By Kevin Meyer
WikiLeaks has been in the news quite a bit recently thanks to the release of some 70,000+ confidential Iraq War documents. I won't get into the politics of the issue – the fringe on the left believes everything should be public knowledge, the fringe on the right believes nothing should, and sane pragmatic people believe there's a healthy balance somewhere in the middle.
The organization has been planning to release another batch of documents which is causing some consternation as the previous batch contained the names of some civilian informants that placed them in potential danger. As Wired reports, the concern extends to inside the WikiLeaks organization.
A domino chain of resignations at the secret-spilling site WikiLeaks followed a unilateral decision by autocratic founder Julian Assange to schedule an October release of 392,000 classified U.S. documents from the war in Iraq, according to former WikiLeaks staffers.
Key members of WikiLeaks were angered to learn last month that Assange had secretly provided media outlets with embargoed access to the vast database, under an arrangement similar to the one WikiLeaks made with three newspapers that released documents from the Afghanistan war in July. WikiLeaks is set to release the Iraq trove on Oct. 18, according to ex-staffers — far too early, in the view of some of them, to properly redact the names of U.S. collaborators and informants in Iraq.
At least half a dozen WikiLeaks staffers have tendered their resignations in recent weeks, the most prominent of them being Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who, under the name Daniel Schmitt, served as WikiLeaks’ German spokesman.
But what really becomes fascinating are the details of a chat between Assange and Domscheit-Berg, which provides us a couple lessons on leadership.
A purported transcript of the chat provided to Wired.com by a WikiLeaks insider shows the conversation grew heated.
“You are not anyone’s king or god,” wrote Domscheit-Berg in the chat. “And you’re not even fulfilling your role as a leader right now. A leader communicates and cultivates trust in himself. You are doing the exact opposite. You behave like some kind of emperor or slave trader.”
“You are suspended for one month, effective immediately,” Assange shot back. “If you wish to appeal, you will be heard on Tuesday.”
Domscheit-Berg did not provide the transcript to Wired.com, but confirmed the substance of the chat in an interview with Wired.com. The promised “appeal” was never heard, and Domscheit-Berg’s suspension was followed by his resignation last Saturday.
“Julian is a really brilliant person and he has a lot of very, very special talents,” Domscheit-Berg says. “We’ve always [thrived by] a diversity of qualities that different people bring in…. That works as long as you’re working in a team. But whenever you lose that spirit, then one of the qualities just becomes too dominant in some ways — such as taking solitary decisions and thinking that you’re in a position to do that.”
Domscheit-Berg announced his resignation in an interview with Der Spiegel. By then, a key WikiLeaks programmer had resigned as well, sources say. The coder was responsible for building the software tool WikiLeaks’ volunteers were using to perform a painstaking, line-by-line harm-minimization review of the Iraq logs.
Then Snorrason, the Icelandic university student, resigned after he challenged Assange on his decision to suspend Domscheit-Berg and was bluntly rebuked.
“I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest,” Assange wrote Snorrason. “If you have a problem with me, piss off.”
“I believe that Julian has in fact pushed the capable people away,” Snorrason said in an interview with Wired.com. “His behavior is not of the sort that will keep independent-minded people interested.”
Wow. As Domscheit-Berg says, "… a leader communicates and cultivates trust in himself." True, as well as someone that thrives on diverse talents and perspectives. The opposite? Someone that rebukes challenge and acts with ego.
One of the core attributes of effective leadership is a passionate humility. Passion is common, unfortunately humility is rare. Passion without humility can be outright destructive – both to the organization and to the mission.