Thursday, December 9, 2010
In a campaign that had some declaring the start of a “cyberwar,” hundreds of Internet activists mounted retaliatory attacks on Wednesday on the Web sites of multinational companies and other organizations they deemed hostile to the WikiLeaks antisecrecy organization and its jailed founder, Julian Assange.
On Thursday, a man identifying himself as one of the activists from a group called Anonymous, who used the pseudonym Coldblood in an interview with BBC radio, said: “This campaign is not over from what I’ve seen. It’s still going strong.” The speaker had an English accent and said he was a 22-year-old software engineer with no specific political loyalty.
Within 12 hours of a British judge’s decision on Tuesday to deny Mr. Assange bail in a Swedish extradition case, attacks on the Web sites of WikiLeaks’s “enemies,” as defined by the organization’s impassioned supporters around the world, caused several corporate Web sites to become inaccessible or slow down markedly.
Targets of the attacks, in which activists overwhelmed the sites with traffic, included the Web site of MasterCard, which had stopped processing donations for WikiLeaks; Amazon.com, which revoked the use of its computer servers; and PayPal, which stopped accepting donations for Mr. Assange’s group. Visa.com was also affected by the attacks, as were the Web sites of the Swedish prosecutor’s office and the lawyer representing the two women whose allegations of sexual misconduct are the basis of Sweden’s extradition bid.
The Internet assaults underlined the growing reach of self-described “cyberanarchists,” antigovernment and anticorporate activists who have made an icon of Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian.
Though no major Web sites appeared to be under attack early on Thursday, Reuters reported, a Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, reported that the Swedish government’s Web site had gone down briefly during the night.
The speed and range of the attacks appeared to show the resilience of the backing among computer activists for Mr. Assange, who has appeared increasingly isolated in recent months amid the furor stoked by WikiLeaks’s Web site posting of hundreds of thousands of secret Pentagon documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mr. Assange has come under renewed attack in the past two weeks for posting the first tranche of a trove of 250,000 secret State Department cables that have exposed American diplomats’ frank assessments of relations with many countries, forcing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to express regret to world leaders and raising fears that they and other sources would become more reticent.
The New York Times and four other news organizations last week began publishing articles based on the archive of cables made available to them.
In recent months, some of Mr. Assange’s closest associates in WikiLeaks abandoned him, calling him autocratic and capricious and accusing him of reneging on WikiLeaks’s original pledge of impartiality to launch a concerted attack on the United States. He has been simultaneously fighting a remote battle with the Swedish prosecutors, who have sought his extradition for questioning on accusations of “rape, sexual molestation and forceful coercion” made by the Swedish women. Mr. Assange has denied any wrongdoing in the cases.
American officials have repeatedly said that they are reviewing possible criminal charges against Mr. Assange, a step that could lead to a bid to extradite him to the United States and confront him with having to fight for his freedom on two fronts.
The cyberattacks in Mr. Assange’s defense appear to have been coordinated by Anonymous, a loosely affiliated group of activist computer hackers who have singled out other groups before, including the Church of Scientology. Last weekend, members of Anonymous vowed in two online manifestos to take revenge on any organization that lined up against WikiLeaks.
Anonymous claimed responsibility for the MasterCard attack in Web messages and, according to one activist associated with the group, conducted waves of attacks on other companies during the day. The group said the actions were part of an effort called Operation Payback, which began as a way of punishing companies that attempted to stop Internet file-sharing and movie downloads.
The activist, Gregg Housh, who disavows a personal role in any illegal online activity, said that 1,500 supporters had been in online forums and chat rooms organizing the mass “denial of service” attacks. His account was confirmed by Jose Nazario, a senior security researcher at Arbor Networks, a Chelmsford, Mass., firm that tracks malicious activity on computer networks.
Most of the corporations whose sites were targeted did not explain why they severed ties with WikiLeaks. But PayPal issued statements saying its decision was based on “a violation” of its policy on promoting illegal activities.
Almost all the corporate Web sites that were attacked appeared to be operating normally later on Wednesday, suggesting that any economic impact was limited. But the sense of an Internet war was reinforced when Netcraft, a British Internet monitoring firm, reported that the Web site being used by the hackers to distribute denial-of-service software had been suspended by a Dutch hosting firm, Leaseweb.
