Jonathan Foreman describes the evolution of Julian Assange’s ‘War on America’ in an article in Commentary in which he traces Wikileaks’ disclosures which culminated in the release of “Collateral Murder” — “a selection of stolen and decrypted gun-camera footage that purportedly shows the unlawful killing of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists by the crew of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter.” That took Assange into the big-time. “Skillfully edited and promoted, and widely accepted by the mainstream media as proof of a U.S. war crime, the video won WikiLeaks fame and praise around the world and made its founder, a 39-year-old Australian named Julian Assange, an international celebrity.”
Prior to that, Assange had released a bunch of turkeys. “A confidential investigation by Kroll Associates of official corruption in Kenya, UN documents concerning sexual abuse by the organization’s peacekeepers in the Congo, the tax returns of movie star turned tax refusenik Wesley Snipes, and private e-mails stolen from Sarah Palin and Holocaust denier David Irving. Bigger fish included the communications of a Swiss Bank allegedly engaged in money-laundering and tax evasion, and secret materials from the Church of Scientology” were greeted with some enthusiasm, but not much. With “Collateral Murder” Assange had found his market: the anti-American market. Prior the the big time, Wikileaks was more diversified.
But that was before “Collateral Murder.” In 2010, the focus of WikiLeaks turned directly and exclusively to the U.S. government and its conduct since September 11. In the summer, it released the so-called War Logs, nearly half a million internal Defense Department documents concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was followed in November by the publication of the State Department cables. Indeed, so focused was WikiLeaks on these caches that it became all but impossible to access earlier postings on other subjects or submit new ones.
The need to serve the anti-American market as Foreman points out, transformed the organization from one in which “as late as 2008 … was insisting on its website that it was a ‘completely neutral’ conduit for information and that it would ‘crowdsource’ its analysis in the way that Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia written entirely by unpaid volunteers, allows public contributions to its entries”, into a “clandestine” organization run by one man by remote control.
The focus by Wikileaks on the anti-American market could have driven Assange in the direction of latent fantasy and exacerbated weaknesses in his management style. Even prior to his arrest in Britain, Assange had become embroiled in disputes with his former associates, accusing its German spokesman of collaborating with Newsweek in compiling a story about him and calling a woman novelist whose book he admired and therefore published in full downloadable form “enormously pompous” for daring to complain. Convinced he was being hunted by the CIA, he styled “himself [as] … living a cloak-and-dagger, semi-fugitive existence, sleeping on floors and communicating only through disposable mobile phones or online”. Success had made him a legend in his own mind and had driven out the first rule of surviving in an underground: people on the run need people to survive and cannot go around treating them like servants. Inspiring personal loyalty and love is the first and last skill of the man on the run.
Why is Assange so ready to diss his supporters? Because he didn’t really need them for protection. Some suspected “that, for all the talk of Assange’s courage in taking on the American goliath, the truth is that his assault on the U.S. government has not put him at great risk”. The Foreman article noted that “Assange has long liked to talk in what seems like a self-dramatizing way about his persecution by the authorities, complaining of ‘covert following and hidden photography’ by police and intelligence agencies”. He needed to convey that impression to drum up transient housing, credit cards, freebies and dates. But creating such an aura around himself had the necessary side-effect of making visible to anyone who looked moderately hard. The authorities had no trouble finding him in Britain and knew where he was long before they arrested him. It is not hard to see why.
John Burns described his meeting with Assange “in a noisy Ethiopian restaurant in London’s rundown Paddington district”, where “he pitches his voice barely above a whisper to foil the Western intelligence agencies he fears” — yet accompanied by a retinue of groupies. He is clandestine, but clandestine in the manner of a romantic novel, with cape, sword and mandolin. Burns writes:
He demands that his dwindling number of loyalists use expensive encrypted cellphones and swaps his own the way other men change shirts. He checks into hotels under false names, dyes his hair, sleeps on sofas and floors, and uses cash instead of credit cards, often borrowed from friends.
“By being determined to be on this path, and not to compromise, I’ve wound up in an extraordinary situation,” Mr. Assange said over lunch last Sunday, when he arrived sporting a woolen beanie and a wispy stubble and trailing a youthful entourage that included a filmmaker assigned to document any unpleasant surprises.
