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BY SEBASTIAN DALKOWSKI – last update: 14.09.2011 - 12:05 Source: http://www.rp-online.de/digitale/rpplus/Wikileaks-ist-tot-es-lebeWikileaks_aid_1022813.html Düsseldorf (RPO). Julian Assange, self-appointed leading figure of freedom of information, failed spectacularly and his lifework WikiLeaks teeters on the brink of collapse. But is that also the end of the idea behind the leaking platform? Photos
A man had an idea. He wanted to build a better world by publishing classified documents of ministries and companies in the internet. Now this man, whose name is Julian Assange, is nothing but busy defending himself and his idea, WikiLeaks. Since the platform published the 250.000 US diplomatic cables online unredacted, after they were published last year in a redacted way. During a video interview with the journalist Melinda Crane for the Berlin media week (Berliner Medienwoche) Assange blamed a journalist of the “Guardian” for that. The latter published the password for the data in his book. Those knowing a bit about computers gained access to the unredacted cables because of that. Only after this WikiLeaks published the files themselves. This is Assange’s point of view. The „Guardian“ journalist stated he thought that the password was only temporary. So it goes back and forth. The public mud-slinging is the temporary low point of an idea which can’t afford mudslinging since it counts on the trust of whistleblowers. It’s an idea which is strongly influenced by what Assange experienced in his childhood and youth. Assange was born in 1971 in Townsville, Australia. “My childhood was like described in Tom Sawyer”, he says in an interview. Till the age of 14 he moves 37 times, his mother keeps him away from school because she is afraid he could develop too much respect for authorities. She teaches him at home, he often goes to libraries and reading up and gaining extensive knowledge. And then the computer enters his life. His first one is a C6, at the age of 16 he already has a modem and becomes a hacker. He infiltrates company networks without damaging them. A prosecution ends with a lenient fine. In his early 20s he becomes a father; when the
relationship ends a custody battle starts and Assange gets to know the negative sides of institutions, the exhausting bureaucracy. It takes an eternity till he reaches an agreement with his wife, after that his brown hair turns grey. His mother later in an interview says about that time: “It was like coming back from war. You can’t get along with people in the same way anymore. I’m sure Julian suffers still from a posttraumatic stress disorder which wasn’t treated.“ [Translator’s note: NOU I don’t have the interview :3 find me a transcript/link with minutes and I edit it] Posttraumatic stress disorder – this is the disorder soldiers have coming back from a mission. The idea begins to take shape Assange first crosses Vietnam by motorcycle, then he studies and the idea for WikiLeaks begins to grow. He assumes that the major conflict is the one between the individual and the institution, as he experienced it during the custody battle. And with WikiLeaks he wants to reveal the conspiracies, the injustice of institutions and to destroy them. They shouldn’t simply commit wrongs. The first document goes online in December 2006. But for a long time the public doesn’t notice the platform because the revelations are not spectacular enough for worldwide headlines. Also for a long time Julian Assange doesn’t identify himself. Up till now it’s not known who works for the organization. There is no permanent headquarter, no salaries, only uncountable supporters and donations. The network is built in a decentralized way, the data saved on different servers. According to Assange even the organization doesn’t know the identity of the whistleblowers. But in one move WikiLeaks reaches out to the public worldwide. In April 2010 the organization publishes a video showing a US helicopter shooting alleged rebels in Iraq, with that also a journalist from Reuters gets killed. The news agency tried for months to get hold of the video. Without success. WikiLeaks receives it and presents it to the world. With that Julian Assange becomes a celebrity too. He is the only public face of WikiLeaks beside the German Daniel Domscheit-Berg. The organization comes up fast with more. In July 2010 they publish more than 75 000 documents from the Afghanistan war. New about that: Huge media like Guardian, Spiegel and New York Times got the documents before the release and publish them with their analyses. They receive critics from both governments and human rights organizations. The former worry about their soldiers, the latter about the people who could be identified by the release. In November 2010 WikiLeaks is causing a stir once more. Again in cooperation with major media they publish cables of US embassies. In those one can find criticism and praise for the host countries of the US embassies, threat evaluations worldwide and comments about the work of the intelligences. Guido Westerwelle for example is described as “incompetent” and “vain”. The newspapers helped redacting names to make sure the persons behind that are not in danger. WikiLeaks itself publishes the files online piece by piece. The US want to sue Assange These publications too receive criticism, the US thinks out loud about how they could prosecute Julian Assange. This is something that feeds Assange’s mistrust. The internet service provider Amazon removes WikiLeaks from its server, Paypal blocks the WikiLeaks account used by the organization to collect donations, MasterCard stops payments to WikiLeaks, as does Visa. More and more the platform comes under pressure.
