Unpublished Iraq War Logs Trigger Internal WikiLeaks Revolt
A domino chain of resignations at the secret-spilling site WikiLeaks followed a unilateral decision by autocratic founder Julian Assange to schedule an October release of 392,000 classified U.S. documents from the war in Iraq, according to former WikiLeaks staffers.
Key members of WikiLeaks were angered to learn last month that Assange had secretly provided media outlets with embargoed access to the vast database, under an arrangement similar to the one WikiLeaks made with three newspapers that released documents from the Afghanistan war in July. WikiLeaks is set to release the Iraq trove on Oct. 18, according to ex-staffers — far too early, in the view of some of them, to properly redact the names of U.S. collaborators and informants in Iraq.‘I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest. If you have a problem with me, piss off.’
“The release date which was established was completely unrealistic,” says 25-year-old Herbert Snorrason, an Icelandic university student who until recently helped manage WikiLeaks’ secure chat room. “We found out that the level of redactions performed on the Afghanistan documents was not sufficient. I announced that if the next batch did not receive full attention, I would not be willing to cooperate.”
Assange did not respond to e-mail queries from Wired.com.
At least half a dozen WikiLeaks staffers have tendered their resignations in recent weeks, the most prominent of them being Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who, under the name Daniel Schmitt, served as WikiLeaks’ German spokesman.
Domscheit-Berg learned about Assange’s agreements with a number of media outlets last month, but did not know the details or when the documents were scheduled to be released. When he quizzed Assange in an online chat, Assange responded by accusing Domscheit-Berg of leaking information about discontent within WikiLeaks to a columnist for Newsweek.
A purported transcript of the chat provided to Wired.com by a WikiLeaks insider shows the conversation grew heated.
“You are not anyone’s king or god,” wrote Domscheit-Berg in the chat. “And you’re not even fulfilling your role as a leader right now. A leader communicates and cultivates trust in himself. You are doing the exact opposite. You behave like some kind of emperor or slave trader.”
“You are suspended for one month, effective immediately,” Assange shot back. “If you wish to appeal, you will be heard on Tuesday.”
Domscheit-Berg did not provide the transcript to Wired.com, but confirmed the substance of the chat in an interview with Wired.com. The promised “appeal” was never heard, and Domscheit-Berg’s suspension was followed by his resignation last Saturday.
“Julian is a really brilliant person and he has a lot of very, very special talents,” Domscheit-Berg says. “We’ve always [thrived by] a diversity of qualities that different people bring in…. That works as long as you’re working in a team. But whenever you lose that spirit, then one of the qualities just becomes too dominant in some ways — such as taking solitary decisions and thinking that you’re in a position to do that.”
Domscheit-Berg announced his resignation in an interview with Der Spiegel. By then, a key WikiLeaks programmer had resigned as well, sources say. The coder was responsible for building the software tool WikiLeaks’ volunteers were using to perform a painstaking, line-by-line harm-minimization review of the Iraq logs.
Then Snorrason, the Icelandic university student, resigned after he challenged Assange on his decision to suspend Domscheit-Berg and was bluntly rebuked.
“I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest,” Assange wrote Snorrason. “If you have a problem with me, piss off.”
“I believe that Julian has in fact pushed the capable people away,” Snorrason said in an interview with Wired.com. “His behavior is not of the sort that will keep independent-minded people interested.”
Snorrason says he does not know the source of the Iraq documents, and made clear he wouldn’t identify that source if he did. But he expressed some concern that Assange’s decision to release the massive database would impact the legal case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been charged with improperly downloading and leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. Manning disclosed to a former hacker in May that he had given WikiLeaks a database covering 500,000 events in the Iraq War between 2004 and 2009. Manning said the database included reports, dates, and latitude and longitude of events, as well as casualty figures.
Tension has been mounting within WikiLeaks since July, when the organization went public with a U.S. Army database of 92,000 documents from the war in Afghanistan. WikiLeaks released 77,000 of the documents, temporarily holding back 15,000 records to redact the names of Afghan informants who might be at risk of Taliban reprisal. Despite the precaution, the names of some Afghan collaborators slipped out in the 77,000 records, earning WikiLeaks criticism from human rights organizations and the international free press group Reporters Without Borders, as well as the Pentagon. There has been no evidence to date, however, that anyone has suffered actual harm due to the documents.
The redaction of the final 15,000 documents was completed weeks ago, according to some former WikiLeaks staffers, but Assange has held off on publishing those reports for reasons he has not shared within the group.
A sex-crime investigation against Assange in Sweden has further increased pressure on WikiLeaks. Assange’s reaction to the probe — he’s implied that his accusers are part of an organized plot against him — triggered some grumbling among staffers who felt that Assange should refrain from making such allegations, and temporarily take a less public role in WikiLeaks. Someone close to WikiLeaks leaked this concern to Newsweek blogger Mark Hosenball in August.
Assange suspected Domscheit-Berg was the source of that leak. The text of the chat that ended Domscheit-Berg’s tenure at WikiLeaks follows.
