A recent Panorama documentary containing an interview with mr Snowden was recently shown by a state-owned television-station. (See bookreview on “The Snowden Files”). This documentary also contained interviews with Wikileaks members.
So I had a look at books on Wikileaks to brush up my knowledge. I read Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s “Inside Wikileaks” some time ago. It was interesting and at times hilarious. Having worked in IT and with computer freaks, some scenes and events were totally recognisable.
On the other hand: Daniel Domscheit-Berg wrote this account after a major and public bust-up with Julian Assange. So don’t expect this to be an unbiassed account. One of the last chapters has a list of 10 questions, which read more like accusations.
Mr Domscheit-Berg joined WikiLeaks in 2007. He and a group of WikiLeaks colleagues left the project in 2010. The biography does go into Domscheit-Berg and Assange’s early years, how they met, and the public row. He describes what it is like, to share a place with Julian Assange, the time spent at Iceland, Berlin, the Collateral Murder and Scientology cases, Bradley Manning’s imprisonment and more. Oh, and there is of course a chapter on OpenLeaks, the platform mr Domscheit-Berg and others started up in 2010.
“Staatfeind Wikileaks”, a book written by journalists Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark, was published the same year, but before mr Domscheit-Berg’s biography appeared. Yet it is clear both journalists not only talked to mr Domscheit-Berg. Some parts of their book seem to have used his material.
This book certainly is more balanced and does not focus only on Julian Assange. They give far more background information. For instance: what to make of the fact that a department of Melbourne University has a contract with the American military? The latter fund research which should help improve army logistics.
It raised an eyebrow, but I presumed it might be innocent enough. Till I continued reading: ” “… improve army logistics …. use of bulldozers … against for instance Palestinians”. With more and more universities being dependent on nongovernmental funding, one starts wondering how much of them are actually receiving funding from unsavoury businesses and opaque fronts which serve to hide unsavoury business ties. And how such funding influences research and research outcomes. At least: that’s what happened to me.
It was also interesting to read, that many WikiLeaks documents were actually not new. These were stolen by Chinese hackers and available all over the internet. This made me wonder why the US blew its mind over diplomat cables etc. The book also covers a far larger period than the above one, including the time Domscheit-Berg was not even anywhere near Wikileaks.
Manning is not the only whistleblower who got into severe problems because WikiLeaks published information. Most people will have forgotten the murders of two Human Rights activists in Kenya in Mach 2009. Mr Kingara and Mr Oulu’s deaths are linked to published information on corruption, kidnapping, and murder in Kenya. Information published by WikiLeaks in 2007, or 2008. As Rosenbach and Stark state: whistleblowing can be lethal.
It is sickening to read, how the press and Human Right organisations right up to the UN were all used by for instance, the US military. The cover-up of so many dreadful atrocities and torture cases in areas like Iraq, may well have helped create the present problems in the region.
There are of course no words to describe the abuse, bullying, pressuring, and worse, by not only the US military and secret services, but also US diplomats. The focus in the chapter which goes into the US diplomatic cables leak, mainly concentrates on Germany. Here it is clear, you are dealing with an account written by journalists working for the German newsmagazine “Der Spiegel”.
The book certainly gives a fascinating account of how the international newspapers and other media “team-worked” during the high-profile leaks. Especially, on how easily these cave in when leaned upon by governments, breach contracts, and worse. But of course, they’re not half as awful as the present US President and his team, who started out warmly supporting whistleblowers and promised transparency – while campaigning.
But the most thought-provoking chapter was indeed the book’s last one. If the press and journalists function as a kind of correcting mechanism when governments behave badly, why are sites like Wikileaks now so viable? And then there is the chilling statement by Rosenbach and Stark: throughout the world, whistleblowers are unprotected, the traditional media are not always willing to help protect them, and platforms like WikiLeaks are often unable to do so.
Of the two books, the latter is definitely the best, the most balanced, and the most interesting one. It not only tells the WikiLeaks story, but also gives information about the people behind the platform. It is also thought-provoking. As both books were published in 2011, they cover events up to that year.
Julian Assange is stuck in a London embassy. The British public is currently questioning the 24/7 surveillance of an embassy by the Met Police. This costs a mere 11,000 UKP per day; taxpayers money which could be spent on education or the NHS. Snowden is stuck in Russia, but able to travel in that country. Chelsea Manning is allowed to receive treatments while serving a 35-year-long prison term. The Wikileaks website is still regularly updated. Domscheit-Berg’s Openleaks floundered.
“Staatsfeind WikiLeaks”, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt & Spiegel-Verlag, Hamburg, 2011. Not available in an English translation.
“Inside WikiLeaks”, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Ullstein Buchverlage, Berlin, 2011. Available in English and also in an English kindle version.