Julian Assange. Photo: Zed Nelson/INSTITUTE
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Jemima Khan on Julian Assange: how the Wikileaks founder alienated his allies

WikiLeaks – whose mission statement was “to produce a more just society based upon truth” – has been guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as those it sought to expose, while its supporters are expected to follow, unquestioningly, in blinkered

I passed through Los Angeles recently on my way to the Sundance Film Festival. I don’t know the place well, but it always feels to me as if it is in limbo and has never grown into a proper city: a municipal playground, populated by restless kidults. Here, people dine at seven and sleep by nine, ferried around in cars, sipping sodas, suspended in a make-believe world, poised in that fake calm between a toddler’s fall and ensuing screams.

Its transient, unevolved quality may have something to do with it being a temporary home to a disproportionate number of famous people. There’s a theory about fame: the moment it strikes, it arrests development. Michael Jackson remained suspended in childhood, enjoying sleepovers and funfairs; Winona Ryder an errant teen who dabbled in shoplifting and experimented with pills; George Clooney, a 30-year-old commitment-phobe, never quite ready yet to settle down.
Every plan in LA is SBO (“subject to better offer”). Fame infantilises and grants relative impunity. Those that seek it, out of an exaggerated need for admiration or attention, are often the least well equipped to deal with criticism.
Julian Assange was the reason I ended up at Sundance, the showcase for international independent film-makers. I was there to attend the premiere of Alex Gibney’s documentary about WikiLeaks, We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, which I executive produced and which Assange denounced before seeing. He objected to the title; WikiLeaks tweeted that it was “an unethical and biased title in the context of pending criminal trials. It is the prosecution’s claim and it is false.”
However, as I had previously pointed out to Assange, the title was derived from a comment in the film by Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA, who told Gibney that the US government was in the business of “stealing secrets” from other countries. It was used specifically to highlight the irony of the situation of Bradley Manning, the US army private alleged to be the source of the American intelligence cables leaked to Assange. Manning may be put to death by his own government for doing the very thing to which Hayden so candidly admits.
The film wasn’t in the competition at Sundance, as Gibney is a well-known film-maker and it already has a distributor, but that didn’t stop the WikiLeaks account from tweeting: “Anti-#WikiLeaks doc ‘We Steal Secrets’ steals no prizes at Sundance as film is rejected in all 31 categories”.
The problem with Camp Assange is that, in the words of George W Bush, it sees the world as being “with us or against us”. When I told Assange I was part of the We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks team, I suggested that he view it not in terms of being pro- or anti-him, but rather as a film that would be fair and would represent the truth. It would address, directly, the claims of his critics, which needed to be included so that the film could be seen as balanced and could reach people beyond the WikiLeaks congregation. He replied: “If it’s a fair film, it will be pro-Julian Assange.” Beware the celebrity who refers to himself in the third person.
It became clear to me that Assange would be willing to co-operate only with an amanuensis and not an independent film-maker such as Gibney, whose nuanced work includes Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room, Client 9: the Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer and Taxi to the Dark Side, for which he won an Oscar. In many ways, the film’s narrative arc mirrors my own journey with Assange, from admiration to demoralisation.
I supported Assange before I ever met him. I knew of his work when he was arrested on allegations of sexual assault in late 2010 and held in solitary confinement and I decided to stand bail for him because I believed that through WikiLeaks he was speaking truth to power and had made many enemies. Although I had concerns about what was rumoured to be a nonchalant attitude towards redactions in the documents he leaked, as well as some doubts about the release of certain cables – for example, the list of infrastructure sites vital to US national security – I felt more passionately that democracy needs strong, free media.
Accountability and democratic choice, I deeply believe, are guaranteed by rigorous scrutiny only. As Manning wrote, “without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public”.
As editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, Assange had created a transparency mechanism to hold governments and corporations to account. I abhor lies and WikiLeaks exposed the most dangerous lies of all – those told to us by our elected governments. WikiLeaks exposed corruption, war crimes, torture and cover-ups. It showed that we were lied to about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; that the US military had deliberately hidden information about systematic torture and civilian casualties, which were much higher than reported. It revealed that Bush and Obama had sanctioned the mass handover of Iraqi prisoners of war from US troops to the Iraqi authorities, knowing they would be tortured. 
