It is just one of those unputdownable books. Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website is a tell-all book that not only exposes all the myth and mystery surrounding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assangebut also reveals the never-disclosed details about the inner workings of the increasingly controversial organisation.
A computer scientist who worked in an IT security firm before devoting himself full-time to WikiLeaks, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the former spokesman of WikiLeaks and its one-time No. 2, who quit the organisation with some others after a bitter dispute with Assange in September 2010, starts off with his first meeting with Assange and traces the phenomenal rise of the secret-spilling site and his own relationship with Assange that eventually erupts into conflict with the latter’s increasing consolidation of power. The troubles increased it seems in direct proportion to the success. “It was easy sharing a lack of success. But he was unwilling to allow our success to be credited to both of us.”
“Over the course of my time with Julian Assange at WikiLeaks, I would experience firsthand how power and secrecy corrupt people… That was due primarily to the information vacuum at the heart of a secret organisation whose motto is transparency,” he writes in the author’s note.
The Team’s mission to “control the power executed behind closed doors and to create transparency, where it was being denied” slowly degenerated into a situation in which it was “gradually corrupted by power and secrecy itself,” writes Domscheit-Berg, who used the pseudonym Daniel Schmitt and was the most public face of WikiLeaks after Assange.
Disputes surfaced primarily over ego clashes and money. And later, over lack of transparency and political neutrality. And of course, Assange’s belief in conspiracy theories. “We wouldn’t be safe walking down the street, that our mail and suitcases were being X-rayed, that we had to go underground,” the books says of the leader of the world’s most controversial site, describing him as delusional and power-crazy. Assange’s much publicised safe houses, or his wont of arriving at meetings and conferences at the last moment because he felt he was being tracked are legendary now. This, despite the fact he would give a lecture and or talk to media men giving way his position to the entire world, says Domscheit-Berg.
“Julian was very paranoid. He was convinced that someone was watching my house, so he decided we should avoid ever being seen together.”
These were the early days in 2008 after the writer had just met Assange and the site was yet to be what it has come to be known today. But the fastidiousness of Assange about returning to the apartment or his concern for disguises that he talks of in the next few paras indeed raises questions about perhaps the mental stability of WikiLeaks’ much-admired founder. “I know of at least three different versions of his past and the origins of his surname… He created a real sense of mystery about himself and constantly cloaked his past in new details. He was glad every time a journalist jotted them down. My first thought when I heard he was writing an autobiography was that they should put it in the fiction section!”
“Julian reinvented himself everyday, like a hard drive that one kept on reformatting. Reset, reboot. Maybe he didn’t know himself — who he was and where he came from.”
“Julian was engaged in a constant battle for dominance — even with my cat, Mr Schmitt… Julian was always attacking the poor animal.”
Domscheit-Berg’s Assange is a common school room bully. One who is continuously fighting for dominance, never accepts his own mistakes and is always looking for a scapegoat.
“The absurd thing was he was the one who was continuously losing or forgetting things. And that was precisely what he was accusing me of. If Julian messed up something; on the other hand, something else was always the reason.”
Once when the central server broke and they had failed to make a backup, Assange told him “WikiLeaks has only survived because I didn’t trust you.” Domscheit-Berg goes onto say that Assange had himself created a server that they could use to reboot easily. But the catch is he “hadn’t made the copy because of fastidiousness but just because he distrusted people, including me. It was the server on which all which our emails were stored.”
Every line, every page of the books is curious mix of the writer’s admiration for Assange, on one hand, and his disdain on the other. At one place, he talks about him gaining total control of the Moneybookers account. “Julian refused to let allow me or other colleagues who joined later any access to the account.”
A para later, he goes onto say “Julian didn’t really care for money per se”. But he does the damage in the next line saying “he never carried any on him, always letting other people pay for him”.
“Julian didn’t give a hoot about status symbols… he didn’t have a watch, a car, or any designer clothing. He just didn’t care. Even his computer was ancient: a white iBook that was almost a museum piece. At the most, he would buy himself a new USB stick.”
He is full of admiration when he talks of Assange’s work, concentration, intelligence, tenacity or his hacking prowess.
What has been made public so far about WikiLeaks is only a small fraction of the truth. Domscheit-Berg writes Assange lost control of WikiLeaks’s submission system after the internal revolt led by him in September 2010. He also accuses Assange of routinely exaggerating the security of the website and lying about the size and strength of the organisation. He also claims he and a top WikiLeaks programmer, referred to as “The Architect” seized the submission system when they defected from the organisation last September, along with documents in the system at the time.
“Children shouldn’t play with guns,” he writes. “That was our argument for removing the submission platform from Julian’s control … We will only return the material to Julian if and when he can prove that he can store the material securely and handle it carefully and responsibly.”
The system apparently had been upgraded by The Architect after Domscheit-Berg’s constant frustration with the ancient infrastructure of Wikileaks, which Assange refused to upgrade, according to the book.
“In fact there was a chink in our security that we had overlooked… When I approached Julian, he didn’t want to hear anything about the problem… To create the impression of unassailability to the outside world, you only had to make the context as complicated and confusing as possible. To that end, I would make my explanations of technical issues to journalists as complex as I could. It was the same principle used by terrorists and bureaucrats. The adversary can’t attack as long as he has nothing to grab hold of.”
The revelations are shocking. This means WikiLeaks did not have security system to protect its sources, it also meant it had been running on a single server with sensitive backend components like the submission and e-mail archives connected to the public-facing Wiki page. Domscheit-Berg’s “Architect” is claimed to have separated the platforms and set up a number of servers in various countries.
The writer also talks about the case related to Bradley Manning, the US Army Private under trial on charges of having passed restricted material.
“It was the worst moment in the history of WikiLeaks,” he writes of Manning’s arrest in May 2010, though he doesn’t acknowledge Manning was a WikiLeaks source. “Given the opaque nature of the situation we should have ruled out any further publication of the American documents.”
He says he will not release the unpublished documents and return them to WikiLeaks only when a secure system is in place and also warns that anyone who visits the site to read submission instructions could be monitored as “the current system has become a security risk for everyone involved.”
“We need to set the record straight before Assange turns into a cult, a pop phenomenon,” Domscheit-Berg said in Berlin at the launch of the book in February, as he claimed one of his motives for writing the book was that he wanted to clarify the events that led to the falling-out. “At WikiLeaks we often used to say that only an accurate historical record can enable true understanding of the world. I have decided to do my part toward that end with this book.”
Domscheit-Berg launched a rival website called OpenLeaks in December 2010 along with other former WikiLeaks staffers and volunteers.
The book has been published simultaneously in 14 countries.
Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website
Author: Daniel Domscheit-Berg with Tina Klopp (Translated into English by Jefferson Chase)
Publisher: Random House
Price: Rs 299
Buy it on: Flipkart, Amazon