Reading about WikiLeaks

Looking again at Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy (David Leigh and Luke Harding, Guardian Books, 2011) in the context of the Snowden affair, which it predates, it’s possible to see some places in the book where more information might have been useful. While the sections on the Afghanistan and Iraq cables are fully worked out, with many fascinating details, the passages that deal with Russia and Eastern Europe are sketchy, to say the least.

Although the flow of descriptive and biographical material is generally strong and animated, at one curious point in the narrative there is what feels like a sudden hiatus, a tug of uncertainty. We read first about “Adam”, to whom Assange handed over batches of cables:

“He seemed like a harmless old man,” said one staffer, “apart from his standing too close and peering at what was written on your screen.” He was introduced as the father of Assange’s Swedish crony, the journalist Johannes Wahlstrom, and took away copies of cables from Russia and post-Soviet states. According to one insider, he also demanded copies of cables about “the Jews”.

This was the WikiLeaks “associate”, Israel Shamir, who in the wake of events in Sweden said that Assange had been framed by “Langley spies” and “crazy feminists”. Some details about Shamir are given, including a very brief biographical profile, and his activities in Belarus are noted. But then we are told that “Assange himself subsequently maintained that he had only a ‘brief interaction’ with Shamir.” And with that, Shamir drops out of the Guardian Books narrative altogether.

This seems a pity, as some further investigation of this enigmatic figure might have proved more interesting than the rather bland few pages devoted to the Russia cables and the characterization of the “mafia state” (the title of another book by Harding).

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