A sense of the belligerent mood among activists was given when one contributor to a forum the group uses, WhyWeProtest.net, wrote of the attacks: “The war is on. And everyone ought to spend some time thinking about it, discussing it with others, preparing yourselves so you know how to act if something compels you to make a decision. Be very careful not to err on the side of inaction.”
Mr. Housh acknowledged that there had been online talk among the hackers of a possible Internet campaign against the two women who have been Mr. Assange’s accusers in the Swedish case, but he said that “a lot of people don’t want to be involved.”
A Web search showed new blog posts in recent days in which the two women, identified by the Swedish prosecutors only as Ms. A. and Ms. W., were named, but it was not clear whether there was any link to Anonymous. The women have said that consensual sexual encounters with Mr. Assange became nonconsensual when condoms were no longer in use.
The cyberattacks on corporations Wednesday were seen by many supporters as a counterstrike against the United States. Mr. Assange’s online supporters have widely condemned the Obama administration as the unseen hand coordinating efforts to choke off WikiLeaks by denying it financing and suppressing its network of computer servers.
Mr. Housh described Mr. Assange in an interview as “a political prisoner,” a common view among WikiLeaks supporters who have joined Mr. Assange in condemning the sexual abuse accusations as part of an American-inspired “smear campaign.”
Another activist used the analogy of the civil rights struggle for the cyberattacks.
“Are they disrupting business?” a contributor using the name Moryath wrote in a comment on the slashdot.org technology Web site. “Perhaps, but no worse than the lunch counter sit-ins did.”
John Markoff and Ashlee Vance contributed reporting from San Francisco.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
WASHINGTON (Reuters) The two Swedish women who accuse WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of sexual misconduct were at first not seeking to bring charges against him. They just wanted to track him down and persuade him to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, according to several people in contact with his entourage at the time.
The women went to the police together after they failed to persuade Assange to go to a doctor after separate sexual encounters with him in August, according to these people, who include former close associates of Assange who have since fallen out with him.
The women had trouble finding Assange because he had turned off his cellphone out of concern his enemies might trace him, these sources said.
Assange, who was arrested and held in custody by a British court Tuesday, has both admirers and detractors. His WikiLeaks group publishes secret documents from governments and companies, most recently making public a vast trove of U.S. State Department cables between Washington and embassies abroad that have cast a revealing and sometimes embarrassing eye on the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy.
Assange's elusiveness may have worked against him in the Swedish investigation, which might well have gone nowhere had he taken the women's calls and not left Sweden when police started looking into the allegations.
The Swedish investigation has undergone head-spinning twists and turns. After initially issuing a warrant for Assange's arrest on rape and molestation charges in mid-August, a Swedish prosecutor dropped the rape charge the next day. After this U-turn, it appeared likely that the whole investigation of the 39-year-old Australian computer hacker would be abandoned.
Assange's accusers then hired a lawyer who declared he would press prosecutors not only to keep the investigation going but to reinstate rape charges. The case was soon transferred to one of Sweden's three Directors of Public Prosecutions, Marianne Ny, who indeed decided to reinstate the rape investigation and continue the molestation probe. She ordered that Assange should be subject to official interrogation about the allegations.
After Assange left the country, Swedish authorities issued a European arrest warrant under which Assange could be detained and returned to Sweden. A spokeswoman for Swedish prosecutors affirmed, however, that at the moment Assange is not formally charged in Sweden with any criminal offense, but is only wanted for questioning.
The most serious accusation Swedish prosecutors made against him in a statement on their website is that he committed "rape, less serious crime" -- the least serious of three levels of rape charges that are on the statute books in Sweden. Conviction carries a maximum four year jail sentence and a minimum of less than two years, depending upon the circumstances.
As described by several people who were in contact with Assange and his inner circle at the time the allegations against him surfaced, both of his accusers are young Swedish women who came into contact with him during a visit to Sweden on behalf of WikiLeaks.
One of the women, identified in the British court hearing on Sweden's extradition request as Miss A, was listed on publicity for Assange's Swedish visit as a spokesperson for a group hosting the WikiLeaks leader.
People who were in contact with both Assange and other members of his entourage at the time say that the woman at some point invited him to stay at her residence.
