Shortly after I flew back to Germany from Iceland, Julian began attacking the Icelandic political system and the Ministry of Justice in particular, even though we were supposed to be working with them to make the IMMI legally airtight.
The Twitter account had originally been conceived as a neutral channel for us to inform our followers about news and fresh articles about WL. We also alerted readers to articles critical of us, in keeping with our basic philosophy. But the account quickly developed into a channel for whatever Julian Assange happened to be thinking at any given moment. At some point, he began talking about “his followers” and “his account”. Under no circumstances was anyone permitted to criticize his tweets. One minute he would insult some journalists, calling them total idiots; another he would tell a mailing list of 350,000 people he had no time for interviews.
One time, he issued a tweet attacking a journalist who worked for the American investigative magazine Mother Jones. Later, at the WL press conference on the Afghanistan leaks, the journalist in question used the opportunity to ask what had been so bad about his article. Julian answered something along the lines of “I don’t have any time to take apart that piece of shit.” He continually went on about how journalists didn’t work objectively or base their pieces on primary sources, as should be part of any serious approach to reporting. But he himself never provided any proof when people asked him for evidence for his various tales of persecution.
I never understood why Julian was so obsessed with the idea he was being followed. It was almost as though he could only be convinced of the significance of his own opposition to the status quo if people thought of him as public enemy number one. In Iceland, he once bought a Solzhenitsyn book titled First Circle. He found the volume in an antique bookshop, and discovering it put a broad smile on his face. Solzhenitsyn is a must-read author for the leftist, anarchistic scene, but for Julian, the Russian author had a special significance. Julian identified with the dissident writer, who was imprisoned for many years in a Soviet gulag and was later exiled to the wilderness of Kazakhstan.
Julian saw a number of similarities between his own biography and that of the trained mathematician and philosopher.
Solzhenitsyn, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, was arrested and interned for criticizing Stalin in letters written to a friend. In an early blog entry, Julian had written that “the moment of truth” only arrives “when they come to take you away”. This entry, titled “Jackboots” and written in 2006, is an example of Julian’s tendency to engage in heroic romanticism. In it, Julian wrote about how similar the experiences made by scientists in Russian work camps were to events from his own life. True commitment could only be attained when they come to get you, “when they kick down your door with their jackboots.” Oh boy! Maybe he thought that anything less dramatic simply wouldn’t do.
On numerous occasions, Julian accused the Icelandic police of keeping him under surveillance. He also informed our-no, sorry, his-Twitter followers that two operatives from the American State Department had followed him onto a plane while he was en route to a conference in Oslo. Our hotel, too, had been watched, Julian trumpeted, and unmarked cars had tailed us. He loved these stories because they assured him of a rapt audience. Once, he terrified a woman he was spending the night with so much with his secret-agent stories that she fled and was too scared to return to her own apartment. Julian stayed behind and made himself comfortable.
The rumours that he was being followed originated in part from his overactive imagination. But they also had the advantage of giving him the aura of someone in dire peril, increasing the collective anticipation of every new leak. Julian didn’t need a marketing department. Marketing was something he himself knew best.
Daniel Domscheit-Berg is a computer scientist who worked in IT security prior to devoting himself full-time to WikiLeaks. He remains committed to freedom of information on the Internet. Today, he and other former WikiLeaks people are working on a more transparent secret-sharing website called OpenLeaks to be launched in early 2011. He lives in Berlin with his family.
Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website is available February 15, 2011 from Amazon.com