In a bid to stay one step ahead of the governments, companies, freelance hackers trying to shut down its operations, WikiLeaks mobilized its vast base of online support Saturday by asking its Twitter followers to create copies of its growing archive of hundreds of classified State Department cables.
By late afternoon Eastern time, more than 200 had answered the call, setting up "mirror" sites, many of them with the name "wikileaks" appended to their Web addresses. They organized themselves organically using the Twitter hashtag #imwikileaks, in a virtual show of solidarity reminiscent of the movie V is for Vendetta. In that 2005 film, a Guy-Fawkes masked vigilantee inspires thousands of Londoners to march on the Parliament similarly disguised -- while it blows up in front of their eyes. Presumably, many of these people believe they are facing the same sort of tyranny that V, the film's protagonist, fought against.
Critics of WikiLeaks have called on the Obama administration to shut down the site, but now it's clear that doing so would be a difficult task indeed. The New Yorker's recent profile of Julian Assange, the organization's mysterious founder and front man, said that "a government or company that wanted to remove content from WikiLeaks would have to practically dismantle the Internet itself." WikiLeaks has also posted a massive, heavily encrypted "insurance" file on The Pirate Bay, a sympathetic website, which presumably contains also 250,000-plus cables and would be released into the wild if anything happens to Assange.
As my FP colleague Evgeny Morozov warns, aggressive action like arresting or killing Assange could spawn the rise of a vast, permanent network of radicalized hackers "systematically challenging those in power – governments and companies alike – just for the sake of undermining 'the system'." That could prove an extremely dangerous threat to the global economy and diplomatic sphere.
Evgeny offers the sensible suggestion that governments try to steer WikiLeaks into a more productive direction. "It is a choice between WikiLeaks becoming a new Red Brigades, or a new Transparency International," he writes, arguing that a responsible version of the organization could pose more of a challenge to closed regimes than to the West. "Handled correctly, the state that will benefit most from a nerdy network of 21st-century Che Guevaras is America itself."