Friday, December 3, 2010

Where Does Wikileaks Money Come From?

The biggest mystery about Wikileaks is where its money comes from. Running Wikileaks is not cheap. Reports indicate a staff of about 20, multiple servers in multiple countries, with fairly large bandwidth charges, plus frequent moves to different hosting providers in different nations. Itself expensive and requiring a well-paid staff. Wikileaks is not using bare-bones hosting and staff out of outsourcing India, for sure. Then there is travel. Julian Assange travels around the world, to avoid arrest, moving about every week to a new location. All told I've come up with a total yearly cost of $1.3 million, minimum, not including Assange's likely generous salary.

So where is the money coming from?


I've constructed a baseline for the costs. Servers, are likely around $7,000 USD a month, or $84,000 a year. It might be more. Remember, Wikileaks must have extensive hot-backup, large security measures, and the ability to move content quickly to a new hosting platform. This costs far more than your basic hosting at Rackmount or Bluehost. Then of course there are the massive bandwidth charges, that probably amount to around $7,000 a month minimum. The money could well be higher.

Wikileaks has a staff of roughly around 20 people. These people are not ill-trained outsourced staff in India or China, with English as their next language. They include, translators, expert coders, systems administrators, all earning high Western wages. Likely around $60,000 per year at a minimum. Some probably more, others less, but that is the likely staffing cost. Recall they must harden systems against attack, provide security, and prevent disclosure of sources giving them material in the first place. This would amount to about $1.2 million a year, and perhaps substantially more.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange travels extensively. Travel is not cheap, and neither is lodging. While sometimes he stays in private homes, sometimes he does not. I doubt he is staying at Motel 6, they seem unlikely to have left the light on for him, as their slogan goes. Assange is in the habit of buying his tickets at the last minute, with cash, to avoid detection of his travel patterns and avoid arrest. At a minimum, this would amount to about $1,500 a week for travel (late purchasers pay more for tickets) and perhaps double that amount, depending on if he goes short-haul or long-haul (halfway around the globe). At a minimum, we are looking at $78,000 per year ($1,500 times 52 weeks) and this may understate his travel expenses if he travels twice a week, or does lots of trans-global travel.

This of course excludes Assange's salary. Judging by his attire, he seems to be able to clothe himself well. So perhaps there is another $100,000 in expenditures on Assange himself. That would bring us to at least $1,362,000, or perhaps even $1,462,000, in total expenditures for Wikileaks yearly.

Where does that money come from?

The well-known propensity for large monetary charitable donations among the denizens of Slashdot, and the open source community? Unlikely.

The most likely source for that sort of money (which could be even higher) is a sovereign government. With the sources of money that can be disguised, seeking to use the open-ness of the West against itself.

So who is the likely donor?

China comes to mind. It is worth thinking about that little that is unflattering, and even less that is damaging, has come out about China. While there have been unflattering portraits of Putin and his "Robin" Medvedev, and more confirmation of the Litivenko assassination (the cables suggest Putin personally authorized it given his attention to detail and micro-managing history), nothing about China's leaders has surfaced that paints them in an unflattering light. Nothing about Tibet. Nothing about tensions with India, and China's influence in Himalayan kingdoms abutting India. Nothing about China's military-to-military assistance with Pakistan's nuclear program and ballistic missile program. Nothing about who is up, and who is down, in the Chinese leadership. Nothing about the corruption of the Red Princes. A mere tidbit here and there expressing some Chinese frustration with North Korea. That is all.

In the Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of Silver Blaze," Holmes directs Watson's attention to the curious affair of the dog in the night-time (the prize racehorse Silver Blaze has been stolen). Watson protests that the dog did nothing in the night-time. Indeed, Holmes replies, that is what was so curious.

Every action by an intelligence agency, to conduct covert operations leaves evidence. Ripples in a pond, or dogs barking or not. It is telling that in all the cables disclosed so far by Wikileaks, not one has fairly derogatory information about China. There is plenty about Russia, about Turkey, about Iran. But nothing about China. Not even the standard gossip of which Red Princeling is making the most money off a father or grandfather's influence in the Politburo. Only the already known disclosure that China hacks Google, most other US companies, and the US government.

