A recent article in Vanity Fair revealed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange threatened to sue a British newspaper after it said it would publish secret US State Department cables without his permission.
In the article, Vanity Fair‘s Sarah Ellison detailed how Assange negotiated with Britain’s The Guardian newspaper prior to the release of thousands of documents detailing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Assange wanted the paper to delay publishing the war logs so he could have more time to work with other news outlets. The Guardian editor David Leigh agreed, but only if he could have access to what Assange called “package three,” a cache of 260,000 diplomatic cables.
“You can have package three tonight, but you have to give me a letter signed by the Guardian editor saying you won’t publish package three until I say so,” Leigh had recalled Assange saying. The paper agreed.
Soon after that, a disgruntled former WikiLeaks volunteer provided journalist Heather Brooke with the full “package three” without preconditions. Brooke agreed to hand the cables over to Leigh at The Guardian.
Freed from its agreement with the WikiLeaks founder, Leigh maintained that the paper could publish the documents without Assange’s go-ahead.
At a meeting with Leigh, Assange threatened to sue.
“Assange was pallid and sweaty, his thin frame racked by a cough that had been plaguing him for weeks,” Ellison wrote. “He was also angry, and his message was simple: he would sue the newspaper if it went ahead and published stories based on the quarter of a million documents that he had handed over to The Guardian just three months earlier.”
“Enraged that he had lost control, Assange unleashed his threat, arguing that he owned the information and had a financial interest in how and when it was released,” she added.
In the end, the two sides managed to come to an agreement, and coordinated release of the cables.
The Atlantic‘s Nicholas Jackson has called on The Guardian to publish all the cables now that it’s known that they obtained them outside of their agreement with Assange.
In addition to explaining how WikiLeaks coordinated with The Guardian, Ellison managed to shed some light on Assange’s motivation.
Leigh explained that “stopping” the US wars was one of Assange’s key goals. “Julian is staking everything on this terrific throw of the dice — that he can become the man who single-handedly rocks the US administration back on its heels, and this will catapult him into making it all work again,” The Guardian editor said.
She added that a fourth set of documents, still being held by WikiLeaks, details the personal files of all the prisoners who’ve been held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison.
This may make sense out of a statement by Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking the documents to WikiLeaks. In chat logs turned over to the FBI by ex-hacker Adrian Lamo, Manning referenced something he called the “Gitmo Papers” and the “JTF GTMO papers.”
Some assumed that Manning was talking about a leaked manual that instructed guards on the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo. But that leak happened in 2007, years before Manning was said to have contacted WikiLeaks.