A new book by a former top WikiLeaks insider portrays Julian Assange as a paranoid megalomaniac—an “emperor”—who cared so little about computer security and the anonymity of his sources that control of vast amounts of secret information leaked to the website was seized from Assange by WikiLeaks dissidents last fall. And never returned.
The book by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Assange’s former spokesman and right-hand man, says that WikiLeaks functioned for almost all of its existence as a two-man operation—Assange and Domscheit-Berg—despite Assange’s claims of a large staff of paid workers and volunteers, and that Assange routinely lied to the public about the whistleblowing site and the extent of its support.
In his book, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website, which is being published this month in the United States and Europe, Domscheit-Berg, a 32-year-old German computer scientist, says that he and others became so alarmed last fall by Assange’s disinterest in the website’s security and in protecting the identity of its leakers that they took control over the site’s software for submitting leaks, as well as the voluminous leaked material itself.
“Children shouldn’t play with guns,” Domscheit-Berg writes, according to excerpts of the book published on the website www.Cryptome.org, which specializes in computer-security issues and has often served as a forum for WikiLeaks critics. “That was our argument for removing the submission platform from Julian’s control.”
“We just decided to take away these dangerous toys so that Julian could not do harm to anyone else,” Domscheit-Berg continued, adding that the leaked material would be returned to Assange “if and when he can prove that he can store the material securely and handle it carefully and responsibly. The book suggests that it is Domscheit-Berg—and not Assange—who controls most of the secret material leaked to WikiLeaks in the months after the site became a global phenomenon last year.
Apart from its ugly portrayal of Assange as acting like “an emperor or slave trader” in his management of WikiLeaks, the book could also create new legal headaches for Assange as he fights extradition to Sweden on sexual abuse charges, involving allegations that rebuffed demands that he wear condoms during sex and, in at least one case, ripped a hole in a condom.
Assange boasted “about how many children he had fathered in various parts of the world. He seemed to enjoy the idea of lots of little Julians, one on every continent,” Domscheit-Berg writes.
In the excerpts that appear on Cryptome, Domscheit-Berg writes of Assange’s efforts during his travels around the world to seduce young, pliant women – preferably under the age of 22—and of Assange’s boasts “about how many children he had fathered in various parts of the world. He seemed to enjoy the idea of lots of little Julians, one on every continent.”
Domscheit-Berg did not respond to phone calls Thursday to his home in Germany from The Daily Beast. But in several extensive interviews last year with this reporter, Domscheit-Berg made clear that he was in close, daily contact with Assange and, at that time at least, was a trusted confidant and supporter of the WikiLeaks founder. Domscheit-Berg, then using the pseudonym Daniel Schmidt with reporters, dropped out of sight shortly after prosecutors in Stockholm announced their investigation of Assange on the sex charges brought by two Swedish women.
Assange has denied the sexual abuse charges and, in a statement released Thursday on the WikiLeaks website, alleges that Domscheit-Berg sabotaged the website before departing WikiLeaks last year and had stolen leaked material. In the statement, Assange appears to acknowledge that he lost control of the software used by leakers to submit material to WikiLeaks, and that the submission portal on the site—the click-through that allows leakers to send information to WikiLeaks—is still not fully in operation.
“It should be noted that Domscheit-Berg’s roles within WikiLeaks were limited and started to diminish almost a year ago as his integrity and stability were questioned,” the statement says. “Domscheit-Berg was never an architect for the organization, technically, or in matters of policy.” It said that Domscheit-Berg had repeatedly misled Assange about his credentials as a computer scientist and that “his accounts of the crucial times in WikiLeaks history since April last year are therefore based upon limited information or malicious falsifications.”
Domscheit-Berg’s book is one of a flood of WikiLeaks books scheduled to be published this year, including Assange’s own memoirs, which are due out this spring. Both The New York Times and the Guardian of London have published books detailing the history of their own troubled dealings with Assange – books that Assange has also denounced.
According to the excerpts from his book on Cryptome, Domscheit-Berg also claims that:
• Assange repeatedly lied last year when he called for tens of thousands of dollars of donations to WikiLeaks to help defect the cost of decrypting a 2007 U.S. military video from Iraq that portrayed an American helicopter attack that left several civilians dead on the streets of Baghdad. In fact, Domscheit-Berg writes, the site was provided with a password for the video, allowing it to be easily decrypted by volunteers working in Iceland. “In effect, Julian’s only costs would have been rent for the house in Iceland and the price of his plane ticket.”
• Assange refused to reimburse WikiLeaks volunteers who traveled to Iraq to verify the authenticity of the video, which was labeled “Collateral Murder” and attracted millions of viewers on the WikiLeaks site last year. According to the book, Assange refused to pay the bills, even though he had dispatched the volunteers to Iraq, and urged them to set up a charitable foundation to cover their costs.
Philip Shenon is an investigative reporter and bestselling author, based in Washington D.C. Almost all of his career was spent at The New York Times, where he was a reporter from 1981 until 2008. He left the paper in May 2008, a few weeks after his first book, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation , hit the bestsellers lists of both The New York Times and The Washington Post. He has reported from several warzones and was one of two reporters from The Times embedded with American ground troops during the invasion of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.