GENEVA - WikiLeaks' elusive founder, his options dwindling, has turned to Switzerland's credit, postal and Internet infrastructure to keep his online trove of U.S. State Department cables afloat.
Supporters say Julian Assange is considering seeking asylum in Switzerland. He told a Spanish newspaper that he faced "hundreds of death threats," including some targeting his lawyers and children, aside from the pressure he is getting from prosecutors in the U.S. and other countries.
After a number of Web companies dropped WikiLeaks, much of the site's traffic was coming through the wikileaks.ch Web address yesterday. The address is controlled by the Swiss Pirate Party, a group that formed two years ago to campaign for freedom of information. The site's main server in France went offline, but it remained reachable through a Swedish server.
The site showed Assange had begun seeking donations to an account under his name through the Swiss postal system in Bern, the Swiss capital, while also using a Swiss-Icelandic credit-card processing center and other accounts in Iceland and Germany. He lost a major source of revenue when the online-payment service provider PayPal cut off the WikiLeaks account over the weekend.
Assange has been widely praised and criticized. Supporters view him as a savior of the media and free speech; critics vilify him for brazenly unleashing diplomatic secrets, as well as for earlier leaks involving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But even as governments put pressure on Assange, WikiLeaks lives on. The Swiss Pirate Party said yesterday that wikileaks.ch was receiving about 3,000 visitors a second.
The party also said supporters are creating "mirrors" of the WikiLeaks site on their own servers, meaning that the diplomatic cables will remain available even if WikiLeaks loses its own site.
"Even if you take down the server in Sweden, it's too late," Swiss Pirate Party Vice President Pascal Gloor said yesterday.
"There are hundreds of mirrors of WikiLeaks now," he said. "It's a test for Internet censorship. Can governments take something off the Net? I think not. There are copies of the website everywhere."
PayPal, a subsidiary of U.S.-based online-marketplace operator eBay Inc., said it cut off the WikiLeaks website because it was engaged in illegal activity.
Assange is now in Britain, according to his British lawyer. Marc Andrey, a spokesman for the financial-services arm of Swiss Post, told the Swiss weekly NZZ am Sonntag that Assange stated when opening an account with the postal system that he had a residence in Geneva.
Andrey said the Swiss Post was reviewing its "relationship" with Assange. He would have to prove he obtained Swiss residency, lives near the Swiss border, or owns property or does business in Switzerland to keep the Postfinance bank account that he opened last month.
The U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Donald Beyer, told NZZ am Sonntag that Switzerland "should very carefully consider whether to provide shelter to someone who is on the run from the law." The SonntagsZeitung quoted Beyer as saying he told the Swiss government that WikiLeaks would likely post more than 250 cables from the American Embassy in Bern.
The Swiss Web address wikileaks.ch became the site's main access point on Friday after EveryDNS, a company based in Manchester, N.H., stopped accepting traffic to the site's principal address - wikileaks.org - saying cyber attacks threatened the rest of its network.