appears to be considering more direct methods of prosecution.  According to CNN and other news outlets, Mr. Assange may face extradition to the U.S. to face additional charges after his sex crimes trial wraps up.

As a result of this situation, Wikileaks has fallen almost completely silent for the last three months.  Many are already predicting that the site may have "one foot in the grave."

Opinions aside, the hard reality is that Wikileaks only appears to have one major document left in its leaks storehouse -- a Bank of America hard drive with supposed incriminating financial documents.  However, the site is moving at a glacial pace in publishing that document.

Meanwhile the Wikileaks organization -- or its founder Julian Assange, perhaps -- is in financial trouble.

The Australian claimed in an interview with Swiss newspaper Tribune de Geneve that he's losing $600,000 USD per week.

Now most of Wikileaks hosting these days is done on a volunteer basis since Wikileaks lost its primary domain name and hosting.  Likewise, most Wikileaks members are volunteers.  And while Mr. Assange's legal expenses are mounting, it seems unlikely that they've reached $2.4M USD per month-- approximately twice the monthly operating expenses of the much larger Wikipedia.

Mr. Assange has not made it clear why the site needs $2.4M USD a month, or $31.2M USD a year to stay in business.  In fact Wikileaks never publishes complete disclosures of who its funders are or what it does with the money.  As CNN puts it, "Where that money is going, or what it's paying for, is unclear."

Jonathan Zittrain, an internet law and computer science professor at Harvard University, tells CNN in an interview, "WikiLeaks could well be a flash in the pan. It's not exactly a site with an apparent solid business plan or stable group of founders."

II. Assange Divides the Leaks Community

If Wikileaks falls it likely will be in part due to its intimate association with Mr. Assange.  Some view Mr. Assange as a relatively radical figure.  In the 1990s, he edited one of the preeminent works on the hacking scene in the late 80s and early 90s.  In that book, Mr. Assange writes that hackers should be anarchists rather than cooperate with government authorities.

One of Mr. Assange's noisiest critics is somebody who was once his second-hand man and close friend -- Daniel Domscheit-Berg.  He criticizes that Assange chose to, in some cases, directly publish state secrets rather than handing them over to discerning experts in the free media who could filter legitimate leaks from damaging, but non-incriminating material.

He also has criticized Mr. Assange's seeming obsession with the U.S. (over 97 percent of leaks on Wikileaks are documents from or pertaining to the U.S.) and the way he runs the site.  In his new book, "Inside Wikileaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website", Mr. Domscheit-Berg calls Mr. Assange a megalomaniac and paints him as someone unfit to be leading a major journalistic institution.

Despite the criticism, Mr. Assange isn't backing away from being the face of his site.  On February 9 he held a fundraising event, dubbed "Dinner for Free Speech", where he greeted donors in canned video form at their dinner parties worldwide.

And he's keeping his eye on his goal of getting $31M USD, selling T-Shirts dubbed "Free Julian".  The T-Shirts are sold on Wikileaks homepage, which is accessible despite the loss of the "Wikileaks.org" domain name.

Mr. Assange has even set up a Facebook page, on which he pleads, "I need your help. Please give."

The page offers a donations link to PayPal account, though it's unclear how long that account will last, given the fact that PayPal already cut off Wikileaks primary account for encouraging legal activity.

III. Civil War in the Security Community

HBGary Federal, a top security company composed of veteran hackers of all hat colors, is finding itself in a growing war with the hacker group "Anonymous" over its work to undermine Wikileaks.

While the accuracy of the material is certainly questionable, documents posted to The Pirate Bay by Anonymous indicate that HBGary was looking to use social engineering and other techniques to damage Wikileaks and prevent its further releases of information from gaining traction.

According to the documents HBGary was contracted by, cooperating with, or offering services to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Bank of America.

It appears the pro-Wikileaks hackers are winning against the purportedly anti-Wikileaks security firm.  As of this week HBGary Federal's phone lines to its Colorado offices are down, as is the company's website.  Data has been illegally obtained from the company servers, including what Anonymous claims is internal company emails.  Company fax machines spilled out torrents of faxes proclaiming, "We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. ..."

Jim Butterworth, a vice president at HBGary Inc., HBGary Federal's sister company, states, "What has happened here is a crime. We were hacked. But it's more than that. Our employees are getting calls from (Anonymous) making physical threats. People were concerned about their physical safety.  This is thuggery at this point."

Both Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce deny working with or contracting HBGary.

Anonymous has also attacked Visa, MasterCard, and other financial institutions using infected computers to form an attacking distributed denial of service (DDoS) botnet.  The botnet was assisted by personal DDoS attacks from Anonymous members who downloaded special software dubbed "Ion Cannon" designed to spam a targeted website with requests.

