- Associated Press - Sunday, November 6, 2011

LONDON — WikiLeaks’ very future could be at stake, as founder Julian Assange decides his next step to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex crime charges.

Mr. Assange lost an appeal before Britain’s High Court last week and is considering whether to take his case to the country’s Supreme Court to stop an extradition order.

With WikiLeaks’ finances under pressure and some of its biggest revelations already public, the famous anti-secrecy website may not have the strength to survive without Mr. Assange, some analysts say.

Tim Maurer, who has studied the group and its membership, said he doubts whether WikiLeaks’ remaining staff has the technical savvy to run the site if its founder is absent.

“I don’t think that WikiLeaks will exist without Assange,” said Mr. Maurer, a research associate at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

For much of the past year, Mr. Assange has been running the website from a supporter’s country manor in eastern England, where he has been confined while awaiting the outcome of his extradition case. Mr. Assange has denied any wrongdoing.

The 40-year-old Australian says he has 20 staff members, but it is unclear who might take over if he is in detention in Sweden. A few years ago, two of his closest aides, Joseph Farrell and Sarah Harrison, were working as journalist interns. WikiLeaks’ spokesman, Icelandic journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson, is rarely reachable.

Even if Mr. Assange eventually wins his battle to the stay in Britain, his fight will be far from over.

A U.S. grand jury is weighing whether to indict him on espionage charges. WikiLeaks is straining under the weight of an American financial embargo that Mr. Assange says has starved it of nearly all its revenue. Some media organizations that have worked closely with the website have since turned their backs to the online secret-spiller.

Perhaps most important is the question of whether Mr. Assange still can produce explosive leaks with his suspected chief source, Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, in detention.

Purported chat logs between Pvt. Manning and the man who turned him in to authorities, Adrian Lamo, list the State Department cables, the Iraq war logs and a sheaf of Guantanamo documents among the highlights of the material handed to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks’ most recent disclosed scope - the purported transfer of compact discs packed with tax-evasion secrets by Swiss banker Rudolf Elmer - turned into a big dud when Mr. Elmer’s attorneys later claimed that the CDs were blank.

Even if the spectacular revelations return - and Mr. Assange insists he is still sitting on hundreds of secrets - WikiLeaks may have trouble finding an outlet to publish them.

The WikiLeaks chief said last week that he has struck deals with some 90 media and human rights groups. But he has long had a prickly relationship with the mainstream press, which he variously describes as corrupt, complicit with powerful governments, or - in a recent speech to demonstrators in London - “war criminals.”

Many journalists return Mr. Assange’s disdain.

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