Lifting the Lid on WikiLeaks: An Inside Look at Difficult Negotiations with Julian Assange

By and Holger Stark

The publication of the US diplomatic cables was a journalistic sensation for WikiLeaks and its media partners, including SPIEGEL. In an excerpt from a new book, Holger Stark and Marcel Rosenbach recount the tense negotiations with Julian Assange in the run-up to the publication of the diplomatic cables.

Photo Gallery: The WikiLeaks Odyssey Photos
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The joint publication of classified United States embassy cables in November 2010 in a number of major newspapers and magazines rocked the diplomatic world. In newly published books, editors at SPIEGEL and the New York Times have documented relationships between the founder of WikiLeaks and the publications that were at time tumultuous during preparations for the documents' release.

For some time now, Julian Assange has been sparring with New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller. Assange claims the paper didn't publish the material in its entirety and made too many concessions to the White House before going to print.

Now, Keller is fighting back. On Monday, the New York Times will publish a book with its full account of the publication of the WikiLeaks documents. In his preface, Keller describes the stormy relationship with WikiLeaks founder Assange, comparing the Australian to a character straight out of a Stieg Larsson thriller, "a man who could figure either as a hero or villain." Keller claims that the journalists who worked with Assange saw him as a "source," a man who "clearly had his own agenda," and was not a "partner or collaborator."

Keller goes on to describe Assange as being "elusive, manipulative and volatile." He also writes that Assange's relationship with the New York Times became "openly hostile," and, in the end, the Australian wanted to exclude the newspaper from publishing any further WikiLeaks documents in the future.

The truth, however, is that the New York Times and the Guardian had already decided that they would publish the diplomatic cables without WikiLeaks' permission. Assange threatened to sue and the situation culminated in dramatic meetings. SPIEGEL's co-editor in chief, Georg Mascolo, and SPIEGEL editors Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark represented the magazine in those crisis meetings.

In an excerpt from their new book, "Staatsfeind WikiLeaks" ("WikiLeaks, Public Enemy No. 1"), Stark and Rosenbach describe their encounters with Assange.

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Interactive Atlas

A time lapse of 251,287 documents: The world map shows where the majority of the cables originated from, and where they had the highest level of classification. View the atlas ...


Reaction from the US Government
In a statement, the White House has condemned the publication of "private diplomatic discussions" with foreign governments by SPIEGEL and four other international media on Sunday. Click on the link below to read the statement in full.
White House Statement
We anticipate the release of what are claimed to be several hundred thousand classified State Department cables on Sunday night that detail private diplomatic discussions with foreign governments.

By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions. Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world.

To be clear -- such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government. These documents also may include named individuals who in many cases live and work under oppressive regimes and who are trying to create more open and free societies. President Obama supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal.

By releasing stolen and classified documents, Wikileaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals. We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.

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