Even if America or Sweden eventually succeeds in arresting, charging and imprisoning Julian Assange, there is little his enemies can do to halt the brave new world of online whistle-blowing that he has created.
Like Al Qa’ida – an organisation that the more acerbic US critics have compared Wikileaks to – Assange has spawned an idea, one which will now be copied, developed and franchised by volunteers all over the world. Even if the founding father is silenced, there is no putting the lid back on the Pandora’s Box he has opened.
As a web entity Wikileaks is virtually impossible to destroy. It is staffed by technologically gifted volunteers who know as much about the methods used to take down a website as those who might be plotting to do just that.
The two distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS) on Wikileaks this week have given us an indication of how they prepare for pre-emptive strikes. As soon as they assaults began, administrators played a game of virtual cat and mouse, moving Wikileaks onto a whole host of previously secret back-up servers including one run by US internet giant Amazon.
When that service was shut down following intense pressure from US politicians, Wikileaks simply taunted Amazon through its Twitter account and said it would happily take its business elsewhere. “If Amazon are so uncomfortable with the first amendment,” one Tweet gloated, “they should get out of the business of selling books.”
But Amazon’s cloud service only ever held a portion of the Wikileaks anyway. The majority of its sites are currently hosted on French and Swedish internet service providers (ISP) – the latter is housed in a bunker built 30 metres into the side of a mountain. The Americans can do little to target servers outside of the States and Wikileaks has a host of mirror sites ready to be rolled out if the parent sites are ever compromised.
Assange has also called on supporters to download two large “insurance files” – vast encrypted caches of as yet unknown information which can be unlocked at his command.
If Assange was arrested it would certainly deliver some sort of blow to Wikileaks because the organisation is so heavily controlled by his domineering personality.
“I am the heart and soul of this organization,” he wrote to a former volunteer who criticised his leadership style earlier this year. “[I am] its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier, and all the rest. If you have a problem with me, piss-off.”
But even without him the organisation would live on. More importantly copycat whistle-blowing networks are springing up. There are already sites in Africa and Asia and a former Wikileaks founder is launching his own whistle-blowing platform later this month.
The information dam is already leaking in multiple places. Plugging up a single leak, even if it is the biggest, will do little to halt the coming deluge.