The autobiography of Julian Assange is set to be published for the first time tomorrow despite attempts by the WikiLeaks founder to suppress his tell-all memoir after a bitter and acrimonious row with its publisher.
The manuscript, excerpts of which will appear exclusively in tomorrow’s Independent, is the first time Mr Assange has directly addressed the events in Sweden which forced him into a costly extradition battle over sexual abuse allegations in which both his liberty and the future of WikiLeaks are now at stake.
The book provides a profoundly personal insight into a man who, in the space of less than a year, went from being a little-known former hacker to one of the world’s most recognisable faces thanks to his organisation’s string of deeply embarrassing revelations that have won him as many enemies as supporters.
The memoir paints a vivid portrait of a driven but notoriously mercurial idealist bent on moulding the world in his own belief of absolute transparency. It begins with the Australian’s peripatetic childhood in Queensland accompanied by bohemian parents who always made him question authority, describes how he plunged into the hidden underworld of early hacking and went on to form a whistle-blowing platform that would redefine the nature of information security. The book also contains prolonged and bitter rants against some of the media partners he allied WikiLeaks with to publish his largest revelations with particular ire reserved for the New York Times and the Guardian newspapers.
An entire chapter is dedicated to explaining his side of the Swedish story – the first time Mr Assange has spoken publicly about the events which have led to him being wanted for questioning by police in Stockholm over allegations that he sexually abused two women during a stay there last summer.
“I have kept my own counsel about the matter until now,” he writes. “It will be difficult to keep anger out of this account, owing to the sheer level of malice and opportunism that have driven the case against me, but I want to make this argument as much as possible in a spirit of understanding.”
According to Mr Assange’s testimony he had been warned by a source in an unnamed intelligence agency that the US government had been planning to set him up. He admits to sleeping with two women – referred to as A and W – but says their allegations that some of the sexual encounters were not consensual are either part of a wider conspiracy or motivated by the fact that he failed to return their calls.
“The international situation had me in its grip, and although I had spent time with these women, I wasn’t paying enough attention to them, or ringing them back, or able to step out of the zone that came down with all these threats and statements against me in America,” he states. “One of my mistakes was to expect them to understand this? I wasn’t a reliable boyfriend, or even a very courteous sleeping partner, and this began to figure. Unless, of course, the agenda had been rigged from the start.”
For Canongate, the small Scottish publishing firm that beat off competitors to sign an exclusive six figure deal with Mr Assange, the publication of his memoir is the culmination of a fraught series of fallouts that nearly led to the entire project being shelved.
Mr Assange was reluctant to write his autobiography but opted to sign a lucrative publishing deal in order to pay for his mounting legal costs as the Swedish authorities pursued him through the British courts for questioning over sexual assault allegations.
In late December the 40-year-old Australian accepted an advance – reportedly worth more than £800,000, from Canongate and New York publisher Alfred A Knop to write a “part memoir, part manifesto” which would shed light on his personal background as well as reveal how his now world-famous whistle-blowing platform came into being.
Canongate went on to sell the rights to a further thirty-eight publishing houses around the world in what was billed as one of the most lucrative global book deals of the year. The Scottish novelist Andrew O’Hagan was brought in as a ghost writer and spent more than 50 hours with Mr Assange at the Norfolk country house which currently serves as his bail address.
At the time Mr Assange trumpeted the deal, saying he hoped his book would become “one of the unifying documents of our generation” which would explain his “global struggle to force a new relationship between the people and their governments.”
But the relationship soured soon after the first draft of the manuscript was delivered to him in late March, prompting Mr Assange to pull the plug on the deal declaring, according to those present, that “all memoir is prostitution.” For the publishers his complaints came out of the blue. Only a week earlier he had posed for a photo shoot and cleared the portrait that now graces the book’s front cover.
Sources have told The Independent that the WikiLeaks founder was increasingly uncomfortable about how the book contained too many personal biographical details and read less like a political manifesto than he had hoped for. On 7 June he informed Canongate that he wanted to cancel his contract. Mr O’Hagan, meanwhile, became increasingly uncomfortable about the furore over book and asked for his name to be kept off the memoir. The result is a memoir ostensibly written by the WikiLeaks founder entitled: “Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography”.
Mr Assange’s decision to renege on his contract plunged Canongate into a crisis. Faced with the prospect of having to pay back the rights they had already sold abroad they tried to negotiate with the WikiLeaks founder but found him unwilling to reach a compromise.
He was given two months to work on the manuscript but deadlines went by without any further work.
The publisher’s lawyers believe they still have the right to release the memoir because a £500,000 advance that was paid to Mr Assange has not been returned. It is believed the money was placed into escrow which means that Mr Assange’s lawyers have first claim on it once their legal bills are due.
Canongate pressed decided to press ahead with publication but gave Mr Assange a twelve day window to seek an injunction. That dealine expired on Monday and they have since enacted a huge security operation to secretly ship books out to thousands of stores nationwide without tipping anyone off as to the content of the book.
Mr Assange will continue to receive royalties from global sales meaning he is in line for significant input of cash once the book hits the shelves around the world.
In a note at the beginning of the 244-page memoir Canongate explain their reasons for pressing ahead with publication.
“We disagree with Julian’s assessment of the book,” the publishing house writes. “We believe it explains both the man and his work, underlining his commitment to the truth. Julian always claimed the book was well written; we agree, and this also encouraged us to make the book available to readers.”