The open-source whistleblower site, Wikileaks, which according to The National has “produced more scoops in its short life than the Washington Post has in the past 30 years,” has temporarily and voluntarily suspended its own service.
The staff of Wikileaks is making a direct plea on the Website for financial assistance, with a slogan proclaiming: “We protect the World - will you protect us?”
You may be forgiven for an immediate sense of déjà vu, given the recent similar plea on Wikipedia, although there is no relationship between the two sites.
Wikileaks is published by The Sunshine Press, a non-profit open-source organization receiving ad-hoc funding from human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists, and the general public. It came into being in December 2006 and quickly established its prominence as a global platform for whistleblowers, where anonymity was assured. It has since become a valuable source for researchers and investigative journalists.
Wikileaks has won several awards, including the Economist New Media Award in 2008 and Amnesty International’s New Media Award in 2009 for exposing hundreds of extra-judicial assassinations in Kenya.
So Wikileaks has proven its worth to the media, but all this comes at a price; and 2009 saw Wikileaks reviewing its “business” model, culminating in the presentation of the Wikileaks view of the future -- called "Release 1," presented in a conference appearance by spokesmen Daniel Schmitt and Julian Assange.
The upshot is that Wikileaks is in line for $500,000+ in funding from the Knight Foundation, a charitable foundation financed by the former Knight Ridder newspaper conglomerate, for a Website plug-in for local newspapers. Together with the direct plea for finance on the Wikileaks Website, the effort shows a determined quest by Wikileaks to grow from a self-funded pilot to a full media operation.
Assuming Wikileaks gets its funding, there are some disturbing elements within this extended plan.
For one thing, Iceland has been selected by Wikileaks as the venue for its “offshore publication center.” In that country, a specialized set of laws has been bundled together by lawyers from legal systems around the world, to be presented as a bill before the Icelandic parliament on January 26.
The bill would enable Iceland to become a “Switzerland of bits and bytes,” a kind of “safe haven” for all kinds of information, tapping Iceland’s potential as a hosting site for outsourced data centers.
Assange and Schmitt claim that Iceland’s financial crisis, drop in currency, and subsequent “quasi-revolutionary” atmosphere have led to an ability to get legislation done quickly.
Wikileaks has its critics. Bank Julius Baer, a Swiss bank with a Cayman Islands subsidiary apparently serving as a tax shelter for the rich, made every legal effort in 2008 to close Wikileaks down, following a series of whistleblower disclosures of its clients' accounts. The bank temporarily even gained the suspension of the Wikileaks domain name and forced Wikileaks to move its hosting from the U.S. to Belgium and then to Sweden.
Aside from this kind of resistance, some worry about Wikileaks’ assurance of anonymity, particularly for those accessing its documents. Data mining the site’s log files would provide the “A” list of all the nosey investigative journalists and researchers in the world.
Wikileaks’ plans as outlined now go far beyond the original vision. For it now to become a media organization in its own right could give its opponents just the ammunition they need. At the very least, it could be accused of taking advantage of lax laws in a vulnerable country.
I am sure that Wikileaks has the best of motives at heart, but perhaps its current plans are a step too far.
Then again, perhaps Iceland will become the world’s offshore, open-source, cloud data center, but this provides a highly focused target for hackers. Due to its island location, Iceland is an easier target then Estonia or Georgia for DDoS attacks.
And any government or offshore bank really annoyed at being a target of Wikileaks or other open-source exposures only has to remember the words of Henry II about Thomas à Becket: "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" Becket was an easy target for the paid assassins -- since he was always in one place.
— Jart Armin, Editor of RBNexploit.com, a watch blog on the infamous RBN (Russian Business Network), and HostExploit.com