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Wikileaks Schism: Former Top Cohort Takes On Julian Assange

A new book from Germany's Daniel Domscheit-Berg reveals Assange's geekish world of all-nighters, stuffy hotel rooms, sexual preferences. And dreams of a revolution they once shared.

Happier times. Assange and Domscheit-Berg in 2009 (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 transpired.

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 well-tuned 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.

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 has 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.

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."

Remaining Mysteries

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 the release of the new book, Wikileaks has said that Domscheit-Berg - now referred to as "Domshit" by Assange'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.

Meanwhile, 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.

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