WASHINGTON — Nearly two months after it made public
its entire unredacted file of purloined U.S. State Department cables,
WikiLeaks announced Monday that it was suspending “publishing
operations” to concentrate on raising money to keep the website in
The announcement left in doubt the
future not just of WikiLeaks but of what had been thought of as a new
style of journalism that would allow would-be whistleblowers to leak
documents electronically — without the risk of having to reveal their
identity to anyone. WikiLeaks’ success engendered at least two copy-cat
efforts, but to date neither of those has produced newsworthy releases
“This is an existential threat to
WikiLeaks,” WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange told a news conference in
London. The news conference was streamed live on the Internet.
announcing the suspension, WikiLeaks blamed U.S.-based financial
institutions, including Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and
Western Union, for refusing since December to process donations destined
for the website. The refusal had robbed WikiLeaks of 95 percent of its
income, the website said. It said the institutions had acted at the
behest of the United States’ government.
blockade has cost the organizations tens of millions … in lost
donations at a time of unprecedented operational costs resulting from
publishing alliances in over 50 countries,” WikiLeaks said in a press
release. “Our scarce resources now must focus on fighting the unlawful
Assange noted that while the
credit card companies had cut off donations to WikiLeaks, they had not
cut off donations to the fund that raises money to pay lawyers for his
defense against Sweden’s efforts to extradite him for questioning in a
sexual misconduct case. He said the difference showed that the financial
companies were concerned with WikiLeaks’ publication of documents.
said the group needed to raise $3.5 million in the next year to
continue its operations at its current levels. He said the website
currently has 20 staff members and about 800 volunteers.
was no immediate response from the financial institutions or the U.S.
government. Previously, the organizations have denied they canceled
WikiLeaks accounts at the instigation of the Obama administration; they
said WikiLeaks had violated their service agreements by engaging or
encouraging illegal activities — the leaking of classified government
WikiLeaks, which has not been charged
with a crime for publishing the leaked documents, warned that if the
financial institutions are allowed to continue with what it calls a
“blockade,” other controversial advocacy groups could face similar
retribution. Assange argued that the credit card companies had become
virtual public utilities, given their importance in Internet commerce,
and he said their refusal to allow their cardholders to support
WikiLeaks amounted to a restriction on the right of free association —
something he said had a long and honored history in the United States.
He also argued that newspapers that had published stories based on the WikiLeaks documents could face similar retaliation.
publishing the truth about war is enough to warrant such aggressive
action by Washington insiders, all newspapers that have published
WikiLeaks’ materials are on the verge of having their readers and
advertisers blocked from paying for their subscriptions,” the website
said in its news release.
That assertion touched
on one of the central questions of the WikiLeaks drama, whether the
organization is a journalistic one, doing nothing more than what
newspapers such as The New York Times or The Washington Post have done
for decades, or whether it is something else. Traditional journalists in
the United States have been split on the issue. While many have
criticized Obama administration investigations into whether WikiLeaks or
Assange can be charged with a crime as an affront to First Amendment
freedom of the press, there has been less commentary about the canceling
its accounts for receiving credit card donations over the Internet.
(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)
was no such debate in February 2008, when 12 journalism organizations,
including the Associated Press and Reporters Committee for the Freedom
of the Press, filed a brief on behalf of WikiLeaks and its domain
register, Dynadot, in a case brought by a Swiss bank, Bank Julius Baer.
bank filed the suit after WikiLeaks published hundreds of private
documents on a land deal that suggested money laundering and tax
evasion. It asked a U.S. district judge in California to enjoin
WikiLeaks from publishing the documents and order Dynadot to stop
hosting its website.
The judge agreed, but quickly
reversed his order after the U.S. journalism organizations weighed in,
calling the decision an affront to the First Amendment and WikiLeaks’
right to publish.
The immediate practical impact
of WikiLeaks’ announcement Monday was unclear. The last of the State
Department cables were made public Sept. 2 and WikiLeaks’ spokesman,
Kristinn Hrafnsson, told McClatchy Newspapers last week that the website
had not been able to accept new submissions for much of the past year.
Statements from WikiLeaks over the summer indicated that much of its
unpublished material had been destroyed by disgruntled volunteers.
blamed “sabotage” from those disgruntled former volunteers, whom he did
not name, for the website’s inability to accept submissions, but said
the lack of resources had made it impossible to restore WikiLeaks’
submission software. On Monday, however, Assange said the website would
unveil a new submission system on Nov. 28 — the anniversary of the
beginning of the publication of the State Department cables.
site remained available on the Internet Monday. When WikiLeaks last ran
out of money, its website was taken down for more than five months.
announcing the suspension, WikiLeaks called on its supporters to
volunteer to accept donations on WikiLeaks’ behalf. It also publicized
the two European bank accounts that accept donations on WikiLeaks’
%uFFFD2011 the McClatchy Washington Bureau
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