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Daniel Domscheit-Berg about Wikileaks "The dispute became so absurd

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06.11.2011, 11:13 Interview: Janek Schmidt Daniel Domscheit-Berg helped building up the whistleblower platform WikiLeaks and became the most important representative of the group beside Julian Assange. One year ago he left WikiLeaks because of Assange’s dictatorial management style. A talk about his grandfather, Assange’s suspicions and the value of secret information. Daniel Domscheit-Berg, 33, is the probably most famous representative of the German computer- and hacker scene. After his degree in computer science he first worked for a company building up computer networks. From 2007 on he helped setting up the whistleblower platform WikiLeaks, resigned from his job and became the second in command after Julian Assange. Following a dispute about the dictatorial leadership of Assange he left WikiLeaks a year ago and founded together with other drop-outs the project Openleaks. Beside the work on said organization he gives lectures about engagement in the internet age.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg at a convention of the Chaos Computer Club in December 2010. (© Getty Images) SZ: Mr. Domscheit-Berg, you don’t have your laptop with you! Daniel Domscheit-Berg: Yes, I left it at home. But usually you wouldn’t leave your home without it! Nowadays I do. I stopped constantly reading news in the internet.

Right now everybody is talking about Facebook and the Twitter revolution, and you of all people opt out? Yes, I didn’t tweet for a long time now. I also don’t have a Facebook account or blog. Even my mobile isn’t used that often anymore by me. What happened? It was on the 4th of August when the summer camp of the Chaos Computer Club started… At which you were expelled from the hacker club in the middle of the night… … Yes, that was the peak of a dispute which started a year ago when I left WikiLeaks together with other people. Unfortunately for every party concerned this hassle was dragged into the Chaos Computer Club. Why was this experience such a cut for you? Because this dispute became so absurd all of a sudden. After our exit from WikiLeaks we started to work on our new project Openleaks. Every one of us invested a huge amount of time and energy into this because we do believe that we create something positive for the rest of the world. But when it is sabotaged with spurious arguments, when I get to hear that I am a traitor and only want to develop a competiting business then this of course affects me a bit. Then you tell yourself: “Ok, we just leave it” – and this is exactly what some people want, but this thing is way too important. How did you solve this dilemma? I did some soul-searching and found out: everything has been too frantic. Since 2010 is this madness, enough action for five years of lifetime, and then the drama about our exits. When your former companion Julian Assange accused you of theft. This is about the time of September 2010 when some of us left the project. Back then I sponsored four servers to WikiLeaks I didn’t want to pay anymore, that’s why I said “Move your data from these servers.” But nobody took care of the handover, Julian always said he wants to take care of the Iraq publication and doesn’t have time. After three weeks of wrangling we decided to not wait any longer and to save this data package on a hard drive where it would be safe. But only I had the key. Did you ever return the hard drive and the key? A first package with all already released documents by WikiLeaks I handed over to a mediator to pass it to Julian. This mediator however decided to publish all these data without knowing what he did, thus missing that the unredacted cables were also in there. We didn’t want to take the risk with the second package, containing the unreleased documents, which was stored by somebody else. Couldn’t you have talked with somebody from WikiLeaks in person?

For nine months only this mediator came from WikiLeaks. I never understood why Julian didn’t contact us directly. He even didn’t tell us himself that this mediator acts in his interests, and during my time at WikiLeaks the mediator also wasn’t part of the project. Have you ever thought about releasing the documents yourself? No. They didn’t belong to us. But there would have been other capable takers for that publication. You wouldn’t believe how many people came to me and told me we should give them access to the documents, but they all weren’t involved with WikiLeaks. Then at some point I felt like Frodo with the cursed ring, and every Gollum in this world wants to gain access to said ring by using all kinds of justifications. But before I do that I rather make sure that I don’t endanger any source and that’s why I destroyed the key to these documents.

The long-desired conclusion
So these documents are gone? Yes, but before that they were examined. That were 3500 objects and as usual at WikiLeaks: 90% were trash – some home stories from people telling that they are irradiated from somewhere in outer space or who sent us pictures of their cats. And the rest? That was real material, but not really exiting – and contrary to all statements there haven’t been any documents from the Bank of America in there. There are some people who believe that you’re Gollum and treasure up the key. That’s why I signed an affidavit that I am no longer able to access the data because I destroyed the key. And while I already visited the notary I used that time to also deny other accusations existing: that I am an informant of the police or a secret agent or that I stole money and software from WikiLeaks. Was that the long-desired conclusion for you? Yes, but the decision in favor for some rest came up after the Chaos Communication Camp. If I had tried to follow up what who said about whom I would have gone crazy. There I had to reach a kind of serenity and that’s why I decided to opt out of this constant reading of news and to slow things down. How do you do that? Today I got up at half past seven and turned compost. In your flat in the middle of Berlin?

