Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who recently departed from the organisation, voiced his fears that the arrest of Julian Assange could harm Wikileaks. His alternative platform aims to avoid any personality cult.
Der Freitag: Have you regretted yet that you left Wikileaks? Just a few hundred diplomatic cables caused quite a stir globally, but Wikileaks has thousands more.
No, I don't regret leaving as such. I regret the direction the project has taken. I don't regret the decision I have taken as a result of that.
But at the moment Wikileaks receives a lot of attention.
Julian Assange receives a lot of attention, but in the end that is almost all there is. At one point in Google News the name Julian Assange received more hits than the term Wikileaks. It shows that this is more about the hype surrounding him and possibly the political conflicts within the organisation, rather than the published contents.
But the diplomatic cables have created a lot of political turmoil!
Yes, of course, but in my view media coverage is not particularly objective. At the moment there are many misconceptions about the cables that have been published so far.
For example, hardly anyone has realised that almost nothing has been published yet. Every day only a few cables are published online for access by the general public. This constitutes a betrayal of the original Wikileaks principle, that the public and as many media as possible should be able to access the information, without anyone being discriminated against, for whatever reason. So far only a few hundred reports are online.
What is so bad about gradually publishing articles?
The thing is precisely that Wikileaks did not publish the articles gradually for everyone, but instead it gave the data to a few media organisations exclusively in advance. They now have a competitive edge over the others, who in turn are trying to obtain the whole data set through whatever channels. This creates a market where the files are traded for money. A big fight has already begun over who will get exclusive access when the next tranche of cables is published. The fact that this time Wikileaks has not given the New York Times any files shows how serious it all is. They had to get them via the Guardian, simply because the media coverage in the New York Times on the Iraq protocols was not opportune enough. That means that Wikileaks is no longer neutral; its decision making over who to collaborate with is now completely subjective.
The public, which is what this should really be about, and all those people who would love to be able to browse the reports are prevented from doing this. It might create a big splash in the media and attract attention, and it may generate a lot of donations, but it is a betrayal of that which Wikileaks should stand for.
Does that mean you no longer have any solidarity with Wikileaks and Julian Assange?
This is complete nonsense. Just because I am voicing my criticism doesn't mean that I have given up my solidarity with the project. Quite the opposite is true: Wikileaks desperately needs more people who voice their criticism. Of course, this criticism would need to be taken on board and not be interpreted as a lack of loyalty or as a campaign of opponents. A rumour about me is already being spread, that it could not be ruled out that the FBI was paying me for voicing my criticism. It's preposterous.
How do you show your solidarity at the moment?
I defend the publications, even if I consider the knowledge of who has called Merkel a 'Teflon Chancellor' not particularly sensational. However, I consider it extremely important to know now that there are US corporations who circumvented arms export controls in Germany and that the employees of the United Nations were massively spied on. These are things that must be made transparent. Nevertheless, the way Wikileaks is run at the moment should be criticised. Also, I am worried about the direction the whole project is taking, in relation to transparency, the decision making process and agreements with the media.
You are currently writing a book about your time with Wikileaks. What is to be expected?
I think that a lot has gone on behind the scenes which should be made public and from which the public can derive added value. This could put the image of the organisation Wikileaks straight once again – in a positive as well as a negative sense. We have consistently demanded transparency for all political actors, and today Wikileaks is a political actor.
Is Wikileaks able to survive if Julian Assange can no longer act as a spokesperson?
This is something I find very hard to judge. In my opinion he tied the organisation too closely to his persona. I and a few others have departed from it and we are working on a new project to ensure that the idea does not get lost.
What are your plans?
We are working on a decentralised system of secure electronic mail boxes under the name of Openleaks. With this we want to ensure that every publisher, every media organisation, every NGO, every critical freelance journalist can set up a digital mail box to which whistleblowers can send information and documents without the danger of being uncovered.
Why can't these people just send an email?
More on this topic
Essay by Daniel Domscheit-Berg: Whistleblowing on the internet is sliding into a crisis, but the idea must not die. It just needs to be put into practice in a better way.
Emails are not at all anonymous, they can be traced easily. You have to go to great lengths if you want to prevent that. You have to go to an internet cafe, set up an anonymous account with a free email provider and must not forget to pay in cash at the internet cafe. The complexity of all this creates insecurity and deters people from passing on information. We would set the barriers very low so that the scope for errors is minimised for an individual and the secure transmission of files is made very easy.
In what ways will your system be different from Wikileaks?
Our approach is to only offer the electronic mail boxes and to keep a low profile otherwise. The focus should once again be on the contents. We want to ensure that documents can be placed with partners, be they media organisations, trade unions or NGOs, in the simplest possible manner. In doing so it will not be us who decide which organisation will receive the document in advance for a certain amount of time, but the source. If an organisation such as der Freitag [a German language online and print publication] does not use the material, then it will be made available to others. And if someone publishes anything about this material, the whole data will be published online.
When Julian Assange handed himself in to a police station in London on Tuesday, it was what many feared and most people expected. Swedish prosecutors want the founder of Wikileaks because he is suspected of having committed sexual offences against two women in August 2010. Assange denies the accusations and will fight against extradition. A court in London decided that he should remain in custody until at least December 14. The court refused bail due to the severity of the accusations. Moreover, the Australian Assange is said to have 'only weak community ties' in Great Britain.
The whistleblowing platform faces difficult times. Wikileaks activists have assured that publication of the nearly 250,000 diplomatic cables is set to continue despite the arrest, but the pressure on the organisation is growing continually.
After the Swiss Mail and the financial services provider Paypal closed two important Wikileaks donation accounts, Visa and Mastercard followed suit by announcing that in the future they would not direct any payments to the activists. Since several internet service providers have banned the Wikileaks website from their servers, the Wikileaks staff have called on all internet users to copy the contents and upload them on the internet themselves. This has been enormously successful: wikileaks.info now lists more than 700 so called mirror sites. Evidently the internet activists were well prepared for the arrest of Julian Assange in all other respects as well. Within just a few hours the first professionally designed supporter sites such as freeassange.com and freeassange.org were online. The Facebook group 'Free Julian Assange' gained thousands of fans within a short space of time.