A new book from Germany's Daniel Domscheit-Berg reveals Assange's geekish world of all-nighters, stuffy hotel rooms, sexual preferences. And the dreams of an Internet revolution they once shared.
Happier times. Assange and Domscheit-Berg in 2007 (Andy Gee)
BERLIN - He ate three slices of meat loaf and left only one for me. He didn't wash for days and complained when I wanted to air out the room. He went on and on about how great 22-year-old women are. After eating, he wiped his greasy fingers on his trouser pants.
Daniel Domscheit-Berg's memories of Julian Assange are vivid, raw, and seemingly endless. He actually thought I was stupid enough to believe his story about his hair being so white because he'd got an overdose of gamma radiation messing around with a reactor at the age of 14.
Then, suddenly, he started to not return Domscheit-Berg's calls, or answer his chat messages. He just disappeared into thin air, as if nothing between the two had ever happened.
For three years Daniel and Julian were something like best friends, at least in Daniel's eyes. Then there was a major falling out. That's why all the details are coming forth now, all the ill will that built up between them like the dirt under Julian's fingernails.
Daniel has written a book about the years he spent with Julian. They were years spent trying to put the shady men of politics and high finance in their place by liberating information from its high-security prison: the two of them against the forces of darkness.
Julian always saw things differently. He struck Daniel down like a highly sensitive early warning system every time he went a bit too far with the "we" pretensions of being Julian's equal. Daniel didn't see this until it was too late. Love is all too often blind. Now Daniel wants to come clean and make sure the most brutal truth of all comes out.
The Inside Story
Daniel Domscheit-Berg's new book "Inside WikiLeaks' is the memoirs of a man who - almost from the very beginning – was an integral part of the organization that made it its mission to publish documents online that were never meant to reach the public.
Wikileaks has published manuals from Guantánamo and the Scientology movement, the contracts of toll collectors, bank memos about illegal tax saving schemes and army reports from Iraq and Afghanistan.
After the organization's last coup - the publication of diplomatic dispatches from the U.S. State Department – many had the impression, for a few days at least, that this anonymous countervailing force could even unsettle the world's most powerful country.
Wikileaks Also Suffers From Security Breaches
Now we're finding out another side to the story. Wikileaks was never been a well-organized group of guerrilla hacktivists, but rather a loose outfit of geeks with a knack for the bluff. It turns out there were never even any clandestine server networks for the secret documents they wanted to publish. Even the central promise to keep secret the identity of Wikileaks informers has long been more of a statement of intent than a guarantee.
It was only when a new guy joined - a programmer Domscheit-Berg calls "the architect" who has also recently parted ways with Assange - that Wikileaks acquired a robust security architecture. But when he left, "the architect" took this with him.
Assange isn't even careful when it comes to publishing the secrets entrusted to him. A few days before the Afghanistan documents went online, Domscheit-Berg was asked by a journalist from Wikileaks media partner Der Spiegel whether Assange had honored the agreement to redact names to avoid retaliation from the Taliban. Assange somehow had forgotten, and Wikileaks had to work around the clock to get it done just before going public.
Only one conclusion can be drawn from anecdotes like this: without the professional standards of their media partners a great many things would have come back to haunt the organization following the Wikileaks publications.
Yet at the same time, Domscheit-Berg sees these media partnerships as the most basic violation of the spirit in which Wikileaks was founded. The founders had wanted to liberate relevant information from data storage and make it available to the public - not supply carefully selected business partners with material for them to publish at their own pace and at their own discretion.
Assange and the Donators
But that's exactly what it seems Wikileaks' working model has become. The organization appeals to peoples' idealism by promising to give them information about injustices occurring in the world, but at the same time engages in deals about which the public are allowed to know very little.
When American secret agent Bradley Manning was arrested in May 2010 on suspicion of leaking military documents to Wikileaks, Assange called for $100,000 to be raised for his defense. According to Domscheit-Berg: "Julian thought the donation budget of $100,000 was probably a little high, and brought the amount down to $50,000. However, by the end 2010, Manning hadn't received a single cent of the donations collected specifically for him. At the beginning of January 2011 (...) at least $15,100 was paid into Manning's supporters' account."
Apparently Julian Assange isn't trying to get rich. Domscheit-Berg describes a man who has no interest in money - it's just that he doesn't do sharing. The money, the fame, the data, the public interest: it all belongs to him.
By the end of Domscheit-Berg's psychological profile of Assange, we're left wondering whether it's pure egomania driving him to wrest secrets from the powerful, and whether all who help him are merely his co-dependents.
Or is it that people on such a mission must inevitably turn into control freaks? It can't be good for Assange's psyche when there are public calls for his assassination, or the U.S. Secretary of State has to call her colleagues on his account.
It could have been so lovely: a world in which the powerful were no longer able to hide their dirty little secrets. Instead, it's the dirty secrets of the whistleblower that are being unmasked.
Everything has already fallen back into place: Assange has become a kind of pop star of our time while his ex-best friend licks his wounds and builds his own information portal. And as always, hardly anyone is interested in the files.
In a statement reacting to Domscheit-Berg's, book Wikileaks has said that Domscheit-Berg - now referred to as "Domshit" by Julian's people - was never a very important member of the organization.
Exactly what you'd say if you wanted to get back at an ex. Julian Assange's German lawyer is now threatening legal action if Domscheit-Berg doesn't return the data he took with him when he left. It's not the first time that receivers of stolen property have argued among themselves about who owns it.
Read the original article in German
SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.
What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?
But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.
An appetite for gentrification
I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.
In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.
This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.
Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.
Informal street vendors are casualties.
A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.
On paper, this all sounds great.
But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.
This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.
In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.
A call for food justice
Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.
Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.
It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.
In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.
Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.
Upending an existing foodscape
In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.
San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"
But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.
Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.
All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.
So what happens when new competitors come to town?
Starting at a disadvantage
As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.
My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"
San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.
When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.
Going up against the urban food machine
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.
I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.
When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.
Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.
It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.
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