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Some Insight into Wikileaks, but Unfortunately Sappy, Trite, and then Vindictive.
on May 24, 2011
"Inside Wikileaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website" was the first book deal to arise from the Wikileaks phenomenon. This contentious memoir of Daniel Domscheit-Berg's nearly three years at Wikileaks, ghost written by German journalist Tina Klopp, recounts his experiences as Wikileaks' spokesman in Germany and all-around staffer who went by the name Daniel Schmitt in public. It begins at the 24th Chaos Communications Congress, where Domscheit-Berg met Julian Assange, and follows his experiences at Wikileaks from the 2008 Julius Bäer leak until he left Wikileaks, following a dispute with Assange that had been escalating for months, in September 2010.
Domscheit-Berg offers some interesting behind-the-scenes stories of significant leaks that helped make Wikileaks' early reputation, such as the Scientology Handbooks and the German Toll Collect contract material, but the emphasis is on his relationship with Julian Assange. And I have the impression that isn't only because Assange gossip sells well these days. Domscheit-Berg clearly adored Assange, even if he found the man pathologically inconsiderate, and was therefore particularly upset by the deterioration of their relationship. Given the preoccupation with Assange's character, or Domscheit-Berg's view of it, it is surprising and unfortunate that he says almost nothing about Julian Assange's ideas of politics, information flows, or strategy.
Domscheit-Berg pines over his relationship with Assange for 279 pages but never explains why he was so enamored of the man in the first place. Surely Assange had interesting things to say as he and Domscheit-Berg fought internet censorship in Germany, assisted with IMMI in Iceland, and built the world's most infamous repository of things we're not supposed to know. But we never find out what he said. Domscheit-Berg would rather talk about Assange's table manners. And the account is too one-sided to even make interesting gossip. Domscheit-Berg mentions that Julian Assange sent him a list of what he considered to be Domscheit-Berg's shortcomings, which included the pleats in his pants. But he doesn't give us the rest of the list.
It's evident that a large part of the friction between Daniel Domscheit-Berg and Julian Assange was rooted in a personality conflict. Domscheit-Berg calls Assange's competitiveness "anathema". He's a neat freak, while Assange is a slob. Domscheit-Berg is so allergic to the concept of strong leadership that he insists all decisions be made by consensus and even contemplated breaking ties at Openleaks with a game of rock-paper-scissors. It strikes me that he misinterpreted Assange's behavior on a fairly regular basis. The months that he, Assange, and two other men spent sharing a hotel room in Iceland seem to have been the final straw. Their relationship never recovered. It's no wonder. They were limited to ironing out their differences through online chat.
I could sympathize with Domscheit-Berg's frustration with Assange's lack of managerial and organizational abilities up to a point. That point was when Domscheit-Berg and Wikileaks' "architect" absconded with Wikileaks' software and configurations, including its submission platform, leaving the organization on shaky technical footing. That's sabotage. And it's stealing. Domscheit-Berg's justification for this behavior is to say that the software was the architect's intellectual property and that they removed Wikileaks' submission platform so that "Julian could not do harm to anyone else." But Domscheit-Berg mentions no instance of Assange doing harm to any source. And if you write software for a company, it is the property of that company.
So in the end, Daniel Domscheit-Berg impressed me as a passive-aggressive, small-minded crook who wallows ad nauseum in his own self-righteousness and who never understood Julian Assange's strategy or goals. That is probably Assange's fault. But it must be acknowledged that Assange's decisions about Wikileaks' strategy were the right ones in retrospect, even if Domscheit-Berg still insists the organization is heading in the "wrong direction". Wikileaks claims that Domscheit-Berg was out of the loop and his role in the organization diminished by early 2010. Judging from this book, that is correct. He gets some facts about Assange's legal troubles in Sweden and about the War Logs collaboration wrong. Some of these facts could have been checked, so that doesn't inspire confidence.