Resignations, acute financial problems and Julian Assange's domineering manner have all combined to put Wikileaks under serious pressure. Much of the criticism is valid, so let's hope Assange sees the light before it's too late.
Wired reports that the recent resignations of at least half a dozen staffers on Wikileaks were triggered by Julian Assange's unilateral decision to publish a new set of classified U.S. documents pertaining to the war in Iraq in October. Those who resigned say that the October deadline does not allow enough time to expunge the documents of the names of collaborators and others whose lives would be put at risk if they were published. The set of documents published in July contained the names of many informants in Afghanistan, leading to heavy criticism not only from the US government but also from several NGO's and human rights groups as well as Reporters Without Borders. That criticism hurt the site's reputation as well as that of Assange himself.
Another source of staffer discontent concerned Assange's decision to set up agreement access to the upcoming documents with a number of media outlets, and criticism of it led to Assange suspending German spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who worked for Wikileaks under the name Daniel Schmitt, during a heated argument in the site's secure chat room.
“You are not anyone’s king or god,” said Domscheit-Berg in the chat. “And you’re not even fulfilling your role as a leader right now. A leader communicates and cultivates trust in himself. You are doing the exact opposite. You behave like some kind of emperor or slave trader.”
“You are suspended for one month, effective immediately,” Assange instantly replied. “If you wish to appeal, you will be heard on Tuesday.”
Domscheit-Berg has since criticised Assange's autocratic manner.
One of the staff who resigned was Herbert Snorrason, who worked on the site's chat room. His resignation came after he criticized Assange - again in the chat room - for his decision to fire Domscheit-Berg only for Assange to reply "I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest,” Assange wrote Snorrason. “If you have a problem with me, piss off.”
On the subject of the release date, Snorrason later declared that "The release date which was established was completely unrealistic. We found out that the level of redactions performed on the Afghanistan documents was not sufficient. I announced that if the next batch did not receive full attention, I would not be willing to cooperate.”
All this comes on top of the severe funding problems the site is said to be experiencing. Wikileaks was forced to stop publishing for several months at the beginning of the year due to a lack of fund donors, but finally got back to work after a 'sympathy' up-tick in donations. This tactic cannot work in the long term however because the flow of donations, particularly sizable ones, will eventually decrease, particularly given that major donation-getters like the Iran and Iraq documents will not go on forever. This means that the site will need to seriously consider methods of finding new methods of funding if it is to remain online, and quickly.
More pressure came with the sex-crime investigation in Sweden. Guilty or not, this scandal has unquestionably hurt Assange's reputation, and it only adds to the many criticisms of his high-handed and domineering manner which have surfaced since the beginning of the year.
Julian Assange has made a series of major mistakes over the last six months, and Wikileaks is now in dire trouble because of them. Wikileaks is an essential part of the effort to expose government and business interest abuse around the world and the prospect of its possible demise is not at all an agreeable one.
So let's hope that Assange finally starts to heed the many warnings that he has been getting from those sympathetic to his cause over the last few months. Whether or not he does so depends on his ability to understand that Wikileaks should be much more important than any face he may lose in climbing down and running his site and emotions properly. Can he do that? I'll give him a 50/50 chance, hoping that he pulls it off, before it's too late.
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