He thought he could have his cake and eat it too. But it doesn’t work that way. The unpleasant surprise came via the groupies themselves, who Assange is said to have actively sought out. Two of them later accused him of rape. While it is hard to pass specific judgment, his lifestyle brought him into contact with volatile female companionship. Ultimately the kind of underground partners you choose is the kind of underground you get. The kind he would get was revealed by a report at the Sydney Morning Herald, which examines what Assange was looking for based on an old account at the dating site OK Cupid. There he stated a desire to meet “women from countries that have sustained political turmoil” because Western women are “valueless and inane”. “I have asian teengirl stalkers.” That’s the kind of gal he was looking for. The dating site continues.
He describes himself as a “grown up enfant terrible” and says he has seen or done “attempted assassinations in Africa”, “telephone taps in Australia”, “election rigging”, “Russian mafia” and “politicians’ wives” … “I am danger, achtung”.
“Danger, achtung” described the curious duality of his life. Julian Assange the “babe magnet” had to lead a life with two conflicting requirements. It had to be “clandestine” — doubtful, if you ask the British police — and yet it had to include the perquisites of fame so that his entourage could cast his spell upon women. It could be sustained, Jonathan Foreman suggests, because Assange knew all he had to fear was the United States of America.
The truth is that both the Bush and Obama administrations have proved remarkably feckless and feeble in their response to the War Logs and, worse, in the latter’s failure to prevent the publication of the State Department cables it knew was coming. Indeed, the very fact that, despite the revelations before the April 2010 video, Assange remained alive and at liberty to continue and do even greater damage gives the lie to his paranoid fears of ruthless, hyper-powerful Western states capable of wiping out all truth and justice unless their actions are exposed by people like him.
It would be interesting to see if Assange ever dares to take on the Russian FSB, the Chinese government, or even the French security services—all of which would have far fewer scruples about lethally punishing him than the American state he believes is so dangerous.
He was a man who always needed cred, but only the cheap kind. He wasn’t averse, for example, to taking credit for Climategate. That may yet turn out to be the wrong move. One of the people who isn’t afraid to go intellectually up against Assange is Steve McIntyre, one of the pioneering climate skeptics, who rebuts the Wikileak’s founder’s claim that he broke “Climategate”, the release of the East Anglia emails which showed its scientists conspiring to “hide the decline”. McIntyre wrote, “Assange falsely claimed that the Climategate emails were broken by WikiLeaks” and goes on to prove it by showing the first Wikileaks citation on it came four days after a number of sites had downloaded it from a Russian server. McIntyre had it before Wikileaks “leaked” it.
This is obviously untrue as CA readers know. I can date WikiLeaks’ entry by contemporary comments. The first notice of the emails at WikiLeaks was 2009/11/21 at 2.50 AM Eastern (12:50 AM blog time). The emails had been downloaded by many people (including me) from a Russian server on Nov 19 and had been downloaded by WUWT moderators on Nov 17. A contemporary comment in a CA thread says that WikiLeaks was down and refers people to megauploads. WikiLeaks has not even been a major reference for Climategate – that belongs to eastangliaemails.com (originally anelegantchaos.org) which was up on Nov 20 and provided a searchable database.
The climate skeptics crowd has fought too long against the Global Warming industry to suddenly let Assange jump in and sweep up the chips. Interestingly enough, as McIntyre observes, Assange went on to complain that he was being framed by British intelligence as “a conduit for the FSB – absolutely outrageous”. Here’s Assange describing Wikileak’s Climategate, while at the same time asserting that he released it in order to force the Global Warming scientists to bring out the strongest evidence, which they have been withholding presumably to avoid humiliating the skeptics.
But it was British intelligence who were the villains in the video, not the FSB. McIntyre makes fun of Assange’s claim that reporters received the Climategate emails from the FSB “three days” before the Copenhagen conference. “By that time, even Jon Stewart had done a comedy segment and Minnesotans for Global Warming had issued the Hide the Decline video.” But what’s a guy to do when he has to keep a roomful of worshippers hanging on his every word, as shown by the video above? He needs to keep up the part, to flourish the cape and brandish the rapier, no matter what. In the end Assange may have paid the ultimate price for fame: that of becoming a stage version of himself. Andy Warhol once wrote, “in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” and “in the future 15 people will be famous” and “in 15 minutes everybody will be famous”. Who says all of those things can’t be true? Danger, achtung.