Thursday, 22 September 2011

Julian Assange hoist with his own petard

Julian Assange: now there's a man who doesn't like the taste of his own medicine:


I have learned today through an article in The Independent that my publisher, Canongate, has secretly distributed an unauthorised 70,000 word first draft of what was going to be my autobiography.


Shocking. But I was under the impression that Julian Assange was all in favour of unauthorised materials being secretly distributed. Isn't that what he has built his global celebrity on doing?

I own the copyright of the manuscript, which was written by Andrew O’Hagan. By publishing this draft against my wishes Canongate has acted in breach of contract, in breach of confidence, in breach of my creative rights and in breach of personal assurances... This book was meant to be about my life’s struggle for justice through access to knowledge. It has turned into something else. The events surrounding its unauthorised publication by Canongate are not about freedom of information — they are about old-fashioned opportunism and duplicity—screwing people over to make a buck.


Canongate's case is that Assange failed to deliver further installments of the manuscript as promised, or edit what had already been sent in to his satisfaction; and was unable to return the advance which has (predictably enough) all gone to pay his lawyers. But to be fair, if the extract in today's Independent is at all representative, it is at least partly about "screwing people". Two people in particular. According to Assange's - authorised? unauthorised? disauthorised? - account, the sexual encounters at the centre of the Swedish extradition proceedings that his is still fighting were acts of simple courtesy on his part:

I was supposed to be staying at the flat of a political worker called A——, who was away from her apartment. I went there, and after a few days she returned early. Ms A—— was a political spokesperson for the party and was involved in the arrangements to bring me over. I had no reason not to trust her, and no reason, when she pointed out that there was only one bed and would I be cool sleeping with her, to believe that this was naught but a friendly suggestion. I said yes, anyhow, and we went to bed together that night.


(I must say, in passing, that on this evidence Andrew O'Hagan's prose style is one of those, like Jeffrey Archer's, that depends for its excellence on repeated re-writes. The double-negative in the penultimate sentence is particularly excruciating.)

Assange suspects that he was set up in a honey-trap operation by a vengeful US government. He points to this peculiar experience as, in retrospect, perhaps significant and certainly rather sinister:

One evening... I went to dinner with a few friends and their associates. The Swedish journalist Donald Böstrom, a friend and very experienced news man of about 50 was there, along with another Swedish journalist and an American investigative journalist and his girlfriend. The American had possibly murky connections, but the girl was nice, and I was chatting her up with Donald frowning across from me. Donald later said I should watch what I was doing: he said the threat of a "honeytrap" was high at that moment, and I remember he went into detail about how Mossad had captured Vanunu. I guess I must have been up for affection, to put it coyly, because I didn't think very seriously about what Donald was saying.


Sorry. Let's read that again. Julian Assange was at a dinner party, and there was an American journalist there with his girlfriend, and he starts openly chatting up the girl, at which point his friend worries that it might be a honey-trap. Not just socially a bit naff. Was this a swingers' party or something?