Leaking on WikiLeaks
We’re all familiar with WikiLeaks by now; no one is safe from its leaks, not even the politicians here. This book is written by Daniel Domscheit-Berg (a.k.a Daniel Schmitt), who was Julian Assange’s “sidekick” for lack of a better term. I thought it would be interesting to get some perspective into how WikiLeaks ticks. The author describes his time at WikiLeaks, his shaky relationship with Julian Assange and how he eventually left WikiLeaks for good.
After reading through the book, it’s amazing to see how some ideas, relationships and ventures have such humble and unstable beginnings. In a matter of 4-5 years, WikiLeaks has become common knowledge to millions of people. But it all started with one measly web server and a few dedicated people with a cause: transparency, accountability, knowledge for all. The author mentions several times how their infrastructure could barely handle all the documents being submitted once the website took off. Had anyone known about their vulnerable position, WikiLeaks probably wouldn’t have existed today. In a way, they were pretty lucky. However, they were unlucky in another aspect: internal agreement and cohesiveness.
This emerges as the major theme of the book. The author introduces us in the first chapters to the very eccentric character that is Julian Assange. Completely different than the stylish white-haired gentleman in the suit we recognize today. He describes their first meeting at a conference and how their relationship blossomed with their first big leaks. Daniel takes Julian into his home in Germany and they get to work on WikiLeaks. And right from the start, you can tell that Julian isn’t an easy person to get along with.
Later on as the website gains popularity, issues of trust and decision making start to cause conflicts between the author and Julian. They both had the same eventual aims but each person had his own means to get there. The author wanted to gradually improve the site’s infrastructure, Julian wanted invincibility and authority. Given WikiLeaks’ structure and funding, this wasn’t very reasonable. Eventually you get the familiar issues that come with fame and popularity, people trying to steal each other’s spotlight, money issues and whatnot eventually leading to the author quitting WL after dealing with too many empty accusations and threats from Julian.
I enjoyed reading the book. It read just like a story, sometimes I’d catch myself thinking that the book was set in a fictional hacker thriller world with characters and relationships developing, climaxes and so on. But it was all (well, hopefully) real and relevant. A word of warning though, the author does seem to repeat criticism of Julian and victimize himself in most sentences he mentions him in. To some it might just sound like whining and nagging. In the end he makes Julian sound just like the dictators and closed regimes that WikiLeaks wants to bring down. This needs to be read with a grain of salt, was the author just disgruntled or was his criticism of Julian truly warranted? Was he just trying to make a quick buck due to his previous position in WikiLeaks? That’s for you to judge dear reader!
Either way, it was an interesting perspective into the underground organization that has shaken politics at its roots for the past few years. It’s a pity that Daniel and Julian didn’t get along, there was so much potential. But it’s also nice to know that even with all the trouble that has occurred, WikiLeaks and the author’s newly established OpenLeaks will still carry the torch of whistle-blowing forward for a better world, rather than just become another burnt out fad in the history books.