London –, the founder of , said on Monday that his Web site could be forced to shut down by the end of the year because a 10-month-old “financial blockade” had sharply reduced the donations on which it depends.
Calling the blockade a “dangerous, oppressive and undemocratic” attack led by the United States, Mr. Assange said at a news conference here that it had deprived his organization of “tens of millions of dollars,” and warned, “If WikiLeaks does not find a way to remove this blockade, we will not be able to continue by the turn of the new year.”
Since the end of 2010, financial intermediaries, including Visa,, PayPal and , have refused to allow donations to WikiLeaks to flow through their systems, he said, blocking “95 percent” of the Web site’s revenue and leaving it to operate on its cash reserves for the past 10 months. An aide said that WikiLeaks was now receiving less than $10,000 a month in donations.
Mr. Assange said WikiLeaks had been forced to halt work on the processing of tens of thousands of secret documents that it had received, and to turn its attention instead to lawsuits it had filed in the United States, Australia, Scandinavian countries and elsewhere, as well as to a formal petition to the European Commission to try to restore donors’ ability to send it money through normal channels.
WikiLeaks receives and publishes confidential documents from whistle-blowers and leakers, who are eager to see the site continue with the publishing sensations that drew worldwide attention last year. WikiLeaks released and passed to news organizations huge quantities of secret United States military and diplomatic cables on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other subjects. Among the organizations the group worked with were The New York Times; Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine; and The Guardian, a British newspaper.
Mr. Assange held the news conference while on a brief break from his effective house arrest on a country estate 100 miles outside London. Limits on his movements are part of the bail conditions imposed on him last year while British courts decide whether to extradite him to Sweden. The authorities there want him to answer questions related to accusations that he sexually abused two women during a visit to Stockholm in the summer of 2010. A British appeals court ruling on the extradition, pending for months, is expected at any time.
At the news conference on Monday, Mr. Assange said he and WikiLeaks were victims of a “conspiracy to smear and destroy” them, led by the United States Treasury, American intelligence agencies and “right-wing” forces in the United States, including powerful corporations led by Bank of America and Visa. He said the attack had also included “high-level calls” to assassinate him and other WikiLeaks associates, but offered no specifics to support the allegation.
The finances of WikiLeaks, and of Mr. Assange personally, have been part of the controversy that has swirled around the organization for the past year. Internal disputes have prompted several of Mr. Assange’s closest associates to quit the organization, and one of the issues they have raised concerns the tight, even secretive, control he maintained over its money.
This year, the Wau Holland Foundation, an organization that has operated as a channel for WikiLeaks donations and as a keeper of the organization’s books, issued a report saying that WikiLeaks raised $1.8 million in 2010, and spent slightly more than $550,000, leaving an apparent surplus of about $1.3 million at the start of 2011. A representative of Wau Holland who appeared with Mr. Assange on Monday at the Frontline Club in London said that its work for WikiLeaks had also been halted by the American financial measures. Asked in an e-mail after the news conference for details of WikiLeaks’ current financial status, Wau Holland said it would respond by the end of the week.
A signal that WikiLeaks was in increasing financial distress came last month when a collection of memorabilia associated with Mr. Assange was put up for sale to raise money for WikiLeaks. The items included a sachet of prison coffee he said he had smuggled out of the Wandsworth jail, where he was briefly held last year before bail was set in the extradition case, and an “exclusive” photograph of Mr. Assange at Ellingham Hall in eastern England, where he has lived since then.
One standout item in the sale was a laptop computer said to have been used in the preparation of the secret American government cables that WikiLeaks released; it was posted at a “buy it now” price of more than $550,000, with the highest early bid coming in at $6,000, according to a BBC report at the time. In a Twitter posting, WikiLeaks vaunted the attractions of the laptop, telling potential buyers, “In this exclusive auction item, you will get the full set of WikiLeaks cables, the WikiLeaks computer and its passwords.”
Mr. Assange responded brusquely on Monday when a reporter asked whether donations to WikiLeaks had been used to finance his extradition battle, with legal bills running into hundreds of thousands of dollars. A posting on the WikiLeaks Web site invites donations to the WikiLeaks and Julian Assange Defense Fund, but Mr. Assange said that no money intended for WikiLeaks had been used for his legal defense.
Last month, Canongate Books, based in Edinburgh, published a 340-page biography of Mr. Assange based on 50 hours of interviews he gave to a writer, Andrew O’Hagan, that were initially intended to yield a memoir. Mr. Assange later repudiated his book contract and, according to newspaper reports, refused to return a $650,000 advance; sales of the book have been sluggish.