"Lie down with dogs, you'll wake up with fleas."
No one's quite sure who came up with this particular witticism, although some people say it dates to Benjamin Franklin himself. One thing I'm sure of, though: It sums up the predicament that corporate and government gadfly WikiLeaks finds itself in today.
For more than a week now, visitors to the WikiLeaks website have been met with the following not-100%-grammatical announcement:
We are forced to temporarily suspend publishing while we secure our economic survival. For almost a year we have been fighting an unlawful financial blockade. We cannot allow giant US finance companies to decide how the whole world votes with its pocket. Our battles are costly. We need your support to fight back. Please donate now.
Of course, this does raise the question of the means WikiLeaks employs in "fighting back" against the "giant US finance companies" that it rails against -- companies like MasterCard
While WikiLeaks rose to prominence on the back of its massive data dump of U.S. military and diplomatic files, secretly extracted from a military computer in Iraq, the company has shifted targets while tangling with The Establishment. WikiLeaks has threatened to unleash a "megaleak" of documents revealing unethical conduct by a "major US bank" -- aka (one presumes) a "giant US finance compan[y]." Yet at the same time, WikiLeaks complains that these banks, which it's been menacing with threats for months now, aren't facilitating its cause.
And it gets worse. Siding with WikiLeaks in this argument are two groups even shadier than Julian Assange's own organization. Last year, the loosely organized international hacking associations Anonymous and LulzSec rallied to WikiLeaks' cause, launching a series of hack-attacks against any and all companies thought to be infringing on WikiLeaks' "rights" to publish others' confidential and top-secret information.
In recent months, LulzSec has claimed responsibility for hacks against everything from Fox News on the right to PBS on the left -- and everything in between. (These were the folks, for example, who helped contribute to an expected $1 billion loss at Sony
Anonymous has been even more active. It's reputedly hacked Sony and the Australian Parliament, Orlando's Chamber of Commerce and Oregon's Tea Party, and dozens more websites. In particular, when the financial companies I mentioned earlier responded to WikiLeaks' activities and threats by tightening restrictions on fund transfers to the company, Anonymous launched a campaign of distributed denial of service attacks aimed at punishing the financial institutions for their action.
Honestly, I can't say I'm surprised that the banks are leery of WikiLeaks, considering the company it keeps. Whether the bank WikiLeaks says it now lacks the funds to "out" is named Citigroup, as some have hypothesized, or Bank of America, Wells Fargo, or a victim to be named later, one thing is clear:
It's not business, it's personal
Maybe it's the parent in me, but WikiLeaks' conduct seems awfully reminiscent of some of the tantrums my 3-year-old will occasionally hurl, the script to which reads something like this:
"I want candy."
"OK. Then I'll kick and scream and throw a fit until you give me candy."
The tantrum, naturally, doesn't do much to improve my mood, nor does it incline me to hand my little darling that Hershey bar she covets. Nonetheless, this is the tactic that WikiLeaks has decided to go with. Threatening to attack the big banks with its "megaleak," WikiLeaks is now surprised to discover that said banks are less than eager to help finance its activities and that, to the contrary, they're invoking "acceptable use" terms in their contracts and refusing to assist in funneling supporters' funds to WikiLeaks.
So now WikiLeaks responds to Big Banking's laying down the law by throwing an even bigger tantrum -- by holding its virtual breath until someone figures out a way to send it "candy" without the cooperation of the folks it wants to attack. Anyone want to guess how this will work out? I know how it would play in my house. And I have a pretty good hunch that WikiLeaks is going to wind up being sent to bed without dinner.
And on that note ... if you'll excuse me, I need to go update my antivirus software. Quickly.
Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool owns shares of MasterCard, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Bank of America. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Visa and eBay. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.