Another day, another flurry of media reports stemming from the ongoing leak of sensitive diplomatic cables by the Website Wikileaks. Reports have surfaced that the group is in disarray now that Wikileaks chief Julian Assange was denied bail by a UK court, even as hacktivists try to take down the Web sites of individuals and corporations that have been pulled into the scandal.
The big news in the day since Julian Assange turned himself in to a UK court on Monday the rash of Internet-based distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and counter-attacks carried out by Wikileaks supporters and opponents. As we reported yesterday, the hacktivist/trolling umbrella group Anonymous put online payment giant PayPal as well as the Web sites of Mastercard and Visa in its crosshairs after those organizations announced that that they would stop handling donations to the group. The attacks were part of a larger and long-running campaign dubbed “Operation Payback” that is loosely designed to promote Anonymous’s libertarian agenda online. As of Wednesday, the Website of Mastercard was not reachable, though those of Paypal, Visa USA and Visa Europe were still online.
Explaining his company’s decision to stop donations to Wikileaks, a Paypal executive seemed to suggest that it was pressured by the U.S. Department of State into doing so, with State arguing that Wikileaks was engaged in illegal activity – a clear violation of Paypal’s Terms of Service, the Guardian reported.
Payment firms weren’t the only targets, either. The Web site belonging to the Swedish Prosecution Authority, which is pursuing sexual assault and rape charges against Assange was temporarily knocked offline, as was the Web site of Anonymous itself. Both were online as of Wednesday.
In other news, Wired.com is reporting that Assange’s arrest has thrown his organization into disarray, despite careful planning for the eventuality of his arrest. According to the report by Kevin Poulsen, Assange centralized responsibility for carrying on the site’s operation in a small circle of trusted insiders, leaving legions of Wikileaks staffers without access to information they needed to communicate with hundreds of volunteers that help keep the site running. “The organization will most likely start to fall apart now,” one source inside Wikileaks is quoted as telling Wired.
Of course, an endemic environment of internal dissention hasn’t hurt Wikileaks so far, and the organization last night pushed out yet another batch of leaked diplomatic cables on Tuesday evening. That’s going to make it all the harder for Assange and Wikileaks to “return” the stolen documents to the United States, as U.S. Department spokesperson PJ Crowley
told the BBC that U.S. Government hopes he will. Of course, given more than 500 mirror Web sites hosting the leaked cables and reports of a “poison pill” release of super-sensitive documents, hoping for the Wikileaks genie to be put back in the bottle may be far-fetched.
As the releases continue, they’ve generated lots of commentary and discussion. Threatpost has already weighed in here noting that much of the real blame for the leak and the collateral damage that will flow from it must lie with the U.S. Government and Pentagon, which failed to protect the crown jewels of its global diplomatic corps. Others have commented, also. Notably: this post from Seattle Journalist Clay Shirky, which does a fine job of weighing the democratic impulse to make information free and government transparent, with the obvious need for international actors to be able to communicate confidentially.
Julian Assange photo via espenmoe‘s Flickr photostream.