Continued from page 1

The pro-WikiLeaks vengeance campaign on Wednesday appeared to be taking the form of denial-of-service attacks in which computers are harnessed _ sometimes surreptitiously _ to jam target sites with mountains of requests for data, knocking them out of commission.

Per Hellqvist, a security specialist with the firm Symantec, said a network of web activists called Anonymous _ to which Operation Payback is affiliated _ appeared to be behind many of the attacks. The group, which has previously focused on the Church of Scientology and the music industry, is knocking offline websites seen as hostile to WikiLeaks.

“While we don’t have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same reasons,” the group said in a statement. “We want transparency and we counter censorship … we intend to utilize our resources to raise awareness, attack those against and support those who are helping lead our world to freedom and democracy.”

The website for Swedish lawyer Claes Borgstrom, who represents the two women at the center of Assange’s sex crimes case, was unreachable Wednesday.

The Swiss postal system’s financial arm, Postfinance, which shut down Assange’s bank account on Monday, was also having trouble. Spokesman Alex Josty said the website buckled under a barrage of traffic Tuesday.

“Yesterday it was very, very difficult, then things improved overnight,” he told the AP. “But it’s still not entirely back to normal.”

Ironically, the microblogging site Twitter _ home of much WikiLeaks support _ could become the next target. Operation Payback posted a statement claiming “Twitter you’re next for censoring Wikileaks discussion.”

Some WikiLeaks supporters accuse Twitter of preventing the term “WikiLeaks” from appearing as one of its popular “trending topics.” Twitter denies censorship, saying the topics are determined by an algorithm.

Twitter’s top trending topics are not the ones people are discussing the most overall, but those they are talking about more right now than they did previously, Twitter explained in an e-mail Wednesday. If tweets were ranked by volume alone, the weather or other mundane topics would dominate the trends.

WikiLeaks angered the U.S. government earlier this year when it posted a video showing U.S. troops on a helicopter gunning down two Reuters journalists in Iraq. Since then, the organization has leaked some 400,000 classified U.S. war files from Iraq and 76,000 from Afghanistan, which U.S. military officials say could put people’s lives at risk. In the last few weeks, the group has begun leaking a massive trove of secret U.S. diplomatic cables.

U.S. officials have directed their anger at Assange, but others have begun to ask whether Washington shares the blame for the diplomatic uproar.

“The core of all this lies with the failure of the government of the United States to properly protect its own diplomatic communications,” Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday, criticizing the fact that tens of thousands of U.S. government employees had access to the cables.

Assange, meanwhile, faces a new extradition hearing in London next week where his lawyers plan to reapply for bail. The 39-year-old Australian denies two women’s allegations in Sweden of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion, and is fighting his extradition to Sweden.

In a Twitter message Wednesday, WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson shrugged off the challenges.

“We will not be gagged, either by judicial action or corporate censorship … WikiLeaks is still online,” Hrafnsson said.

Story Continues →