Inside Wikileaks - My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website - A Review

One Book review after a really long time I guess. :)

Just finished reading "Inside WikiLeaks - My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website"
by Daniel Domscheit Berg.

When I first heard about this book, I was taken aback at the reaction the press had given. Most magazines had given the book, the treatment that one gives a disgruntled employee who has been kicked out of the organization. They had ignored it. In fact, tried to push into oblivion. For them Julian Assange was on his way to become The Time - Person of the year. And they could not bear to see anybody - or rather, any book, coming in its way.

Honesly before I read the book, I was of the opinion that Julian Assange was a "Hero" and Mark was a "Sucker"berg. I came to realize that both of them belong to the same category.

What I liked most about this book was the fact that its stripped of all the glamor and glory and glitz that we have and still associate with an organization like WikiLeaks. When I first heard of it, I thought, WikiLeaks was backed by a multi-billion dollar enterprise that was being given the cold shoulder by the United States of America.

The book is fresh. Fresh in every aspect of the word. It has all the makings of a movie like "The Social Network." In fact, this book will be a block-buster if made into a movie. It has all the elements. There hatred, enemity, jealousy, the thirst for power, friendship, relationships, affairs, money and above all, the search for Ultimate Control Over the world. It may sound like an "over-the-top" review of the book, but honestly the way the book has been written, talks tons about Daniel Berg.

The book describes a lot of Julian's characteristics in the form of short incidents. It also tells us about his pompous attitude (if I may call it that)

Julian could walk into a telephone booth and forget which direction he had come from when he came out again.

That was one of his (Julian's) favorite sayings: “The man in the uniform has to learn his lesson.”

“I am an Anarchist not because I believe Anarchism is the final goal, but because there is no such thing as a final goal.”

“the moment of truth” only arrives “when they come to take you away.”

“Do not challenge leadership in times of crisis,” was one of his favorite answers to any critical questions we asked.

Assange loved to work without looking at the computer screen, and typing furiously at the keyboard. He thought that...
Working without optical feedback, is a form of perfection. A victory over time. He finished what he was doing long before his computer did.

But this was also the main reason why the first major difference of opinion rose between Assange and Daniel Berg.
When sending out an email, Assange forgot to change the TO field into BCC. As a result of which everybody came to know, who else was receiving the email. And As Daniel Berg joking remarks, someone sent WikiLeaks their own "To" list as a document. This was the first and the only homegrown leak, that happened in February 2009. But this also raised questions on the very principle that they stood for. They had to reveal their own sources. That was what WikiLeaks stood for.
For good or for evil, we were going to have to reveal it. It was interesting because we had spent some time philosophizing about what would happen if we were compelled to publish something about our own organization. We agreed that we had to release things that were bad as well as good publicity. In fact, our internal leak went down well with the press. At least we were consistent and none of the donors complained.

The ultimate furore came up internally in WikiLeaks when they had made public the video footage that showed US Air Force Personnel, shooting down journalists and terming them as Terrorists. The video had an Oscar Wilde Quote as a title to it.
“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Daniel also explores why there are secrets among people. And the intrinsic need to "have" secrets.
One of the main reasons for secrets is people’s desire to share them only with a select circle and exclude everybody else. Fraternities are a very vivid example of this.

Working for WL taught me that secrets are almost never kept. I wonder whether there even is such a thing as a secret between two people. I think they are very, very rare. If a sentence began with the words “I’ll only tell you if you promise not to pass it on,” it was nearly a foregone conclusion that this promise would get broken in another sentence beginning with those same words. This sort of prelude only prevents a secret from being spread quickly; despite what people may have promised, the secret would still make the rounds in the end. Even if someone’s best friend or spouse were the one being told, the danger of revelation was there—at the latest when the two parties in question got into a fight.

