LONDON – WikiLeaks became an Internet vagabond Friday, moving from one website to another as governments and hackers hounded the organization, trying to deprive it of a direct line to the public.
The organization that has embarrassed Washington and foreign leaders by releasing a cache of secret — and brutally frank — U.S. diplomatic cables found a new home after an American company stopped directing traffic to wikileaks.org. Then French officials moved to oust it from its new site.
By late Friday, WikiLeaks was up in at least three new places.
"The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops," tweeted John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the online free-speech group Electronic Frontier Foundation. His message was reposted by WikiLeaks to its 300,000-odd followers.
Legal pressure increased on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after Swedish authorities revised a warrant for his arrest in response to procedural questions from British officials.
British law enforcement authorities have refused to say if or when Assange would be arrested. His lawyers have said they believe they would be notified of any move to arrest him but had yet to be served with a warrant as of Friday afternoon.
The 39-year-old Australian is wanted on allegations of rape and other sex crimes that emerged after a trip to Sweden in August.
Assange said that his arrest would do nothing to halt the flow of American diplomatic cables being released by his group and newspapers in several countries, and he threatened to escalate the rush of information if he is taken into custody.
Hundreds of cables have been published by WikiLeaks and several newspapers in recent days. Assange said that all of the cables had already been distributed in a heavily encrypted form to tens of thousands of people.
If something happens to him, he suggested, the password needed to decrypt the data will be released and all the secrets will go out at once.
"History will win," Assange said in a Web chat with readers of The Guardian newspaper, one of the media organizations helping to coordinate the documents' publication. "The world will be elevated to a better place. Will we survive? That depends on you."
WikiLeaks doesn't depend entirely on its website for disseminating secret documents; if it were knocked off the Web, the nationless organization could continue to communicate directly with news organizations. But the site provides a direct line to the public, fulfilling the organization's stated goal of maximum distribution for the secret documents it receives from mainly anonymous contributors.
In an online chat with readers of The Guardian, Assange promised to improve the availability of the website as soon as possible.
"Rest assured I am deeply unhappy that the 3 1/2 years of my work and others is not easily available or searchable by the general public," Assange said.
EveryDNS — a company based in Manchester, New Hampshire, that had been directing traffic to the website wikileaks.org — stopped doing so late Thursday after cyber attacks threatened the rest of its network. WikiLeaks responded by moving to a Swiss domain name, wikileaks.ch — and calling on activists for support.
The loss of support from EveryDNS just a minor annoyance because the site can leap from one name to the next, said Fraser Howard, a researcher with Internet security firm Sophos.
"The whack-a-mole analogy is fairly good," he said.
The Swiss address directs traffic to servers in France, where Industry Minister Eric Besson called it unacceptable to host a site that "violates the secret of diplomatic relations and puts people protected by diplomatic secret in danger."
The general manager of French web hosting company OVH, Octave Klaba, confirmed that it had been hosting WikiLeaks since early Thursday, after a client asked for a "dedicated server with ... protection against attacks."
He said the company has asked a judge to decide on the legality of hosting the site on French soil.
"It is not up to the political realm or to OVH to request or decide the closure of a site, but rather up to the courts," Klaba said.
WikiLeaks has been brought down numerous times this week by what appear to be denial-of-service attacks. In a typical such attack, remote computers commandeered by rogue programs bombard a website with so many data packets that it becomes overwhelmed and unavailable to visitors. Pinpointing the culprits is difficult. The attacks are relatively easy to mount and can be performed by amateurs.
The attacks started Sunday, just before WikiLeaks released the diplomatic cables. To deal with the flood of traffic, WikiLeaks moved to Amazon.com's Web hosting facility, which has vast numbers of servers that can be rented as needed to meet surges.
But Amazon booted WikiLeaks from the site on Wednesday after U.S. congressional staffers started asking the company about its relationship to WikiLeaks. Amazon said it ousted the organization in part because the leaks could endanger innocent people.
The U.S. is conducting a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks' release of the diplomatic cables. Attorney General Eric Holder said this week that the leaks jeopardized national security, diplomatic efforts and U.S. relationships around the world.
In Washington, the lawmaker expected to take over the House Judiciary Committee in January, Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, said he plans to conduct hearings on the matter.
Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada introduced a bill to amend the U.S. Espionage Act that would give prosecutors more flexibility to pursue a criminal case against Assange and his organization. But there was little chance of passing a new law in the remaining weeks of the congressional session.
Assange also risks legal action in his homeland, where Australia said it would detain Assange if possible in response to the warrant filed in the Swedish case by Interpol.
Wikileaks.ch, is owned by the Swiss Pirate Party, formed two years ago to campaign for freedom of information. Its officials said they gave Assange information on how to seek asylum in Switzerland.
Svensson reported from New York. Louise Nordstrom reported from Stockholm, Jenny Barchfield from Paris, Holly Ramer from Manchester, N.H., John Heilprin from Geneva and Larry Margasak from Washington.