GENEVA — Swiss authorities stripped WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of a key fundraising tool Monday — his new bank account — and the secret-spilling website fended off more suspected computer attacks as it manoeuvred to stay online.
Scotland Yard was now considering the Swedish arrest warrant for Assange, who is staying at an undisclosed location in Britain, the BBC reported. It didn’t cite its source and the U.K. police force declined to comment. WikiLeaks tweeted that U.K. authorities have received the warrant and “may issue it shortly.”
In contrast to official moves against the group, an unlikely band of computer-savvy advocates were riding to its rescue, determined to ensure free information via the Internet. These geek-warriors described their efforts as new form of guerrilla combat, where sophisticated online protests were replacing traditional street marches.
“It’s the start of the information war, it really looks like that,” said Pascal Gloor, vice-president of the Swiss Pirate Party, whose Swiss Web address, wikileaks.ch, has been serving as a mainstay for WikiLeaks traffic.
“There is a whole new generation, digital natives, born with the Internet, that understands the freedom of communication,” he said. “It’s not a left-right thing anymore. It’s a generational thing between the politicians who don’t understand that it’s too late for them to regulate the Internet and the young who use technology every day.”
WikiLeaks has been under intense international scrutiny over its disclosure of a mountain of classified U.S. diplomatic cables, after previously releasing tens of thousands of classified U.S. military documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The unprecedented disclosures have embarrassed the U.S. and other governments worldwide and prompted U.S. officials to pressure the WikiLeaks site and its facilitators.
American web companies Amazon.com, Paypal, and EveryDNS had pulled the plug on their relationships with WikiLeaks one after the other.
The decision by Amazon to yank the site from its servers — over alleged terms of service violations — saw WikiLeaks fall back on a Swedish host. The French government has also promised a crackdown on its Web presence there, while governments such as China have moved to block the website altogether.
WikiLeaks’ Swedish servers came under suspected attack again Monday, the latest in a series of online computer assaults. Monday also marked the first day that WikiLeaks did not publish any new cables, though it was unclear whether that had anything to do with the computer attacks.
Mikael Viborg, owner of the Swedish Internet service provider PRQ, said his servers had become unresponsive.
He told the AP it was probably due to a distributed denial of service attack — a technique in which remote computers hijacked by rogue programs jam a website with massive amounts of data.
It was not clear who was organizing the attacks, but WikiLeaks has blamed previous computer attacks on intelligence forces in the United States and elsewhere.
WikiLeaks, in a tweet to its followers, confirmed it was having difficulty with its PRQ severs but did not elaborate.
“We are investigating cause,” the organization said.
A Toronto web hosting company, easyDNS, offered to back up the Swiss site, vexed because some news reports had mixed it up with EveryDNS of Manchester, New Hampshire, which stopped accepting traffic to Assange’s principal address — wikileaks.org — because it said cyber attacks threatened the rest of its network.
Mark Jeftovic of easyDNS said his firm might eventually host wikileaks.org.
But the Swiss Post’s financial arm, Postfinance, immediately shut down the bank account set up by Assange after it determined the “Australian citizen provided false information regarding his place of residence during the account opening process.”
Postfinance spokesman Alex Josty told the AP the account was closed Monday afternoon and an undetermined amount of money would be returned to Assange, who faced no further consequences after claiming he lived in Geneva but offering no proof.
Assange’s law firm said the Swiss account already had accumulated C31,000 ($41,200).
“That’s his money, he will get his money back,” Josty said. “We just close the account.”
But the law firm said PayPal had “frozen” C60,000 ($79,700) of WikiLeaks’ money. The group is left with only a few options for raising money now, through a Swiss-Icelandic credit card processing centre and accounts in Iceland and Germany.
“One of the most fascinating aspects of the Cablegate exposure is how it is throwing into relief the power dynamics between supposedly independent states like Switzerland, Sweden and Australia,” his law firm said. “The technicality used to seize the defence fund was that Mr. Assange, as a homeless refugee attempting to gain residency in Switzerland, had used his lawyer’s address in Geneva for the bank’s correspondence.”
WikiLeaks seemed to suggest Assange feared imminent arrest. The 39-year-old Australian is accused of rape and sexual molestation in one Swedish case and of sexual molestation and unlawful coercion in another.
Assange denies the allegations, which his British lawyer, Mark Stephens, says stem from a “dispute over consensual but unprotected sex.” Stephens said Sunday the investigation — which has involved Swedish prosecutors overruling each other and disputes over whether the most serious allegation constitutes rape — had turned into a “political stunt.”
Scotland Yard would still have to seek a warrant at Westminster and City Magistrates’ Court, which handles extradition, before Assange is detained.
Australia said it would give consular help to Assange if he is arrested abroad and noted he is entitled to return home as well. But Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland also condemned the document leaks as harming security and said Australia is obligated to help the criminal investigation into Assange’s activities.
In what Assange described as a last-ditch deterrent, WikiLeaks distributed a heavily encrypted version of the most important revelations across the Web. The information could be instantly be made public if the site’s servers were disabled or its staff arrested.
Gloor told the AP that his Swiss political party has enough backup service providers so even a successful attack on a single server like the PRQ probably could not slow or shut it down.
WikiLeaks’ massive online following has also pitched in, setting more than 500 so-called mirrors — or carbon copy websites — across the world. Supporters on Twitter flooded the micro-blogging site with statements of solidarity, while a Facebook site devoted to the group has nearly 1 million fans.
“There is demonstration and it’s no longer on the street. It’s people saying, ’I am involved. I am going to help. I am offering my domain name or my server,”’ said Gloor. “It’s really amazing to see that.”
Raphael G. Satter contributed from London and Malin Rising from Stockholm.