It revealed that America’s ally Pakistan was playing a double game, taking US aid and collaborating with the Taliban. It revealed the existence of a secret American assassination squad, with a terrible record of killing women and children in Afghanistan, and it exposed America’s covert war in Yemen. It laid bare criminal behaviour and corruption by tyrants in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, which in turn helped to fuel the popular anger against repression that gave rise to the Arab spring.
Meanwhile, the man accused of leaking the cables, Bradley Manning, was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in an American prison. He was put on suicide watch – against the protests of prison doctors – with his clothes and blankets taken away from him, the cell lights always on. He was cold and deprived of sleep and forced to stand naked at roll-call.
There were also calls by American politicians and pundits for the punishment (execution, even) of Assange, the man who had exposed US war crimes – but not for those who sanctioned or perpetrated them. The US justice department mounted an investigation into whether it could use the Espionage Act to put him in jail. A grand jury was convened to consider whether Assange as well as other members of WikiLeaks should be charged with a crime. Rumours emerged of a sealed indictment against him.
Under political pressure, Visa and MasterCard stopped processing donations to the WikiLeaks fund, even though, as the former WikiLeaks employee James Ball (who is now a Guardian journalist) points out in We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, they would happily process payments for the Ku Klux Klan. No charges have yet been filed, but I remain convinced that if Assange is prosecuted for espionage the future of investigative journalism everywhere would be in jeopardy. 
As Bill Leonard, the classification tsar for the Bush administration, says in our film: “The Espionage Act is primarily intended to address situations where individuals pass national defence information over to the enemy in order to allow the enemy to harm us. It would be unprecedented if the Espionage Act was being used to attack individuals who did not do anything more than the New York Times or the Washington Post does every day.”
There is no evidence that US national security was damaged in any way by the leaks, nor indeed that democracy has ever been harmed by an increase in the public’s knowledge and understanding. If Assange is prosecuted in the US for espionage, I suspect even his most disenchanted former supporters will take to the barricades in his defence.
The list of alienated and disaffected allies is long: some say they fell out over redactions, some over broken deals, some over money, some over ownership and control. The roll-call includes Assange’s earliest WikiLeaks collaborators, Daniel Domscheit-Berg and “The Architect”, the anonymous technical whizz behind much of the WikiLeaks platform. It also features the journalists with whom he worked on the leaked cables: Nick Davies, David Leigh and Luke Harding of the Guardian; the New York Times team; James Ball; and the Freedom of Information campaigner Heather Brooke. Then there are his former lawyer Mark Stephens; Jamie Byng of Canongate Books, who paid him a reported £500,000 advance for a ghostwritten autobiography for which Assange withdrew his co-operation before publication; the Channel 4 team that made a documentary about him which resulted in his unsuccessful complaint to Ofcom that it was unfair and had invaded his privacy; and his former WikiLeaks team in Iceland.
The problem is that WikiLeaks – whose mission statement was “to produce . . . a more just society . . . based upon truth” – has been guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as those it sought to expose, while its supporters are expected to follow, unquestioningly, in blinkered, cultish devotion.
Photo: Phillip Toledano
In August last year, I asked Julian Assange to address the points made by the New Statesman’s legal correspondent, David Allen Green, in a blog entitled “Legal myths about the Assange extradition”. These were myths that, as a vocal supporter, I was concerned I might have spread unwittingly. Despite several attempts to elicit a response, I never received one. 
I was told that Assange was “very busy”, though I was invited to visit the Ecuadorean embassy, where he had recently taken refuge to avoid extradition, for a photo opportunity, which I declined.
I had wanted to ask him about the opinion of objective legal experts who – contrary to the claims made by WikiLeaks – insist that he is no more vulnerable to extradition to the US from Sweden than he is from the UK. The WikiLeaks server was once hosted in Sweden to take advantage of the country’s liberal protections for journalists (in contrast to Ecuador, which ranks 119th in the World Press Freedom Index).