Domscheit-Berg: what are the agreements re iraq? i need to understand what the plan is there, and what the constraints are
Assange: “A person in close contact with other WikiLeaks activists around Europe, who asked for anonymity when discussing a sensitive topic, says that many of them were privately concerned that Assange has continued to spread allegations of dirty tricks and hint at conspiracies against him without justification. Insiders say that some people affiliated with the website are already
Assange: brainsorming whether ther e might be some way to persuade their front man to step aside, or failing that, even to oust him.”
Domscheit-Berg: what does that have to do with me?
Domscheit-Berg: and where is this from?
Assange: Why do you think it has something to do with you?
Domscheit-Berg: probably because you alleg this was me
Domscheit-Berg: but other than that just about nothing
Domscheit-Berg: as discussed yesterday, this is an ongoing discussion that lots of people have voiced concern about
Domscheit-Berg: you should face this, rather than trying to shoot at the only person that even cares to be honest about it towards you
Assange: No, three people have “relayed” your messages already.
Domscheit-Berg: what messages?
Domscheit-Berg: and what three people?
Domscheit-Berg: this issue was discussed
Domscheit-Berg: [Redacted] and i talked about it, [Redacted] talked about it, [Redacted] talked about it, [Redacted] talked about it
Domscheit-Berg: lots of people that care for this project have issued that precise suggestion
Domscheit-Berg: its not me that is spreading this message
Domscheit-Berg: it would just be the natural step to take
Domscheit-Berg: and thats what pretty much anyone says
Assange: Was this you?
Domscheit-Berg: i didnt speak to newsweek or other media representatives about this
Domscheit-Berg: i spoke to people we work with and that have an interest in and care about this project
Domscheit-Berg: and there is nothing wrong about this
Domscheit-Berg: it’d actually be needed much more, and i can still only recommend you to finally start listening to such concerns
Domscheit-Berg: especially when one fuckup is happening after the other
Assange: who, exactly?
Domscheit-Berg: who exactly what?
Assange: Who have you spoken to about this issue?
Domscheit-Berg: i already told you up there
Assange: those are the only persons?
Domscheit-Berg: some folks from the club have asked me about it and i have issued that i think this would be the best behaviour
Domscheit-Berg: thats my opinion
Domscheit-Berg: and this is also in light to calm down the anger there about what happened in 2007
Assange: how many people at the club?
Domscheit-Berg: i dont have to answer to you on this j
Domscheit-Berg: this debate is fuckin all over the place, and no one understands why you go into denial, especially not the people that know about other incidents
Assange: How many people at the club?
Assange: In what venue?
Domscheit-Berg: in private chats
Domscheit-Berg: but i will not answer anymore of these questions
Domscheit-Berg: face the fact that you have not much trust on the inside anymore
Domscheit-Berg: and that just denying it or putting it away as a campaign against you will not change that it is solely a consequence of your actions
Domscheit-Berg: and not mine
Assange: How many people are represented by these private chats? And what are there positions in the CCC?
Domscheit-Berg: people in the CCC know about 2007
Domscheit-Berg: go figure
Domscheit-Berg: i dont even wanna think about how many people that used to respect you told me that they feel disappointed by your reactions
Domscheit-Berg: i tried to tell you all this, but in all your hybris you dont even care
Domscheit-Berg: so i dont care anymore either
Domscheit-Berg: other than that, i had questions first, and i need answers
Domscheit-Berg: like what agreements we have made
Domscheit-Berg: i need to understand this so we can continue working
Domscheit-Berg: you keep stalling other peoples work
Assange: How many people are represented by these private chats? And what are there positions in the CCC?
Domscheit-Berg: start answering my questions j
Assange: This is not a quid-pro-quo.
Assange: Are you refusing to answer?
Domscheit-Berg: i have already told you again that i dont see why i should answer to you anymore just because you want answers, but on the same hand refuse to answer anything i am asking
Domscheit-Berg: i am not a dog you can contain the way you want to j
Assange: I am investigation a serious security breach. Are you refusing to answer?
Domscheit-Berg: i am investigating a serious breach in trust. are you refusing to answer?
Assange: No you are not. I initiated this conversation. Answer the question please.
Domscheit-Berg: i initiated it
Domscheit-Berg: if you look above
Domscheit-Berg: twice already
Domscheit-Berg: i want to know what the agreements are in respect to iraq
Assange: That is a procedural issue. Don’t play games with me.
Domscheit-Berg: stop shooting at messengers
Assange: I’ve had it.
Domscheit-Berg: likewise, and that doesnt go just for me
Assange: If you do not answer the question, you will be removed.
Domscheit-Berg: you are not anyones king or god
Domscheit-Berg: and you’re not even fulfilling your role as a leader right now
Domscheit-Berg: a leader communicates and cultivates trust in himself
Domscheit-Berg: you are doing the exact opposite
Domscheit-Berg: you behave like some kind of emporer or slave trader
Assange: You are suspended for one month, effective immediately.
Domscheit-Berg: because of what?
Domscheit-Berg: and who even says that?
Domscheit-Berg: you? another adhoc decision?
Assange: If you wish to appeal, you will be heard on Tuesday.
Photo: Julian Assange (left) and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Jacob Appelbaum/Flickr
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