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WikiLeaks Springs a Leak
Posted on Feb 11, 2011
By Laurel Maury
Articles about WikiLeaks are thick on the ground, but we’ve heard little from inside the citadel. Now for the first time we’re getting an insider’s story. “Inside WikiLeaks” is a fun book, full of anecdotes about the website’s wacky set of fellow travelers, and it suggests that the hacking underground has finally found a cause. Certainly, it’s the must-read, newsy book of the moment. It’s out in German and several other languages today and will be out in English the day after Valentine’s Day.
Daniel Domscheit-Berg was the WikiLeaks spokesman and Assange’s right-hand man until he publicly broke with his former boss last September. He appears to have immediately started writing a book, not so much to set the record straight—no matter how this book is billed, it’s certainly not a tell-all—but to save what he feels is precious. (This shouldn’t put readers off; though written in haste, “Inside WikiLeaks” is a fine, intelligent read.) Domscheit-Berg writes that the organization has lost its way and betrayed its principles, and that, because it went astray, he and another employee deliberately crippled it. The author claims that he and this man, whom he calls “the architect,” before their departure shut down the platform WikiLeaks uses to accept submissions, essentially locking the door to new material and walking off with the keys. He says the system still isn’t fixed and implies a fix isn’t likely.
If what Domscheit-Berg says is true, then for the foreseeable future WikiLeaks will be unable to accept new documents that aren’t either handed to the website physically or mailed to it. This means WikiLeaks is far less able to keep its promise of source anonymity. Domscheit-Berg says that once WikiLeaks returns to its core principles of transparency and openness—and applies them to itself—he and his unnamed friend will happily unlock the system.
Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website
By Daniel Domscheit-Berg
Crown, 304 pages
Domscheit-Berg says he took with him a set of documents that were submitted to WikiLeaks. He says he doesn’t intend to publish them himself; rather, he will keep them safe and secure until Julian Assange starts to behave in an adult fashion. “Children shouldn’t play with guns,” Domscheit-Berg says of the WikiLeaks founder.
Another surprise is that the WikiLeaks “insurance” file probably exists—that secret, encrypted file of damning information that Assange once threatened to release if anything bad happened to him or his website. Lately, Assange has denied it exists, but, according to the book, while Domscheit-Berg was at WikiLeaks he personally mailed out dozens of thumb drives with encrypted data to friends and journalists he felt he could trust. This information can be accessed only if Assange releases a key. So, WikiLeaks is currently blackmailing just about everyone big who has something to hide: Who knows what’s on those flash drives? But if the submissions platform really is locked, the organization is no longer able to fulfill its stated purpose.
Are all these claims true? It must be remembered that “Inside WikiLeaks” is written by a man who admits to lying a great deal and who claims that the principal character of his book, Assange, is an arch-liar.
The book reads like a love story gone wrong. Domscheit-Berg had a life-changing, platonic crush on Assange. The white-haired Australian and the dark-haired German began as brothers in hacking and anarchy. They discussed their favorite writers—Assange adored Solzhenitsyn; Domscheit-Berg adored Proudhon, the French economist who famously wrote that “all property is theft.” Their political views converged in a mix of pure Internet-activist chaos and the underdog’s desire to bully the bullies. They chortled with glee when they took on a Swiss bank, Scientology and American college fraternities. “[WikiLeaks] made two pale-faced computer freaks, whose intelligence would have otherwise gone unnoticed, into public figures who put fear into the hearts of the politicians, business leaders, and military commanders of this world. They probably had nightmares about us. … That felt good.”
But the romance turned sour. Domscheit-Berg, who seems to have been a team player intent on getting the job done, realized that Assange’s affection wasn’t for him, but for his unquestioning loyalty. He initially thought himself an equal participant in the WikiLeaks mission, but came to believe that, in his boss’ mind, he was merely employed to carry Assange’s bags.
Theirs was more than a bad relationship. The litany of lies, low-level abuse and social transgressions that the author attributes to Assange is disturbing. He claims that this notoriously peripatetic soul has always been deeply paranoid. His accusation is probably true; in reacting to an article on WikiLeaks that ran in Wired, Assange accused the article writer of calling for his assassination. And if Domscheit-Berg’s retelling of facts is correct, the WikiLeaks founder has a “free and easy relationship to the truth,” and is cagey and secretive concerning money. He’s also sexually profligate, and turns vicious toward anyone who criticizes him, even when that criticism is well-meaning and constructive, and he seems to have difficulty relinquishing control.
Domscheit-Berg writes that when WikiLeaks was headquartered in Iceland one of Assange’s greatest fears was that the people who knew him would talk about him behind his back. These symptoms point to something bizarre and possibly not right in Assange’s character.
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