But the biggest problem with WikiLeaks is that it has become far too associated with the "crazy white haired aussie," as Manning once referred to him. An organization is rarely helped when its leader stands accused of sexual assault, but WikiLeaks might have been able to survive the allegations against Assange more easily if he weren't so completely identified as the group's public face -- a state of affairs that seems to be very much his own doing.
"I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest. If you have a problem with me, piss off," Assange wrote to one of his Icelandic volunteers, Herbert Snorrason, according to chat logs obtained by Wired.
Snorrason did just that, along with many of Assange's other early allies. "I believe that Julian has in fact pushed the capable people away," Snorrason told Wired. The departed included his German spokesman, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who left to found a rival site and deleted 3,500 unpublished cables on his way out the door. Domscheit-Berg has emerged as one of Assange's most outspoken and effective critics.
For several months in 2010, WikiLeaks was the biggest and most exciting story in international politics, as media outlets and readers anxiously awaited each day's new revelations. With 250,000 diplomatic cables to pour through, plus, presumably, even more leaks to come from Assange's empire of secrets, WikiLeaks seemed like a genuine game-changer. It appeared inevitable that the mainstream media would spend years playing catch-up to the anonymous online leakers.
It didn't happen that way. It quickly became clear that the vast majority of the cables were innocuous. WikiLeaks' much-hyped follow-ups -- Stratfor, Syria -- failed to impress. Copycat sites like Domscheit-Berg's OpenLeaks have failed to make an impact. And WikiLeaks itself has been sidelined by a legal case that -- much as Assange may claim otherwise -- has little to do with the site's mission.
Could WikiLeaks have been a more credible and successful whistle-blowing organization without Assange as its driving force and public face? We'll never know. But however the standoff at the Ecuadorean embassy ends, the keepers of the world's most sensitive secrets likely feel a lot more comfortable today than they did two years ago.