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Former friend goes sour on Assange

Coutesy of MCT

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“Do not challenge leadership in times of crisis.”

Foreign authoritarian dictator, perhaps?  

More like Julian Assange, the founder of the controversial website WikiLeaks, or so said his former friend Daniel Domscheit-Berg.  

That’s right, former. Domscheit-Berg lets you know right from the beginning that this particular relationship, both professional and personal, didn’t end well.  

Published earlier this year, Domscheit-Berg’s “Inside WikiLeaks” takes you from nearly the beginning of the world-famous “whistle-blowing” website to Domscheit-Berg’s suspension from the project and his subsequent formation of WikiLeak’s soon-to-be successor, OpenLeaks, a project involving a number of former WikiLeaks team members, with the notable and purposeful exclusion of Assange.  

It hardly matters that the average reader will be unable to fully comprehend the technological inner workings of WikiLeaks. Domscheit-Berg’s woes about server capacity, hardware and program coding go unappreciated. His character, however, is likeable and relatable as the over-worked and stressed assistant to Assange’s mad scientist.

“Mad” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Domscheit-Berg animatedly describes the quirks of his former best friend. In Assange, social cues are absent; an overwhelming desire for perfection dictates his “rules of conduct.”

“Julian aspired to type completely blind … he typed at a furious pace, moving through various text fields without glancing at the screen once. … He told me that working without optical feedback was a form of perfection,” Domscheit-Berg writes.

Domscheit-Berg said Assange is paranoid, convinced that people are following him. He’s always getting lost, trying to throw any stalkers off his tracks. Everything that went wrong was a conspiracy, an attempt to bring him down. Someone once “confiscated” his passport. It became “unsafe” for him to leave Australia.

Maybe it wasn’t the most popular company, but as Domscheit-Berg puts it, “No one would hijack an Australian airplane to get rid of Julian Assange.”

Actual chat conversations interspersed throughout the book are telling of Assange and Domscheit-Berg’s relationship, particularly in the later stages. The reader comes away with Domscheit-Berg’s frustration.

When the book doesn’t revolve around Domscheit-Berg and Assange, it gets technologically complicated. The problems that assail WikiLeaks as time passes are involved and morally controversial. As the site falls apart, Domscheit-Berg plays the victim, and does so convincingly.  

“It was almost funny. Julian Assange, chief revealer of secrets and unshakable military critic on his global peace mission, had adopted the language of the powermongers he claimed to be combating … Later, when he tried to kick me out of WikiLeaks he said the reason was ‘Disloyalty, Insubordination and Destabilization in Times of Crisis.'”

Taken from the Espionage Act of 1917, these are military designations for “traitor.”

“Inside WikiLeaks” is candid and honest, detailing the founders’ near-poverty at the beginning and tracing the unraveling of the site as Domscheit-Berg saw it. Biased? Maybe, but there’s something endearing about Domscheit-Berg’s struggle for the ideals that drove him to join a “whistle-blowing” project in the first place, with or without Assange. It’s tech, but not distractedly so. It’s a story so unbelievable, it could hardly be contrived.

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