Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks

Arrest and Cyberwar

Jemima Khan
Jemima Khan

By then, Assange had been arrested, in London on December 7, 2010. In court, where socialite Jemima Khan and filmmaker Ken Loach arrived to show support, he was no less petulant than before. He had prearranged turning himself in so he could face the sex charges. He refused to submit the standard fingerprints and gave his address as a P.O. Box. He was initially denied bail.Assange was granted bail by a British judge on Tuesday, Dec 13, but he remained in custody after Swedish prosecutors announced that they would challenge the decision. Assange's lawyer Mark Stephens told the New York Post that the court had demanded $316,000 in bail, and that, if released, Assange would have to wear an electronic tag and report daily to police.According to Assange's lawyers, supporters have pooled $380,000 for his bail. One noted contributor is controversial documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, who reportedly donated $20,000 to the cause. Assange vowed to fight extradition to Sweden where he would have to answer to the sex charges.

The timing could not have been more perfect: As leaks were released each day, the headlines in the media revolved around Assange's sex scandal which, as the days wore down, seemed less and less sure. The rape charges were dropped, and it seemed that one of the women wasn't so eager to prosecute him, posting on Twitter her support for the retaliatory cyber-attacks by hackers on Visa and MasterCard's sites during the week Assange had been arrested. By this time, the news cycle was completely dominated by WikiLeaks, either by new revelations from the cables, or by Assange's sex scandal, and now, the hacking community's attacks on their compatriot.

WikiLeaks' foundation was now being weakened. For the first time since its inception, its site went down to cyber attack. In quick succession, the site lost the ability to collect funds from Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and was dropped from Amazon for violating its terms of contract.

But the hacking community backed him—independently, it would seem—and began DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks on Visa.com, Mastercard.com, Paypal.com, shutting them down in brief spurts, in protest. The attacks were claimed to be the handiwork of Anonymous, another shadowy hacker organization that previously had been most famous for targeting the Church of Scientology.

Julian Assange
Julian Assange

As Assange sat—computer-less in solitary confinement in a London prison, reportedly having spent time in the same cell Oscar Wilde once occupied— Anonymous and others attempted to bring the big corporations who had abandoned him to their knees.

In a statement released by Anonymous, the hackers wrote: We do not want to steal your personal information or credit card numbers. We also do not seek to attack critical infrastructure of companies such as MasterCard, Visa, PayPal or Amazon. Our current goal is to raise awareness about WikiLeaks and the underhanded methods employed by the above companies to impair WikiLeaks' ability to function. As stated above, the point of Operation: Payback was never to target critical infrastructure of any of the companies or organizations affected. Rather than doing that, we focused on their corporate websites, which is to say, their online "public face". It is a symbolic action—as blogger and academic Evgeny Morozov put it, a legitimate expression of dissent."

Their spate of cybervandalism was short-lived: a Dutch teen who ran one of their chat rooms was arrested on December 10. Perhaps spurred by the apparent inability of the mainstream media to understand that Anonymous and WikiLeaks were not colluding to shut down major corporate websites, Anonymous announced that it would stop the attacks, and focus on spreading the leaks.

Nine days after his arrest, Assange won the appeal and left London's High Court for his new home, a mansion belonging to supporter Vaughan Smith. Assange will continue his work there, under the conditions that he wear an electronic tag and report to the police daily. The judge presiding over the case said that he did not consider Assange to be a fugitive and expects him to appear in court when due.

***

The WikiLeaks story thus became like the Internet itself. It seems to have many beginnings, branches and sidetracks and no endings in sight. With each day, each hour, each minute, came new news. Soon WikiLeaks would have a competitor of sorts in OpenLeaks, started by a former partner. New information was revealed nearly every day about the sex scandal, and every day brought the promise of new cables, containing new tidbits of gossip—or perhaps something more serious, shedding a new light on previously darkened corners.

 

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