It’s been a long week for the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. Problems started to mount after Amazon and EveryDNS forced them to shuffle their hosting. While this was happening, they also had to face political posturing and arrest warrants. The truth can be a dangerous and wonderful thing.
[Update: PayPal has frozen WikiLeaks' donation account. More informaion is here.]
WikiLeaks had moved to Amazon after their site fell victim to a massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack. The attack, peaking at 2 to 4 Gbps, was said to have originated from a single source. This source, Th3J35t3r, a self-titled ‘Hacktivist for good’, has been silent since word of his actions spread in the media.
The move to Amazon helped WikiLeaks remain online, but that was only the start of the problem. A day later politics entered the picture. Senator Joseph Lieberman is said to have called Amazon on December 1, to complain about their hosting of Wikileaks.
The assumption that Lieberman caused Amazon to boot WikiLeaks comes from a statement the Senator released that said in part, “After reading press reports that Amazon was hosting the Wikileaks website, Committee staff contacted Amazon Tuesday for an explanation.”
“[Amazon’s] decision to cut off Wikileaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies Wikileaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material. I call on any other company or organization that is hosting Wikileaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them,” Lieberman’s statement added.
The French minister for industry, energy and digital economy, Eric Besson, seems to have jumped on Lieberman’s request. Reuters reported that he wrote a letter to CGIET, the agency that looks after internet use in France, looking for the means to block hosting for WikiLeaks in France. Shortly after getting the boot from Amazon, WikiLeaks moved to France’s OVH for hosting.
“The situation is unacceptable. France cannot host websites that violate diplomatic relations secrecy and endanger persons protected by diplomatic confidentiality. We cannot host sites that have been called criminal and rejected by other countries on the basis of harm to national rights,” Besson’s letter stated.
Amazon disputes the claims that they folded to political pressure, calling the reports “inaccurate”. Likewise, the reports that Amazon kicked WikiLeaks off their services due to DDOS attacks were inaccurate as well. “There were indeed large-scale DDOS attacks, but they were successfully defended against,” Amazon said.
“AWS does not pre-screen its customers, but it does have terms of service that must be followed. WikiLeaks was not following them….For example, our terms of service state that ‘you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content… that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.’,” Amazon said in a statement.
“It’s clear that WikiLeaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren’t putting innocent people in jeopardy…when companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn’t rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won’t injure others, it’s a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere.”
To some, this statement makes it clear that Amazon is folding to political pressure. However, they do have the right as a business to follow their own rules, so terms of service violations are a valid reason to end a business relationship. Yet, in the U.S. the First Amendment to the Constitution protects WikiLeaks. It also protects Amazon.
The EFF, in a blog post, called the move unfortunate. “Indeed, Amazon has its own First Amendment right to do so. That makes it all the more unfortunate that Amazon caved to unofficial government pressure to squelch core political speech. Amazon had an opportunity to stand up for its customer's right to free expression. Instead, Amazon ran away with its tail between its legs.”
“While it's frustrating to think of any hosting provider cutting services to a website because it considers the content too politically volatile or controversial, it's especially disheartening to see Amazon knuckle under to pressure from a single senator. Other Internet intermediaries should now expect to receive a phone call when some other member of Congress is unhappy with speech they are hosting. After all, it worked on Amazon.”
Another contradiction to Amazon’s claims comes from both the State Department and WikiLeaks. The U.S. government flatly refused to help WikiLeaks when asked for information that would be used to strip the cables of names, in an attempt to prevent harm.
Shortly after moving from Amazon to OVH, WikiLeaks again faced connection issues. EveryDNS, the free DNS offering of DYN Inc., cut DNS services after ongoing DDOS attacks threatened the stability of the service.
“…wikileaks.org has become the target of multiple distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks. These attacks have, and future attacks would, threaten the stability of the EveryDNS.net infrastructure, which enables access to almost 500,000 other websites,” a statement said.
Earlier today, DYN Inc added to their original statement, noting that the issue is a difficult one to deal with. “EveryDNS.net, the world’s largest free managed DNS provider, is not taking a position on the content hosted on the wikileaks.org or wikileaks.ch website, it is following established policies so as not to put any one EveryDNS.net user’s interests ahead of any others.”
The DNS outage, DYN Inc. added was due to WikiLeaks not switching DNS providers within the amount of time between the first notice of termination and the actual severance.
For now, WikiLeaks has a list of mirrors here.
Compounding WikiLeaks’ issues with hosting are the legal problems faced by Julian Assange, the founder of the infamous organization. Earlier this week, Interpol issued a Red Notice for Assange. The Red Notice says that his offence is sex crime related and that the warrant was issued by the International Public Prosecution Office in Gothenburg, Sweden.
The move was called a persecution and not a prosecution, by Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens in a statement.
