WikiLeaks Goes Behind Paywall, Anonymous Cries Foul

Secret-spilling site WikiLeaks has moved millions of documents behind a paywall, prompting blowback from elements of an underground ally, the hacking group Anonymous, including one well-known member to conclude that it “cannot support anymore what WikiLeaks has become.”

Upon clicking on any of the site’s documents, including “Cablegate: 250,000 US Embassy Diplomatic Cables,” which is said to have came from alleged WikiLeaks-leaker Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks visitors are taken to a page with a video that lambastes Barack Obama and ends with WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange asking for donations. To access documents, one can donate, share the video on Facebook or tweet it. The fullscreen overlay cannot be closed unless a donation is made or something is shared, though the video does not appear over every document dump.

Prominent Anonymous Twitter accounts were quick to register displeasure. @YourAnonNews called for the wall to come down and then followed up with a damning message:

@AnonymousIRC went further by dropping a long letter to Pastebin, explaining that it has had enough of WikiLeaks’ founder, concluding that WikiLeaks has lost its way and is consumed by Assange’s legal troubles and ego instead of its mission of transparency.

The dustup adds to the rocky relationship between Anonymous and WikiLeaks. Anonymous rallied behind WikiLeaks in December 2010, targeting Visa, MasterCard and PayPal for blocking off donations to WikiLeaks. Fourteen suspects connected to Anonymous were charged last year for allegedly participating in denial-of-service attacks against online payment service provider PayPal.

Later it even acted as a conduit for documents Anonymous obtained via hacking, including break-ins seemingly masterminded by FBI-informant Sabu. For instance, in February, in what was viewed as an unprecedented collaboration between WikiLeaks and Anonymous, WikiLeaks began leaking portions of a massive trove of e-mails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor that Anonymous obtained by hacking the company in December.

But that partnership left many in Anonymous unsatisfied and some Anons set up their own leaking operation, known as Par:AnoIA.

Assange, who has taken refuge at the Ecuador embassy in London, did not immediately respond for comment. But Wikileaks wrote on Twitter that “A tweet, share, wait or donate campaign is not a ‘paywall.’”

Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador in August amid claims that, if he was extradited to Sweden to face an investigation for sex crimes, he would be further extradited to the United States where he would face political persecution and military court trial for publishing documents that have angered the U.S. government. He remains holed up in the London embassy on fears he would be arrested if he fled to Ecuador.

In a message posted on Pastebin, @AnonymousIRC blasted Assange:

…Wikileaks is not — or should not be — about Julian Assange alone. The idea behind Wikileaks was to provide the public with information that would otherwise being kept secret by industries and governments. Information we strongly believe the public has a right to know. But this has been pushed more and more into the background, instead we only hear about Julian Assange, like he had dinner last night with Lady Gaga. That’s great for him but not much of our interest. We are more interested in transparent governments and bringing out documents and information they want to hide from the public.

The message added:

“The conclusion for us is that we cannot support anymore what Wikileaks has become – the One Man Julian Assange show. But we also want to make clear that we still support the original idea behind Wikileaks: Freedom of information and transparent governments. Sadly we realize that Wikileaks does not stand for this idea anymore.

The overlay on WikiLeaks can be circumvented by disabling JavaScript, and many Anonymous docs can be found on mirror sites around the net that lack the paywall.