Daniel Schmitt Interview by Der Spiegel
Der Spiegel, 26 September 2010. Translation by Babelfish, massaged by Cryptome.
Original pages, in German, excerpted from purchased Der Spiegel issue.
“For me only withdrawal is left”
The German WikiLeaks spokesperson Daniel Schmitt, 32, on his disgreement with with Julian Assange, the founder of the leaks platform, his exit from the organization – and his correct name
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Schmitt, WikiLeaks and you for several weeks could not be reached by email. What is the matter?
Schmitt: There are technical problems and nobody worries about them. WikiLeaks is in a phase of significant change. We have been insane in the last months due to rapid growth and we need to urgently to see that all matters become more transparent. This development is blocked internally. Even to me it is no longer clear how we make decisions, provide answers to questions and other matters. Because of high pressure since the publication of the American military documents, we are trying to convert the organization to respond to new conditions. That means that not everythng is working and resolved correctly. All this is making excessive demands on the project.
DER SPIEGEL: Is that only your view or does everyone involved see it that way?
Schmitt: That is one of the internal points at issue, but there are others. WikiLeaks was for example always discrimination-free in what we published. We have received minor submissions, only important locally, which were always treated exactly the same as major documents whether they were nationally or are even internationally important.
DER SPIEGEL: Why don’t you publish both?
Schmitt: We would gladly have done that, but unfortunately we are in a dead end. I tried several times to open up the dead end, but Julian Assange has reacted to each criticism with the accusation that I was refusing to obey and disloyal to the project. Four weeks ago he suspended me — a single person as prosecutor, judge and executioner. Since then for example I have had no access to my WikiLeaks mail. Thus much work remains undone, and other tools needed for the work are blocked. I know that nobody from our core team agreed with this. But the core team seems to play no role. WikiLeaks has a structural problem. For me without an answer to that problem I must leave the project.
DER SPIEGEL: Why has your controversy with Assange escalated?
Schmitt: We all had insane stress in the last months. Errors happen and can be corrected so long as one learns from them. But they must be admitted to be corrected. Above all it seems that confidence has been lost and we are at a stand still.
DER SPIEGEL: Assange says you questioned the power and guidance from WikiLeaks to do what you wanted.
Schmitt: From my point of view it was not struggle for power, it was not about personal interests, but about our organization and its development. Why he sees that differently, only he knows.
DER SPIEGEL: Nevertheless you have also suggested and advised, because of the rape accusations which have been made against him in Sweden, for him to withdraw from the public.
Schmitt: The investigations against Julian in Sweden are from my point of view a personal attack on him and it has nothing directly to do with WikiLeaks. All this costs to time and energy, and it adds to our burden. From my point of view it would have been best if these matters were handled privately in the background, to clarify and resolve them peacefully. It would have been nothing against him if resolved in the background and our work continued normally. That was my internal proposal but obviously he saw it as an attack on his role.
DER SPIEGEL: How does it continue now?
Schmitt: I worked on WikiLeaks because I believed the idea correct and important. We tried several times with Julian to talk over and address all questions without success. I have given more than hundred interviews with world media, handled finances in Germany coordinated and cooperated on publications. Now I pull back from the project and hand my tasks over – to whomever remains.
DER SPIEGEL: Who do you mean by them of “we talk?”
Schmitt: A handful of the people from the core team, which see the situation similar to me, but do not want to go public with action. A majority of the work by people, that made anonymously, will likely continue. Because of disagreements I need to step out.
DER SPIEGEL: They leaves the project in a critical phase. Do you fear that many Internet activists will accuse you of betrayal?
Schmitt: I am aware of that, and you can assume I deeply considered this step for a long time. Nevertheless I have put in the past years very much time, money and energy into WikiLeaks. But because of that I must be able to be publicly accountable. Therefore this remains for me momentarily only a temporary withdrawal.
DER SPIEGEL: Which exactly do you no longer want to represent?
Schmitt: We promise for example everything from our sources will be published. We have concentrated lately however only on the big topics and practically all our resources are used for that, for example on the Afghanistan documents of the US army at the end of July. The video of the air strike in Bagdad from the year 2007, “Collateral Murder,” was an extreme demonstration of our growth. At the same time we have dozens of other documents we can publish. And due to our increased publicity in the last half year very much new material has been received that needs to be urgently worked on and published.
DER SPIEGEL: By the publication of the secret Afghanistan reports, also by DER SPIEGEL, you have come into conflict with the world power of the USA. Washington threatens you with prosecution because of espionage, WikiLeaks supporters have been contacted by the FBI. Bradley Manning, one of your alleged informants, sits in the prison. Are you afraid of great public pressure?
Schmitt: No, public pressure is part of the endeavor. But this direct confrontation with the USA is not what we intended. We were always against corruption and abuse, to uncover the exercise of power wherever that takes place, whether in a small location generally speaking or the whole world.
DER SPIEGEL: Which does it mean for the organization if after Assange the its most well-known public face is discharged? Is the future of WikiLeaks endangered?
Schmitt: That I do not believe. For WikiLeaks is very important idea. There is a large number of new people in Sweden and Great Britain, and I hope that they all will work together at something meaningful. I believe in the concept with which we began and I am confident that it will survive.
DER SPIEGEL: Must persons who submit material fear for its protection if now a part of the WikiLeaks crew leaves?
Schmitt: From my point of view material and all donated funds should remain with WikiLeaks, because both are explicitly protected in how the project worked. There are alos internally different opinions, in particular with ours technicians. We can however depend on everyone to guarantee that a clean publicaton takes place.
DER SPIEGEL: They have their job with WikiLeaks to continue. And how does it go further for you?
Schmitt: I will contribute to the effort that the idea of a decentralized leak platform not go down. On that I will now work. It in all other respects our earlier common convictions remain: In the end there must be a thousand WikiLeaks.
DER SPIEGEL: You have always spoken for WikiLeaks as “Daniel Schmitt.” What is your real name?
Schmitt: It probably time to stop hiding my name and attach my real name to my opinions. My real name is Daniel Domscheit-Berg.
INTERVIEW: MARCEL ROSENBACH, HOLGER STARK
Daniel Berg on Linkedin:
http://de.linkedin.com/pub/daniel-berg/3/610/663 (more at the link)
Anke Domscheit and Daniel Berg are married in July 2010.
Anke Domscheit-Berg is Director Government Relations at Microsoft Germany in Berlin.
Daniel and Anke supporting the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative:
# 194. daniel berg, germany
# 196. Anke Domscheit-Berg, Germany