From The eXiled’s Special Australasia Correspondent
PERTH, AUSTRALIA–First, the Right accused WikiLeaks of endangering US soldiers and Afghan informers. Then after “Cablegate” the neocons conceded to the lack of evidence and switched to the opposite tactic: insisting there was nothing exciting at all about Julian Assange’s leaks. Spectator editorials appeared, claiming we already knew Sarkozy was a narcissist and Berlusconi was a womaniser. This didn’t work either. The cables had a lot of new information about DynCorp bribing Afghan police with “dancing boys” and Mubarak telling the US to install a “fair dictator” in Iraq.
Now a much easier way to discredit WikiLeaks has emerged: attacking Assange as a human being. It’s easy because there’s no need to touch any wider political issues. It’s damaging because (regardless of how right he is) Assange still needs technicians to work for him and a well-timed mutiny could hurt his organisation more than any external pressure. Worse, the man probably is a dickhead. He’s a brave dickhead, a talented dickhead, a necessary dickhead. He has a better chance of crippling the war effort than any of his competitors. But none of that makes him easy to work with. And WikiLeaks doesn’t just need volunteers, but extremely skilled ones who can maintain large servers and keep them running after all sorts of cyber attacks.
At the moment, Assange’s most notable competitor is a squishy little Kraut by the name of Daniel Domscheit-Berg (better abbreviated to “Shite”) who worked for WikiLeaks until last September. On January 28th, he announced that he was forming an “alternative” whistleblower site, “OpenLeaks.” Instead of publishing documents directly, OpenLeaks plans to provide a select list of media groups with inboxes and give leakers the choice of which inbox to send material to. They do not, however, have the choice of getting documents put up for the public to see. Instead they have to hope their selected editors will: a) find the document “newsworthy,” and b) publish as much of it as possible without trying to soften the impact. In other words, OpenLeaks isn’t really that open. And it gets creepier – Domscheit-Berg seems hesitant to put up more US documents, writing that WikiLeaks “should have ruled out any further publication of the American documents” after Bradley Manning’s arrest.
Domscheit-Berg’s attack on Julian Assange has been three-pronged. Not only has he formed a rival organisation, but he’s pinched several thousand documents from the WikiLeaks server and refused to give them back to Assange. He claims this isn’t theft – even though the leakers entrusted Assange with the docs, not him – because he doesn’t plan to publish them. Instead, he’s keeping them “in a safe environment,” whatever that means. Finally, he’s put out a memoir – Inside Wikileaks – attacking Assange for chauvinism, transvestism, uncleanliness, gluttony and animal abuse.
You see, Domscheit-Berg’s main advantage over his Australian adversary is his blandness. He’s monogamous, doesn’t play mind games with his employees and trusts his government to “respect the law.” He also objects to Assange turning Wikileaks into “a global political player – something it was never intended to be.” (Intended by whom, I wonder? Domscheit-Berg doesn’t dispute that Assange is the group’s “sole founder.”) He opposes Assange’s decision to give the name “Collateral Murder” to footage of a US helicopter gunning down Reuters journalists. And despite hanging around with an anarchist or two, Domscheit-Berg doesn’t really seem to have much against the Iraq-Afghanistan occupations. The worst he says is that “the suspicion can hardly be dismissed outright that the United States waged war partly for economic reasons.” (It’s the “partly” that does it.)
He even suggests Assange only gave so much attention to US military documents because focusing on Africa or Russia “wouldn’t have gotten him on the nightly news” or improved his “status.” It’s the same old argument the Right has always used: anyone who seriously challenges the status quo is just a narcissist. The goals they’re trying to achieve aren’t half as important as their motivation. Well, what if Assange is a narcissist? What if he is a jerk, a creep, a stalker, and an absolute pig to everyone who knows him? At least he’s actually trying to hurt the scum in power, fuck with bankers, and derail the war effort. Shite doesn’t even believe a whistleblower page should be about hurting, but, rather, about making the public “capable of behaving correctly” by giving them sufficient background information.