Assange's financial resources are opaque, but by most accounts he maintains an austere lifestyle, supporting himself on the donations of wealthy and not-so-rich supporters and overnighting in a succession of friends' spare rooms.
According to the accounts of Assange's associates, his overnight stays at his erstwhile spokeswoman's residence soon evolved into a sexual relationship between the two. During one of their encounters, the woman later said, a condom Assange was wearing broke or split.
People who saw Assange and the woman in the days after this incident is said to have occurred said the two displayed little if any obvious sign of tension or hostility; to some who saw them at the time, it was not clear their relationship was anything other than amicable and chaste.
A few days later, however, people who were in contact with Assange then told Reuters, a second, younger woman went to a seminar addressed by Assange.
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According to an account published by London's Daily Mail -- which said it had access to heavily redacted versions of the statements both women made to Swedish police -- the second woman had become obsessed by Assange after watching him on television. After hearing him speak at the seminar, the newspaper said, the woman, identified in court as Miss W, loitered outside the meeting hall, and eventually was invited to lunch with Assange and his entourage at a local bistro.
A day after their initial meeting -- which the Mail account said included a visit to a natural history museum -- Miss W agreed with Assange that he should spend the night at her apartment about 45 minutes outside Stockholm. The paper says she had to pay for his $15 train ticket because he had no cash and didn't want to use a credit card in case it would help authorities locate him.
That night, according to the accounts of both the newspaper and people who were in contact with Assange and his inner circle, he and Miss W had sex using a condom.
The next morning, however, under circumstances which remain deeply murky, the sources said, Assange allegedly had sex with the woman again, this time without a condom. Then, after a meal during which the Mail says that the woman joked that she could be pregnant, they parted on friendly terms, with Miss W buying Assange his train ticket back to Stockholm.
Two people who were in contact with Assange's entourage before, during and after these events said that while some details are still unclear, it appears that after parting from Assange, Miss W became increasingly concerned that he might have given her a sexually-transmitted disease.
According to the sources, Miss W anxiously tried to phone Assange to plead with him to go to a doctor and be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. However, the sources said that Assange had turned his phone off, leaving Miss W no way to get in touch with him.
Becoming increasingly anxious about possible dire consequences of having had sex without a condom, Miss W then began trying to contact Assange through various people she believed were in touch with him.
This eventually led her to Miss A -- who according to people who followed the case closely was not previously acquainted with Miss W.
The two women proceeded to compare notes on their encounters with Assange and decided that they would insist that he should go to a hospital or doctor and submit to testing for sexually-transmitted diseases. Eventually they managed to get in touch with Assange, according to a person who closely followed the case at the time.
But by the time the women had wrung this concession from Assange, the source said, it was a Friday evening and hospitals and medical clinics were closed.
At this point, Miss W, apparently exasperated at Assange's evasive behavior, decided to take her story to police, though initially she didn't want Assange to be prosecuted.
According to a version of the story published by London's Guardian newspaper, which has been in close and continuing contact with Assange for months, Miss A decided to go to the police with Miss W to offer moral support, but did not want charges brought against Assange either.
After taking statements from the women, according to both published accounts and to accounts confirmed by Swedish officials at the time, police officers passed the reports on to prosecutors. Based on the reports a prosecutor serving after-hours duty on a Friday night then decided to issue a warrant for Assange's arrest on suspicion of rape -- a charge which the Guardian said at the time was related to Assange's alleged encounter with Miss W.
The next morning, however, the file was sent for review to a more senior prosecutor, who concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the rape accusation and canceled the arrest warrant. But the second prosecutor decided that the investigation should continue as a lesser accusation of "molestation" against Assange, Swedish officials said at the time.
Over the following several days, prosecutors spoke about wanting to question Assange, though also dropped heavy hints that they wanted to wrap up their investigation rapidly -- with the most likely outcome being a closing of the file.
However, new life was injected into the investigation after Miss A and Miss W hired Claes Borgstrom, a prominent Swedish lawyer. Borgstrom confirmed to reporters at the time that his clients' allegations against Assange related to efforts he made to have sex with them without wearing condoms, and his subsequent reluctance to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
Borgstrom said at the time that he would appeal the authorities' initial decision to close the rape investigation to a higher authority. Subsequently, Marianne Ny, one of three senior Swedish prosecutors who hold the title of Director of Public Prosecutions, issued a statement about the case, which, in an official translation published on the English language page of the Swedish Prosecution Authority's website, declared that: "There is reason to believe that a crime has been committed. Considering information available at present, my judgment is that the classification of the crime is rape."
