How Assange’s acolytes came to see the truth
Michael Bywater joins The First Post with a tale of betrayal, gamma rays and Spam (the meaty kind)
It may not be The Greatest Story Ever Told, but it's one of the oldest: Scales Fall From Eyes. In the evolving tale of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange - next episode on Thursday, when chief magistrate Howard Riddle will rule on the European arrest warrant from Sweden - the scales are as thick as dandruff on a slob's collar.
Governments cheat and connive! Diplomats (men sent to lie abroad for their country, as Sir Henry Wootton put it) are scurrilously, and often hilariously, judgmental! Banks are run by immoral lying bastards! What we think is private may well not be! Computers are insecure!
Who'd have suspected any of this, without Assange's mighty crew? Well... everyone, of course. But WikiLeaks proved it.
Currently, Assange is in the spotlight, with all the reluctance of a recluse with the shouty version of Tourette's. "I'm a very private person! I'm in hiding! Over here! I'm in hiding over here!" And like so many prophets before him, the messenger has, for the moment at least, overshadowed the message.
And, again like so many prophets, he has his acolytes. First among them was his lieutenant in WikiLeaks, Daniel Domscheit-Berg. "Was," because Inside WikiLeaks is an exemplary Scales Fall From Eyes story, beginning with hero-worship as the rather geeky - or should that be "nerdy"? - Domscheit-Berg throws over his computer job in a major US company to join the surprisingly tiny WikiLeaks organisation, and ending with a terrible lovers' tiff, complete with posturing, disillusionment, bitter emails of betrayal, and flouncings-out on both sides.
From within, it must have been horrible for poor Daniel. From outside, though, reading Inside is like watching a scary movie. We read with one eye, through the crack between our fingers. We mutter "No! He's pouring powdered Ovaltine into his mouth from the sachet! Now he's eating Spam with his hands! Oh God, he's wearing two pairs of trousers at once, and wiping Spam-grease on them! Come to your senses, man!"
But so smitten is the innocent and well-meaning Domscheit-Berg that the truth only dawns slowly. Assange tells him that his hair is white because he made a nuclear reactor - as a boy! at home! - but reversed the poles (do reactors have poles?) and drenched himself in gamma rays and that's why his hair is white and Domscheit-Berg doesn't say "Julian, that's bollocks".
They're sharing a double bed in a hotel room (just like MPs or Morecambe and Wise) and Assange sends out for a woman and starts humping her in the bed, and Domscheit-Berg pretends to be dead.
It's not going to end well. And it doesn't.
It doesn't end well in Open Secrets either. Guardian veterans David Leigh and Luke Harding recount the complex relationship between WikiLeaks (i.e. Assange) and their media partners: more grandstanding, more tiffs, fishy money-deals with ‘Russo-Iranian Holocaust deniers’ (according to the Israel daily Ha'aretz) and dodgy bank accounts in Latvia. Assange, as depicted by Leigh and Harding, will do anything in pursuit of his project.
Open Secrets has the intangible Guardian stamp on it: a self-aggrandising introduction, meticulous documentation, and a tangible air of moral superiority leaving the reader feeling slightly inadequate and weedy.
But it does cast a light on the claim for Assange's own forthcoming book (called - what else? - My Story, and said to be ghost-written by the novelist Andrew O'Hagan) that Assange "has helped redefine our idea of investigative journalism and our understanding of how information should be disseminated." Is a consortium of old-established print newspapers including the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, El Pais and Der Spiegel really redefining the dissemination of news?
Eventually more scales fall from more eyes. Assange throws a strop because the New York Times publishes a less-than-flattering profile of him, and another one when the Guardian refuses to sever ties with the NYT because of it.
The reader may in the end decide that Julian Assange is a totally driven man, a megalomaniacal sod, and someone who may have made international diplomacy a bit more difficult (like those politicians mortified to find the mic is still live) but has revealed much and given our self-serving masters much to be worried about. We can tell we owe someone a big debt when that class of Americans whose instinct on encountering a problem is to kill it start shouting for his death. Scales from eyes, again.
But there's another story in here, too. Private Bradley Manning, a 23-year-old US intelligence grunt, sat in Iraq copying the 250,000 secret documents later released by Assange onto discs which once held Lady Gaga songs. He thought what they revealed was morally indefensible. He lies (not on a blanket because he is denied a blanket) in Quantico jail. Pte Manning's life is over, ruined irreparably. No crack legal team. No showbiz fans. No book deals. Game over. Manning's story is not Scales Fall From Eyes. His is a tragedy.
• Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website by Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Jonathan Cape, ISBN 978-0224094016
• WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy by David Leigh & Luke Harding, Guardian Books. ISBN 978 0852652398
• WikiLeaks Versus the World: My Story by Julian Assange, to be published on April 7 by Canongate Books. ISBN 978 0857861894. ·
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