Will Wikileaks drown in its own red ink?

The Web's most famous source of confidential info has suspended operations due to money troubles. What's left of investigative reporting might go down with it

We have interrupted our nonstop coverage of Apple iPad mania to bring you this important word about the freedom of information -- more specifically, Wikileaks.org.

I've written about Wikileaks several times over the last few years, in part because it's a classic example of why the Internet is such an extraordinary telecommunications tool.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Need more reasons to support Wikileaks? Check out its tussles with Swiss banks and Scientology, as detailed by Cringely | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Wikileaks is usually described as a "whistleblower" site, but it's really more of a safe haven for secrets that need to be exposed -- kind of like a Swiss bank, only in reverse, so it's kind of fitting that a Swiss bank is one of its most famous targets. But instead of shielding people who are trying to hide their assets, it exposes them. Thanks to the nature of the Net, confidential sources can make those secrets public without putting their own necks on the chopping block.

(Admittedly, these sources sometimes break the law or their legal agreements by doing so. And Wikileaks sometimes exposes information -- like personal email addresses -- of people who've done nothing wrong. It's far from perfect.)

Through its work, Wikileaks has exposed money-laundering banks, brainwashing cults, repressive governments, corporate scofflaws, butter-fingered politicos, and all other manner of bad actors. Not surprisingly, the org has been sued by its deep-pocketed targets, harassed by the authorities, and attacked by DDoSers. Now it faces the biggest obstacle of all: money -- or, rather, a lack thereof.

Today Wikileaks announced it has been forced to suspend its operations due to a lack of funds. That sound you hear is champagne glasses clinking in the boardrooms at Bank Julius Baer, at the Scientology HQ in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the government halls of Beijing, and in other elite locations around the globe.

I can understand why the wiki's donor pool dried up. About a year ago, Wikileaks sprung a leak itself and accidentally emailed a list of its financial patrons, some of whom probably would have preferred to remain anonymous. That email was then submitted to Wikileaks, which dutifully posted it like any other document it receives from anonymous sources.

Now it's seeking donations from the public to stay afloat, as well as technical resources (like servers and storage space) and legal expertise. Its supporters have started a Facebook group (numbering about 1,200 members at press time), and other journos besides yours truly are spreading the good word.

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