It would seem China is the dog not barking in the night-time. The most obvious (so far) paymaster of Wikileaks.

Consider this. For a few million dollars, China has been able to fund embarrassing and hurtful disclosures about the US, that will prevent any major diplomatic deals being done (because potential participants know the US cannot keep secrets) and will also prevent any critical information from being passed along confidentially.

This gives China an element of surprise. For a "massive stroke" ala Pearl Harbor in whatever form: military, commercial, or both. The US literally will have no warning, and no ability to cobble together any effective diplomatic response. China obviously wants things: conquering Taiwan, probably South Korea, possibly Japan. If nothing else, the massive sex imbalance with far too many men and not enough women can only be changed conquering neighboring territories and taking the women as the new version of "comfort workers."

Economically, China has failed to stimulate domestic demand. This is unsurprising, it remains mostly desperately poor, desperately uneducated, and unable to generate internal wealth wide and deep enough to provide a Western style of living (and thus consumption and wealth) for most of its people. Wal-Mart's expansion into China is not on the Wal-Mart model, rather the hypermarket of Latin America, basically a brick building with concrete floors and no air conditioning, offering only a few really cheap items in bulk.

Can China grow at a 8% rate, year after year? No. At a certain point, the growth created by building roads and electrifying villages comes to an end, and economies either transition to higher value growth (Japan, South Korea, West Germany) or fail: the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, likely China. The only alternative is military adventure to capture territory, resources, and people.

China seems edging ever closer into the same conflict over who will rule the Pacific that Japan did with the US all those years ago. Wikileaks is potentially part of this process of edging into conflict. It is unlikely of course there is a master plan by the Chinese Politburo. Merely a desire to constantly chip away at the US ability to master both diplomatic coalitions (particularly around China's periphery, the disclosure of candid and private conversations by Singapore's Lee Kwan Yew was no accident) and gain advance information about China's aims and actions, that incrementally leads to conflict.

The Chinese are certainly adept at Cyberwarfare, and have a predilection for the indirect approach to conflict. They have the resources. They match the strange exclusion of humiliating and embarrassing secrets against China in the Wikileaks cable dumps.

But one thing is certain. Running Wikileaks is not cheap. It requires money and certainly more money that a shoe-string, independent donor driven outfit like Wikileaks poses as could generate. If not China, then some intelligence agency is using US open-ness and lack of deterrent (by punishing Wikileaks founder Assange and his co-workers in very nasty ways to prevent it from happening again) to take away America's ability to create diplomatic alliances and gain critical information.


19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating idea, Whiskey. You have cut to the quick on the issue--how does Wikileaks fund itself? No one is paying attention to it, mostly because the press are boobs and useful idiots.

China is a good example of an entity that could have funded this, Russia is another---Putin is an expert in intelligence affairs, and the revelations make him seem more of a badass, not less; it could be subterfuge.

Osama bin laden is as well, considering he is a billionaire's son.

I always think, however, of private people with large funds that hate freedom and America, but not enough to kill directly. George Soros certainly has enough money and knowledge of financial affairs enough to hide it through Swizz bank accounts. He might not like that his little fascist in the white house isn't pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan soon enough. Plus he already hates the country and people not doing what they're told by Daddy Gov.

But then again, it could just be that Assange gets his money from people who just like transparency. The US still is the most powerful country in the world, so we are the big target to take down.

modernguy said...

Why don't we just ask the CIA, NSA or any of the other intelligence agencies. They must know what's going on.

This whole operation seems much more focused towards the public. Possibly to create confusion, or to create justifications before they are needed. When they tried to justify attacking Iraq, they came off as fools. Remember Colin Powell with the vials? Nobody believed them and they had to fight massive public resistance to go in. If they have a pseudo-independent organization releasing 'leaks' that conveniently demonize the next target before it's time to publicly justify an attack, it will make it that much easier to do.

These leaks are not going to seriously jeopardize any real diplomatic negotiations. Those go on behind the scenes and real (potentially damaging) intelligence that those in power have an interest in keeping secret mostly stay secret, or at least are neglected by the media. Remember what a huge fiasco it was when Robert Novak revealed the identity of that CIA agent? And that was just one agent, not serious national secrets. That was the media censoring itself. You can see how if this was really damaging to the people in power, it wouldn't be publicized.