And here comes the most critical part of Inside WikiLeaks. The final conversation that led to the ouster of Daniel Berg from WikiLeaks.
D: what are the agreements re iraq? i need to understand what the plan is there, and what the constraints are
J: “A person in close contact with other WikiLeaks activists around Europe, who asked for anonymity when discussing a sensitive topic, says that many of them were privately concerned that Assange has continued to spread allegations of dirty tricks and hint at conspiracies against him without justification. Insiders say that some people affliated with the website are already brainstorming whether there might be some way to persuade their front man to step aside, or failing that, even to oust him.”
D: what does that have to do with me?
D: and where is this from?
J: Why do you think it has something to do with you?
D: probably because you alleg this was me
D: but other than that just about nothing
D: as discussed yesterday, this is an ongoing discussion that lots of people havevoiced concern about
D: you should face this, rather than trying to shoot at the only person that even cares to be honest about it towards you
J: No, three people have “relayed” your messages already.
D: what messages?
D: and what three people?
D: this issue was discussed
D: A [Architect] and i talked about it, Hans* talked about it, B talked it, Peter* talked about it
D: lots of people that care for this project have issued that precise suggestion
D: its not me that is spreading this message
D: it would just be the natural step to take
D: and thats what pretty much anyone says
J: Was this you?
D: i didnt speak to newsweek or other media representatives about this
D: i spoke to people we work with and that have an interest in and care about this project
D: and there is nothing wrong about this
D: it’d actually be needed much more, and i can still only recommend you to finally start listening to such concerns
D: especially when one fuckup is happening after the other
J: who, exactly?
D: who exactly what?
J: Who have you spoken to about this issue?
D: i already told you up there
J: those are the only persons?
D: some folks from the club have asked me about it and i have issued that i think this would be the best behaviour
D: thats my opinion D: and this is also in light to calm down the anger there [...]
J: how many people at the club?
D: i dont have to answer to you on this j
D: this debate is fuckin all over the place, and no one understands why you go into denial [...]
J: How many people at the club?
J: In what venue?
D: in private chats
D: but i will not answer anymore of these questions
D: face the fact that you have not much trust on the inside anymore
D: and that just denying it or putting it away as a campaign against you will not change that it is solely a consequence of your actions
D: and not mine
J: How many people are represented by these private chats? And what are there
positions in the CCC?
D: go figure
D: i dont even wanna think about how many people that used to respect you told me that they feel disappointed by your reactions
D: i tried to tell you all this, but in all your hybris you dont even care
D: so i dont care anymore either
D: other than that, i had questions first, and i need answers
D: like what agreements we have made
D: i need to understand this so we can continue working
D: you keep stalling other peoples work
J: How many people are represented by these private chats? And what are there positions in the CCC?
D: start answering my questions j
J: This is not a quid-pro-quo.
J: Are you refusing to answer?
D: i have already told you again that i dont see why i should answer to you
anymore just because you want answers, but on the same hand refuse to answer
anything i am asking
D: i am not a dog you can contain the way you want to j
J: i am investigation a serious security breach. Are you refusing to answer?
D: i am investigating a serious breach in trust. are you refusing to answer?
J: No you are not. I initiated this conversation. Answer the question please.
D: i initiated it
D: if you look above
D: twice already
D: i want to know what the agreements are in respect to iraq
J: That is a procedural issue. Don’t play games with me.
D: stop shooting at messengers
J: I’ve had it.
D: likewise, and that doesnt go just for me
J: If you do not answer the question, you will be removed.
D: you are not anyones king or god
D: and you’re not even fulfilling your role as a leader right now
D: a leader communicates and cultivates trust in himself
D: you are doing the exact opposite
D: you behave like some kind of emporer or slave trader
J: You are suspended for one month, effective immediately.
D: haha
D: right
D: because of what?
D: and who even says that?
D: you? another adhoc decision?
J: If you wish to appeal, you will be heard on Tuesday.
D: maybe everyone was right, and you really have gone mental j
D: you should get some help
J: You will be heard by a panel of peers.
J: You are suspend for disloyalty, insubordination and destabalization in a time of crisis.

Berg was sad at the way the media "used" WikiLeaks' cable leaks. They had used it for merely reporting trivial issues and targeting celebrity head of states. He gives examples such as ...
French president Nicolas Sarkozy was hypersensitive and authoritarian; Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, an alpha male; German chancellor Angela Merkel, indecisive and uninspired; German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, a greenhorn; and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a vain party animal.

Julian had once mentioned in an interview “Now I am untouchable in this country.” Daniel Berg feels that,
No one should be untouchable. Not even Julian Assange. I cannot understand how anyone else can support this idea, even for a second.

A writer and professor of Political theory, Hefried Munkler wrote that
Someone who criticizes the fact that secrets always remain in the hands of a chosen few with power must answer the question of whether his (Julian's) publishing strategy truly makes them accessible to everyone. Is it not the case, that with the cables only the guardians of the secrets are being replaced?

Confidential information once kept under wraps by the US State Department and the American military is now in the hands of five large media companies and Julian Assange. They decide what is of public interest and what is not. The recent Cablegate publications are a far cry from the original ideas behind WikiLeaks. I think they stray much too far from those basic principles.

Before wrapping up the book, Daniel Berg raises quite a few pertinent questions.
• What is WikiLeaks’s financial situation? What have donations been used for? And who decides how money is allocated?
• What is the current organizational and decision-making structure? How are responsibilities divided up?
• What did Julian mean when he reportedly told the Guardian that he had a financial interest in how and when the diplomatic cables were published?
• What roles do WL’s representatives in Russia and Scandinavia, Israel Shamir and Johannes Wahlström, a father an son with a record of anti-Semitism, play at WikiLeaks?
• What kinds of deals have Wahlström and Shamir arranged with media outlets?
• Are there other WL brokers who have provided media outlets with material, and if so, on what terms?
• Do Julian Assange, other people involved with WikiLeaks, or their companies profit from any such deals?

I had a lot of respect for Assange before I read the book. Now I realize, I have none left for him. For the organization, Yes. They are doing a great job. Open Leaks (Created by Daniel Berg himself, 2 days after quitting WikiLeaks) has also joined the league now.

In the words of Daniel Berg,
OpenLeaks can be seen as a kind of sober, neutral infrastructure. We see ourselves as technological engineers, not as media stars or global galactic saviors. Some people may even think we’re boring. That’s just how we want to be. The main thing is that the system works.

As much as it is a case of a disgruntled employee, Daniel Berg raises the ever-pertinent question -

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Who Will Guard the Guards ?

Friday, July 29, 2011 by Hari
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