As expected, a British judge has ruled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault charges. This opens the door to a possible extradition to the United States to face charges relating to the posting of allegedly stolen confidential U.S. diplomatic cables on the WikiLeaks Website.
Howard Riddle, the judge who heard the case, rejected claims made by Assange’s defense team that because of the advance publicity surrounding the allegations, Assange would not receive a fair trial. The lawyers are set to appeal the judge’s decision, which was announced Feb. 24. If the appeal is denied, he will be sent to Sweden within 10 days.
The U.S. government had been waiting to see the British court verdict before determining what action it could take, Assange told the Guardian.
Assange has called the charges false and politically motivated because of the controversial classified documents WikiLeaks had obtained and published. He has been fighting extradition since he was arrested and denied bail in December, at the height of the WikiLeaks scandal as 250,000 U.S. embassy cables were posted on the site over the space of several weeks.
“The WikiLeaks incident began with an act of theft. Government documents were stolen, just the same as if they had been smuggled out in a briefcase,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a recent speech. “The fact that WikiLeaks used the Internet is not the reason we criticized it,” she said.
The U.S. government changed a number of its policies to prevent future data leaks, such as banning removable storage media on classified networks. Security companies point to WikiLeaks to highlight how organizations need to implement stricter data controls to prevent sensitive data from being leaked.
While Assange has been trying to raise money for his legal defense, WikiLeaks itself has its own financial troubles. Several financial organizations stopped doing business with the organization in recent months, making fund-raising nearly impossible. WikiLeaks is losing nearly $650,000 a week, Assange told the Swiss newspaper Tribune de Geneve last week.
“We have been losing more than 600,000 francs a week since the start of the publication of the diplomatic cables. To continue our business, we would need to find a way or other to get this money back,” he said.
WikiLeaks is so thinly staffed that it can’t process documents it recently received that allegedly name rich and influential global players guilty of tax crimes, according to CNN. Assange also hinted about an upcoming “megaleak” about a major bank, which many believe to involve Bank of America, but nothing has been posted yet.
Although Assange is distracted by his legal problems and WikiLeaks is struggling to operate, it would be premature for organizations to relax their data-leak-prevention strategies. There are plenty of other whistle-blowing sites waiting to publicize leaked documents and information, such as OpenLeaks, founded by former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg.
Unlike WikiLeaks, OpenLeaks plans to be only an intermediary, connecting whistleblowers with reporters and human rights organizations that would be willing to publicize the information. Ironically, its launch was moved up when someone posted information about the site to another leak site, Cryptome.org.
It appears that Anonymous has also launched its own leaks site, anonleaks.ru, with information obtained when the group hacked HBGary, a security provider that works with the federal government. Anonymous is a loose group of hackers that have launched several denial-of-service attacks against the Websites of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal in retaliation for those companies cutting off WikiLeaks.
A message on Cryptome.org suggests that the “WikiLeaks mini-era” has been surpassed, and there will be more “Anonymous-type hacks” to “simply steal and torrent the family jewels of the spies, officials, lobbyists and corporations.” In short, instead of waiting for whistleblowers to bring the data to leak sites, hackers will hack into highly sensitive military and corporate computer systems and steal information themselves.