Anonymous said...

Acc to Sailer its the neo-cons,which means America harvested for the money by Israel.

Anonymous said...

wow thats weird.I just happened to click on this site--I love Whiskey!-at the exact same time a s "modern guy"!Kinda psychic!

Whiskey said...

Valerie Plame was not damaging to National Security, which is precisely why Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's aide, disclosed it (likely on orders from Powell). Plame was a trophy wife of a guy who thought he could muscle Powell out of State. That's why Plame was disclosed (she was already known to the Russians and Chinese and ran no network). She worked at a desk.

And yes the information is damaging. High level contacts such as Lee Kwan Yew will now no longer give us the discreet and unvarnished truth. If we cannot keep (and we cannot) keep their confidences secret we simply will not have them. And the opinions of highly placed senior leaders is often invaluable. How much control does China have over North Korea? What are the Chinese Aims? How stable is the North Korean leadership? These are things worth knowing that we will now no longer know. Or ever have a hope of knowing.

Nor can we conduct secret deals. Because such deals are guaranteed to leak out all over the place. Killing them before they are born.

As for Israel, it is unlikely. My problem with Sailer is that he ignores the evidence (George Soros got his start hunting out fellow Jews for the Nazis in Hungary, and is proud of it, also wants Israel destroyed) of Jewish disunity and overestimates Israeli effectiveness (now very questionable).

Whiskey said...

Israel's objectives are stopping Iranian nukes, since they are the first demonstration target. It is not enough for Iran to have nukes, they must make a useful demonstration to show both US impotence against them and what could happen to those who do not play ball. Hence Israel must die, the "one bomb state" rhetoric. For Iran to rule the Gulf and up through the Balkans, in a reconstituted Persian Empire, they must show what happens if they are defied, and how helpless the US is.

The disclosures would be high risk for Israel (and have earlier fueled isolationist, anti-War sentiment in Iraq and Afghanistan). Israel benefits when the US is perceived as powerful and a power not to be crossed in the Gulf region, they are hurt by the putative protection of the US seen as nothing. And the cable leaks do not provide help in stopping the Iranian nuclear program.

Also there are unflattering things about Netanyahu, Israel, and the penetration by organized crime in Israel. The first instinct of an intelligence service is to make their leaders and country look good. The arrow more plausibly points to China, which looks "relatively blameless" in a very odd fashion.

Whiskey said...

As far as the CIA goes, there is myth and there is fact. According to Robert Baer, and others, there are about no more than 400 people in the CIA running informants, without official cover at embassies (where the host country tolerates it). The rest are basically analysts in Langley who work at a desk all day. Reading various open source and classified reports to produce more reports.

The National Reconnaissance Office does the spy satellite imaging interpretation and management. The NSA does signals intelligence. Both can be defeated simply by not making a spectacle of one's self, and using couriers, etc. Swiss bank secrecy is now a joke, given how easily the Germans, British, Italians, French, and Americans bribed workers to hand over USB sticks of people with accounts (tax dodgers).

US Intelligence is widely believed to be fairly good at signals and satellite imagery, and very poor at human intel. It is possible that given direct orders someone in the community has taken a look at Wikileaks finances.

But you must remember the first and last order of business among intelligence agencies in the real not Hollywood world is avoiding being hauled up by a Congressional Committee because a rival spilled a bunch of leaks to the New York Times.

The revelations of the East European "black" interrogation sites, the flights by the CIA to the sites, people involved, basically shut down that outsourced interrogation that provided valuable insight into AQ. Same with the revelations of proxy use by the CIA in Pakistan and Afghanistan to chase AQ and the Taliban across the Pakistani border, or bribes/promises to secure Pakistani nukes sited as far away from India as possible, in the heart of Taliban country.

In addition, there is the DIA, various military intel agencies, the FBI (which now has foreign bureaus and liason offices around the world) and State intel agencies. All of which are believed to be poor in sorting out money flows, particularly those routed out of Hong Kong and Shanghai.

