Inside Wikileaks (2011) Daniel Domscheit-Berg is an interesting read about what the start of Wikileaks was like, the successes and problems of the organisation and what the people were like who worked there.
Berg worked for a large corporate IT firm, presumably EDS, but had kept links to the Chaos Computer Club in Berlin and was an anarchist leaning intelligent IT worker who found Wikileaks and found that it gave him purpose. He joined in at the end of 2007 and began helping Assange with the setup of Wikileaks. He also mentions the older, similar site Cryptome that, in part, did similar things to Wikileaks and had been around since 1996 but had far less impact than Wikileaks has had.
In November of 2007 Wikileaks published the Guantanamo Bay handbooks and then in January 2008 the Julius Baer bank documents were published. This was a huge leak for Wikileaks. The Scientology handbooks were also released around this time. It’s also clear that around this time Wikileaks was already receiving large amounts of information. Regardless of the fate of Wikileaks it is clear from the book that large scale releases of such documents are now a fact of life. The digitisation of documentation coupled with the internet means that this torrent of information is here to stay. The book reveals that part of the reason that Wikileaks hasn’t published a lot that wasn’t in English is that they lack people to review the documents.
The book deals extensively with Julian Assange and his personality. It is a very interesting read. It is not damning. Assange is presented as an extraordinarily driven and smart person. However, unless Berg’s account is entirely fictional, he’s also paranoid and a bit nuts. Berg does give him credit, although perhaps not enough, for being the person who was driven enough to bring large scale attention to the power of document release.
Assange is presented as a pretty difficult person to get along with. His habit of turning up and living at people’s places is something that few would tolerate. Berg’s view of this is corroborated by other accounts of people with whom Assange has stayed.
The story of Wikileak’s growing fame Julius Baer documents to the Icelandic bank documents and then the huge rise of the ‘Collateral Murder’ and the Afghan War diaries and cables is really interesting. It’s surprising that Berg actually retained a job for a year while working for Wikileaks.
The story of Assange’s trial in Sweden and his later decision to suspend Berg is interesting. Berg’s account of Assange being dictatorial presumably has merit as the main author of Wikileak’s software setup left as did Birgitta Jonsdottir who was an important spokesperson for the group.
The book does not contain much insight into where Berg sees online information dissemination going which is a pity. However, as a document of what Wikileaks was like in its founding it’s good. Assange will, presumably, fairly quickly write his own book which will challenge the information presented in this one. For anyone interested in Wikileaks the book is well worth reading.