A non-profit created in response to the banking blockade against WikiLeaks plans to stop funding the secret-spilling website following more than five years of facilitating donations.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) is slated to sever ties with WikiLeaks next month, ending its stint as surrogate for individuals wishing to fund the site in spite of being blacklisted in 2010 by Visa, MasterCard and PayPal.
“FPF’s board unanimously found — upon review of the available evidence — that the financial blockade by the major payment processors is no longer in effect, and as such, we will soon cease processing donations on behalf of WikiLeaks readers,” Trevor Timm, the foundation’s director, wrote in a Dec. 9 email to WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.
The partnership is poised to dissolve Jan. 8, at which point WikiLeaks will lose its longtime intermediary and look toward the likes of foreign proxies and cryptocurrencies for additional income, lest it risk repeating the banking blockade that previously decimated the website’s cash reserves.
“The financial censorship of WikiLeaks is ongoing in various ways as is our litigation in response,” Mr. Assange wrote in an email to Mr. Timm.
Mr. Assange posted the exchange on Twitter, and Mr. Timm confirmed its authenticity when contacted by The Washington Times.
Launched in late 2012, the FPF was a direct consequence of the banking blockade imposed against WikiLeaks in response to its publication of classified U.S. State and Defense Department later traced to Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst. Visa, MasterCard and PayPal stopped serving WikiLeaks following their publication, and that blockade “inspired” the formation of FPF, the organization announced upon launching.
“The Foundation is designed to crowd-fund a variety of journalism institutions—both start-ups and established organizations—who are dedicated to aggressive, uncompromising journalism in the vein of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers,” the FPF said at the time.
WikiLeaks was the first major benefactor of the FPF’s efforts, and the foundation ultimately raised nearly $200,000 within six weeks of launching, including $86,000 destined directly to WikiLeaks.
Donors looking to fund WikiLeaks today can use the FPF’s website as a proxy, and currently the foundation processes both one-time donations and recurring, monthly payments meant for WikiLeaks. That will end soon when the board’s vote takes effect, however, at which point the foundation intends to transfer its remaining WikiLeaks funds to Wau Holland, a German organization that similarly channels funds for Mr. Assange’s website, according to the email exchange.
The parting of ways between the FPF and WikiLeaks was first reported by The Daily Beast last month in an article that claimed that several of the foundation’s board members had become “disenchanted with WikiLeaks,” and especially Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified NSA documents in 2013 and joined its board the next January.
Mr. Snowden has quietly served as the FPF’s president since early 2016. He did not return messages seeking comment.
Last month WikiLeaks was given until Dec. 1 to update the foundation with respect to the status of the banking blockade — “a previously undiscussed unilateral 10-day ultimatum,” Mr. Assange wrote in an email to Mr. Timm sent the same day as the deadline.
“The pressure against WikiLeaks, its staff and its allies has increased as a result of our CIA and Democratic party publications,” Mr. Assange wrote in the email.
“The FPF faces criticism for receiving donations on our behalf, but that is its function,” wrote Mr. Assange. “If it bows to political pressure it becomes part of the problem it was designed to solve and yet another spurious free speech organization—of which there are plenty.”
The FPF board that voted unanimously to stop processing payments for WikiLeaks is composed of Mr. Timm, Mr. Snowden, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow, actor John Cusack, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, journalist Glenn Greenwald, technologist Micah Lee, filmmaker Laura Poitras and activist Rainey Reitman.
Mr. Timm did not immediately comment on Mr. Assange’s claims.
“We consider the defeat of the financial blockade a victory for free expression rights,” Mr. Timm wrote in his Dec. 9 response to Mr. Assange. “We are proud of the work we did over the past five years to see that WikiLeaks was able to receive so many donations from WikiLeaks readers it otherwise may have unjustly lost. If a similar extrajudicial financial blockade is re-instated in the future, our board agreed WikiLeaks would be welcome to apply for protection again.”
“This decision has no bearing on FPF’s position that WikiLeaks is entitled to robust First Amendment protections, as is every publisher, for publishing newsworthy information. We continue to strongly oppose any prosecution attempts by the U.S. government for WikiLeaks’s publishing activities,” wrote Mr. Timm.
WikiLeaks said previously that the banking blockade disrupted 95 percent of donations, “running primary cash reserves down from more than a million dollars in 2010 to under a thousand dollars, as of December 2012.”
A public Bitcoin wallet belonging to WikiLeaks has received a total of 4,041 BTC since June 2011, or roughly $69 million worth of donations during the last 5.5 years, including a current balance worth about $24,000.
Half a decade after forming in response to the banking blockade, the FPF’s efforts have expanded over the years past simply channeling donations to WikiLeaks. The foundation’s operations have broadened to range from maintaining SecureDrop, a whistleblower submission system used by news outlets throughout the world, to fundraising defense costs for Ms. Manning, the former WikiLeaks source.
Its previously crowd-funded for other organizations including MuckRock and the National Security Archive, and it currently provides digital security training to journalists and pursues Freedom of Information Act lawsuits on their behalf, among other endeavors.
Convicted in 2013 and released from prison earlier this year, Ms. Manning remains the only person tried in the U.S. for charges directly related to leaking documents published by WikiLeaks. The Department of Justice has been investigating WikiLeaks since at least 2010, however, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions called arresting Mr. Assange a “priority” after WikiLeaks began publishing leaked CIA documents in March.
Barry Pollack, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney for Mr Assange, “advised against setting up a [non-profit] in the United States as it would increase the DoJ’s ability to assert jurisdiction and hence make it easier to prosecute our staff,” Mr. Assange wrote Mr. Timm.
The Department of Justice did not immediately return an email seeking comment.