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Anonymous said...

http://wartard.blogspot.com/2010/11/my-favourite-war-that-hasnt-happened.html
http://wartard.blogspot.com/2010/11/my-favourite-war-that-hasnt-happened_08.html
A blogpost worth hecking out on iran.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Whiskey, Soros has his fingerprints all over this. He did it in Eastern europe and now its the worlds turn.

NutUpOrShutUp said...

This is not bad theory of who funds Wikileaks. I might add that the Wau Holland foundation which manages much of it's donated money is named after leftwing hacker Wau Holland. He was a member of the Chaos Computer Club. Which in 1989,managed to hack into American defense databases and steal U.S. defense secrets. They sold these secrets to the Soviet Union. Wikileaks is basically an organization connected with a group of leftwing hackers who have a long history of cyberespionage. That provides further clues to who funds Wikileaks. The Chinese could have very well decided to hire many of the same German hackers, who helped the Soviet Union in the eighties, to subvert the United States today. Give it a new fancy name and some new blood. You got the perfect front for cyberespionage.

Chief Seattle said...

Wikileaks could easily be self-funding through blackmail. They have a large number of informers sending them information from around the world. It wouldn't take much to seek out a few wealthy targets of that information and work out a deal. If they have all this information an American bank that they claim, they could easily get enough to fund the operation for 10 years (according to Whiskey's calculations) by finding the right person and offering to suppress it.

Assange is just the guy who would try this - getting the "bastard" capitalists to fund the dismantling of the secretive military industrial complex. Just removing one banker's name from the contents of a big leak might be worth several million - considering the banker in question may have received hundreds of millions or even billions if they were at a hedge fund. Of course that makes Assange a target for revenge or mafia killings - which may partially explain his secretive behavior. He's a lot more worried about the bad guys taking him out than the government doing it.

Whiskey said...

Would killing Assange have a material impact, however?

I mean, he has an organization that would presumably simply elect/select a new President, and continue the same thing? I mean yes there is a risk, but also a reward. Low-level gang bangers take similar risks (rivals will kill them) for rewards far less (respect, a measure of infamy/fear, better quality of women).

Generally the pattern of intimidation killings is fairly clear: various associates are killed and the offer of "plomo o plata" which is literally lead or silver. We have not seen that, and tellingly WikiLeaks has not sent any corporate honcho to jail or produced charges.

For all of WikiLeaks hype, no massive corporate wrongdoing with smoking gun memos have been released. Not for BP, not for RJR, not for GE, not for much of anyone so far. The main target has been ... the US government. In itself significant. In that there is no blackmail money in it, so the money must come from somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/wikileaks-patched-up-as-paypal-cuts-off-donations-account/story-e6frg6so-1225965858490

James A. Donald said...

“Can China grow at a 8% rate, year after year? No. At a certain point, the growth created by building roads and electrifying villages comes to an end, and economies either transition to higher value growth (Japan, South Korea, West Germany) or fail”

China is already transitioning to higher value growth. China is developing a significant technological lead on the US. For example, the US does not make the blue light semiconductor lasers or DVD device needs. China does. Your computer's memory chips were probably made in China. China is using made-in-China coal-to-liquids technology. Everyone else is using forty year old made-in-South-Africa coal to liquids technology. China's nuclear reactors are running at higher temperatures than our nuclear reactors. China leads the world in internet mediated transactions.

Chief Seattle said...

Whiskey, now that Assange is an official Alpha bad-boy since he has been publicly accused of bedding two attractive women in the same week, one of them in her 20s, does that guarantee female support of his cause?

And from the report I read today he's not just bedding them - he gets them to pay for everything as well. Alpha times 2.

**** ***** said...

i was combing through some of the doucments, and i found it odd that there seemed to be very little spying regarding China as well. just stuff, we all, already, basically know.

especially since they are such a world power in terms of economic growth, ignoring copyright laws, and their support of North Korea in general.

Anonymous said...

Israel of course! Raeding all the crap about how every Arab country wants to attack Iran pretty much shows that!

Anonymous said...

"not including Assange's likely generous salary"

thanks for including that at the start so i knew for sure you had no idea what you were going on about considering Julian doesn't receive a salary.

get your facts right