WikiLeaks safeguards data as pressure builds to shut down the site

WIKILEAKS, the website infuriating Washington for releasing hundreds of restricted US diplomatic cables, was making all its archives so far available for download as pressure mounted to close it down entirely.

The site has already been forced to change its domain name and hop-scotch to servers around the globe as successive companies and countries bent to US arguments that branded the leaks as “illegal.”

It has also come under repeated cyber-attack, through a tactic known as distributed denial of service (DDoS) in which thousands of computers connect to its servers in a concerted attempt to knock them off-line.

With options progressively being closed off, and its founder, 39-year-old Australian Julian Assange, under an Interpol wanted persons alert for alleged “sexual offences” in Sweden, the website has taken steps to ensure its information remains available.

Mirror websites, which replicate WikiLeaks’s data, have sprung up on servers in various countries.

And in the past few days, WikiLeaks has been offering its archives for download through torrent peer-to-peer sharing – a move that could allow any user around the world to post them or share them.

The files include previous WikiLeaks scoops, such as information on US military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the more than 800 US diplomatic cables released so far.

“Due to recent attacks on our infrastructure, we’ve decided to make sure everyone can reach our content. As part of this process we’re releasing archived copy of all files we ever released,” WikiLeaks said in a message on its site.

WikiLeaks says it has another 250,000 cables it plans to gradually release over coming months – if it can.

Anticipating the US attempts to block it though, WikiLeaks has taken the precaution of posting a big, 1.4-gigabyte file encrypted with a 256-digit key said to be unbreakable.

Titled “insurance.aes256”, the file was big enough to contain all the US cables said to be in WikiLeaks’s possession.

The encryption makes it unreadable until the key is supplied – at which time all its contents would be available to those who downloaded it from torrent-feeding sites such as ThePirateBay.org.

Mr Assange, communicating online on Friday through The Guardian, Britain’s newspaper that is one of several dailies around the world cooperating with WikiLeaks in releasing the cables, said people all around the planet had already put the insurance file on their computers.

“The Cable Gate archive has been spread, along with significant material from the US and other countries to over 100,000 people in encrypted form. If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically. Further, the Cable Gate archives is in the hands of multiple news organisations. History will win. The world will be elevated to a better place,” he wrote.

Mr Assange accused “abusive elements of the United States government” of forcing WikiLeaks’s hand and said “we are taking the appropriate precautions to the degree that we are able when dealing with a super power.”

Mr Assange also said Australia’s government was working with the United States against him, and that he was not welcome back in his home country.

Attorney-general Robert McClelland said on Saturday the government had considered canceling Assange’s passport but was stymied because of “issues in respect of serving a notice of cancellation.”

Mr Assange is in hiding somewhere in the world, believed to be Europe, and thus not easily served by an official notice from Australia.

Interpol, however, has issued a “red notice” against him alerting all police forces that he is a wanted person in Sweden, which wants to question him “in connection with a number of sexual offences.”

Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny, who is handling the rape allegations in Sweden, defended the pursuit of the case and dismissed suggestions from one of his lawyers that the case might be politically motivated.

“This investigation has proceeded perfectly normally without any political pressure of any kind,” Ms Ny said.

“It is completely independent,” she added.

It was Ms Ny who successfully applied for the Interpol Red Notice against Mr Assange, indicating that he was wanted for questioning over the allegations of rape and sexual assault against two women in Sweden.

Yesterday, Mr Assange’s British lawyer, Mark Stephens, had expressed concern that the pursuit of Mr Assange had “political motivations”, in comments to the BBC.

But Ny said: “I can very clearly say no, there is nothing at all of that nature.”

Mr Stephens, in his comments, also warned that WikiLeaks had secret material in reserve, which he likened to a “thermo-nuclear device”, to be released if it needed to protect itself.

While it is not clear what this might be, WikiLeaks has already said it plans to release tens of thousands of files exposing abusive practices in US financial institutions.

WikiLeaks has been in the eye of a media and diplomatic storm since it started leaking US diplomatic cables from a collection of some 250,000 it had obtained, embarrassing and infuriating Washington.

WikiLeaks says 831 cables have been posted to its site so far.

Among the latest revelations was one document that said Saudi Arabia was the key source of funding for radical Islamist groups including al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hamas.

Gulf states Qatar and Kuwait were also lax in pursuing locals who donated to the groups, said the cable, an assessment from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dated December 30, 2009.

Meanwhile, the United States is planning a major reshuffle of diplomats, military officers and intelligence operatives who have been compromised by the WikiLeaks scandal.

The US news website The Daily Beast reported yesterday that the leaks have made it “dangerous” if not impossible for those diplomats found to have been strongly critical of corrupt or incompetent governments to do their job.

“We’re going to have to pull out some of our best people… because they dared to report back the truth about the nations in which they serve,” a senior US national-security official told the website.

Planning is in its infancy but the State Department, the Pentagon, and the CIA are working on the assumption they will be changing personnel at several US embassies and consulates in the coming months, the report said.

Senior Democratic Senator John Kerry also hinted at staffing changes as a result of the WikiLeaks disclosures.

“I can’t tell you, but it’s possible that at some places, people are going to say they can’t work with them. And I’ll say that quietly and behind the scenes,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press.

A former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan said yesterday the current US ambassador to Kabul – Karl Eikenberry – should be replaced after cables detailed harsh assessments of President Hamid Karzai and other senior officials.

“He’s doing a good job… but I think he’s no longer an effective interlocutor due to the leaks,” Zalmay Khalilzad told ABC’s This Week.

“If we want to deal with the issue of partnership with the government of Afghanistan, if we want to deal with the issue of domestic politics effectively, of capitalising cooperation, we would need to have a new team.”

The news came as WikiLeaks faced the prospect of a fresh attack on its financial lifelines.

PayPal had already announced on Friday it was terminating its dealings with them on the grounds that it was encouraging illegal activity.

The Swiss Post Office said yesterday it was checking Mr Assange’s account with its banking arm after doubts emerged over the Swiss address he had provided.

“We have to find out if Julian Assange really does live in Geneva,” PostFinance spokesman Marc Andrey said.

“In the process of checking we did not find his name in Geneva.”

In an online editorial posted Saturday, Mr Assange denounced decisions by several companies to deny Wikileaks Internet or financial services.

“What we are seeing here are dangerous moves towards a digital McCarthyism,” he wrote on the WikiLeaks site.

“These actions, and the others like it, are not the result of a legal process, but rather, are a result of fear of falling out of favour with Washington.”

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