Several individuals in the UK have been arrested and charged in relation to the attacks.  And federal authorities in the U.S., with charges possibly pending, have raided homes of Anonymous members.

In response to those arrests, Anonymous has called on hackers to wage "war" against the government of Britain.

The hacker community has been largely divided on the topic of Wikileaks ever since the arrest of Bradley Manning, the Pentagon leaker who was turned in by former black-hat hacker and computer criminal Adrian Lamo.  Like HBGary, Mr. Lamo has found himself the subject to a mix of both hate mail, including death threats, and messages of support ever since he played a part in challenging Wikileaks.

We spoke with Mr. Lamo about his experience and he tells us, "Clearly, I'm not of the belief that witness intimidation can be a valid form of protected speech. The First Amendment was not intended to pervert the course of justice. I certainly will not be changing my course of conduct in response to illegal efforts by the 'nothing-should-be-secret' crowd." 

IV. If Wikileaks Goes, What's Next?

Faced with financial troubles, increasing association with illegal activity from groups like Anonymous, and criticism by former supporters, Wikileaks may be in trouble.  But even if the site departs suddenly or slowly from its position of internet infamy, its legacy of promoting online leaks will likely remain.

Even former member and critic Mr. Domscheit-Berg acknowledges this in his creation of OpenLeaks.org, a site that promises to only leak to reputable news organization and to be transparent about its procedures and finances.

Other rival sites include anonleaks.ru, Anonymous's pet project.  Where as OpenLeaks looks to tread closer to legality, anonleaks heads in the opposite direction, looking to be a place for hackers to directly post the information and secrets they illegally obtain.  Currently the site is largely devoted to the campaign against HBGary and contains a wealth of information that was likely illegally obtained from the security firm.

Other leaks sites have also popped up looking to focus on special interest topics.  One example is the various environmental leaks sites.  Currently GreenLeaks.com and GreenLeaks.org are vying for the top environmental leaking position.

While Wikileaks leaking future on the web is uncertain, the prospects of there being leaks on the web are virtually unquestionable.  States Professor Zittrain, "The idea that leaks can happen, whether by a turncoat employee or an Exxon Valdez-sized spill of data due to a hack, is more enduring [than Wikileaks itself]."



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Send Assange to prison and let Wikileaks die
By Beenthere on 2/24/2011 5:47:01 PM , Rating: -1
There has been no redeeming value to wikileaks. It has likely resulted in death and worse for operatives. Assange is a convicted hacker and faces rape charges. This guy is not a savior by any means. He belongs in prison for his crimes.




By DecentDiscourse on 2/24/2011 6:26:04 PM , Rating: 2
I disagree. It's not as simple as that. There was redeeming value to learning SOME of what was released, but their fatal flaw and the one that caused me to sour on Assange, was their negligence.

Responsible news organizations are very careful to weigh what the public needs to know vs. what should remain protected. It's not easy. The two goals are mutually exclusive for the most part. And it takes a lot of time and effort.

Wikileaks seems to be sloppy at this process at best. There was stuff in those state dept leaks which had no value other than to titillate at the expense of damaging relations.Afghanistan material had names that should not have been released, plus reams of other material that just didn't serve a public purpose.

Same with Anon's pilfering of HBGary, HBGary Federal emails. Some of that stuff was very deserving of public airing, but a lot of it was not. But again, the concept of journalism is being simplified to data dumps. Not to mention, no journalistic organization I know of actually steals what they're going to publish except for Brit tabloids. To be fair, Anon has not claimed any sort of journalistic mandate.

The problem is that this puts the whole idea of leaks in a bad light, intimidates possible leakers and that leads to the ability of bad people to keep their secrets safe once again. That's something we don't need. There's a lot of dirty crap going on. We'll see how Wiki does on the unnamed major bank. It's hard to imagine what would not be in the public interest there, but we'll have to wait and see.

My guess is Assange will trade his freedom for not releasing that bank info and other info. The US via their proxy the Swedes, will get the message through that life will be unbearable, not just bad, if he doesn't cut a deal. I would guess that he's intercoursed, well and truly. The US will let him know what life is like in a SuperMax prison and then dare him to use his "nuclear" option.


By snyper256 on 2/24/2011 10:22:41 PM , Rating: 2
I think the bank info will still be released.
It will be amusing :)


RE: Send Assange to prison and let Wikileaks die
By chick0n on 2/24/11, Rating: 0
By JonB on 2/25/2011 8:16:24 AM , Rating: 2
Sounds like you are a money donor to his cause! Send him his millions to support his lifestyle. I'm sure he'll use part of it to fund the website.


By NellyFromMA on 2/25/2011 8:33:41 AM , Rating: 2
Seriously, if you think your blind summary you're casting judgement with is really the whole story, that truly is a testament to the good and bad of American society all at the same time. Truly, it is amazing that you can be SO ignorant about current events and draw those conclusions. You can thank the army and government for keeping you so safe that you can be as misguided as you are and probably never have to face the truth.


