Yesterday, the FBI finally took action in relation to the events around WikiLeaks’ release of leaked diplomatic cables. So did the British police, working in concert with them.

Only, it wasn’t Julian Assange hauled up for extradition to the US on charges under the Espionage Act, it was a group of teens arrested for participating in Anonymous’s distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks against Visa, Mastercard and PayPal. To the delight of Anonymous’s many opponents, five people were arrested in the UK — all later bailed — and 40 search warrants executed by the FBI in the United States, including in apparently fairly indiscriminate circumstances.

The FBI released a statement warning that DDOS attacks were punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and that European law enforcement officials were conducting their own investigations. Two Dutch teens were arrested in December.

The DDOS attacks were undertaken by Anonymous in early December in response to Visa, Mastercard and PayPal cutting off the flow of public donations to WikiLeaks, as part of a US government-inspired wave of corporate hostility toward WikiLeaks.

The arrests were obviously and correctly overshadowed by events in Egypt, where young men and women have faced a lot worse than arrest over the past 72 hours. Nonetheless, they shine a light on several issues, few of them overly favourable to the US government and its allies.

First, apart from the continuing detention without trial of PFC Bradley Manning, the alleged leaker of the cables, at a Marine base in Virginia, this is the first law enforcement action US authorities have been able to take that is even faintly connected to WikiLeaks. This is despite some very strong initial claims about WikiLeaks: the allegations that the organisation had endangered lives and damaged US interests — claims since acknowledged to be false; the description of Julian Assange as a “high tech terrorist” by Vice-President Biden, chiming with the claim of some right-wing figures that Assange should be hunted down or killed; leaders of US vassal states like Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard declaring WikiLeaks “illegal”, and the convening of a secret grand jury in Virginia for the purposes of establishing what charges could be brought against WikiLeaks.

At this rate, some Anon teens — erroneously described in some outlets as “WikiLeaks hackers” when in fact they’re very likely to be neither — may well be all that authorities can muster. Last week, NBC reported that US military investigators had admitted they couldn’t manage the first step in establishing a criminal case against WikiLeaks — linking Assange directly to PFC Manning when he allegedly leaked the cables.

Second, nearly two months on from the DDOS attacks, it remains the case that Visa, Mastercard and PayPal have never satisfactorily explained their decision to blacklist WikiLeaks. Indeed, PayPal actually changed its story on why it did so. Visa even commissioned a report on legal issues surrounding WikiLeaks but, despite it clearing the organisation, the company has still not lifted its ban on payments.

This is most likely because the legal issue is a furphy. As Crikey showed in December, Visa, Mastercard and PayPal all enable payments to be made by Zionist organisations to fund illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank — illegal under international law and in some cases even illegal under Israeli law. The Guardian also revealed that Visa and Mastercard enabled payments to the Ku Klux Klan in the United States.

Third, DDOSing has sparked an interesting debate within what might, misleadingly and unhelpfully, be termed the online activist community.  DDOS attacks have been compared — perhaps most notably by veteran IT activist Richard Stallman — to sit-ins, linking them firmly to a long tradition of non-violent protest action.  Net Delusion author and critic of “cyber-utopianism”, Evgeny Morozov has also — surprisingly — defended DDOS attacks as potentially legitimate, depending on the circumstances.