Here’s a timely book.
I received my copy of this book on Friday – 4th February. The introduction, penned by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, is dated 1st February! I know publishing speeds have moved on quite a lot, but it’s still pretty remarkable.
The Guardian was serialising parts of this book last week. Whoever is behind the Wikileaks Twitter account, is seemingly unimpressed. A tweet from 2 Feb reads “The Guardian book serialization contains malicious libels. We will be taking action.” I can but defer to David Allen Green over at the New Statesman.
And as I type, Julian Assange is in court as Sweden tries to extradite him in a hearing expected to last two days.
But what about the book? It essentially details the inside track on the background to Wikileaks as an organisation, and Julian Assange in particular. It then tells in more detail the story of how The Guardian, and other publications inluding Der Spiegal and the New York Times made, sometimes fractious, agreements with Assange to release various US classified information into the public domain.
It started with Afghan and Iraq war logs, and of course has culminated in the release of those diplomatic cables.
This book is authored by David Leigh and Luke Harding, both of whom were involved closely in The Guardian’s dealings with Wikileaks and Assange – the former in particular. So the only odd thing is that sometimes the authors themselves are referred to in the third person, although it’s perhaps more usual in co-authored titles.
What emerges from the book is a fascinating look at the way Assange operates and looks at how hard it can sometimes be to even track him down, let alone make agreements with him. The sexual allegations from Sweden are also detailed, and although the same information has been published in the paper, you do tend to come away with slightly less conspiracy-theory thoughts about Assange’s situation.
Bradley Manning, the US serviceman who is believed to have leaked the documents in the first place, is also gone into. I find it interesting how little coverage there has been about Manning, who’s essentially in solitary confinement and isn’t even allowed to do press-ups in his cell. And this man has dual British/American nationality.
I suppose that the timing of this book could be a little curious in that the Assange story isn’t over yet, although the bulk of the Wikileaks cable haul has now appeared (albeit through the Daily Telegraph latterly, since Assange has completely fallen out with The Guardian). As I say, his extradition procedings are taking place right now.
In terms of comparison, I can only really compare this with Richard Harris’ classic look at the Sunday Times publication of fake Hitler diaries: Selling Hitler.
I suspect that updates to this will be required in due course, but in the meantime, it’s well worth a read.
I’m not going to try to keep this review up to date with current events, but two things have happened since I wrote this at lunchtime today.
1. First David Leigh, one of the book’s co-authors, has reported on Twitter that The Guardian or the authors will not be sued.
2. Luke Harding, the book’s other co-author, and The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent, has been deported from Russia, in what is believed to be the first deportation of a journalist since the cold war.
The former is obviously good news, since it was would surely be extremely hypocritical.
The latter is terrible news, and seems to be directly aimed at Harding following his reporting of the Wikileaks cables that talk about Russia.
Russia is sounding like a really fun country to go to for the 2018 World Cup…