WikiLeaks Springs a Leak
Posted on Feb 11, 2011
By Laurel Maury
Yes, we’re hearing only one side of the story, but despite his anger Domscheit-Berg tries to be evenhanded. He mostly succeeds. With a sort of concerned and beleaguered detachment, he recounts large abuses, such when Assange called him a pathological liar. (Though he loses his cool when describing how Assange deliberately tormented his cat.) However, the final straw wasn’t personal betrayal, but that the author came to the conclusion that Assange had lost sight of WikiLeaks’ mission. Domscheit-Berg believes an organization founded on transparency should be transparent in how it functions, and that both sources and the innocents mentioned in leaked documents should be better protected. In practice, Assange doesn’t agree.
This belief in transparency is a great turn-around from their early days at WikiLeaks, a time when Domscheit-Berg says he and Assange lied a great deal. Using a host of pseudonyms, they claimed technology they didn’t own, volunteers they didn’t have and legal teams that didn’t exist. The initial reason for their lies is clear: Both wanted to make the system look more widely supported and more technologically powerful and secure than it actually was. For instance, Assange and Domscheit-Berg claimed dozens of nodes across the globe back when their system still lived on a single, rickety server; “…truth was, our technology was junk,” he writes. But Assange also lied for no apparent reason, spinning incredible, self-aggrandizing stories, even telling lies that could hurt others. For instance, Assange bragged to the U.K.’s Guardian and other newspapers about WikiLeaks’ “harm-minimalization” policies designed to prevent the persecution of innocents—long before he’d mentioned these policies to WikiLeaks’ staff. Not only were the policies not in place when he described them, they simply didn’t exist. So the safeguards designed to protect military informants from disclosures in the so-called Afghan Diaries were last-minute and somewhat haphazard.
Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website
By Daniel Domscheit-Berg
Crown, 304 pages
Is WikiLeaks really crippled?—possibly. Perhaps even probably. A check of the WikiLeaks site reveals that, yes, it is not accepting new material online. Assange spreads tales about his own genius, implying he can fix, or break into, just about anything, but according to Domscheit-Berg he’s only a reasonably talented, rather adventurous hacker. For instance, Domscheit-Berg claims Assange didn’t really crack the encrypted video of the infamous Apache helicopter attack; those files arrived with the password, the book says. (The idea that a sole hacker could break what was likely an NSA-approved military encryption is far-fetched, but one should note that Assange was convincing enough to make a believer of The New Yorker.) Also, WikiLeaks was turned into a strong, secure system not by Assange, the book alleges, but by the mysterious architect, whom Domscheit-Berg described as the real “in-house genius.” It was the architect who locked up the submissions platform and left at the same time as Domscheit-Berg. A perceptive reader might suspect that, if these two men used high-end encryption protocols and locked up documents as well, it may be that the WikiLeaks system must be rebuilt from the ground up, and that some leaked data will be forever lost to the site.
Always in the background is Domscheit-Berg’s strange affection for Assange. The author’s anger is palatable, but you get the feeling that he’s still under the WikiLeaks founder’s spell, and that if the lanky Australian arrived, shivering and penniless, at Domscheit-Berg’s door, the wronged man would welcome him back as a prodigal son. The author has passion and, quite possibly, integrity. What he lacks is perspective. One imagines loved ones engaging in interventions to pry his heart away from the charismatic towhead who appears to go through friends as one might cookies.
Although the book lacks perspective, its core message is clear: WikiLeaks is not Julian Assange; it’s an idea. (You can jail a man, not an idea.) Already, a Domscheit-Berg website, OpenLeaks, is in the works. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera has a “leaksite” up and running. The Al-Jazeera site has already published articles based on a set of leaked documents it calls the Palestine Papers. And The New York Times claims to be planning its own leaksite. All these groups have a point. Journalism, as it’s currently practiced, is too much an ivory tower full of arcane ways and passwords known only to a few. It’s a one-way street. Journalists find stories to write about, but regular people with stories have no real way of finding journalists who will listen. Assange is incidental. WikiLeaks, the idea, changes the game.
Laurel Maury writes book reviews for a variety of publications and has written over 150 pieces for national and international publications, including The Los Angeles Times and NPR. She teaches English at Anne Arundel Community College and enjoys knitting.
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