Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, prior to their falling out.
When Julian Assange found himself being chased down by Interpol in 2010, WikiLeaks unloaded a 1.4 gigabyte encrypted “insurance file” onto the internet. Thousands of people have since downloaded it and many have tried in vain to break its heavy-duty security wall that protects the document’s speculative contents. Ostensibly, the plan is that should the organization come to serious harm or its members sentenced to prison, the password for the insurance file will be released and the most sensitive WikiLeaks cables of all will be spread worldwide.
These are supposedly cables so damaging to the US and other world powers, that Assange figures they’d rather loosen the noose from around his neck than push him off of the gallows, for fear of what these cables could expose. With Assange’s recent quest for asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London and the threat of him being extradited to Sweden to face dubious sexual abuses charges ebbing closer, some are speculating that the password may well be on the verge of release.
Although the insurance file concept is in theory a cunning plan, it effectively goes against everything the movement supposedly stands for. By withholding what are possibly “smoking gun” cables, they’re keeping the rest of the world in the dark for the sake of protecting just one man.
And let's be clear—despite its intended purpose of protecting WikiLeaks as one unit, the insurance file password certainly seems to apply only to Assange's protection, as Bradley Manning has been held for a torturous 23 hours a day in solitary confinement since he was arrested in May 2010. Without Manning’s cable leak, WikiLeaks would still be a little known group of politically motivated hacktivists. Assange owes him the release of the insurance file password, but is he simply too wrapped up in his own ego to do so, or could it all just be a bluff? What if WikiLeaks are effectively holding the world to ransom with a flash grenade and there’s nothing of any real value in the insurance file?
I spoke to Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the former WikiLeaks spokesperson and—according to many—Julian Assange's number two who defected from the organization in 2010, after seeing it descend into what he claims is now an ironfisted hierarchy where everything is dictated from the top by Julian Assange. I asked him about the insurance file.
“I would assume that anything really hot has been published by now—especially if Julian had it back in 2010,” he says. “At the very least there should be those documents in [the insurance file] that had not been published at the time we spread the cables, i.e. the larger publications from 2010. But the main question will be: what else is in there? I heard a lot of rumor about files on Rupert Murdoch and similar lore, yet none of that sounded like anything WikiLeaks ever obtained.”
Domscheit-Berg claims to have had no hand in the compiling of the insurance file, but by the time it was packaged up and sent out, he had presumably been privy to all of the secret cables that had passed through WikiLeaks HQ.
According to the former WikiLeaks number two, Assange’s whistle blowing establishment has become hypocritical in the fact that it’s no longer transparent to the people working for it. After his defection he released a book called Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website, in which he went so far as to say: “Freedom of speech has a number. It was the WikiLeaks IP Address.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Domscheit-Berg also indicated that Assange was a tyrant, threatening to “hunt down and kill” anyone who dared expose a source. Ironically, putting whistleblowers in danger is something Assange later went on to do himself, by failing to black-marker the names of informants in the US Military Afghan War Report cables which were published by WikiLeaks in July 2010—two months before Domscheit-Berg left. Some of the Afghan informants were consequently executed.
In their defense, WikiLeaks claim that Domscheit-Berg was blackmailing them with the threat of releasing 3,000 unpublished cables that they say he stole from their systems, partly because he was jealous of Assange’s notoriety. They also say he tried to sabotage their outfit by sending internal WikiLeaks communications to journalists in a bid to villainize Assange.
Despite the bad blood and threats of violence from both parties, Domscheit-Berg set about launching his own whistle-blowing service that he felt would be more effective than WikiLeaks. "OpenLeaks" was meant to be up and running by 2011, but after many delays the service is now in the final stages of preparation.
“Two crucial aspects need to be taken care of [with online whistle blowing]: protection of the sources and sanity of the publication process,” explains Domscheit-Berg. “WikiLeaks is trying to take care of both of them by offering a secure channel, plus deciding how information will be published and when it will be shared with whom. OpenLeaks differs in that we believe such a secure channel should exist for all the organizations that work with sources.”
Domscheit-Berg explains that OpenLeaks will not simply be a site where people hand in their above-top-secret files or classified cables for redistribution en masse to the media, but will be a service offered to all whistle-blowing organizations that will enable them to securely provide information to investigative journalists and researchers firsthand. OpenLeaks will effectively remove the middle man. Leaked secret information will not be dealt out to certain places as and when one person sees fit, but will be processed through all channels to get a fair and equal output of said information to media resources.
“OpenLeaks will enable a much more efficient flow of information, it will build on all those existing resources in the form of qualified journalists and researchers and will avoid the concentration of too much power with one organization. In this respect, OpenLeaks is not about publishing, but about enabling others to receive information they can publish."
There’s no denying that WikiLeaks have done a great service in terms of exposing some of the more blatant war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, crimes that would have been otherwise omitted from the highly polished news reports if it weren’t for Assange and his sources. But all the smoke and mirrors of recent times and bizarre PR stunts (claiming asylum in a country that is known for repressing freedom of speech) leaves you wondering if they’re running out of steam. Are WikiLeaks trying to convince us all that there’s plenty left in the bag for the sake of the media circus? Who knows, maybe Assange really does have one last ace up his sleeve, But it seems the whistle-blowing organizations have become more obsessed with themselves than delivering the information the people deserve.