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Unrequited Love, Uncomfortable Coincidences

Joyce Lowenstein on DDB.


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As gossip peddlers and lazy-minded pundits would like to have you believe, the public denigration of Julian Assange by his ex-colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg is ironic and entertaining. In part, this is true - it's entertaining and ironic in the way it makes Domscheit-Berg (hereafter known as 'DDB') look exactly like the money-hungry hypocritical megalomaniac he claims Assange to be.

At best, DDB's PR strategy is painfully obvious. At worst, he's a complete shill. Actually, that's not the worst, but I'm trying to keep it brief here. The promotion of Openleaks and his tell-all book have been founded on the premise that WikiLeaks is fundamentally flawed; that its modus operandi is irresponsible, that its leader is an intolerable pain in the ass. Openleaks sets itself out to differentiate itself greatly from WikiLeaks with one key factor.

Openleaks is not a publisher but a leaked document conduit for pre-existing (and, many would argue, sclerotic) Old Media organisations. I wish to add here that I firmly believe more anti-secrecy sites are ultimately a positive trend, and debating the merits of the methodology of each needs an essay all on its own.

What I find worth highlighting is that the very existence of Openleaks has garnered its public image from disparagement of WikiLeaks, and how this informs its entire publicity strategy. Rather than appear as a friendly competitor, a healthy rival, an offshoot of a growing trend, DDB has directly positioned himself as the well-intentioned Force For Good to the poisonous Other of Julian Assange and his cronies. The burning question is whether DDB has actually been using his 'disgruntled former insider' mask as a cover for some specially commissioned work?

On February 9th, the Tech Herald broke a fascinating and extremely important story which described the lengths to which the Bank of America (with assistance from the Department of Justice) went in discrediting WikiLeaks. As part of a commissioned consortium, a corporate espionage firm named Palantir drafted a report which acts as a dossier of sorts on WikiLeaks. In a masterstroke of online strategic warfare, Anonymous obtained reams of blueprints and emails describing nefarious (yet ultimately traditional by intelligence standards) tactics by which WikiLeaks can be undermined, especially through the media:

'Some of the things mentioned as potential proactive tactics include feeding the fuel between the feuding groups, disinformation, creating messages around actions to sabotage or discredit the opposing organization, and submitting fake documents to WikiLeaks and then calling out the error...

'Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure stories. If the process is believed to not be secure they are done. Cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters.'


Using these tactics as a template with which to compare DDB's marketing of his book, one can see an interesting pattern. For one thing, we can see the first few news sites chosen for his book-hawking. Those following the WikiLeaks story closely for the last twelve months would agree that Wired have shown a steadily increasing antagonism to WikiLeaks, particularly since the subterfuge-mired affair between Bradley Manning and Adrian Lamo was first published.

Wired's editorial position was cemented when DDB went straight to them to publish the chat logs of his hysterical attack against Julian Assange in September 2010.

So it is only natural that DDB reserves the juiciest, most malicious 'disclosures' about WikiLeaks for an outlet like Wired. We are told of WikiLeaks' lack of infrastructural integrity, that it is a mere husk and not an invulnerable fort. Essentially, these revelations are devastating to WikiLeaks' image as a secure dropbox for whistle-blowers. I refer to again to the recommendations made by Palantir about WikiLeaks:

'Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure stories. If the process is believed to not be secure they are done. Cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters.'

DDB gives an exclusive preview of his book to Poulsen at Wired as follows:

'Although WikiLeaks claimed to have hundreds of volunteers and an untold number of staffers, the organization consisted essentially of Assange and Domscheit-Berg, who pored through submissions, did little more than simple Google searches to verify documents and posed as non-existent staffers in e-mail and other correspondence to make WikiLeaks seem heftier than it was.'

Clearly, the allegation is that WikiLeaks is a cardboard shop front. Not the sort of team you would trust with your linens, let alone sensitive corporate or government information. If WikiLeaks is this insouciant, what assurance is there that Openleaks will be any different, knowing that DDB worked in this amateurish and ad-hoc way previously?

Further to this, a report by Reuters on February 9th describes 'insider sources' from WikiLeaks claiming the upcoming leaks of Bank of America are inconsequential. Lo and behold, a day later DDB is quoted as saying he 'was familiar with some Bank of America material held by WikiLeaks, but that it was nothing spectacular'.

Another outlet running with DDB's book publicity is Gawker who openly revile Assange and used DDB's PR strategy to promote their own special brand of virulent smear - a dangerous assumption about Assange's sexual behaviours while his rape case hasn't even been heard yet. Adrian Chen insinuates that since Assange has fathered at least four children according to DDB, he is guilty of deliberately forcing himself on two women in Sweden without a condom, in order to fulfill some kind of impregnation fetish:

'Assange's bevy of illegitimate offspring adds some context to his Swedish rape and sexual molestation case, over which he is currently fighting extradition in London. It hangs in part on an allegation that he ripped a condom on purpose during sex after repeatedly refusing to wear one. No one knows what went on between him and his accusers, but it's clear Assange is not the world's biggest proponent of protected sex.'

A comment on another blog about a week ago points to a passage in the Guardian's book on WikiLeaks which cites similar information, with different details and context, but overall identical import:

'The police report adds a strange and disturbing remark from 'Katrin' - he also said that he often carried abortion pills but they were actually sugar pills... Assange often seemed curiously proud of his prowess in paternity: he told friends during this time period [ie around the time of the rape accusations] that he had recently impregnated a Korean woman he met in Paris, and she was about to give birth.' - David Leigh & Luke Harding, 'Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy'

Given that DDB's book has described Assange as a paternity-obsessed man-whore with at least four children, and that the Gawker cheerily ran with this allegation via an 'anonymous source', and so did David Leigh and Luke Harding in their book, is it not illogical to surmise that all these sources have indeed been the same person all along - DDB himself? Where are these mystery women to step forward and claim that Assange, the 'deadbeat dad', has duped them? Why have these 'revelations' only appeared in publications that are known to be the most hostile to WikiLeaks?

So here we have a two-pronged approach to creating disinformation - an attack on WikiLeaks' credibility, infrastructural strength and capabilities, and a very specific personal attack that allows a casual observer to make a (however illogical) inference that Assange is guilty of the allegations against him in Sweden, for which there has been no arrest or charge. The former approach appears the most serious and dispassionate, while the latter appears as inane hearsay. Yet both kinds of allegations are poison. Palantir would approve.

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