Another blow for WikiLeaks as PayPal cuts off funds
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Saturday, December 4, 2010 2:55PM EST
The Internet whistleblower site WikiLeaks took another hit Saturday, when the online payment service PayPal cut off the account it used to collect donations.
WikiLeaks, which embarrassed Washington and foreign leaders last week by releasing a cache of secret -- and brutally frank -- U.S. diplomatic cables, has already become an Internet pariah of sorts.
The U.S.-based Amazon.com kicked the WikiLeaks site from its servers Wednesday, forcing it to move back to a Swedish provider, and other servers stopped directing traffic to WikiLeaks because of continuing cyber attacks on the site that threatened the rest of their networks.
The WikiLeaks site was difficult to reach Saturday, but the organization found a new online home in France.
French newspaper Le Monde said in an online article that it could not provide links to the site "as a result of the computer attacks WikiLeaks has suffered and the refusal of some Internet hosts and countries to take in the site."
The web-hosting company OVH confirmed that it had been hosting WikiLeaks since early Thursday, after a client asked for a "dedicated server with ... protection against attacks."
The company added that it was now up to the courts to decide on the legality of hosting the site on French soil.
PayPal, a subsidiary of U.S.-based online marketplace operator EBay Inc., said it had cut off WikiLeaks because of a violation of its policy against "any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity."
A spokesperson for PayPal Germany on Saturday declined to elaborate on the official blog posting.
PayPal is one of several ways WikiLeaks collects donations, and until now was probably the most secure and convenient way to support the organization.
The other options listed on WikiLeaks' website are through mail to an Australian post office box, through bank transfers to accounts in Switzerland, Germany or Iceland as well as through one "credit card processing partner" in Switzerland.
While WikiLeaks vows to make the world a more transparent place, very little is known about its day-to-day operations. It has no headquarters, few if any paid staff and its finances remain opaque.
The Wau Holland Foundation, named after a German hacker, is WikiLeaks' main financial backer. The site is believed to operate on an annual budget of about $200,000.
Since the release of thousands of diplomatic documents, the foundation's president Winfried Motzkus has said that Wau Holland has collected $1 million for WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks has been brought down numerous times this week by what appear to be denial-of-service attacks.
In a typical such attack, remote computers commandeered by rogue programs bombard a website with so many data packets that it becomes overwhelmed and unavailable to visitors. Pinpointing the culprits is difficult because the attacks are relatively easy to mount and can be performed by amateurs.
Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders on Saturday condemned the personal attacks on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and "the blocking, cyber-attacks and political pressure."
"We are shocked to find countries such as France and the United States suddenly bringing their policies on freedom of expression into line with those of China," the organization said in a statement.
Documents show China obsessed with Google
As pressure on WikiLeaks grew Saturday, another leaked document from the site suggested that top Chinese leaders became obsessed with the Internet search company Google for the simple reason that they were Googling themselves.
The May 18, 2009, secret cable from the American Embassy in Beijing quoted a well-placed source as saying that Li Changchun, a member of China's top ruling body and the country's senior propaganda official, was shocked to discover that he could conduct Chinese-language searches on Google's main international Web site.
When Mr. Li typed his name into the search engine at google.com, he found "results critical of him," the cable said.
That cable was one of many made public by WikiLeaks portraying China's leadership as obsessed with the threat posed by the Internet to their grip on power -- and simultaneously by the opportunities it offered them, through hacking, to obtain secrets stored in computers of its rivals, especially the United States.
Extensive Chinese hacking operations, including one leveled at Google, are a central theme in the cables. The hacking operations began earlier and were aimed at a wider array of American government and military data than generally known, including attacks on computers of American diplomats preparing positions on a climate change treaty.
Google finally decided to pull out of China last spring in the wake of the successful hacking attack on its home servers, which yielded Chinese dissidents' e-mail accounts as well as Google's proprietary source code.
The U.S. is currently conducting a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks' release of the diplomatic cables.
And legal pressure increased on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after Swedish authorities revised a warrant for his arrest in response to procedural questions from British officials.
British authorities have refused to say if or when Assange would be arrested. His lawyers have said they believe they would be notified of any move to arrest him but had yet to be served with a warrant.
The 39-year-old Australian is wanted on allegations of rape and other sex crimes that emerged after a trip to Sweden in August.
With files from The Associated Press