No, we recently moved to an old house in Brandenburg. There we want to grow vegetables in the garden; to have the leisure for work, and you can also just take a walk in the forest to clear your mind. This sounds idyllically. It’s perfect. A bit far away, but that doesn’t bother me since I don’t go out in the evenings anyway. It’s open enough to work in peace, also with the rest of the Openleaks team and our partners, and in the future we will be able to give trainings to journalists. So there’s enough room to focus on the important things in life. What is important? First of all my family. Beside that there is always the long-term development: That today I contribute for our progress into the right direction. For me this means to take care that Openleaks moves forward and generally my activism for the freedom of the internet. With this activist approach you got involved with WikiLeaks four years ago. From today’s point of view, did this organization achieve something? Yes! For example that my grandpa, who’s 87 years old, knows what a whistleblower is. That there is not anymore only some kind of denunciation in Germany, but that more and more people are today aware of the positive effects of whistle blowing (note by transl: he used “betrayal of state secrets” but we in Germany don’t have a positive word for whistle blowing). With that we started a cultural process which now finds its way into the politic. Although many politicians regard WikiLeaks as their enemy. This might be, but we’re already at the point, that in Germany the Pirate Party was founded and defines itself by all these new topics: transparency, defense of the freedoms in the internet, more participation by the citizens and in general. This all changes right now, from the inside. With all due respect for the pirates and your grandpa, wasn’t WikiLeaks also about the two biggest wars of the last years: Iraq and Afghanistan? From my point of view it was too much about the hype of the leak and that something was leaked, not about the content. Such a venture should focus also on corruption and the injustice in the little things. This too has to and will be corrected, and when you fight the small corruptions you also achieve much in the bigger picture. Many of these contents were left behind. Why is that? Because there also the needed peace was missing and the resources to handle everything that came in. When somebody reveals something, you need the adequate ease and the focus to evaluate and to develop consequences from that. Only in this way we can profit from the openness which was just created. This then is a totally different hype, it’s much more boring and tedious, but also so much more important.

So that’s why you want to start a new try with Openleaks and to become a competitor to WikiLeaks? We’re not competitors, because we all want to achieve more transparency. Our vision has a total different approach than that from Julian.

Pro Transparency
Where is the difference? I believe in something like pro transparency and pro whistle blowing. Julian believes in antisecrecy. This is something totally different. Because Julian takes on the powerful people? Maybe; in Julian’s case it’s a bit a romantic understanding. This has much to do with rebellion and publishing for the sake of publication. This was fun and very exiting but I think we shouldn’t make ourselves dependent on someone from the underground will fix it, that transparency would be forced from the outside into something. Where should it come from instead? For me it’s a sustainable process we need. The society has to introduce this new movement to the establishment. We have to make the new understanding of transparency our new selfdefinition (Note by transl: ? that’s what he said) and to include it into the heart of society. Aren’t secrets also important for confidential work? Sure, when people from the other side, the IT industry, ask me how to keep their data safe I only have one answer: you should think about what you need to keep secret, the more you try to protect, the harder it gets. And this also applies for society? Exactly. Jeff Jarvis made a good point: We live in a world where we have a standard for secrecy and then we make some exceptions for transparency. This has to be turned around: We need a transparent society with exceptions for the few cases where we need real secrecy. But this development is already in the administration with projects like Openleaks. . . . Which means that the government makes its data machine-readable available for the public. Yes, and most of all this builds up trust. The more trust there is the less reason I have to expose any secrets of yours because I think you play me or do something immoral. It’s this distrust that is the reason for that huge interest in the USA leaks. You too lost trust in people during the war of the roses around the exit from WikiLeaks. There are things I could have done better, but I tried to do that, what in my eyes was the most responsible way. I have to live with the consequences.

Is there still hope for your relation to Julian? There are things I always would defend Julian for: the journalistic work of WikiLeaks and above all against an extradition to the US – after the decision from Wednesday you have to differ: In Sweden it’s about a personal problem, in the USA about Julian’s work as a publisher. Wouldn’t it help your two projects if you shake hands in public? After all these lies and rumors about me in the last months I honestly don’t know on which base this should happen. Maybe one has to start first by telling the truth, and then one can ask the other if he holds out his hand. URL: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/digital/daniel-domscheit-berg-ueber-wikileaks-der-streitwurde-so-absurd-1.1180910 Copyright: sueddeutsche.de GmbH / Süddeutsche Zeitung GmbH Source: (SZ vom 05.11.2011/mane)