Book Review: Inside WikiLeaks by Daniel Domscheit-Berg



It should be noted that throughout history, profound leaders would frequently associate themselves with a stable, credible, and trustworthy confidante. Perhaps a colleague who could carry out a task without regard for personal risk or expense; someone selfless, who shared the same prevailing vision but could commit to a more abiding approach to building power and achieving the ultimate shared goals.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg was the stabilizing force in the life of Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing website, WikiLeaks, and a man who wore his title so proudly and contemptuously, that it forced Domscheit-Berg to quit his position following his suspension as spokesman for WikiLeaks after 3 years with the organization.

In Inside WikiLeaks, Domscheit-Berg fully exposes and describes his \”hierarchical\” relationship with Julian Assange and his role within WikiLeaks, from the very beginning in December 2007 to the bitter end in September 2010.

The author goes to great lengths to set up his entirely separate conclusions of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. The latter began as a close friendship, one in which Domscheit-Berg carefully justifies his admiration of Assange by sympathetically conveying the man as two sided. He was \”fun to watch\” and a \”cool guy\” who wore \”attire that distinguished him from the rest…\”

Assange is simultaneously characterized as a man with incredibly peculiar behavior. Domscheit-Berg writes that \”one of his amusing quirks was his desire to wear clothes to match his current state of mind.\” Assange \”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.\” He would also observe a woman\’s wrists to be \”so aristocratic.\”

While backpacking across Europe and traveling to Iceland together, Domscheit-Berg describes the changes and fractures that occurred in their relationship; both as friends and colleagues. He also spends a substantial portion of the book describing himself, discussing his anarchist politics (\”Proudhon\’s What Is Property? is the most important book ever written,\”) and depicting his developing personal life.

Perhaps Domscheit-Berg\’s political views sponsored his distaste for Assange, whose management style is described as \”dictatorial,\” undemocratic, irrational and obscene. Assange took serious offense to members of his staff talking about him or WikiLeaks amongst themselves, and often responded to complaints and questioning with the phrase, \”Do not challenge leadership in times of crisis.\”

Domscheit-Berg also called Assange\’s definition of a \’crisis\’ into question. Assange refused to carry any money on him, claiming that \”he didn\’t want anyone to trace his whereabouts from his ATM visits.\” Domscheit-Berg writes that he \”was very paranoid about his own security\”, yet was prone to \”letting the reins hang astonishingly loose\” by becoming careless about WikiLeak\’s technical security measures.

As a computer scientist and former corporate technician, Domscheit-Berg\’s biggest contribution to WikiLeaks was his incessant approach to providing the organization with a powerful technical infrastructure: one that could surely protect the whistleblower under any circumstance. This was founded on his commitment to a purely transparent method of publishing, one which he felt Assange was betraying by becoming a \”cult of personality,\” abandoning the journalist\’s principle of \”strict neutrality\” and putting WikiLeaks \”at the feet of the media\”.

What started as admiration for his colleague would become an illusion to Domscheit-Berg, who eventually became so dissatisfied by Assange\’s autocratic leadership of WikiLeaks, he broke from the organization. Accompanying him was the organization\’s best technician, who remains unnamed, and WikiLeaks\’ entire technical system of document submission.

They formed a \’founder-less\’ whistle-blowing alternative to WikiLeaks – OpenLeaks – and openly admitted to taking thousands of controversial documents with them. However, since OpenLeaks is not a publishing platform, but a kind of digital \”protective mailbox into which the whistle-blower can deposit documents inteded for special recipients,\” the author claims that it has \”absolutely no intention of publishing the material…even though it might be in the interests of the sources.\”

Domscheit-Berg looks back upon his role and the roles of his colleagues at WikiLeaks as not doing enough to limit Assange, stating that \”Julian became the autocratic head of WL, accountable to no one and tolerating no challenges to his authority.\” Domscheit-Berg\’s disappointment in himself, in Assange, and what were great and prophetic hopes for WikiLeaks became quite transparent indeed by the end of the memoir.

Although the author vigorously tries to associate his disappointment with his love for WikiLeaks as an institutional model and its corresponding values of \”promoting transparency,\” he could not suppress the irrefutable pain that came with the dissolving of his friendship with Assange. The social misery that accompanied the bitter ending of their three year friendship perhaps went further than the typical \”hero worship to disillusionment\” story. Daniel Domscheit-Berg had real faith in Julian Assange, and it came at his peril.