Civil war at WikiLeaks as critics turn on Assange

Days after the site outed its biggest leak of US military secrets to date, whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks appears on the verge of lapsing into its own civil war.

Twelve activists have quite the organisation in recent months, which on Saturday released nearly 400,000 classfied US Department of Defense documents concerning the war in Iraq. Disgruntled former WikiLeakers have alleged that the celebrity status of the site's founder, maverick Australian journalist Julian Assange, is in danger of overshadowing the site important work.

Since August, Assange has been embroiled in allegations of sexual assault in Sweden. Assange has claimed that the charges are part of a politically motivated, US-led conspiracy to discredit him and, by extension, the WikiLeaks site.

Among the ranks of WikiLeaks supporters, though, there are have been a number of calls for Assange to step down, even temporarily, to prevent his personal legal battle from diverting attention away from the site's disclosures.

Disquiet has also been expressed over the site's seeming obsession with pursuing evidence incriminating the US military.

Former WikiLeaks supporters claim that the site's anonymous Tor hidden submissions system has been down since February, and encrypted SSL submissions have been unavailable for weeks because a number of key personnel have fallen out with Assange, both over the direction taken by the website and by Assange's behaviour.

"Outside of the Iraq and Afghan dossiers, Wikileaks has been incapacitated by internal turmoil and politics," Smari McCarthy, a former Wikileaks volunteer, told The Independent yesterday.

"Key people have become very concerned about the direction of Wikileaks with regard to its strong focus on US military files at the expense of ignoring everything else. There were also serious disagreements over the decision not to redact the names of Afghan civilians; something which I'm pleased to see was not repeated with the Iraq dossiers."

WikiLeaks has admitted that a member of the submission team has left, but says the system is down for maintenance and will be online again soon.

Icelandic MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who quit Wikileaks recently after criticising Assange's leadership, yesterday alleged that the site had deserted its founding principles. Focus on the Iraq and Afghanistan war dossiers was, she said, stifling other, less headline-grabbing work.

"I don't want to take away from the importance of the Iraq dossiers," Jónsdóttir said. "But I have been saying for some time that before all these big scoops came along, Wikileaks was very much about creating small hubs in different countries where people could leak important information to. It shouldn't just be about the international scoops."

Assange has rejected the claims of his critics, labelling them "peripheral players... spreading poisonous false rumours".