WikiLeaks Gets Its Own “Axis of Evil” Defense Network

If the WikiLeaks saga was a comic book, it would be starting to look a lot like the Justice League of America vs. the League of Supervillians — or maybe it’s more like Star Wars, with the plucky rebel alliance up against the might of the Empire. As the U.S. government and a variety of corporations such as Visa (s v) and PayPal (s ebay) keep up the pressure on the document-leaking organization that they see as a traitor and a scofflaw, a rough alliance of supporters have taken it upon themselves to wage a cyber-war in its defense by attacking the websites of those and other companies.

Leading the fight is a shadowy group called Operation Payback, which in turn is loosely affiliated with Anonymous, an organization (although that term makes it sound more co-ordinated than it really is) that grew out of the alternative website 4chan, and became infamous for its attacks on Scientology, among other things. At last check, the Operation Payback site itself was offline — another symptom of the back-and-forth battle in which the group has been co-ordinating “distributed denial of service” or DDOS attacks on Amazon (s amzn), PayPal, Visa and MasterCard (s ma). Also in this loose federation are The Pirate Bay — the file-sharing operation based in The Pirate Part of Sweden, which has been providing servers for the WikiLeaks documents — and Flattr, the “tip jar” service that is now one of the few ways to donate money to WikiLeaks, and was founded by Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde.

Amazon, PayPal, Visa and MasterCard have cut off support for WikiLeaks in the past week, despite the fact that it’s not clear the organization has actually done anything illegal by publishing classified military documents (something the New York Times and The Guardian have also done). In a statement on its website, Operation Payback quoted digital guru John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who said on Twitter that “The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops.” Operation Payback added that:

While we don’t have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same reasons. We want transparency and we counter censorship. The attempts to silence WikiLeaks are long strides closer to a world where we can not say what we think and are unable to express our opinions and ideas.

It’s not clear how much disruption the group and its supporters have been able to create, however. MasterCard’s website was down for at least part of Wednesday, but the company said its cardholders and payment systems were not affected. PayPal said that it suffered a denial-of-service attack on Monday but that it was dealt with fairly rapidly. By mid-day Wednesday, Operation Payback had moved on to its next target — Visa, whose website went down within minutes of the group posting about the attack on Twitter. The website for the Swedish bank that froze WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange’s accounts went down for at least part of Tuesday, but the bank’s other operations appeared to be unaffected.

In other words, the Empire remains strong. Meanwhile, after sending out a plea for ways to keep the site up and running following the removal of DNS services by its provider EveryDNS, the organization now has over 1,200 mirror sites set up — many of them in Europe — through which it can publish any documents instantly. The site has also taken a number of other steps that will make it virtually impossible to remove it completely from the Internet (including having at least some of its servers hosted by The Pirate Bay, the file-sharing network based in Sweden) and Assange has said that there are over 10,000 sites that have full copies of the diplomatic cables.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Julian Fong