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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Reading Daniel Domscheit-Berg's Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website gives the twofold impression of a deeply ideological personality, but also a man stinging from hurt naivety. Much of the work is concerned with revelations regarding Julian Assange's personal conduct (simultaneously a brilliant man, but also an egomaniac), the ad-hoc nature of WikiLeaks, particularly pre-2010 and also with building the starting blocks for Berg's new platform: OpenLeaks. I will briefly address some of these issues here, in a post that is less of a review, than a reflection.

First of all, what is our concept of naivety? At what point does naivety become idealism? It is, of course, at the point of practice. It is idealistic to hope that one day it will be safe for women to walk alone through dark parks late at night, and we should aspire for this. For a woman to act upon this premise in the present in the hope of fulfilling the ideal would be naive. That said, much criticism of naivety, in the political sphere, is actually used to shout down idealistic hope. The two should not be confused. It seems that, in his continuing trust of Assange, Berg was naive. What emerges from this book, though, is that he is deeply committed to open information and is an ideal that has not been corrupted by his contemporary naivety.

In light of this, however, one is inclined to warm to Berg throughout the book -- he is often such a seemingly fresh-faced figure that my experience was an alternation between irritation at the wounded pride (Assange abused my cat... oh, come on) and utter empathy (why won't Assange listen to the brilliant technical suggestions?) The strange personality that is depicted doesn't seem superficially like one of the masterminds behind the 2010 leaking phenomenon. This should not preclude, however, a critique of two aspects of the book that are intended to solely promote OpenLeaks:

  1. The architect: described in early passages as the brilliant heart of WikiLeaks, the voice of reason. Now works for OpenLeaks
  2. Personality: Baring his sole a little can lead us to empathize with Berg, which is exactly what his cause needs

In the end, I think the OpenLeaks project is a great idea (it's a technical platform, rather than a publishing medium) -- so long as they open source their work so that leaks mechanisms can become truly distributed -- but I wanted to draw attention to these two rhetorical techniques that serve no purpose other than to promote OpenLeaks at the expense of WikiLeaks.

The shambolic description of WikiLeaks presented here is also of concern, as is the ideological inconsistency of running a leaking platform based on security. While I have previously argued that Assange's philosophy works off a public/private dichotomy, when financial allegations are made, there is a duty towards openness.

To wrap up: much of Berg's book relates to his new project and, while he truly did have an inside perspective on WikiLeaks, the subsequent events that led to his fracture with the group mean that he has a vested interest. I'm not saying that he isn't right and I'm not saying that I disagree with what he is trying to do. I'm just saying: reader beware, question the motivation for each sentence; paranoia does have a place, but in this instance, I am hoping, Berg's future commitment to openness will dispel the need for this.