Perspectives – Alex Gibney, Jemima Khan, David Allen Green and “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks”

Joseph P. Farrell (WikiLeaks staff member) email to Jemima Khan regarding her 6th February New Statesman article: ‘Jemima Khan on Julian Assange: how the Wikileaks founder alienated his allies’.
– Forwarded message –
Dear Jemima,
As you can imagine, when I read your article in the New Statesman I was very surprised. I was also shocked, but most of all, I was disappointed.
When you told me in September 2011 that Alex Gibney, who had been commissioned by Universal to do a WikiLeaks documentary, had approached you to offer you an Executive Producer position on his film I attempted to ask you subtly why you thought he was offering you the position. My exact words were: “Being called an Executive Producer on one of Alex Gibney’s films is full of kudos and will certainly be very helpful in any further documentary projects. I am an inherent cynic (likely augmented by this work) but, if he is not asking for any production money, then it is purely a matter of branding and using your name as an endorsement.” Before approaching you, Gibney had already been trying desperately to get an interview with Julian for more than half a year, since February 2011, and had thus far been unsuccessful. I feared he might have been using you, not because he valued your opinions on the film, or because he was likely to ever ask you to produce anything else with him in the future, but because he needed access to Julian. In fact, just two months before the film premiered at Sundance you said to me that you were “getting my agent to insist I see the finished Gibney doc”. That, in itself, struck me as an executive producer with very limited executive power.
Without access and without original interview footage, Gibney needed a tool to legitimise his film and add credibility to it. And, in the absence of the exclusive interview with Julian, what better way than to have the journalist celebrity who is publicly known to be a friend of Julian named in the credits? I am certain you were aware of that risk, because when you told me you were accepting the Executive Producer role you said: “I will still try to persuade Julian (via you) to cooperate (as I have done in the past) not because I’m now officially involved in the film – it’s not contingent upon any access to Julian – but because I genuinely think he needs friends not enemies now”.

From the moment Gibney approached us we did extensive research into him. We looked deep and took advice from people who knew him and some who had worked with him. Every colleague, ally, friend and even the documentarians we spoke to advised us against an interview with Gibney. Yet we were open to talks, we were ready for dialogue, and we engaged with him and with Alexis Bloom, his producer. None of our meetings allayed our fears that their piece was not going to be the true story. They did not appear genuine to us and they seemed to have many prejudices about Julian and the organisation. Their angle favoured sensationalism from the beginning, an angle I would have thought you would oppose had you had any influence on the picture.
Julian has had significant relationships with hundreds of people. Your list of so-called alienated and disaffected allies is not long: your article mentions nine people, one of whom Julian has never actually even met.
You list Mark Stephens, an internationally little-known media lawyer who had a contractual dispute with Julian and who charged Julian more than half a million pounds for a magistrate’s court case defence. Yet you overlook Gareth Peirce, “the doyenne of British defence lawyers”; Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and other lawyers at the CCR; Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge; Jennifer Robinson, who left Mark Stephens’ firm over the issue; Baroness Helena Kennedy QC; Geoffrey Robertson QC, the acclaimed human rights lawyer whose table you sit at regularly; John Jones; Julian Burnside SC and Julian’s other lawyers in Australia; his lawyers in Ecuador; the Icelandic lawyers; the Danish lawyers; the Washington lawyers; or any of the rest of an international team of dozens of lawyers who represent or advise Julian and WikiLeaks.
You list Jamie Byng, who published an unprepared, unapproved, unfinished manuscript that had not been fact-checked without Julian’s knowledge, but you do not mention Colin Robinson or John Oakes of OR Books, with whom Julian has published a successful and acclaimed book without any problems or disagreements. Neither do you mention the more than fifteen other publishers who are releasing his Cypherpunks book in various languages, or indeed the publishers of Underground with whom he has maintained a good relationship for more than fifteen years.
You list Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who sabotaged WikiLeaks’ anonymous online submission system, first stole and then deleted more than 3,000 submissions evidencing, inter alia, war crimes, corruption and bank fraud. He also started a rival organisation, OpenLeaks, a still-born branding exercise with zero publications. His entire livelihood is earned by constantly backstabbing the man who fired him.
You list a person, who you incorrectly describe as “the technical whizz behind much of the WikiLeaks platform”, who was in actual fact a technician contracted to upgrade our submission platform according to Julian’s architectural design specifications. He was first referred to in Domscheit-Berg’s book as “the architect”, a propaganda term invented by Domscheit-Berg for his book well after he was suspended from WikiLeaks. The term is clearly designed as an attempt to steal Julian’s creative authority. But you are correct that this is the way that he is portrayed in Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s book, which contains numerous falsehoods. I am, as I have always been, at your disposal to clarify those stories that are promoted in an attempt to harm WikiLeaks and Julian and to give you the true facts. Had I known you had an interest in the architectural make-up of the submissions platform and its coding genesis, I could have explained this to you further in person.

