Over the weekend, former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg was kicked out of Germany's legendary hacker organization the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) for allegedly exploiting their reputation for his own ends. Last week, during the CCC's annual summer camp in the eastern state of Brandenburg, he challenged hackers there to try and break into his new platform OpenLeaks to ensure its credibility.
Since falling out with controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2010, Domscheit-Berg has created OpenLeaks, a site which "aims at making whistleblowing safer and more widespread." In his new book "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World's Most Dangerous Website," Domscheit-Berg outlines his disagreements with Assange over transparency and politics. He aims to make his new site a neutral place of exchange between whistleblowers and media partners such as weekly Der Freitag and left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung, but the project has been delayed.
Ahead of the site's upcoming launch, Domscheit-Berg asked CCC hackers to test its security during the organization's four-day event last week. But CCC leadership rejected the notion and expelled him from the group.
The news late on Saturday evening came as a surprise, Domscheit-Berg told news agency DPA on Sunday, citing positive feedback to his project during the camp in Finowfurt. "I think it's too bad that this isn't being recognized," he said.
The real reason for the expulsion is his refusal to take part in mediation over WikiLeaks documents in his possession, he said. "But I can't do anything that could potentially create difficulties for a source," he added.
The CCC's spokesman, Andy Müller-Maguhn, who also works as a security consultant for a number of companies including SPIEGEL, has been acting as an intermediary between Domscheit-Berg and his estranged former colleague Assange. At stake are a number of confidential documents that Domscheit-Berg apparently took when he left WikiLeaks in 2010. The negotiations have not reflected well on Domscheit-Berg's character, Müller-Maguhn told SPIEGEL in an inverview.
SPIEGEL: Last week former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg announced the test start of his new project OpenLeaks. Have his conflicts with WikiLeaks been resolved?
Müller-Maguhn: Unfortunately not. The members of the CCC's board are not at all happy that Domscheit-Berg has aroused the impression that OpenLeaks will be tested by our people and thus earn what amounts to a CCC seal of approval. The CCC is not the TÜV (ed's note: a German safety certification organization). We won't allow ourselves to be co-opted like this. It was shameless.
SPIEGEL: Why so harsh? Domscheit-Berg is a member of your club. (Ed's note: This interview was conducted shortly before the CCC expelled Domscheit-Berg.)
Müller-Maguhn: The fact that he came to us from WikiLeaks played a large role in our receptiveness to him. That was his reputation. We were also sympathetic to his plan to build another platform. But now I doubt Domscheit-Berg's integrity. He is certainly quite flexible with facts.
SPIEGEL: How do you substantiate such serious accusations?
Müller-Maguhn: For 11 months, I have tried to intercede between Julian Assange and Daniel, because I know them both and I believe the idea of a whistleblowing platform is right. When Domscheit-Berg left WikiLeaks amid conflict there, he also took the archive and unpublished submissions with him. He said that he had no plans to use the material for himself or OpenLeaks. But now I have my doubts about that. I have put lots of patience and discussion into this. Still, flimsy excuses have led to unbelievabe delays in the handover of the archive. I can no longer believe in his willingness to hand over the unpublished material either.
SPIEGEL: Perhaps he can't surrender the material because he doesn't have it. Last week he told the weekly magazine Der Freitag: "I took no documents from WikiLeaks with me."
Müller-Maguhn: That is exactly the reason for me to suspend my mediation efforts. He told me last Thursday evening that he had to look at each document before handing them over. It doesn't match up. I have never personally seen the documents. But Assange told me that there are about 3,000 submissions, some of them with several hundred documents.
SPIEGEL: Domscheit-Berg argues that the confidential material isn't safe with WikiLeaks.
Müller-Maguhn: That's nonsense. I've visited Assange a number of times in England over the last 11 months. There I also saw more than 10 hard-working WikiLeaks employees from around the world. And Assange's mobility is limited by the electronic ankle monitor in any case.
SPIEGEL: Will Assange file a lawsuit against Domscheit-Berg?
Müller-Maguhn: For that to happen the material would have to be described in more detail. I don't believe he would do that, out of responsibility to the sources.
SPIEGEL: What does the mudslinging mean for future exposés?
Müller-Maguhn: Unfortunately I don't currently see a platform that can really simultaneously reconcile the responsibility to protect sources with transparency regarding its own structures. For me right now, OpenLeaks is nothing more than a cloud with promises of security.