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


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.


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".


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


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.

Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Early Years Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Early Years supply teachers neede...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Progressive Rec.

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Progressive Recruitment are cu...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

KS2 Teacher required from October

£90 - £120 per annum: Randstad Education Hull: Key Stage 2 Supply Teacher requ...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor