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WikiLeaks' Woes Grow as Spokesman Quits Site

Sep 28, 2010 – 1:43 PM
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Theunis Bates

Theunis Bates Contributor

(Sept. 28) -- It turns out WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange isn't only unpopular with Pentagon employees. He's also under attack from members of his own organization, who are accusing him of running the controversial whistle-blowing website like an autocrat.

WikiLeaks' German representative, Daniel Domscheit-Berg -- who was known as Daniel Schmitt while acting as the site's spokesman -- announced Monday he was quitting the organization because he could no longer work under Assange.

"Julian Assange reacted to the smallest criticism by accusing me of being disobedient and disloyal toward the project," Domscheit-Berg told German weekly Der Spiegel. "Four weeks ago, he suspended me -- acting as the prosecutor, judge and hangman in one person."
Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is coming under fire from the site's own employees, who accuse him of running the controversial website like an autocrat.

The 32-year-old German reportedly fell out with Assange over the management of the site. He told Der Spiegel the site had expanded "insanely fast" since the July release of some 77,000 classified U.S. military documents from the Afghan war.

He said that WikiLeaks hadn't been able to "restructure" itself to cope with this surge of interest, and that smaller leaks -- which might be of interest to people only at a local level -- were now being overlooked for big, headline-grabbing releases.

Domscheit-Berg added that WikiLeaks, which campaigns for governments and businesses around the world to act with greater transparency, was no longer practicing what it preached.

"It is no longer clear even to me who is actually making decisions and who is answerable to them," he told Der Spiegel. "WikiLeaks has a structural problem. I no longer want to take responsibility for it, and that's why I am leaving the project."

The clash between the two men appears to have reached its peak in late August, soon after two separate women in Sweden filed rape and molestation allegations against the WikiLeaks founder. Assange has repeatedly said he is innocent of the accusations, and has argued that the allegations could be part of a Pentagon-sponsored plot to undermine WikiLeaks.

Assange later accused Domscheit-Berg -- who suggested the site founder should temporarily step out of the limelight during the police investigation -- of being the anonymous source who contacted a Newsweek journalist and said that Assange was wrong to connect the investigation with the Pentagon. He suspended Domscheit-Berg for a month, even though -- the German says -- no one else on WikiLeaks' secretive "core team" believed the leak accusation or "agreed with the move."

Domscheit-Berg isn't the only former Assange ally growing tired of this allegedly hardhanded approach. According to Wired magazine, at least six WikiLeaks staffers have quit the organization in recent weeks. Icelandic university student Herbert Snorrason, 25, who until recently helped manage WikiLeaks' secure chat room, resigned after he was slapped down for questioning Assange's decision to suspend Domscheit-Berg.

"I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest," Assange wrote Snorrason, according to Wired. "If you have a problem with me, piss off."

"I believe that Julian has in fact pushed the capable people away," Snorrason told the magazine. "His behavior is not of the sort that will keep independent-minded people interested."

The college student also reportedly disagreed with Assange's decision to rush ahead with an upcoming leak of some 392,000 classified U.S. documents from the war in Iraq -- due to be released Oct. 18. According to Snorrason, that tight deadline is "completely unrealistic" and will result in the names of some U.S. collaborators and informants in Iraq being made public.

"We found out that the level of redactions performed on the Afghanistan documents was not sufficient," said Snorrason. "I announced that if the next batch did not receive full attention, I would not be willing to cooperate."

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The U.S. Defense Department and international aid organizations have previously condemned WikiLeaks for publishing documents that contained the names of Afghan sources.

Another open-Web guru, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, today joined that chorus of criticism over the site's failure to edit.

"The issue that I have with WikiLeaks is they have a tendency to just want to publish absolutely everything, and I think that can be very, very dangerous," Wales told a business conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, according to The Associated Press. "I don't think Julian Assange wants those people killed. However, if he irresponsibly follows the policy of releasing absolutely everything, it is incredibly dangerous for those people."

Wales added that WikiLeaks became famous partly because it used the word "wiki," which he said was unfortunate.

"I have absolutely nothing to do with WikiLeaks and I don't even approve of what they are doing," he said. "I would distance myself from WikiLeaks. I wish they wouldn't use the name. They are not a wiki."
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