Domscheit-Berg’s nanny-leak philosophy is about as idealistic as he gets, if you call that idealism. In other regards, his blandness merges with a cheerful pro-corporate attitude. Regarding his wife’s job as a programmer, he says:
She worked for Microsoft on open government projects. In principle, she was trying to increase transparency from the top down, while [me and Assange] were working from the bottom up. I thought she was probably very good at her job.
And just in case you didn’t know what a perfectly bland, politically-correct teacher’s pet he is, Domscheit-Berg dedicates his book to “My wife Anke, who is my equal.”
This is Anke, Daniel’s equal
Domscheit-Berg seems like he’s trying to convince himself that he’s satisfied being bland, monogamous, and perfectly politically-correct. He admits that Assange’s alpha mindset threatened his pious Puritanism:
I must admit his fascination with women was contagious, even though I was already spoken for.
On our way back home from our absinthe evening, we both saw what amounted to an apparition. A woman in hot pants and a tight top whizzed past us on Rollerblades. We continued talking about the conference, other people we knew, and our future plans, but every once in a while one of us would say “What a woman!” Or “Boy, was she the business!”
Scary, scary picture. A debased Hessian IT worker who can’t fantasize about strangers without getting a sick feeling he’s deserves to be served with a restraining order. I don’t know if this retro Eurovision dweebiness is half as palpable in the original German, but the translator’s done a fine job nonetheless. You can almost hear ELO’s Xanadu soundtrack in the background when Shite mentions his “apparition… on Rollerblades.” And yep, the good Puritanical Domscheit-Berg’s favourite drugs are absinthe, weed and “a soft drink containing stimulants,” to which he gives a cosy product placement spot. I guess that’s supposed to show his healthy distrust of authority. Within acceptable limits.
But Domscheit-Berg’s Inside Wikileaks is more than just a cowardly smear job. It’s a well written one, too. Domscheit-Berg dictated the book to a journalist named Tina Klopp, whom, I suspect, is no stranger to Charles Portis novels. There are moments in the memoir when Domscheit-Berg’s thoughts about Assange are eerily similar to passages from Dog of the South. If you’ve read the great eXiled-recommended novel Dog of the South, you’d know what I mean – those bitter, jealous parts where prig-lord Ray Midge attacks the personal upkeep and manliness of his wife-stealing rival Guy Dupree (a leftist-radical megalomaniac). Klopp may have been trying to emulate them when she wrote these bits:
Julian ate everything with his hands, and he always wiped his fingers on his pants. I have never seen pants as greasy as his in my whole life.
Julian sat beside me, bitching. He was a terrible backseat driver. He complained the entire time that I was driving too fast, and to him as an Australian, the German roads seemed far too narrow and full of traffic. What’s more, he never quite got over the feeling that I was driving on the wrong side of the road.
When we reached Switzerland, I spent all my remaining money on Ovaltine. I love the Swiss chocolate drink, and for the rest of our tour, I couldn’t wait to get back home and make myself a huge cup of cocoa. But when we arrived back in Wiesbaden, the cocoa powder would be all gone. Julian had at some point torn open the packages and poured the contents straight in his mouth.
You usually couldn’t speak to him when he was working. He sat in deep meditation, programming or reading something or other. At most he used to leap up briefly without any warning and do some strange kung fu exercises. Some media reports said that Julian was at least the equivalent of a black belt in all known international martial arts. In fact, his improvised shadowboxing lasted a maximum of twenty seconds, looked extremely silly, and was probably intended to stretch his joints and tendons after all that sitting.
How much closer can you get to Ray Midge’s self-consolatory whine? We’re just waiting for Domscheit-Berg to tell us he can’t think of any Prime Minister who couldn’t handle Assange in a fistfight. He also mocks his former boss’s attempts at keeping a low profile (“You couldn’t have behaved more conspicuously than Julian did.”) and how he repeatedly loses his way through the streets of Wiesbaden. Yes, this makes our Julian seem pretty careless, but not as sloppy as Domscheit-Berg when he fails to make a back-up of the WikiLeaks server.
When the server breaks, Assange (rightly) tells Domscheit-Berg: “Wikileaks only survived because I didn’t trust you.” Seeing that Domscheit-Berg later stole several thousand files and kept asking for partial control of WikiLeaks’s money supply, I can’t help but wonder if this was deliberate sabotage on his part.
