WikiLeaks vs The Machine

US government tells firms to pull plug on whistleblowing website as hackers cause chaos with revenge attacks on Assange's 'enemies'

The American corporations blamed for trying to silence WikiLeaks are under sustained attack from a loose global alliance of anonymous cyber hackers.

As the 39-year-old Australian editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks languished in Wandsworth Prison accused of sex offences, the financial and technological giants that withdrew support from the website in the face of pressure from the US government were hit by online hacking attacks, paralysing their net operations. MasterCard's website was downed.

Another of the companies, PayPal, confirmed that it had only stopped collecting donations for WikiLeaks after intervention from the US State Department – fuelling suspicions that the US is leaning on businesses to strangle support for the website, which is involved in the embarrassing leak of 250,000 American diplomatic cables.

The plot thickened when WikiLeaks revealed that diplomats from the US had intervened to try to amend a draft law going through Russia's Duma which would have hit Visa and MasterCard. Hours before, the two companies had announced they were cutting their ties to WikiLeaks.

The cable, dated 1 February 2010, disclosed that the Obama administration lobbied senior Russian government officials on behalf of the firms against a plan by a consortium of state-owned banks to collect processing fees "estimated at $4bn [£2.5bn] a year".

Meanwhile WikiLeaks, itself destabilised by cyber attacks, emerged phoenix-like as hundreds of "mirror websites" sprang across the web, enabling computer users to view its latest disclosures.

Acting as Julian Assange's avengers, a global group of hackers calling themselves "Anonymous" paralysed the MasterCard website by overwhelming it with requests for information. In a message on an internet bulletin board, they threatened to target the social-networking site Twitter in protest at the "censoring" of the group's discussion boards – which the US firm denied.

One anonymous "hactivist" wrote on the forum 4chan: "The longer we fire MasterCard, the better." Another urged: "Keep attacking, let's make it a war, not a battle like what usually happens."



Hackers also struck against the website of the Swedish lawyer who represents the two female Swedish WikiLeaks volunteers at the centre of the Assange sex-crimes case. The lawyer, Claes Borgstrom, who reported the hacking to police, said their claims were not a politically motivated plot against Mr Assange. He said: "It has nothing to do with WikiLeaks or the CIA."

Cyber attacks were also launched against the Swiss postal system's financial arm, PostFinance, which this week shut Mr Assange's new bank account containing a defence fund of £26,000.

The corporate hacking, codenamed Operation Payback, is a response to a week-long series of business retreats from WikiLeaks, which began when Amazon removed the site from its servers. Amazon denied US pressure had prompted it to remove the data.

The American data firm EveryDNS also dropped WikiLeaks from its entries last Thursday, saying that hacking attacks against WikiLeaks were threatening its ability to host thousands of other sites. At the weekend, PayPal announced it was halting its collection of donations, later revealing that it had been "advised" by the US State Department that WikiLeaks' activities were illegal.

Speaking before he was remanded in custody, Mr Assange said the corporate action against him amounted to the "privatisation of state censorship" in the US. "These attacks will not stop our mission, but should be setting off alarm bells about the rule of law in the US," he said.

So far this year, the not-for-profit organisation has leaked 400,000 classified US war files from Iraq, 76,000 from Afghanistan and is working through the 250,000 US diplomatic cables.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the leaks are an illegal attack on the US and the international community. But yesterday, one of America's allies chose to blame the US rather than WikiLeaks.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, said yesterday: "Mr Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorised release of 250,000 documents from the US diplomatic communications network. The Americans are responsible for that."

Shiar Youssef, a spokesman for the UK pressure group Corporate Watch, called the withdrawal of corporate support for WikiLeaks "pretty disgusting".

"MasterCard are saying they don't want to be associated with illegal activity and no one has established that this is illegal activity. It's not for a company to say it's illegal, and it's mostly the fuss by the right-wing Americans that has encouraged companies to cut all links with WikiLeaks," he said.

Leaked: Shell and Nigeria

* The oil giant Shell has infiltrated every major ministry in the Nigerian government, according to the latest leaked US diplomatic memos. One of Shell's top executives in Nigeria boasted that her company knew "everything that was being done in those ministries" and that the oil-rich state's leaders had "forgotten" about the the infiltration. The classified communication from the US embassy in Abuja also reveals the company swapped intelligence with the US.

Ironically, the cables, from 2009, reveal that Ann Pickard, then Shell's vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa, thought twice about sharing the information with the US because she considered the US government "leaky".

Under Threat

Mastercard

Hackers crashed the card giant's UK and global websites by bombarding them with requests for information, a technique known as dedicated denial-of-service attacks. "We are working to restore normal service levels," MasterCard said in a statement, adding there was "no impact" on cardholders' ability to use their cards.

PayPal

After withdrawing the payment of donations to WikiLeaks, PayPal was subjected to a dedicated denial-of-service attack on Monday. The Anonymous group said the attacks could return, saying it was targeting PayPal "in a few hours".

Visa

Along with MasterCard, Visa Europe – the US giant's European operation – has severed ties with WikiLeaks. Visa experienced no problems from "Operation Payback".

Twitter

The social networking site has been abuzz with messages about the WikiLeaks files, but according to Anonymous it has understated the degree of online chatter, thus lowering its profile to other online users. "You're next for censoring #Wikileaks discussion," one blogger warned. Twitter denies interfering with the discussion.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones