The Betrayal of Julian Assange
By Robyn Irene - February 23rd, 2014 - Truth changes everything. There is a kind of automatic reaction involved when factual information comes into the public sphere — whether that be the life of a country or an individual. Hidden secrets, the exposure of dirty washing, call it what you will, once we know what is concealed, we feel empowered.More so when our understanding of situations and complex scenarios is complete. The full story is the only story. It is only when we know that we can even begin to properly assess a situation, in our own lives, or in our world. This article is only a partial insight, adding to a more public narrative which is still incomplete. The media; the Fourth Estate, is powerful. When lies are printed as truth and never corrected, the public record is corrupted.
WikiLeaks, as a tiny borderless publishing organisation, has a goal which is barely written about in the press. From their website:
The broader principles on which our work is based are the defence of freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history.
Every single individual, every community, every nation, has a right to write and create their own history, to tell their truth. This is a dimension of the human right of freedom of expression. It is our right to ferociously correct falsehoods created by others for their own power and advantage. There are great challenges for those in the public eye to counter lies, when so much about them is generated externally. Julian Assange has been betrayed by someone who had continued pretending he was a friend in order to gain social and financial advantage. Andrew O’Hagan, the ghost writer of Assange’s unauthorized biography, has just published a scathing personal account of their relationship, which ultimately is destructive. It deserves considered analysis and response. For it contains lies.
The story has at its core the examination of a wider theme which is woven into the fabric of WikiLeaks — betrayal. The ramifications of this betrayal on the life of Julian Assange only in Australia, let alone internationally, are significant. O’Hagan alleges that Assange’s own political party became his enemy. I was strongly involved in the WikiLeaks Party here in Australia and speak from personal experience and direct knowledge. What actually happened: a factional group left at a crucial time, a small, loud, group amongst thousands of supporters. That’s the nature of political groups.
O’Hagan’s misportrayal of that event, his slur, will now seep into the public record due to his strong media and publishing connections. This is deeply serious. The WikiLeaks Party in Australia will be contesting future elections. The white lies which Andrew O’Hagan justify so glibly in another section of his article are serious, but even more serious are his factual errors and incomplete context. One example; Julian Assange — who is Australian — did not set out to make himself an enemy of the Australian Government. He has enormous popular support here. His own government though, the institution which has an obligation to stand up for the rights and safety its citizens, utterly abandoned him.
In his piece published 21 February 2014, in The London Review of Books, O’Hagan says about Assange;
He never really apologised to anyone, but got busy turning his publishers into the latest enemy, to go alongside Domscheit-Berg, Mark Stephens, the Guardian, the New York Times, my researcher, his former host at Ellingham Hall, the government of Australia, his activist friends in Iceland, and a host of others who’d dared to have their own views. There would be many more to come: Jemima Khan, the Big Issue, Barack Obama and Assange’s own political party in Australia. I only stayed on good terms with him as long as I did because I kept quiet.
Fundamentally, O’Hagan is a coward. He chose silence over truth in a personal relationship, using his writing skill not to cast light, but as a tool to vent his frustration. The full article is full of innuendo and O’Hagan’s obsession with table manners. What is it with the English?
Is O’Hagan genuinely unaware of how the Government of Australia treated Julian Assange? A statement by a previous Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, publicly declaring Assange guilty of espionage is well known. She was wrong. The Government, under pressure, had to admit that. The unquestioning alliance of Australia with the US government is examined here. To imply that Julian Assange somehow turned the government of Australia into one of his enemies by not “apologising to anyone” is ridiculous.
Fearless publishing is what WikiLeaks does. Why should publishing the truth be apologised for? We know this: the wrath of entire States and military alliances has been the result. Yet the WikiLeaks effect is unstoppable. As a political force its potential is undeniable. The WikiLeaks Party, as a political institution, is separate to the WikiLeaks publishing organization. Both share a similar goal: truth to power. The political party was partially created in response to the shocking abandonment of Assange by the Australian government.
Julian Assange was a candidate in the 2013 election. Early on, in the drawn out Australian election of last year, the WikiLeaks Party led the minor parties. What is not widely known though, is how a small group of previous supporters turned on Julian Assange, at a time when their support was crucial. They joined with political opponents and successfully ensured he was not elected to the Australian Senate in 2013. Surprisingly active against the WikiLeaks Party, the political opponents they allied with were from the Pirate Party and the Greens (although Greens Senator Scott Ludlam had been the only politician in Australia genuinely fighting for Julian Assange’s rights). The political naivety of these supporters was astounding. Their criticisms were amplified by every opponent, both from the left and the right, and the rest is history.
Australia lost the opportunity to have someone in government who would have unquestioningly and fearlessly, like no other political institution in the world, held the government to account. What has happened in the publishing world is unprecedented. Politically it would be similar. Of course Assange’s fledging political party — the WikiLeaks Party — was publicly, unceasingly attacked, and efforts to undermine its credibility intensified. These efforts haven’t ceased. And the attacks are from all sides. Politics. Media. Business. Security State agents. Yet it is still standing. It would not be right for O’Hagan’s slurs to stand uncorrected.
There were, and are, many who do not want to see the Wikileaks Party succeed. First and foremost — the western alliance led by the United States government. This military and political alliance was the one most challenged by Wikileaks releases. But, shockingly, rivals in the activist sector do not want to see Julian Assange succeed politically. They would rather keep him as a bleeding heart symbol of a cause célèbre than allow him to have a position of leadership, and thus genuine legitimacy. He was theirs. How dare he change.
How can someone who has become an iconic rebel be part of the system? This was all too much for them. So, in Australia, unknown to many, the complex matrix of activism, idealism, personal relationships, politics and ego was fertile ground for an explosive ending to the 2013 hopes of the WikiLeaks Party and its hundreds of volunteers across the country. The full story needs to be known.
In a busy Sydney cafe, seats were filling up fast. It was autumn, and I’d traveled for hours to get there. Easy traffic meant I was early for an important meeting with someone I had formed a friendship with online. For three years I had joined with other activists and human rights defenders in fighting for the rights of WikiLeaks to publish. We were also interested in the political potential if Julian Assange followed through on comments he had made about entry into politics. The ever changing group of people I had connected with were completely uncoordinated — what bought us together was a decision to support this thing. Something which held meaning for us individually, and perhaps collectively, for many reasons. It was an exciting, electric, time.
I pulled up a chair against a wall, in the corner and looked around. The cafe was noisy, but I had a table now, and I threw down my bag whilst I grabbed something to read to pass time with. I was half an hour early. This was not the first time I had met with Chloe. She was perceptive and funny. Like so very many other people, her online persona was radically different to her personality. I had been stunned when I finally worked out that who I’d thought was a wisecracking New York smartarse, was actually Australian, and far more academic than I realized. It had been good to find someone to share common ground with.
She’d be late. She always was. I settled myself in for the wait, ordered, and a little bored, gazed at the other people. As I was watching, an older man in an overcoat came in. He quietly sat at a table, and looked around. I pretended to read my magazine whilst I watched him. Something about him was curious, he seemed out of place. All the others in the cafe were clearly office workers, all in groups of three or more. He relaxed a bit and then to my surprise, pulled out a camera, and started taking photos. Weird, I thought. Why would someone do that?
He casually, quickly, fairly unobtrusively, took photos of every angle, then put his camera away, and pulled out a newspaper from his briefcase. Each time someone new came in, he’d look at them, seemingly making mental notes. I’d been in one of his quick shots, acting as though I was unaware of what he was doing, just a woman with a coffee reading Vogue Magazine. Then it dawned on me, hell, Chloe was forever banging on about surveillance of activists — could this be some guy from ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) waiting until we arrived?
We always made arrangements to meet via text or online. He looked like he was waiting. I knew enough to know that I wasn’t being overly fanciful. Chloe and I had been active enough, for long enough, to register on Government radars around the world. She and I both knew that.
Finally she walked in off the windswept street, unwrapping her scarf. I didn’t say anything. Paranoia is contagious. It can also be slightly ridiculous. So what. I had jumped into supporting a cause in which any serious, effective, supporters would no doubt be monitored. Still I watched Mr Brown Overcoat. His posture subtly shifted. Bingo. It registered. Those two women meeting just now, later than they said they would. They are here. One was here all along. For just a second, he stared, stared at Chloe. She was oblivious. I hid the fact that I was watching him, that I cared. I hid that, internally, a mixture of wtf? shall I tell her? is this the real world? & ASIO y u so lame! swirled around in my head.
I leaned down and pulled out some notes I’d bought for Chloe. We jumped into conversation mode and I looked up. He was gone.
In one of our previous meetings Chloe had told me of a dream she’d had. In it, Julian Assange was standing naked in a town square wearing a crown of thorns. I’d looked at her and told her it was a truth, that dreams come up from the collective unconscious symbolizing both the zeitgeist and the inner journey of the dreamer. I knew then that this quiet, intense, young woman had work to do. I have been a little sad since though, at what eventually unfolded. Time moved on. Chloe often joined the online horde of the WikiLeaks critics, those for whom it was no longer cool to support Julian’s work, or the ferocious, fearless journalism of other transparency journalists like Glenn Greenwald.
When Julian’s emergence into the political sphere hit the mainstream here in Australia, people I had seen as friends, including Chloe, chose other political allegiances. There was more social traction among some of the, so called, übercyber, inner circles of the expanding WikiLeaks and online transparency movement supporters to engage in petty sniping at Julian Assange’s family, at his situation, at mistakes, rather than celebrating and supporting triumphs. His political endeavors became the latest hipster fashion to mock, rather than choosing the overview, thus seeing the reality of what they were actually doing — empowering every critic in an online world populated and manipulated at times by agents of a threatened State. Pettiness triumphed: at times it felt like the battle against the huge, corrupted, forces of State was being lost.
In Melbourne, in 2010, a group of activists bought together a support movement for WikiLeaks. The WikiLeaks Australians Citizens Alliance (WACA) led by Samantha and Karen initially copped a bit of flak, but as networks formed internationally and in Australia throughout 2011 and 2012, they gained a following and a voice. At one point, they contacted Julian Assange and told him they needed acknowledgement from the WikiLeaks organisation itself, and they received it. For all intents and purposes they seemed sincere. Actions outside the US consulate, screenings of Collateral Murder in Flinders street: they made sure they got media attention and milked it in the activist community for all it was worth.
My tone when I write about them now, is bitter, sure. For I saw Samantha and Karen as friends, in a world where we pushed daily, hard, unceasingly on social media to ensure Assange and WikiLeaks stayed in the spotlight of world attention. At one point they asked me to be a representative in New South Wales for WACA. Their goal was to be the peak citizens WikiLeaks support body Australia wide. Although I supported them, by mid 2013, I was uneasy about the power structure they were creating. I couldn’t work them out, it seemed to be a lot about their prestige, and not the work of Wikileaks. This made me feel uneasy. So, I withdrew my active support. It was clear that whatever they did, the decision making remained with them, democratic process within their group had not evolved yet, and the warning bells started ringing.
Both women had been given positions on the National Council of the WikiLeaks Party in Australia. Election fever had taken hold across the country, and it was all hands on deck in supporting the building of WLP in an election campaign built from scratch. Julian’s father John Shipton was a prime mover, and across three states candidates worked hard to get known. Weeks before the election, in a dispute which could have been resolved, drama rather than oversight won out.
Samantha and Karen along with their friend, and WLP Victorian candidate, Leslie Cannold, and a group, including other National Council members and volunteers, dramatically resigned. Privately, Samantha sent me a message letting me know of their intention. Right then, I realised that absolutely, undoubtedly, she managed and saw this group as her faction. I had no idea that tensions were so great, and entreated her to reconsider, I was ignored. The split made headlines. It meant that the campaign and Julian’s chances were betrayed by a co-ordinated walkout, at a crucial time. The damage was done.
Time creates perspective. What we know now is even more damning. In the six months after their walkout, using a twitter feed with outreach to thousands of WikiLeaks supporters, Samantha, has often mocked, demeaned and insulted Julian and the WikiLeaks Party. Her comments were retweeted often by her faction. Some of the worst insults were thrown in the direction of Assange’s father, John Shipton. At one point Samantha used the twitter feed to publicly compare Shipton to Darth Vader. An insidious, horrible, dangerous, campaign started in other shadowy camps, and was continued and supported by WACA. It implied that Shipton was a threat to his own son, casting him as out of touch and the WikiLeaks Party as a liability. What had been so passionately supported was now passionately attacked. Internal emails were leaked, to prove something everybody knew already; there had been a fierce irreconcilable division over preferencing decisions, compounded by the errors of a small Party moving fast.
Yet in the leaked emails, was a private contact address for Assange — an internal only address, which because of their anger, the activists were happy to have in the public domain. Damage to him or the Party because of their decision to publish emails was fine with them. Their full intent was to cause drama and distraction. The real truth of what happened — angry activists storming out — destroying a political campaign purely from hot headed reactivity remains the real story. Ironically, interspersed along with constant twitter character assassination of Assange and his father, the activists continued to say they still supported WikiLeaks.
O’Hagan’s slur that Julian made an enemy of his own political party is a lie. This has never been the case. The factional group started their attacks after they left. They were outsiders, and remain so. Absolutely no personal responsibility for destroying Assange’s campaign was taken by the core group of WACA. Political naivety combined with ego issues, and personal instability, has fueled them to continue an attack campaign, ongoing now for six months. Damage has not only been done, but compounded by a small group of vocal supporters who’d originally built a following as genuine. They were not. They continued to use WikiLeaks name in their title without the slightest remorse in the months after the election and well into this year.
It is only very recently that the removal of the WikiLeaks name from what is now the Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance finally eventuated. That removal had been requested last year very publicly by WikiLeaks, and received a mocking response. These two women, who had previously built credibility as allies of Julian, and as friends of WikiLeaks, joined others, including their own Government, who have completely betrayed him. Even more tragically, like others I have known and conversed with online in the last three years, their self interest blinds them to the reality of the damage they choose to inflict. Those who sit in war rooms of the USG cyber command and would destroy one of the most important initiatives this century are delighted.
Betrayal is poison. Looking at the motivations, understanding the character of those who do is essential. What is certain; there is often a necessary path to healing, for both parties. Sunlight is the best disinfectant was a saying swirling around the WikiLeaks support movement in 2010. We loved that the power relationships in the world were being upended. It was fun, and then it became painful, political, imbued with anger and hurt. Betrayal is a fact of human life. We move on, we pull the protections closer around us. We become less trusting, and rightly, sadly, so. Yet the adventure continues, and as much as we can pull into the light the actions of any self interested corruption we can still have fun. That, in the end, is fundamental to any endeavor.
The increased surveillance of the Enemies of the State continues. Supporters of the new transparency movement know it. However, there is nothing like WikiLeaks on the world stage. What has been revealed now, like never before, is that the world is sorely in need of change. The solution must be in and through the halls of power and in the streets, non violently, when and where we can make a genuine difference. This is an exciting time to live in. The media, which should be the truth teller, not the gossip manufacturer, has an obligation. Get it right. It is our collective history being written here after all.