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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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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By roykahn on 2/25/2011 5:24:16 AM , Rating: 0
The New York Times cannot be trusted. They were one of the media companies that were given the war logs by Wikileaks and they showed their true colours by hiding many facts that would harm the reputation of the US government and military. They are loyal to their masters, not to the public. They also chose to run negative stories about Julian Assange, as if a couple of rape allegations can compare with the murder of thousands of civilians and the continued support for brutal dictators for the sake of economic activity and control of natural resources. It's truly ridiculous.

Most Americans do not realise how bad their media companies are and how undemocratic their society has become as a result. The amount of information that is suppressed from the public is truly horrifying. Wikileaks has helped expose this phenomenon, and yet most of the public are too brainwashed by their newstainment to see how uninformed they are and how much information is being kept from them and how the corruption and inhumanity of the world's elite is being hidden.

Go read some material from John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky, etc. to see how the media are complicit in corrupt government activities. Take a look at web sites like DemocracyNow, CommonDreams, and Alternet to see how they report on world events compared to traditional media sources. They do not simply repeat what the military and govnerment agencies tell them. They are not afraid to report things as they are and they do not shy away from reporting the illegal activities and schemings of the powerful.

Without sites/services like Wikileaks, the public will have less chance to be aware of evil-doings by their government, military, and corporate leaders. People in power must be accountable.


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