Thursday, 22 September 2011
WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange’s much-talked of book is being released in Britain, following a sudden announcement from publishers Canongate. The work — enigmatically titled Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography — is a first draft of the material hammered out by Assange and ghost writer Andrew O’Hagan earlier in the year.
Assange has denounced the publication of the book, alleging that it is a preliminary and partial version, and that Canongate seized a copy of the “work in progress” when it was shown to them by O’Hagan’s researcher. In a statement issued to the media, Assange noted that:
“[the book] is entirely uncorrected or fact-checked by me. The entire book was to be heavily modified, extended and revised, in particular, to take into account the privacy of the individuals mentioned in the book.”
The book is said to cover all aspects of Assange’s life and WikiLeaks’ work, including his bucolic Queensland childhood, introduction to computers, early days hacking in Melbourne, the creation of WikiLeaks and its rise to global prominence, and last but not least, the encounter with two Swedish women that led to r-pe accusations and almost a year under house arrest, electronically tagged. In Britain, extracts are being serialised by The Independent.
The “unauthorised autobiography” title is a rather cute way of dealing with a memoir that the author himself disowns. According to Canongate’s announcement, Assange wanted to cancel the book deal in June. Assange denies this, claiming that he wanted to renegotiate the contract to give him more time to do a proper book while he was fighting legal challenges from Sweden and the US.
Other reports — in The Independent, and a rather snide piece in Private Eye — suggested that Assange believed there was not enough philosophy and “manifesto” in the book, and too much personal material. Canongate’s statement has Assange reading the first draft and declaring that “all memoir is prostitution”, one of those Assange newsbites that needs to be taken with a grain of… Assange claims, with quotes from correspondence, that he and Canongate had agreed on a spring 2012 release — before the publisher made its intentions clear in early September and gave Assange one week to obtain an injunction.
Since Assange’s advance had been paid directly to the account of lawyers FSI (or so his statement claims), both returning the advance or undertaking new legal action was well nigh impossible, something that Assange claims has been central to Canongate’s strategy. He also claims that O’Hagan agrees with him — and indeed, O’Hagan’s name appears nowhere in the publicity.
But what of the book itself? The three short excerpts run by the Indy today are short on shocking revelations, although they do give a more human view of Assange’s progress than usually feature in the coverage. In a section on starting hacking, he notes:
“As experiences of young adulthood go, it was mindblowing. By day you’d be walking down the street to the supermarket, meeting people you know, people who have no sense of you as anything other than a slacker teenager, and you’d know you had spent last night knee-deep in Nasa” and finally admits to what everyone knew, that he was the hacker known as ‘Mendax’ in ‘Underground’, the book he wrote with Suelette Dreyfus.
In a section on building WikiLeaks, he notes the isolation of the activity:
“I was constantly searching for voluntary labour and holding online meetings that I’d scheduled with supporters. Once or twice, though, quite comically (though not at the time), I turned out to be the only person at those online meetings.”
While in a section on the Swedish imbroglio he gives a rough description of the week in which his two encounters occurred, he raises again the possibility that there may have been motives behind the accusations, other than the encounters themselves:
“I did not r-pe those women and cannot imagine anything that happened between us that would make them think so, except malice after the fact, a joint plan to entrap me, or a terrible misunderstanding that was stoked up between them. I may be a chauvinist pig of some sort but I am no r-pist, and only a distorted version of s-xual politics could attempt to turn me into one. They each had s-x with me willingly and were happy to hang out with me afterwards.”
The sudden appearance of a book that many thought would never see the light of day has surprised literary London. Not only do these things usually leak — yes, yes, the ironies are multiple here — but the Private Eye report had taken the line that there was no book, arguing that Assange had changed legal teams, because he had reneged on a promise to produce the tome as a way of funding his defence. Here’s the Eye:
“Assange quarrelled violently with his lawyers Mark Stephens and Geoffrey Robertson QC refusing to pay their bills and then also refusing to produce the book he was contracted to write, which should have covered the costs.”
Appearing a week before a book — of sorts — appeared, this is rather more miss than hit. Assange is in dispute with FSI (Mark Stephens’ company) alleging that pro-bono handling of his case was originally promised, and that the fees that have been charged are excessive, but he appears to retain a good relationship with Robertson.
The article — focused on Assange’s attempts to negotiate a rapprochement with The Guardian — appears to be part of a new onslaught against Assange from left-liberal circles, especially following the full release of WikiLeaks’ entire unredacted cable archive — necessitated, the organisation argued, by the revelation of a master password by Guardian journalist David Leigh in his behind-the-scenes book about WikiLeaks (now sold to Hollywood), and most recently, by the revelation of stray copies of the archive on the internet, by former WikiLeaks member Daniel Domscheit-Berg (whose book has also been sold to Hollywood).
Last Sunday’s Observer (The Guardian’s Sunday paper) featured a spittingly vituperative column from Nick Cohen, damning WikiLeaks for everything and nothing, but rehashing an old story about the organisation giving cables to a controversial Swedish-based journalist Israel Shamir. There was nothing new in Cohen’s piece, and the fact that The Economist had recently put the blame for “passwordgate” on The Guardian, rather than WikiLeaks. Bizarrely, however, in a “letter to readers” from editor Alan Rusbridger justifying a recent 20p price rise, the first reason for continuing to buy the Grauniad was its investigative journalism such as … WikiLeaks. Given that the paper’s behaviour on the matter made any of us consider giving up on it altogether, it is a, erm, brave claim.
Julian Assange: the Unauthorised Autobiography will be at the bookshops tomorrow (a security firm is delivering the books).
Kirsty Wilson, Head of Sales at Text Publishing, which has the publishing rights here in Australia, told Crikey that the contract remains in place and it will be released in hard copy and e-book form in Australia on October 10.
The decision on Assange’s appeal against extradition is expected in early October. There is no sign that any of this will stop, any time soon.