After two Swedish women made allegations that Assange had raped and sexually assaulted them in August 2010, Mark Ste­phens, speaking as his lawyer, referred to Sweden as “one of those lickspittle states which used its resources and its facilities for rendition flights”. Yet even WikiLeaks had revealed that in 2006 Sweden stopped rendition flights for the US.
Stephens also did not mention that another “lickspittle” state which had involved itself with rendition and torture was the United Kingdom. In any case, onward extradition of Assange from Sweden to the US would still require the consent of the UK, as the original country involved.
Furthermore, the extradition treaty between Sweden and the US prohibits extradition for political or espionage offences and prevents extradition where there is any risk of the death penalty.
There have been troubling aspects to the Assange case and questions may need to be asked about the conduct of the Swedish police investigation. The more serious allegation of rape against him, for example, was dropped at one stage and his arrest warrant withdrawn by the Swedish authorities. One of the chief prosecutors in Stockholm, Eva Finne, who had heard the prosecution evidence against Assange, stated: “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.”
However, ten days later the rape investigation was reopened by the Swedish director of prosecution Marianne Ny.
There are also questions about why the public prosecutor waited so long to arrange an interrogation date with Assange (although there were reportedly repeated requests by the prosecution, and it was difficult to contact Assange) and why the prosecutor failed to take up Assange’s offer of being interviewed via video link when there is a precedent for this in Swedish law. (However, it is worth noting that the Swedish prosecutor has said that Assange is wanted not merely for questioning, but for “the purpose of conducting criminal proceedings” – so that he can be arrested and charged.)
The timing of the rape allegations and the issuing of the Interpol arrest warrant for Assange in November 2010 initially seemed suspicious to many, including me. They came just two days after the release of the first batch of embarrassing state department cables. Conspiracy theories about the timing were given credibility by Mark Stephens, who attributed the allegations to “dark forces”, saying: “The honey-trap has been sprung.” In an interview with ABC News, Assange said that Swedish prosecutors were withholding evidence which suggested that he had been “set up”. There were claims by his legal team that Interpol red notices of the type issued in his case were reserved for “terrorists and dictators”. In fact, red notices have been issued for drink-driving and making voyeur videos of college students. The two women at the centre of the rape allegations against Assange were subsequently named and defamed on the internet, threatened with rape and pictured with bullseyes on their faces.
It may well be that the serious allegations of sexual assault and rape are not substantiated in court, but I have come to the conclusion that these are all matters for Swedish due process and that Assange is undermining both himself and his own transparency agenda – as well as doing the US department of justice a favour – by making his refusal to answer questions in Sweden into a human rights issue. There have been three rounds 
in the UK courts and the UK courts have upheld the European Arrest Warrant in his name three times. The women in question have human rights, too, and need resolution. Assange’s noble cause and his wish to avoid a US court does not trump their right to be heard in a Swedish court.
I don’t regret putting up bail money for Assange but I did it so that he would be released while awaiting trial, not so that he could avoid answering to the allegations.
On the subject of Assange, pundits on both the left and the right have become more interested in tribalism than truth. The attacks on him by his many critics in the press have been virulent and highly personal. Both sides are guilty of creating political caricatures and extinguishing any possibility of ambivalence. “On the other handism” doesn’t make great copy, but in this particular debate everyone is too polarised. The kind of person who spends his life committed to this type of work, wedded to a laptop, undercover, always on the move, with no security, stability or income, is bound to be a bit different. I have seen flashes of Assange’s charm, brilliance and insightfulness – but I have also seen how instantaneous rock-star status has the power to make even the most clear-headed idealist feel that they are above the law and exempt from criticism.
We all want a hero. After WikiLeaks released the infamous Collateral Murder video in 2010, showing US troops gunning down a dozen civilians in Iraq, I jokingly asked if Assange was the new Jason Bourne, on the run and persecuted by the state. It would be a tragedy if a man who has done so much good were to end up tolerating only disciples and unwavering devotion, more like an Australian L Ron Hubbard. 
Jemima Khan is the associate editor of the New Statesman