You list the Guardian and the New York Times, the two organisations who broke their agreements with us. One of the contractual clauses that the Guardian broke was to disclose a password that unlocked a list to all the diplomatic cables, which it published in its book in an act of gross negligence. Both the Guardian and the New York Times have written factually incorrect books about us to whitewash their deceitful actions, which they continue to profit from and promote. You don’t, however, mention the 110 media partners with whom we have ongoing working relationships, some of whom have also written books about WikiLeaks but who donate all the profits to us, as a gesture and in solidarity to help us circumvent a banking blockade that has eroded the majority of our resources.
Why don’t you list the hundreds of activists, researchers and publishers who play a day-to-day role in WikiLeaks’ operations – the technicians who maintain servers; the developers, mathematicians and cryptographers who build new search interfaces and oversee the internal security protocol; those who curate data for us; the investigators who corroborate submitted material; or the managers and administrators who plan and bring projects to fruition?
Why don’t you list the allies and friends across the world who enjoy a close personal relationship with Julian and who are part of the same support community that you once were – the more than 150 people you spent time with at Julian’s private 40th birthday party, to which Julian was generous enough to invite even Alex Gibney?
Is it because they do not seek acclaim in the press and because they do not say negative things about Julian, and hence have zero currency in the news?
As to falling out with Alex Gibney, Julian never fell out with him – Gibney was never a friend in the first place so there was never any relationship to fall apart. Alex Gibney was just another one in a long list of people trying to cash in on Julian and WikiLeaks. You may remember me saying how utterly offensive I find it that there are all these people out there who are benefiting financially from Julian, while the organisation suffers a banking blockade and lawyers have eaten away all of his personal funds.
You asked me for a response to David Allen Green’s article on 20th August 2012 and I told you that it was being produced. I told you that your request for this response did not go directly to Julian as you thought it had, but instead that it came to me. My email to you after we met said: “I will get you a response to the DAG article and, as I said, blame me, not him, for the lack of response.” What you asked for was not as simple as you thought, which was that Julian could probably rattle off the legal sections and sub-sections by heart – the response was far more complicated than that.
I have attached it. It is 55,972 words long, which is roughly 70 per cent of the length of a doctoral thesis. Julian’s legal defence committee prioritised this and asked a person to look into the arguments in depth, in order to produce a compelling response due to the harm caused by David Allen Green’s misinformation. It was peer-reviewed and revised and took six months to produce for you – a time resource that does not come cheap to a defence committee that has to deal with simultaneous challenges, David Allen Green being just one. Something of this length and detail ought to have taken three years to produce.

