Geopolitics

Wikileaks Schism: Former Top Cohort Takes On Julian Assange

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.

Read the original article in German

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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