Domscheit-Berg is oddly incredulous, too, at Assange’s descriptions of his ancestry: “There were stories of him having at least ten ancestors from various corners of the globe, from the South Sea pirates to Irishmen.” Well, I’d believe a man had nine ancestors – but ten? That’s getting a bit excessive. And IRISHMEN?! Isn’t that just too exotic for words?
Klopp does a good job, though, of making Assange look like Portis’s Guy Dupree. He gets into a fight with a corrupt Italian ticket inspector, on the grounds that “the man in uniform has to learn his lesson.” He randomly attacks Domscheit-Berg’s cat “spread[ing] his fingers into a fork shape and pounc[ing] on the cat’s neck”:
“It’s about training vigilance,” Julian explained. Mr. Schmitt was a male cat, and male cats were supposed to be dominant. “A man must never forget he has to be the master of the situation,” Julian proclaimed. I wasn’t aware that anyone in my apartment or the courtyard had questioned Mr. Schmitt’s masculinity. What’s more, he was neutered.
Guy Dupree’s words–“I know your movements and have access to your pets”– might actually be scary coming from the founder of WikiLeaks.
However, there’s a key difference between Assange and his Portis-universe doppelganger. Our Julian might be a control freak, but there are plenty of reasons to believe he’s a genuine ubermensch. He works for days on end, hardly eats, has no fixed address, sleeps on cold tables in a Berlin convention centre and carries all his worldly possessions in a single backpack. He’s also taught himself to type completely blind, because “working without optical feedback was a form of perfection, a victory over time.” He refuses to bribe the Italian conductor even when he’s likely to miss a flight to Germany by doing so. Domscheit-Berg, on the other hand, the perfect Social Democratic yuppie, can’t stop mentioning how much he loves cooking and shopping at “lefty alternative macrobiotic” groceries. And yet he tells us he’s storing Assange’s files “in a safe, secure location” because “children shouldn’t play with guns.”
In fact, his whole OpenLeaks model is designed to keep as much heat away as possible from the website operator, who’s little more than a go-between between the leaker and the media. Domscheit-Berg isn’t even likely to get a threatening letter from someone’s attorney. That only happens when you’re publishing, not handing out exclusive email accounts. In his own words:
OpenLeaks can be seen as a kind of sober, neutral infrastructure. We see ourselves as technological engineers, not as media stars or global galactic saviors. Some people may even think we’re boring. That’s just how we want to be. The main thing is the system works.
Dickhead or not, at least Assange can deal with pressure. He’d rather go fugitive, sleep rough and live on his wits than surrender his servers. This is the guy I’d trust in a guerrilla war campaign, the old “inflict-and-endure.” Compare that with Domscheit-Berg, who claims to give homelessness a try for half a year before running to his fiancee’s doorstep. Even his tolerance for messy hotel rooms is much lower than any of Assange’s other lackeys.
In other words, a pussy. But aggressively marketing his pussy-ness, with the goal not so much of making the reader like Domscheit-Berg, as in trying to peel away Assange’s crucial left-progressive supporters.
But let’s take Domscheit-Berg at face value. How much value does he bring to the WikiLeaks movement, compared to Julian Assange? Here’s an easy way of telling if someone poses a real threat to the Powers That Be: How much can they endure? If a bit of ceiling mold is enough to make them hoist the white flag, they’re not the guy you want to back against the military-industrial complex. If they have real conviction – ANY real conviction, whether it’s self-sacrificing altruism or a self-inflated martyr complex, creepy or not – they’re much more likely to scare the neocons and see the battle through to the end. The difference between a careerist hanger-on and a martyr has nothing to do with selfishness and everything to do with posterity, a Higher Purpose. A careerist has no notion of posterity. A martyr does. That’s the difference. Domscheit-Berg’s pain-and-poverty threshold is so much lower than Assange’s that you wonder what he’s doing there, why he’s not delivering mail or serving in some safe job as a Social Democratic Party hack.
What about all the insane surveillance and death threats? Well, Domscheit-Berg won’t even admit that Assange was harassed, at any point in his travels, by cops or spooks. Take note: anyone who laughs death threats off into conspiracy theorist territory will buckle, and buckle fast.
