Published in Daily Times / Saturday, April 23, 2011
Reviewed By Afrah Jamal
By Daniel Domscheit-Berg with Tina Klopp
As Assange himself will tell you,“Nothing is sacred anymore.”
Those who picture WikiLeaks — the whistle-blowing website — as an impregnable fortress with Julian Assange its modern day warrior casually brandishing incendiary matter will also find Julian’s accomplice busily stripping away its veneer of invincibility and with that, its founder’s credibility.
The duo is known for upsetting the global applecart of secrets and lies and if the truth is ‘out there’, it is because of one Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg who put it there. From secret US military intelligence documents and diplomatic cables to contents of Sarah Palin’s private emails and handbooks from Guantanamo Bay, first American fraternity and Scientology, Assange & co are in the business of making governments squirm.
Now the hermitically sealed universe of WikiLeaks (WL) (initially composed of two men and one server), like the material it publishes, is no longer classified. But Assange, a gifted hacker, known outlaw and notorious whistleblower, who is central to the WL plot, serves more as a human piñata in a new tell-all book by Daniel Domscheit-Berg.
This is a story of two people who believed in the same principles of transparency but had very different ideas of how to go about it. On one side stands Julian who “had a discerning eye for material that could be used to exert political influence”. On the other is his estranged partner, who shows how WL “was acting irresponsibly, playing a risky game with sources’ truth and supporters’ donations."
Daniel, who broke away from the WL orbit to form OpenLeaks.org, which he insists is not a publishing platform or a rival to WL, but an equal contender offering secure submission, where the sources choose the recipients, was unceremoniously dismissed and charged with “disloyalty, insubordination and destabilisation in times of crises”. Switching into full disclosure mode, he prepares to take down his partner as he recounts their tragicomic escapades in the backdrop of their unravelling partnership.
Inside WikiLeaks invites the world to witness Assange’s crucifixion alongside Daniel’s coronation as the shiny new king of his own kingdom. ‘The world’s most dangerous website’, where the magic happened amid childish bickering and duelling ideologies, is scary to behold.
The writer offers useful insights detailing the level of security taken to ensure the anonymity of the source and submissions; “sources remained untraceable even for the WikiLeaks team-mates”. They are coupled with titbits about their modus operandi, how they gave accounts to someone who was not interested in handling finances or chat rooms to those not concerned with personally influencing public opinion, etc. There were times when they tricked the people who wanted documents removed into authenticating them instead. Any evidence of ownership voluntarily given also ended up on the site next to the offending document. Informants did not fear lawsuits but WL welcomed them, he gleefully notes.
His initial impressions of Julian are kinder: “I knew he cared as little as I did that we could have earned far more money selling our talents to businesses.” The goodwill does not last long: “It was easy sharing our lack of success but hard for Julian to allow success to be credited to both.” Some of Daniel’s criticism stems from the fact that WL became a global political player ending the pledge to be neutral which, he stresses, was their most important principle. Julian, “who mentally transformed innocent plane passengers into State Department spies”, evolves as a caricature of a villain. “The rumours that he was being followed originated from his overactive imagination,” he declares, “giving him the aura of someone in dire peril, increasing the collective anticipation of every leak.”
His partner’s personal and professional conduct is called into question on numerous occasions. At one point he wonders if WL has become a religious cult where the guru is beyond question and there was no room for internal critique. He also admits that both of them were guided by Google searches and a gut feeling for authenticating documents. Mistakes were rare, but he hastens to add that he can think of none for which he alone was to blame. Daniel later sabotaged the WL operation by taking away its submissions platform. His defence: “Children shouldn’t play with guns.”
Assange, as the villain of the piece does not disappoint; he is the cad who takes Daniel’s Ovaltine and half his food. He is also a petty troublemaker, a superior ass, a nightmare guest, a charlatan suffering from foot in mouth disorder “with a free and easy relationship with the truth”. And, as Mr Schmitt (the unfortunate feline) will testify, definitely not a cat person. The litany of charges covers everything under the sun from Julian’s philandering ways and financial irregularities to his miserly tendencies. Daniel, as the victim/saviour takes the halo and most of the credit.
As an origins story, it delivers the requisite thrills and chills, from the first appearance of stress fractures till the final break. And while their first homegrown leak may have been Julian’s fault (when he inadvertently exposed 106 donor names), the final one that comes from a former insider leaves a lot of scorched earth in its wake.
Publisher Jonathan Cape; 304 pages; Rs 950
Available at Liberty Books