In their official statement, prosecutors added that the original "molestation" investigation of Assange -- which was never officially closed -- also would continue and "will be extended to include all allegations in the original police report... There is reason to believe that a crime has been committed. Based on the information available, the crimes in question come under the heading of sexual coercion and sexual molestation, respectively."
In a flurry of statements and Twitter messages after the case first erupted, Assange and WikiLeaks charged that the whole Swedish case was the product of some kind of "dirty tricks campaign" related to the group's work. In one Tweet, WikiLeaks said that "The charges are without basis and their issue at the moment is deeply disturbing." Another Tweet said: "We were warned to expect 'dirty tricks'. Now we have the first one."
Assange kept to this theme in subsequent statements to the media. "I know by experience that WikiLeaks' enemies will continue to bandy around things even after they have been renounced. I don't know who's behind this but we have been warned that, for example, the Pentagon plans to use dirty tricks to spoil things for us."
But Assange was also quoted saying that he had "never, whether in Sweden or in any other country, had sex with anyone in a way that is not founded on mutual consent."
The Swedish prosecutor, Ny, said Tuesday the case was a personal matter and not connected with his work releasing secret U.S. diplomatic cables. "I want to make it clear that I have not been put under any kind of pressure, political or otherwise," Ny said in a statement.
Tuesday, a lawyer representing the Swedish government laid out for a British judge four specific charges of sexual misconduct, three related to Miss A and one related to Miss W. The word "rape" was not part of the charges but "unlawful coercion" and Assange's alleged reluctance to use condoms was.
Assange understood in August that Swedish authorities were seeking to question him about sexual misconduct charges, but the WikiLeaks founder left the country anyway, fearing a "media circus," according to someone who spoke with him at the time.
By bolting Sweden without appearing for interrogation, however, Assange forced the Swedes and British to launch an international legal effort that has created precisely the kind of media extravaganza he hoped to avoid.
(Additional reporting by Peter Griffiths and Michael Holden in London; Editing by Jim Impoco and Claudia Parsons)
Brief and to the Point:
This whole thing sounds like rubbish to us...
John Lennon John Lennon was killed two months after his 40th birthday
Tributes are to be paid to former Beatle John Lennon later to mark the 30th anniversary of his murder.
Fans will gather at a memorial garden in Central Park, New York, opposite the apartment block where he was shot dead.
A vigil will also be held in Liverpool at a monument dedicated to the singer where fans will light candles and sing his songs.
Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, has urged people to remember him with "deep love and respect".
She said: "On this tragic anniversary, please join me in remembering John.
"In his short-lived life of 40 years, he has given so much to the world. The world was lucky to have known him. We still learn so much from him today."
'He made us proud'
Ono was with Lennon when he was killed by crazed fan Mark Chapman outside the Dakota building in Manhattan, where the couple lived.
Ono will lead the tributes at a charity concert she has organised in Japan called Dream Power John Lennon Super Live, which raises money for schools for deprived children all over the world.
Events will also take place across Liverpool - Lennon's home city - to remember the singer.
Pat Simpson, from Blackpool, was among those who made the pilgrimage to the city's Cavern Club on the anniversary.
Yoko Ono Lennon's widow Yoko Ono paid tribute at a concert in Tokyo
"I remember I was on my way to work when I heard," she recalled of 9 December 1980, the morning after Lennon was shot. "I can remember sitting on the bus and had tears rolling down my cheeks.
"Somebody had a radio and it was announced that he had died."
Another fan, Jim Collins, from Liverpool, said: "It was a bit like the night we found out Kennedy had been shot, the same sort of experience in terms of shock.
"Like all the Beatles, he made us proud to be Liverpudlians at a bad time for Liverpool in terms of depression and everything. But not only that, I think everybody loves his music."
A vigil will be held in the city's Chavasse Park on Wednesday.
On Thursday, charity concert Lennon Remembered - The 9 Faces of John will feature the Liverpudlian's friends and bandmates from his first band, The Quarrymen, performing his most famous songs.