War on WikiLeaks and Assange: 6 Ways the Whistleblower Is Being Attacked and Suppressed
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"The first serious infowar is now engaged," tweeted EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow last Friday. "The field of battle is WikiLeaks."
Falling resoundingly on the wrong side of that battle are the governments of most major powers, some really bloodthirsty political figures, many financial institutions and Internet companies, and members of the media.
Here's a round-up of the efforts to attack, censor and suppress WikiLeaks.
1. Financial companies block services
Earlier this week Visa and MasterCard joined the proud list of financial institutions cowed into dropping service to WikiLeaks, announcing that they would suspend donations to the site. Visa said they needed to make sure WikiLeaks' activities did not clash with their "operating rules." As the Guardian points out, those high standards don't apply to other groups whose activities may raise cause for concern: "They claimed WikiLeaks breaches its rules, but you can still use those cards to support overtly racist organizations supported by the Ku Klux Klan."
Other companies using shoddy excuses to deny service to the site and/or customers who'd like to donate their money to a legal organization: the online money transfer company PayPal (owned by eBay) no longer takes customer donations to WikiLeaks. PostFinance, Swiss Post’s financial arm, froze the assets to the Julian Assange Defense fund. (PostFinance's website was down for almost two days, following a DDoS attack by hackers who have promised to target companies that deny WikiLeaks service. Today they went after MasterCard.)
2. Political threats against Assange and WikiLeaks
Actual government officials have publicly called for everything from Assange's assassination (because that would make the Internet go away) to charging the non-US citizen under the Espionage Act, to inventing laws that don't currently exist in order to jail him for something.
The Obama White House has made it clear they are pursuing strategies for shutting down WikiLeaks and punishing Assange; on Monday Eric Holder announced that he's involved in a criminal probe of the site, saying "People would be misimpressioned if they think the only thing we are looking at is the Espionage Act."
Assange remains in British custody after turning himself in a day after a warrant was issued for his arrest. The Independent UK reported today that US officials are in talks with the Swedish government about how to get Assange into US custody if he's extradited to Sweden.
3. Political threats against Americans reading the documents
In the meantime, government officials are trying to scare Americans about accessing the site. On Friday the Office of Budget and Management sent a memo to federal agencies instructing them to forbid employees from reading the cables. Employees who "accidentally" downloaded the documents are creepily instructed to tell their "information security offices.”
Soldiers who try to access news sites reporting on the documents trigger an online warning that tells them they may be breaking the law.
Last week, a State Dept. official suggested to Columbia School of International and Public Affairs that discussing the documents online could jeopardize students' job prospects, prompting the school to issue a warning about posting, or talking about, the cables on Twitter and Facebook. They walked back the statement Monday, but are prudent future diplomats likely to take the chance?
4. Government Pressure on Private Companies
Meanwhile, companies that do business with WikiLeaks have gotten both subtle and unsubtle cues to stop. A PayPal spokesperson said this morning that they decided to drop service to the site after receiving a letter from the State Department "saying that the WikiLeaks activities were deemed illegal in the United States." (update: PayPal's claim has turned out to be pretty exaggerated. The company now claims that they were actually acting in response to a letter the Justice Dept. sent to WikiLeaks, warning them that the material had been leaked illegally and that as long as they held it "the violation of the law is ongoing.")