[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/12/07/t1.afpgetty_wikileaks.jpg width=300 height=169]Massimo Calabresi
There was a time when WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's voluntary surrender to the British authorities might have put an end to the crisis created by the Internet provocateur's dissemination of tens of thousands of state secrets. But in the upside-down world of transnational crowdsourcing unleashed by WikiLeaks, in which thousands of activists around the globe can be rallied to defend and extend its work, Assange's arrest is a win, not a loss, for his organization.
The asymmetrical info war initiated by the WikiLeaks dump of diplomatic cables is all about spectacle — the more Assange is set up by world powers, the more powerful his own movement becomes. "The field of battle is WikiLeaks," wrote John Perry Barlow, a former Grateful Dead lyricist and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the First Amendment advocacy group, in a message to his followers. "You are the troops." WikiLeaks admiringly forwarded the post to 300,000 of its own followers. As the U.S. and other governments attempted to close down WikiLeaks over the past week, those "troops" have fought back. And so far, it doesn't look like much of a contest.
First, the U.S. government pushed WikiLeaks off the servers of Amazon, its U.S. host — thanks in part to an effort by the office of Senator Joe Lieberman, who heads the Senate Homeland Security Committee. After the rogue site was pushed off a smaller, backup host in the U.S., it moved first to a Swiss domain, then to a simple numeric one. WikiLeaks has complained, and some news outlets have reported, about apparent hacker attacks against the website. The effect of all that pressure, however, was very much like cutting the head off the mythical Hydra. By Tuesday evening, WikiLeaks listed 507 Web addresses that it said were hosting the site worldwide.
The U.S. and its allies have taken other steps to curb WikiLeaks' activities. The French Industry Minister Eric Besson called for the site to be banned from French servers. Swiss bank PostFinance announced it had frozen $41,000 in an account set up as a legal-defense fund for Assange. The bank said it took action because Assange had claimed Geneva as his domicile when opening the account, but this had proved incorrect and he could not show that he is a Swiss resident. PayPal, MasterCard and Visa have all blocked donations to WikiLeaks. Meanwhile, WikiLeaks' backers are fighting back, though their hacker attacks on some of the sites that shut off WikiLeaks funding may be less effective.
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