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WikiLeaks and Anonymous spar over fundraising campaign

October 11, 2012 |  5:44 pm

Julian Assange

If politics often makes strange bedfellows, fundraising can make just as strange enemies, WikiLeaks found this week. The secret-spilling website ended up at odds with the loose network of hackers known as Anonymous after WikiLeaks introduced a pop-up window seeking donations.

The window showed up when Internet users tried to reach newly leaked files, including an advertised 13,734 emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor about Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.

To get the window to go away, it appeared users had to donate or share the link through Twitter or Facebook. Some users said they could evade the campaign by disabling Javascript or that the window vanished after repeated attempts to reach WikiLeaks documents.

After the fundraising campaign went live, members of Anonymous denounced the window as a “paywall,” saying it was wrong to hinder access to leaked files. The hacking collective has usually been an ally of WikiLeaks, seeing its quest to reveal government and corporate secrets as a common cause.

“This, dear friends will lose you all allies you still had,” one Anonymous Twitter account declared. A longer statement, linked through another Anonymous account, said WikiLeaks had become “the One Man Julian Assange Show,” straying from its core mission of revealing vital information.

WikiLeaks countered on Twitter that the window wasn’t a paywall, pointing out that users could also share or tweet the campaign. It later removed the pop-up without added comment. Members of Anonymous greeted the decision with approval, with one major account writing that the two groups were still friends.

The website founded by Assange has complained of grave financial problems since Visa and MasterCard imposed a blockade on credit card donations two years ago. The group has sought ways around the block, such as using a French credit card system, but says it still needs help to advance its cause.

"These donations go to fund WikiLeaks’ publishing and infrastructure costs and our legal costs to fight the financial blockade," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange wrote in a statement announcing the fundraising campaign last week.

The organization is also strained by the legal impasse over Assange, who has been granted asylum by Ecuador but faces extradition to Sweden by British authorities if he steps out of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London where he has been holed up since June. A separate fund has been set up for his legal defense, Assange wrote.

British authorities say they are obligated to send Assange to Sweden for questioning on allegations of sexual assault; Assange says the accusations are politically motivated and would ultimately result in him being sent to the United States, where he claims he has been secretly indicted for “political crimes.”

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange making a statement to reporters and supporters at a window of the Ecuadorean Embassy in central London on Aug. 19, 2012. Credit: Sang Tan / Associated Press

 

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