RE: Send Assange to prison and let Wikileaks die
By chick0n on 2/25/11, Rating: -1
By priusone on 2/25/2011 12:22:30 PM , Rating: 2
Have you spent any time over in the Middle East, or does this opinion of your come from what you read on the Internet or watched on CNN? If you think you are going to get the whole truth from ANY news outlet, you are sadly mistaken.

I disagree with your comment about our military killing millions of civilians, but hey, I only spent a year in the sand box.


RE: Send Assange to prison and let Wikileaks die
By Paj on 2/25/2011 5:22:37 AM , Rating: 2
No redeeming value? Its turned the entire world on its head.

The middle east is in revolution, attributable to sparks that wikileaks provided to pre-existing kindling.

No redeeming value? Hasnt the US been espousing 'democratic ideals' in the middle east for decades? As soon as it starts happening, you sit on your hands. What a joke. And Libya even has oil.

And to those who think the cables only affect the US - try casting the net a little wider.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileak...

Assange may or may not be a saint, the media circus surrounding him makes it difficult to be objective. But to deny the impact that Wikileaks is having is naive at best.


By NellyFromMA on 2/25/2011 8:42:10 AM , Rating: 1
How can you cheapen the experience and lives of the citizens in the middle east and Africa who have been in dire circumstances for quite some time. They didn't suddenly open their eyes because of Wikileaks... Give me a break... More readily accessible information absolutely has to do with it, but give me a break... those citizens didn't just suddenly read the Wikileaks cables and that pushed them over the edge into revolution. Wikileaks is NOT that relevant and NOT redeeming and for that matter NOT very responsible when it comes to the lives of American's or anyone they affiliate with so please stop putting the site and Assange [alleged sex-offender ;)] on some pedastle as if he has done something to promote peace or a better world.. I'm sure everyone here to some level can respect his sophisticated technical knowledge, but that isn't enough to outweigh his outlandish ignorance and blatant disgregard for human life at the cost of his personal agenda.


RE: Send Assange to prison and let Wikileaks die
By roykahn on 2/25/2011 9:25:49 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
his outlandish ignorance and blatant disgregard for human life


Excuse my ignorance, but exactly what did he do for you to claim the above? I would think that it's precisely because of his regard for human life that he helped expose the abuse of power not only of the US government and military, but of foreign leaders across the world.


RE: Send Assange to prison and let Wikileaks die
By drycrust3 on 2/25/2011 2:10:00 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I would think that it's precisely because of his regard for human life

Really? The Taliban threatened to behead any informers they caught. Please tell me that the Taliban wasted their time trawling through all those emails because Assange had either withheld emails with information that could identify informers or he had deleted that information before he released the relevant email to the public domain.
Please tell us!
What? You can't?
If you can't, then maybe your words lack substance.


By roykahn on 2/25/2011 4:16:40 PM , Rating: 2
You probably don't know that Wikileaks didn't release all the war logs in its possession. Some had sensitive information such as the identities of informants (like you mentioned) and were withheld. Maybe there was some information that shouldn't have gone out, but when you're dealing with the vast amount of information they had, then oversights can unfortunately happen.

When the Afghanistan war logs were released, Wikileaks and/or the New York Times consulted the Pentagon to ask if they thought any partcular leaks would cause harm to innocent people. The Pentagon did not assist. There was also an internal report done by the Pentagon that stated that the information that Wikileaks leaked did not jeapordize any existing operations or informants. However, that doesn't seem to have been reported by the mass media.

If you want more information on this, then please ask.


By Paj on 2/25/2011 11:40:01 AM , Rating: 2
You didnt read what I said. I said that Wikileaks provided a spark - I never said it was the sole cause.

The role of Wikileaks in the Jasmine revolution is widely known, as content from the diplomatic cables dealt with Tunisia and the government of Ben Ali specifically.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/15/world/africa/15t...

from the article:

quote:
The protesters, led at first by unemployed college graduates like Mr. Bouazizi and later joined by workers and young professionals, found grist for the complaints in leaked cables from the United States Embassy in Tunisia, released by WikiLeaks, that detailed the self-dealing and excess of the president’s family. And the protesters relied heavily on social media Web sites like Facebook and Twitter to circulate videos of each demonstration and issue calls for the next one.


As I said before - to argue that the effect of these cables is irrelevant is missing the point. The release of the cables has exposed the engine of lies that characterises all modern media outlets. To deny the impact of this seems wilfully ignorant - have you not noticed everyone talking about it? Governments across the world? The kilometres of column space devoted to the issue? This is the result of something with no impact or relevance? Get real.


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