There’s another odd thing about Domscheit-Berg’s memoir: the feel-good moments. In one scene, a corporate executive contacts WikiLeaks, praises the site and offers to organise a fundraiser in Manhattan for it – if Shite and Assange retract a document or two. He threatens to call his attorneys when they refuse and they tell him to get fucked. Later, the head of Germany’s intelligence agency, the BND, emails WikiLeaks and demands they remove a confidential report. They reply, asking him to specify which “BND-related” doc he wants them to remove. He falls for it, admitting that a file titled “BND_Kosovo_intelligence_report” is authentic.
Domscheit-Berg doesn’t tell us whether these emails were his idea or Assange’s. It’s always the royal “we”: “we responded… we wrote back… our next answer… we got a few laughs… our response.” Seeing as Domscheit-Berg and Assange rarely met in person during 2008 and communicated almost exclusively over a chat program, you wonder if the emails to German intelligence were really the result of teamwork. The email to the BND chief ends with the name “Jay Lim.” In an earlier chapter, Domscheit-Berg suspects this is probably one of Assange’s pseudonyms, making it fairly likely that Assange caught the spook on his own. Still, he can’t stand the idea of Assange teaching an authority figure a lesson, so the credit goes to “we.” At the same time, he theorises that WikiLeaks was probably a two-man organisation for most of 2008. So, Domscheit-Berg, was it you or Assange? Stop leeching off of him with those cowardly first-person plurals when the going is good, and then distancing yourself when things get rough!
Domscheit-Berg insists his motives aren’t really malicious. He insists that he isn’t trying to compete with WikiLeaks but provide a “complementary” service. Just to show how well-meaning he is, he even gives Assange a pious shout-out in his Acknowledgements. But why did he release his memoir in the middle of the state attack on Assange, when he faces extradition and trial? If that’s not malice, I’d hate to see the real thing in Domscheit-Berg’s eyes.
Even more suspiciously, Domscheit-Berg really seems shocked when Assange finally tells him he wants to run Wikileaks as an “insurgent operation,” as if it’s a drastic change of direction. This actually explains a lot – for instance, why Shite didn’t know the number of volunteers WikiLeaks had in its early days. A well-organised insurgent group wouldn’t tell the lower rungs exactly how many other lower rungs there are. This protects the group from betrayal by individuals under torture, and by Domscheit-Berg’s standards, torture is a smelly Icelandic motel room. It’s also evidence that he never had real leadership in the group. He joined at the end of its second year, had no idea how WikiLeaks was structured outside of his own cell and now complains that Assange didn’t move it closer to “other charitable organizations such as Greenpeace or Worldwatch.” You wonder why it took him nearly three years to realise what Assange’s basic strategy was. Didn’t he ever watch Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers?
I guess not, because even if his motives are innocent, the guy’s still a White Hat. Before joining WikiLeaks, he worked as a private IT security consultant for “a large American company that did IT work for civilian and military clients.” (We have to take his word for it that he didn’t work for any war profiteers.)
Twice in the book, he mentions Adrian Lamo and doesn’t call him anything stronger than “ex-hacker.” Lamo, it turns out, was a member of WikiLeaks’s original donor list. When Assange accidentally forgets to blind-carbon-copy a mass email he sends to his donors, Lamo sends him the addresses as an “official leak.” Instead of treating it like the brutal sabotage carried out by what everyone and his grandmother assumes is a government informant, Domscheit-Berg seems to think Lamo was only throwing the chin-strokers a bone:
It was interesting because we had spent some time philosophizing about what would happen if we were compelled to publish something about our own organisation. We agreed that we had to release things that were bad as well as good publicity. In fact, our internal leak went down well with the press. At least we were consistent and none of the donors complained.
I don’t know whether Domscheit-Berg is a spook himself or just one of their useful idiots, but he’s in for a long, long year of rat comparisons.
Ramon Glazov lives and writes in Perth, Western Australia. Email him at “ramonglazov at gmail dot com”
Got something to say to us? Then send us a letter.
Want us to stick around? Donate to The eXiled.
Twitter twerps can follow us at twitter.com/exiledonline