It also rumbles within WikiLeaks. Some comrades-in-arms leave, Daniel Domscheit-Berg had to leave the organization already two months before because he criticized the structure and Assange who would act like an autocrat. The mud-slinging began. Later Assange will state in an interview: „Yes, I am the boss who fired him“. Financial problems, unhappy colleagues – but it becomes even worse for Assange. On December 7th 2010 he turns himself over to the police in London as he’s wanted for questioning in Sweden because of rape allegations. He is released on bail and since then he lives in an English country house, but has to wear an electronic shackle, to report to the police on daily base and to meet other requirements. It’s not decided yet if he will be extradited to Sweden. For a longer time now the idea by Assange to publish classified documents is only in the background visible. Not the publications anymore make the front page but his person. For some Assange appearing like a guru is a fearless fighter for the freedom of press and opinion, for others he is a terrorist who mindlessly endangers the lifes of other people. The unredacted release of the embassy cables matches the argumentation of his enemies. For many the days of Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks and leaking platforms are numbered. But is that the case? It’s difficult, if not even impossible for Julian Assange to regain the respect he once received. Even media partners like Guardian or Spiegel distanced themselves from him. The problem is that he as a controversial figure pushed himself in front of his project WikiLeaks. The fact, that he calls the USA in an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung the biggest espionage agency in the world and that he accuses Daniel DomscheitBerg of cooperating with the CIA, creates the impression that his mistrust already turned into paranoia. With that he is not acceptable anymore as head of a leaking platform. Domscheit-Berg took the mailbox with him WikiLeaks too will face huge difficulties. After all the current events don’t really boost the confidence of potential whistleblowers in the organization. However: WikiLeaks didn’t put any of its sources into danger till now. If there’s talking about informants being in danger because of the release of the unredacted cables it’s about informants of the US embassies named in the cables, not WikiLeaks sources. Because WikiLeaks receives the data without knowing the sender. Therefore the US government should in this case start to think about how to prevent somebody from passing on secret documents. And even the informants of the US embassies aren’t really additionally endangered by the release by WikiLeaks, since the data including the password already circulated online before that – although that happened thanks to the sloppiness of WikiLeaks. Right now the organization has a major problem: They can’t accept new submissions. Daniel Domscheit-Berg took with him the so called anonymous mailbox when he was fired. The end of WikiLeaks seems to be inevitable. To have the slightest chance of surviving the organization has to break away from its founder Julian Assange. A step hardly conceivable. But the idea of leaking platforms is certainly not endangered. The trust in WikiLeaks might be shattered, but not the trust in the basic idea, as Jakob Augstein, editor of the weekly newspaper Freitag said. The need for it is still there, in every state of the world injustice exists, also people who want to change that, and documents proving that too.
There are already alternatives to WikiLeaks. Daniel Domscheit-Berg right now tries to not repeat the mistakes of WikiLeaks with his project Openleaks. There the sources should decide about who receives the data and what happens with that. But the site is still in the testing phase, and in addition Domscheit-Berg made during the mud-slinging with Assange an even more unpleasant impression than the Australian. The fact that he spills out details about WikiLeaks in a book doesn’t really make him trustworthy. Controlling the leaking platforms But there are enough good educated computer experts out there who are able to build up a whistleblower platform. There is Balkanleaks, Ruleaks (Russia), Leakymails (Argentina), Myanmar WikiLeaks and other websites who want to release classified documents. And because there are not single persons behind them but networks, it will be difficult to destroy them. They just have to slowly build up their reliability and not repeating the mistakes of WikiLeaks and Assange. And they have to think about to what extent they could allow themselves to be controlled. It’s obvious that they can’t work with full transparency since they have to protect their sources. But if an organization has power it has to build up mechanisms to prevent the abuse of said power. If that works out they will help with what Julian Assange once stated as goal for his organization: “It’s not our goal to achieve a fully transparent society, our goal is to achieve a society which is juster.”
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