May 12, 2011 / 10:25 PM / 9 years ago

Ex-WikiLeaks spokesman attacks Assange "gag" orders

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former WikiLeaks spokesman has condemned Julian Assange for demanding workers for the website sign “confidentiality agreements” threatening penalties of up to 12 million pounds.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a German activist who served until last year as one of WikiLeaks’ two main spokesmen, told Reuters the website, which presents itself as a paragon of disclosure and transparency, is behaving too much like the governments and businesses it purports to expose.

“WikiLeaks has become what it despises: a repressive organisation, using restrictive contracts to gag its staffers, cultivating intransparency and unaccountability,” Domscheit-Berg said in an e-mail.

Domscheit-Berg, who was once one of Assange’s closest associates but later split from him and wrote an unflattering tell-all book, said he felt “sorry ... for all those new staffers that had no idea what they were getting into.” He also said he regretted that he had helped set up WikiLeaks.

Domscheit-Berg was responding to revelations that Assange, editor-in-chief of the anti-secrecy website, had demanded that would-be WikiLeaks staffers and volunteers sign a three-page non-disclosure agreement under which they would agree not to pass on any information about WikiLeaks without authorization.

Assange did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages from Reuters requesting comment. One of his London lawyers, Mark Stephens, said he had no reason to question the authenticity of the non-disclosure document, posted on the website of Britain’s New Statesman magazine.

Stephens said he did not draft or approve the document and could not comment on its contents.

The document posted earlier this week by New Statesman says a “genuine and reasonable pre-estimate” of losses which WikiLeaks would incur if the agreement were breached “is in the region of” 12 million pounds sterling.

ASSANGE SAYS LIVES AT RISK

In an article posted Thursday on the website of London newspaper The Guardian, James Ball, a former WikiLeaks aide, said Assange presented him and other workers with copies of the document during a meeting at the English mansion where Assange has resided since being released on bail by a British judge.

Assange faces a Swedish request for his extradition in a case of alleged sexual misconduct.

After he refused to sign, Ball wrote, Assange “proceeded to spend two hours — shouting — explaining why I must sign the document, or else risk the lives and well-being of everyone in the room and never be trusted again.”

Ball, who later joined the Guardian, said other WikiLeaks staffers pressured him to sign the document. But he says he never did so before abandoning the group.

In the months since his personal behaviour and website came under increasingly harsh public scrutiny, Assange has periodically threatened to sue various critics and enemies.

Those who say they’ve been targets of his legal threats include The Guardian, with whom Assange once closely collaborated, and Domscheit-Berg. Both parties said they had not been sued by Assange.

In Washington, the Senate Intelligence Committee last month approved a bill whose provisions include a requirement, sparked by WikiLeaks’ acquisition of classified U.S. data, that by October 2012, U.S. spy agencies establish a basic system for automatically detecting possible attempts by government insiders to get unauthorized access to classified information.

The bill orders that the detection system should be fully operational by October 2013.

However, the White House Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday sent Congress a statement calling the timeline in the Senate bill, which has yet to become law, “unrealistic.”

The White House asked that the bill be amended to give the Director of National Intelligence “flexibility” in completing installation of the leak-detection mechanism.

Editing by Warren Strobel and Todd Eastham

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