Ghostwriter: Assange™ is NARCISSISTIC and UNTRUTHFUL
'Thin-skinned' WikiLeaker torpedoed own multi-million-dollar book deal
The ghost writer hired to help Julian Assange with an autobiography deal that ultimately fell apart has described the WikiLeaker as "thin-skinned, conspiratorial, untruthful and narcissistic".
Andrew O' Hagan, who started working with Assange while he was on bail over the allegations of sexual assault in Sweden three years ago, has finally opened up about his months on the project, a hugely lucrative book deal that ended in a publishing disaster.
O'Hagan, who remained on good terms with Assange for a number of years after the deal went sour, wrote a long essay for the London Review of Books that described how the WikiLeaks head procrastinated, delayed and ultimately torpedoed the book contract.
Shortly after Assange got out on bail, he signed a multi-million-dollar deal with Canongate and foreign publishers for an autobiography that he and his lawyers believed would help him to cover his legal costs. But O'Hagan came to believe that Assange never wanted the book to happen.
"His vanity and the organisation’s need for money couldn’t resist the project, but he never really considered the outcome, that I’d be there, making marks on a page that would in some way represent this process," he said.
"He had signed up for a book he didn’t really want to publish because – as he alleged to me separately – [his lawyer] Mark Stephens had suggested it might help cover costs."
According to O'Hagan's account, Assange would do anything to change the subject from the questions the writer had for the book and spent months avoiding marking up the first draft of the book or contributing any of the written material he had promised. As deadlines for the book crept closer, Assange started to rant that he'd never wanted to write an autobiography and wanted a manifesto instead, even though he wouldn't write down any of his thoughts and beliefs for a manifesto.
"The man who put himself in charge of disclosing the world’s secrets simply couldn’t bear his own," O'Hagan said. "The story of his life mortified him and sent him scurrying for excuses. He didn’t want to do the book. He hadn’t from the beginning."
O'Hagan eventually left the project, which Canongate published as an unauthorised biography in September 2011 in an attempt to salvage something out of the deal, despite Assange's attempts to stop the presses. However, the biography sold just 644 copies in the first three days, a disaster for the publishing house.
The writer was determined to attempt to stay out of the battle between Canongate and Assange over the botched deal and managed to stay (mostly) on the good side of both, a position he now believes he will lose with the white-haired Australian after coming forward.
O'Hagan describes Assange as suspicious and paranoid, asking assistant and girlfriend Sarah Harrison to check the bushes outside the local police station he visited as a condition of his bail for assassins and trying to force the writer to pull over when he feared a car was following them.
He would also turn on those who were trying to help him or were once his friends or allies, with particular venom for the New York Times and The Guardian, which he said had "double-crossed" him. O'Hagan speculated that Assange turned on people the moment they didn't follow his line of thinking, when they brought their own views in.
"It was an early sign of the way he viewed "collaboration": The Guardian was an enemy because he'd "given" them something and they hadn't toed the line, whereas the Daily Mail was almost respected for finding him entirely abominable," he said.
The writer also talked about the "studenty" lifestyle Assange and his WikiLeaks colleagues enjoyed at the time, while they were living and working at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk, where Assange was under house arrest. The group would go through periods of intense activity, such as during the Egyptian uprising, punctuated by procrastination and laziness.
I was beginning to wonder about the time-wasting. I couldn’t understand the slow and lazy way they went about things. They always talked about the pressure of work, about how busy they were, but, compared to most journalists, they sat on their arses half the day. Julian’s favourite activity was following what people – especially his "enemies" – were saying about him on the internet. When I told him I’d sooner cut my balls off than Google myself, he found a high-minded reason for explaining why it was important for him to know what other people were saying.
In the years after the Canongate biography was published O'Hagan stayed in contact with Assange and remained on friendly terms with him, visiting him at the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he is currently avoiding arrest claiming asylum.
O'Hagan describes Assange as sometimes seeming "like a cornered animal" in the embassy and his relationship with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a somewhat uneasy one, peppered with jealousy.
A fair reading of the situation might conclude, without prejudice, that Assange, like an ageing movie star, was a little put out by the global superstardom of Snowden. He has always cared too much about the fame and too much about the credit, while real relationships and real action often fade to nothing. Snowden was now the central hub and Julian was keen to help him and keen to be seen to be helping him. It’s how the ego works and the ego always comes first.
Snowden, while grateful for the advice and the comradeship, was meanwhile playing a cannier game than Julian. He was eager for credit, too, but behaving more subtly, more amiably, and playing with bigger secrets.