For the second time in two years WikiLeaks announced it was suspending publication of secret documents due to financial difficulties.
The site has already failed to make good on months-old claims that it has a cache of new secrets to unleash, including internal documents from Bank of America, and the new announcement would postpone their publication even longer. WikiLeaks announced on Monday that it was halting publication because it was running out of cash and needed to focus on fundraising.
At the same time, the site announced that it planned to launch a new submission system on Nov. 28, a year after it began publishing a cache of more than 250,000 U.S. State Department cables. The site didn’t say how it planned to publish new submissions if it was experiencing financial problems.
”In order to reclaim the organization’s future survival, WikiLeaks is now forced to temporarily suspend its operations and move into a phase of fund-raising,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement.
The announcement comes just days after Assange told an audience that his organization had sustained itself over the last 11 months solely on cash it had already raised from donations.
Last April, the Wau Holland Foundation, the Berlin-based non-profit that was responsible for processing donations to WikiLeaks that were made through PayPal and bank transfers, disclosed that it had received about $1.9 million in donations for WikiLeaks in 2010. More than half of that amount, or $700,000, came in November and December of that year, after WikiLeaks and several newspapers began publishing the trove of diplomatic cables allegedly received from Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning.
In a new video plea for donations (see above), Assange asserts that his organization has “thousands of pending revelations,” and needs money to support its fight against PayPal, Visa, MasterCard and other payment systems that froze the organization’s accounts after it began publishing the State Department cables last year.
Assange said the account freezes had left WikiLeaks “with just 5 percent of our financial lifeline” and had “wiped out successfully 95 percent” of donations, though he offers no details to support this assertion.
As part of its new fundraising push, WikiLeaks listed the cost of its operations, though didn’t elaborate on how it reached the expenditure figures or define what such expenditures as “technical information” and “legal costs” meant. WikiLeaks has been criticized in the past for failing to be transparent about how it spends donations. The list of its costs include:
- Security – $300,000
- Publications research – $500,000
- Legal costs – $1.2 million
- Productions – $400,000
- Salaries and staff expenses – $500,000
- Campaigns – $300,000
- Technical information – $500,000
The amounts far exceed expenditures that Wau Holland listed for the site in 2010. According to the foundation, little more than $200,000 was used by WikiLeaks for the cost of processing submissions. This involved “reviewing and editing incoming material, video authoring, analyzing and arranging a large number of documents … anonymisation and much more.” The sum also included the “involvement of external experts like journalists.” In 2010, WikiLeaks sent two Swedish journalists to Iraq to locate and interview two children who were injured in an Army Apache attack, a battle that featured in the now-famous Iraq “Collateral Murder” video that WikiLeaks published in April of last year.
According to the Wau Holland report, an additional $152,000 was paid to “a few heads of project and activists,” for services invoiced. This appeared to reference salaries paid to staffers, though the report didn’t specify how this expense differed from expenses attributed to processing submissions.
The report also didn’t say how much Assange personally received from the funds, though the Wall Street Journal reported previously that he received about $88,000 in back pay for work performed in 2010.
Wau Holland paid out about $87,000 to cover WikiLeaks’ infrastructure expenses, such as servers and other hardware; another $91,000 went for travel costs to conferences, meetings and lectures. Additionally, Wau Holland paid out $48,000 in legal fees. This was defined as costs for project campaigns, “not for individual-related legal advice or legal representation in court proceedings.” The latter likely referred to the personal legal expenses that have been racked up over the last year by Assange, who is facing sex-crimes allegations in Sweden and has been fighting an extradition battle in London.
The group has paid out only $15,000 to help with the legal defense of Manning, who is currently awaiting trial on charges that he passed classified and other sensitive U.S. government documents to a third party.
WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson wouldn’t provide details on how the new submission system will differ from the site’s previous system. He told the Australian newspaper The Age only that ”it is fair to say that it has been rebuilt from scratch and is more robust and secure than the previous version.”
WikiLeaks lost its previous submission system last year when its former spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg and another staff member defected from the organization and took the submission system with them.
WikiLeaks covered up the loss at the time by saying it had disabled its submission system because it had been inundated with too many submissions. Domscheit-Berg later revealed the truth behind the downtime and criticized Assange for operating a system that wasn’t secure and put both sources and visitors to the web site at risk.
WikiLeaks ceased publication of documents once before, due to financial troubles. In December 2009, right before Manning allegedly began to leak large caches of documents to WIkiLeaks, the site announced a temporary suspension of publication until it could raise money. The submission system didn’t come back online until the subsequent spring.