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.