Editor's note: The full title of the film about Wikileaks "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks" has now been included in this article.


Jemima Khan is associate editor of the New Statesman

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Connected - to save time, money and lives

Businesses and the public sector in the UK are increasingly exploring new ways they can work with the help of connected technology – and the benefits this will bring.

We live in a world that’s increasingly connected. EE was born three years ago and has spent this time creating one of the fastest and most reliable 4G networks in any country. The effect of this growth means more for the British population as a whole, along with its critical infrastructure and emergency responders, than it does for individuals and consumers.

Why? Mobility, according to analysts CCS Insight, is “the fulcrum of digital transformation”. In the short time that mobile networks have existed – and the even shorter and more profound growth arc of 4G – mobility has moved from being about faster speeds and more services on our phones to a whole new world of possibilities for the way we live and work.

The latest mobile technologies can make small companies look big. And, the experts warn, they can make big companies look unintentionally small.

Over 500,000 businesses in the UK use our network and services to increase productivity and save money. Much of the public sector uses it to save money too – and save lives. We’d like to walk you through the stories emerging from this new world – sharing some examples of what happens when workers, customers and machines become truly connected.

Connected Vehicle

Businesses in the UK have long treated their cars, vans and other vehicles as their mobile offices, workshops or command centres, whether for field engineers, sales reps or dozens of other roles. But it’s not always been easy. 

That’s changing. Take utility Northumbrian Water. It is responsible for 55,000km of pipelines, many in rural parts of the UK. It has found a solution in the Connected Vehicle service from EE that is based on transportgrade equipment. External antennae on a van connect to a ruggedised router that deals with extreme temperatures and can handle vibrations from road surfaces. 4G becomes a shared WiFi connection for workers and devices out in the field, increasing their efficiency significantly as workers can stay connected on site, rather than having to travel back to the office.

And is it effective?

“The business case writes itself,” said Alan Sherwen, head of IS service and operations at Northumbrian Water, which is now looking at a wider rollout.

Beyond the private sector, the public sector is throwing off its image as a technology laggard. Blue-light fire, police and ambulance services are doing more than just seeing the potential.

East Midlands Ambulance Service’s head of IM&T, Steve Bowyer, describes his experience with 4G’s “reliable, consistently fast data connections” as “quite transformational”.

The ambulance service knows that every second counts, especially when accidents occur in remote locations.

Bowyer calls the use of 4G-connected vehicles “an extension of our control room” – for example, 4G-equipped ambulances allow paramedics to send vital information to hospitals ahead of arrival.

And it’s a similar story with the police. Officers collect and submit evidence from the scenes of crimes and accidents. Staffordshire Police has started to use connected vehicles and more broadly estimates its 4G devices provide the equivalent of 250,000 additional hours of policing time on the beat each year. That’s the equivalent of 100 extra officers.

Rapid Site

The technology we’re talking about – fast, robust, often rural connectivity – isn’t always about being on the move. Industries such as construction that occupy a location sometimes for a matter of months are also employing high-speed, managed services to serve those on site.

Jackson Civil Engineering used to have to wait three months to get a line installed. It was holding back the business.

“The challenges I face are making sure the guys on site get connectivity and transmit information from laptops, mobile phones and tablets,” said Justin Corneby, the company’s IT manager. “If there’s no connectivity for our guys on the ground it almost stops them working completely.” Now setup at a new location takes under three days, and speeds tend to be up to 60Mbps where, before, a fixed line gave the company 8Mbps.

Housing association Green Square faces a similar challenge in its efforts to supply about 400 homes every year in the west of England.

Mark Gingell, ICT service manager at Green Square, said: “[We have] some challenges about how do we get our staff access to the internet. What we want is a seamless process for them to be able to log on and have the information at hand. The ultimate goal is to make great places where people can live.”

Public WiFi – in a box

Other types of business are on this connected journey too. Richardson’s operates 310 holiday boats on the Norfolk Broads and 4G Public WiFi from EE means not only coverage and simplicity for customers wanting internet access but knowing that compliance and online safety for families, through web filtering, is taken care of. In fact a whole range of businesses are now possible, many employing mobile payments systems which through their security and 4G connections open up a world of pop-up possibilities to businesses big and small.

Connected Health 

And lastly, the NHS is showing us that innovation can be built on even relatively simple technology. ‘Did not attend’ – or DNAs – cost the health service around £900m every year. That breaks down as £137 for every missed hospital appointment, £45 for each at a GP’s surgery. 

Intelligent messaging from EE means patients get a text message and simply reply to cancel or confirm an appointment. DNAs have been reduced by 67 per cent in one case, freeing up slots for others. That means there is the potential to save the NHS over £500m annually, just by improving the booking and scheduling service for patients with intelligent messaging. Meanwhile healthcare professionals get to target groups by demographics – for example, elderly people when it’s flu jab season. In short, this approach saves time, saves money and even saves lives.

Now you can

When we were the first to launch 4G in the UK, we had a simple message: Now you can. Most people took that to mean simply that smartphones, tablets, laptops and upcoming smart devices could get a faster network connection. But it’s been about much more than that.

Today, being connected in this way is a vital component for business and Britain’s vital public services. Our recent research of 1,000 UK businesses shows that 50 per cent of customers say 4G is critical to their business success. They report a 10 per cent uptick in productivity when adopting 4G – and gains can be greater in the public sector.

And we’re nowhere near finished. Now any organisation in the private or public sector can share in this connected story, employing new technology and innovative approaches as a managed service or in any way that best works for them. We are just as excited about the next three years as the last three.