I did not merely tell you that Julian was “very busy”. You know that. What I did say was that he was very busy and that we were a very small core team. Your email asking for a response to the David Allen Green piece was written the day after Julian made his first speech in public since he had entered the embassy, four days after he formally obtained asylum and only five days after the embassy was surrounded by more than 50 Metropolitan police who were preparing to force their way into the diplomatic mission to get him. On top of this, we were still publishing the Syria Files and we had just begun a new release, the Detainee Policies. I told you that since the establishment of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility none of the world’s media and none of the world’s NGOs had released a single Guantanamo Bay Manual, and we had just released our third. During all of this, we were also dealing with the vitriol coming from the UK establishment media while Julian was having his asylum claim evidence reviewed. He was (and still is) in fear of being extradited onwards to the United States, he had not been outside in more than two months, and he was overseeing the publication of hundreds of thousands of documents.
Over a lunch you questioned this fear of extradition to the US, and when I asked you what you would do in his position you refused to answer the question. I asked you more than six times what you would do in his shoes. Having offered to cooperate with the Swedish investigation non-stop for the past two years and been refused with no proper explanation, and believing that you would end up in an American prison for decades, in solitary confinement and under SAMs, what would you do? You never gave me a concrete answer. Instead, you skirted the question with another question and discounted the numerous legal opinions out there, favouring instead an article by David Allen Green. I reiterated that Julian had never said that it would be likely in practice that he would face the death penalty, although the Espionage Act permits this. But more to the point, and one that everyone always ignores, there was (and still is) the fear of being extradited to face life imprisonment and almost certainly torture or other inhumane and degrading treatment for his publishing activities.
I told you that the Swedish authorities could, if they wanted to, charge Julian in absentia. Even if they were to do that, they should, according to their own procedures, conduct an interview with him before requesting his extradition. I repeated that he remains available even in the embassy for questioning by the Swedish authorities should they wish to employ the standard procedures they use regularly in other cases.
I explained to you how the argument that “he is no more vulnerable to extradition to the US from Sweden than he is from the UK” is a red herring. I explained why the US had not already requested his extradition from the UK, because this would create a case of competing extradition requests that the Home Secretary would have to judicially review and prioritise one over the other, thereby creating political embarrassment for a major ally whichever way the decision went. I cited the US Ambassador’s own admission that the US would wait to see what happened with the Swedish case before they made a move. I was careful to explain this with Jennifer Robinson present to add a legal perspective if needed. However, in spite of this explanation, you allowed this claim not only to go into your article but also to remain in Gibney’s film – expressed in remarks made by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC that have been misleadingly edited to remove their proper context. She has since said that she “did not expect that he [Gibney] would fillet my interview” and also says “I regret thinking I could present a sensible perspective”.

Irrespective of my explanations and those of two lawyers whose counsel you seek yourself, you could have spoken to Julian in person. He did call you – more than once. You could have called back. You could have come to visit him to check on his well-being, as many others have done. On that note, you were never invited just for a “photo opportunity”. You were invited to the embassy by us in September but you heard that there was a paparazzi waiting outside the embassy. This is no great surprise following the biggest diplomatic incident in recent years. However, you knew about it beforehand and avoided it. Then I relayed a request from Vivienne Westwood’s team, asking you if you would model her “I am Julian Assange” t-shirt at her fashion show. The request came after you had already said you were unavailable even to attend her show. This was her idea and her request. She was trying to do something to help us and thought you would want to do the same. You were also invited to visit Julian shortly after he entered the embassy on 22nd June; for tea and cake on his birthday on 3rd July; for a sureties’ get-together in late July; for afternoon tea on 11th September and again on the 9th October; and for a breakfast meeting on the 21st December. All of which you declined. These are all times when you could have asked Julian in person about your issues. As you will recall from your discussion the last time you saw him, in December 2011, he enjoys debate and disagreement. How do you know that Julian had not seen the Gibney film by the time it premiered? We do not steal secrets but people leak things to us. Irrespective of the “ironic” meaning behind the title of the film you claim it has, it will not be understood by the general public with that meaning. What they will see is a straightforward conjunction of a quote, a proper noun and the word “story”, and they will read it as such. It is tantamount to someone doing a documentary about you and calling it “I am a War Apologist: The Jemima Khan Story” because they had interviewed someone completely unrelated to you and quoted them saying “I am a war apologist”.
It is one thing to publicly disagree with someone, or even to distance oneself in public from a former ally, but it is quite another to use one’s own publication to the further harm of a political refugee suffering the persecution of a superpower. I imagine you must have vetted the magazine cover, which claims that Julian is ‘alone’. Julian is not alone. That New Statesman front page was used to harm the entire WikiLeaks project out of disaffection. It was also an attempt to cast a shadow on all his allies. And yet you were the one who said: “he needs friends not enemies..”. Julian has both friends and enemies. He does not need or seek friends who only agree with him (in fact, I have not met one non-argumentative friend of his) but he certainly does not need friends who are in fact enemies.
From the point of view of defending a film in which you feature as “Executive Producer”, your actions are straightforward: your name is on the credits of a dated WikiLeaks documentary with a prejudicial title which features all the hostile people who haven’t had anything to do with WikiLeaks in years. You chose a production credit over principle and in doing so attacked a vulnerable political activist and fellow journalist, something which I know to be beneath you.

In disappointment,
Joseph Farrell
The WikiLeaks response David Allen Green’s New Statesman article is now on: http://justice4assange.com/extraditing-assange.html

Jemima Khan’s New Statesman article can be found here and John Pilger’s response to it is here. Alex Gibney’s response to John Pilger’s article can be found here, WikiLeaks response to it can be found in the article’s comments section and there is a correction of the facts of the article by John Pilger at the bottom.

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