Senior Guardian hacks turn on Assange
Leaky love-in goes sour
An intriguing mini-drama has emerged from backstage at the WikiLeaks theatre.
Julian Assange has fallen out with the two senior Guardian journalists who have been central figures in the global publishing of classified US military and diplomatic documents this year. Arguably, he's not a man who can afford to lose friends at the moment.
The Guardian's partnership with WikiLeaks was founded by Nick Davies, a special correspondent and veteran investigative reporter, otherwise best known for his recent work on voicemail hacking at the News of the World. In June he contacted Assange in Brussels and suggested that professional reporters should comb the gigabytes of data WikiLeaks had obtained for stories.
The site's previous practice had been to dump raw material on its own website and hope it would be picked up by journalists. It was only moderately successful.
Davies' approach, however, also led to WikiLeaks sharing the Afghanistan, Iraq and embassy files with the New York Times, Der Spiegel and other media organisations that have provided the resources to turn data into news. As a side-effect, they have also turned Julian Assange into a celebrity, with attending celebrity friends.
The pact was agreed before Assange's Swedish adventure in August. It's the Australian's response to two women's claims of sexual assault that has riled Davies to today accuse his former partner-in-leaking of "misleading the world".
Specifically, Assange's conspiratorial reaction, suggesting the women's allegations are part of a "dirty tricks" and "smear" campaign by unseen dark forces, and that he will fight extradition in part because he and his lawyers had been denied access to any documentation on the case. This prompted Davies, an experienced policing digger, to investigate.
On Friday, the Guardian published the result, an article which presented the allegations against Assange in unprecedented detail. Davies' report was based on police documents to which he said Assange's legal team had also been granted access.
The Assange camp reacted with fury, denouncing those who had leaked the documents to Davies, while denying any double standards.
This morning, as the BBC and the Times ran interviews with Assange from under house arrest in East Anglia, Davies wrote on Twitter: "Assange finally admits 'no evidence of honeytrap' on Swedish sex claims but does not apologise for misleading the world."
The other Guardian old hand at the centre of the WikiLeaks partnership has been David Leigh, the paper's investigations editor. He has marshalled teams of reporters to trawl all three set of files – allegedly exfiltrated from a intelligence base near Baghdad by Private Bradley Manning, the forgotten man of the whole affair – for news stories.
He also criticised Assange via Twitter this morning, referring to the Times' interview and suggesting the Wikileaks founder had cut ties with the Guardian because of Davies' story on the sex allegations.
"The Guardian published too many leaks for Assange's liking, it seems," he wrote.
"So now he's signed up 'exclusively' with Murdoch's Times. Gosh."
The Times denies any exclusive deal, and has been one of WikiLeaks' and Assange's most vociferous UK critics since the Afghanistan war logs were published. He apparently overlooked that in his interview with the paper however, in which he instead rounded on his former partners at the Guardian.
"The leak of the police report to the Guardian was clearly designed to undermine my bail application," he claimed.
Assange's intolerance of any questioning of his decisions is well documented, so the Guardian can hardly be surprised at its former friend's reaction. Several WikiLeakers, including German spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg, left the organisation earlier this year to set up a new transparency project with a flatter power structure, after comparing Assange's behaviour to that of "some kind of emperor". ®
I sat next to Assange at a hacks' dinner in London this July*, shortly before his fateful trip to Sweden. Nothing of note emerged on which to report, but I did think the leeks were a touch overdone.