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Updated: December 8, 2010 20:55 IST

PayPal admits to U.S. pressure over WikiLeaks

Guardian News Service
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An employee walks past the PayPal logo at the international headquarters in Singapore. File Photo
AP An employee walks past the PayPal logo at the international headquarters in Singapore. File Photo

WikiLeaks battling to stay online as major corporations cease trading with it PayPal has admitted it suspended payments to WikiLeaks after an intervention from the U.S. State Department.

The site’s vice-president of platform, Osama Bedier, told an internet conference on Wednesday the site had decided to freeze WikiLeaks’s account on 4 December after government representatives told PayPal it was engaged in illegal activity. “State Dept told us these were illegal activities. It was straightforward,” he told the LeWeb conference in Paris, adding: “We ... comply with regulations around the world making sure that we protect our brand.”

PayPal is the first major corporation to admit that its decision to suspend its dealings with WikiLeaks was as a result of US government pressure. It will intensify criticism from supporters of WikiLeaks that it is being targeted for political reasons. Visa, Amazon, the Swiss bank PostFinance and others have also announced in recent days that they will cease trading with the whistleblowing site.

The moves have led to concerted attempts by hackers to target companies they deem guilty of “censoring” the site.

Earlier today, the website of the international credit card MasterCard was hacked into and partially paralysed in revenge for the payment network’s decision to cease taking donations to WikiLeaks. MasterCard is the biggest scalp yet taken in what is becoming an increasingly high-stakes technological battle over the site’s right to publish freely.

In an attack it is calling “Operation: Payback”, a group of online activists calling themselves Anonymous appear to have orchestrated a DDOS (“distributed denial of service“) attack on the site, bringing its service to a halt. Attempts to access www.mastercard.com have been unsuccessful since shortly after 9.30am.

The activists’ group, which calls itself “an anonymous, decentralised movement that fights against censorship and copywrong”, and has been linked to the influential internet messageboard 4Chan, argues that such steps “are long strides closer to a world where we cannot say what we think and are unable to express our opinions and ideas.

“We cannot let this happen. This is why our intention is to find out who is responsible for this failed attempt at censorship. This is why we intend to utilise our resources to raise awareness, attack those against and support those who are helping lead our world to freedom and democracy.” The Swiss bank PostFinance was successfully hacked on Monday after it shut down one of the site’s key bank accounts, accusing Assange of lying. Its service since has been seriously disrupted.

PayPal, which ceased processing payments to the site at the weekend due to a “violation of the PayPal acceptable use policy”, has also been targeted a number of times. But while its internal blog was paralysed for more than eight hours, the payment processing facility has so far been able to withstand the attacks.

Other cyber attacks were mounted yesterday on EveryDNS.net, which suspended dealings on 3 December; Amazon, which removed WikiLeaks content from its EC2 cloud on 1 December, and Visa, which suspended its dealings yesterday, may also be possible targets. According to bloggers monitoring the cyber attacks, those involved in the protests have also been targeting the websites of the Swedish prosecutors, the US senator Joe Lieberman, who is an outspoken critic of WikiLeaks, Sarah Palin, who said Julian Assange, the site’s founder, should be treated like a terrorist, and Claes Bergstrom, the lawyer of the two women who claim Assange raped or assaulted them.

Bergstrom confirmed his website was shut down overnight, as was the site of a lawyer representing Assange in Sweden. This was the first time such an attack had occurred, he said.

No one from MasterCard could be reached for immediate comment, but a spokesman, Chris Monteiro, has said the site suspended dealings with WikiLeaks because: “MasterCard rules prohibit customers from directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal.” DDOS attacks, which often involve flooding the target with requests so that it cannot cope with legitimate communication, are illegal.

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