“Mr. Assange has repeatedly sought meetings with the Prosecutrix - both in Sweden and subsequently - in order to answer her questions and clear his name...Bizarrely, the Prosecutrix - having ignored or rejected those offers of voluntary cooperation - instead sought an arrest warrant to have Mr. Assange held incommunicado without giving his Swedish lawyer sufficient notice, access to evidence or information to take proper instructions from Mr. Assange. This action is all the more peculiar as she has not even issued a formal summons for his interrogation or brought charges against Mr. Assange,” the statement said.
“In 28 years of practice I have never come across a prosecutor, whether in the third world or even in a totalitarian regime, where there has been such casual disregard by a prosecutor for their obligations. Given that Sweden is a civilised country I am reluctantly forced to conclude that this is a persecution and not a prosecution.”
On Friday, Assange’s Sweedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig told Reuters that he would fight any extradition order that seeks to send him back to Sweden over alleged sex crimes.
“If it is in a country where they speak English, I know that my co-counsel Mark Stephens will help me in fighting this extradition order and he will do so vigorously,” Hurtig told Reuters, adding that they are discussing what to do, but one thing that makes the situation harder are the threats against Assange’s life.
Assange has been in an undisclosed location since the cablegate leaks started, after death threats were made against him. Offers by Assange to speak with Swedish authorities at an embassy abroad have been rejected. The comments on extradition are due to Swedish authorities issuing a new warrant for Assange’s arrest. The new warrant was needed due to procedural errors in the first warrant. To date, Julian Assange has not been charged. He denies the sex crime allegations, calling the actions a smear campaign against him.
“I think somebody has an interest in getting Julian to Sweden and maybe asking for him to be extradited to another country (from there),” Hurtig speculated.
While the warrants and legal bickering over Assange moved forward this week, Senator Joseph Lieberman made headlines a second time with his so-called SHIELD Act (Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination).
On Thursday, Senators John Ensign, Joe Lieberman, and Scott Brown introduced the legislation, calling the amendment to the Espionage Act something that “…will help derail the very real threat posed to human intelligence sources by WikiLeaks.”
“Julian Assange and his cronies, in their effort to hinder our war efforts, are creating a hit list for our enemies by publishing the names of our human intelligence sources,” said Ensign. “…I simply will not stand idly by as they become death targets because of Julian Assange. Let me be very clear, WikiLeaks is not a whistleblower website and Assange is not a journalist.”
Lieberman added to those statements with “This legislation will help hold people criminally accountable who endanger these sources of information that are vital to protecting our national security interests.”
Wired’s Kevin Poulsen made a valid point when he noted that the SHIELD Act is aimed squarely at publishers.
“Lieberman’s proposed solution to WikiLeaks could have implications for journalists reporting on some of the more unsavory practices of the intelligence community. For example, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was once a paid CIA asset. Would reporting that now be a crime?”
Congressman Ron Paul voiced his thoughts when he Tweeted, “In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble.”
The ACLU weighed in on reports of legal action by the U.S. by noting that they were “deeply skeptical” that prosecuting WikiLeaks would be constitutional, or a good idea.
“The courts have made clear that the First Amendment protects independent third parties who publish classified information. Prosecuting WikiLeaks would be no different from prosecuting the media outlets that also published classified documents,” Hina Shamsi, the Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project said in a statement.
“If newspapers could be held criminally liable for publishing leaked information about government practices, we might never have found out about the CIA’s secret prisons or the government spying on innocent Americans. Prosecuting publishers of classified information threatens investigative journalism that is necessary to an informed public debate about government conduct, and that is an unthinkable outcome.”
In the aforementioned EFF blog posting, they touched on this topic as well, reminding anyone reading that the government itself “…can't take official action to silence WikiLeaks' ongoing publications - that would be an unconstitutional prior restraint, or censorship of speech before it can be communicated to the public.”
“No government actor can nix WikiLeaks' right to publish content any more than the government could stop the New York Times and Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers, which were also stolen secret government documents.”
When it comes to access itself, there have been several organizations moving to block access to WikiLeaks, including The Library of Congress, according to Talking Points Memo.
“The Library of Congress has blocked access to the Wikileaks site on its staff computers and on the wireless network that visitors use,” TPM said in their report.
In a statement, the LC told TPM that the block is “…because applicable law obligates federal agencies to protect classified information. Unauthorized disclosures of classified documents do not alter the documents' classified status or automatically result in declassification of the documents.”
We’ll keep following the latest in the cablegate saga. In the meantime, feel free to weigh in with your opinions on WikiLeaks.
As a final thought, what are your opinions on the remarks by Pravda, who points out how hypocritical the U.S. is being with all of the drama surrounding cablegate?
“It is the American people who should be outraged that its government has transformed a nation with a reputation for freedom, justice, tolerance and respect for human rights into a backwater that revels in its criminality, cover-ups, injustices and hypocrisies.”
As noted by Mike Masnick at Techdirt, “It's pretty sad when Pravda is lecturing the US on free speech, tolerance and respect for human rights.”
Daily updates and coverage on cablegate are available from the following:
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