Various people around the globe are feeling rather peeved at Wikileaks following the revelations featured in Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s recently published book “Inside Wikileaks”.
Alan Taylor, admin of PGPboard.com, suggests Assange is peddling snake oil, “bullshitting gullible media outlets with techno-babble and downright lies in order to serve their own interests,” referring to the reaction of a certain Maria Technosux who has posted various inconsistencies and lies uttered by Wikileakers.
The disappointment and outrage vented about the past behaviour of Wikileaks and the current antics of Julian Assange are thoroughly understandable. After all, Daniel Domscheit-Berg admits lying about the capabilities and, most importantly, the security of Wikileaks.
One of the other main aspects that has to be considered is not only Wikileaks’ past blatherdom and technospeak with regards platform security, but also its honesty with regards to its financial situation. Information about donations is, at best, murky. This is arguably unacceptable for a journalistic platform which preaches transparency and openness.
In his book, Daniel Domscheit-Berg writes their main Paypal account held €1,900 on 1 March 2008, at the time of the Julius Bär leak. Two days later, donations reached €3,700, on 11 March the amount was €5,000. Over one year later, in August 2009, the main account had a balance of €35,000.
At that time, Wikileaks was running only on a single server. Daniel Domscheit-Berg said he wanted to use the money to upgrade the hardware and secure Wikileaks, Julian Assange however is said to have wanted to pay $15,000 to lawyers to register front companies in order to protect donations from outside interventions.
According to Domscheit-Berg, Assange starting fantasising that Wikileaks had to become an “untouchable” insurgent operation, as it was being shadowed, searched, having mail checked and there was every possibility they could be snatched from the street.
Both started fighting about how to answer questions from the Wall Street Journal about finances.
While Domscheit-Berg said donations were transparently recorded on a regular basis in Germany through the WHF as required by law, Assange told the paper “accounts were skillfully and explicitly managed to prevent them from being attacked by anyone on the outside. […] he portrayed our nontransparent bookkeeping as a clever method for preventing our enemies from shutting off our cash flow.”
Assange tweeted that criticism in the press was a Pentagon smear campaign and later said he had been “misquoted”. TechEye asked the Wau Holland Foundation about its handling of Wikileaks’ donations on 13 July last year. What was not known at the time was that Julian Assange had created a second Moneybookers account only he had access to, and linked to it via the donation page on Wikileaks’s website. Daniel Domscheit-Berg had no insight into this account, so no information is available.
On 2 December, it was claimed Wikileaks was to publicise expenses and salaries. So far, this has not happened. It can be presumed Wikileaks is bogged down by the extradition proceedings and perhaps even a lack of interest to do so.
Further money was channelled to Wikileaks through Channel 4 and Al-Jazeera, which allegedly paid £50,000 and £110,000 respectively for five minute clips edited from the uncut “Collateral Murder” video. The clips were edited by Iain Overton, chief of the Bureau for Investigative Journalism. Overton claims the money “went toward funding his substantial production costs,” yet “the Bureau ended up with a loss from the deal”. More is not yet known, but Overton has told Domscheit-Berg he plans on revealing further details.
During the troubles with the Guardian, “Assange and his attorney stormed into the Guardian’s offices, claiming that the information in the documents was personal property, and that any publication would affect him financially.”
Was this argument a threat to prevent the newspaper from publishing cables without asking him beforehand? Domscheit-Berg also rightly asks what on earth Assange might have meant.
After all, the WHF had received donations totalling approximately $600.000 by summer 2010. At the end of September last year, Germany’s Wau Holland Foundation (WHF), which handles German and European donations, told TechEye that close to €54.000 had been handed out to Wikileaks to cover travelling expenses, alongside costs for hardware and communications. In mid July, the foundation had given around €30.000 of donations to Wikileaks.
“In the following two months, a far greater sum was withdrawn – probably because a way had been found to pay salaries,” writes Domscheit-Berg over financial dealings in November 2010.
Wikileaks staffers had no income and lived on savings, or what supporters supplied them with. The main problem seems to have been a legal issue concerning employment status, making it a tad more complicated for the WHF to hand out money on a monthly basis.
Assange’s German lawyer Johannes Eisenberg has also threatened to take Domscheit-Berg to court over material taken away from Wikileaks in order to keep them safe, as Domscheit-Berg claims. The former Wikileaks speaker stated the platform is non-functional after main programmer “the architect” took the submission system he had coded away.
Can leaked materials be private property and is it morally sound to utilise such materials to earn money?
Leaked materials certainly need to be disseminated by the media to be viewed by the public. No good arguments can be found for utilising leaks as a source of revenue. Any organisation like Wikileaks ought to depend on donations or trust exclusively, and, most importantly of all, in a transparent manner.
It is not known how much money has been donated to Wikileaks since Domscheit-Berg left the organisation. What is known is that both Domscheit-Berg and Julian Assange signed book deals, Assange reportedly for over one million pounds. Assange allegedly had to resort to writing a book to cover legal expenses. So far Assange has raised £17,985.50 through donations to a defence trust fund.
Private Bradley Manning, in jail and solitary confinement for 257 days, received $15,100 from Wikleaks in January as a contribution to his legal expenses – which are figured to be $100,000 to $115,000. Julian Assange had originally pledged $50,000, the sum dropping to $20,000 in December.
Criticism of financial dealings is not a Pentagon smear campaign, but a serious question Wikileaks and Julian Assange have brought on themselves. Not only that, but it also made an easier argument for the US government to cut off Wikileaks’ cash flow. Transparency could have laid waste to any notions the organisation has been embroiled in criminal activity.
After all, how can an organisation wishing to create transparency and openness through the non-discriminatory publication of leaked materials think it can be taken seriously if it doesn’t adhere to its own rules?