Hazel Press

Ghosting WikiLeaks. Part 5

March 10, 2014

Total surveillance

In 2010, shortly after the release of the Afghan war logs, John Pilger interviewed Assange for his documentary 'The War You Don't See':

John Pilger: You are making some serious enemies, not least of all, a government engaged in two rapacious wars. How do you deal with what must be a sense of that danger?


Julian Assange: We just understand what the risks are, and having understood them - we are able to navigate a path through them. […] There are serious statements coming out of the U.S. administration, under the surface, that imply that they would not follow the rule of law and that is a serious matter.


John Pilger: There is a certain record there..


Julian Assange: And there were senior figures like Sy Hersh [a famous U.S. national security reporter] giving me warnings. We listened to those warnings and took appropriate security precautions.

WikiLeaks' journalism was always going to incur, in one form or another, the traditional cost.


In December 2007, WikiLeaks released a classified U.S report into the Fallujah assault and information war. When al-Jazeera reported on Fallujah in April 2004, it is likely that the U.S. government contemplated a replay of their actions “a year earlier, [when] a US plane had fired a missile into the al-Jazeera offices in Baghdad. The same happened in Kabul in 2001.” By the time WikiLeaks published the Iraq war logs, the likelihood of safely navigating through whatever risks were incoming was lost amidst the swirl of events and probabilities.


O’Hagan ends his work by distorting the relationship between Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks, and belittling the actions of Sarah Harrison. He frames his attack as “a fair reading of the situation” that is “without prejudice”:

Chris Hedges (28 February 2014), on Assange's circumstances and how WikiLeaks prioritised Snowden's safety over the organisation's publishing interests:

Assange, like an ageing movie star, was a little put out by the global superstardom of Snowden. He has always cared too much about the fame and too much about the credit. Snowden was now the central hub and Julian was keen to help him and keen to be seen to be helping him. It’s how the ego works and the ego always comes first. It was odd the way [Assange] spoke about Snowden, almost jealously […]


As we spoke, Sarah was in Moscow Airport, where Snowden was being held without a passport. ‘I sent Sarah over,’ said Julian in his favourite mode. All he needed at that point was a white cat to stroke.

Assange is now under near total surveillance. It’s kind of an open secret - I think it’s even in The Guardian’s book that Snowden originally wanted to go to Julian with the NSA documents, but the surveillance that Julian is under could have jeopardised the whole operation of publishing them.

Glen Greenwald (December 2013), on the value of WikiLeaks' assistance to Snowden:

Statement of the heroic Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks, who arrived in Berlin after 4 months in Russia assisting Snowden.


Profile on how WikiLeaks' Sarah Harrison helped keep Snowden out of US custody.

Edward Snowden (7 March 2014), has also spoken about the importance of WikiLeaks' assistance:

I was also accompanied at all times by an utterly fearless journalist [WikiLeaks' Sarah Harrison] with one of the biggest megaphones in the world, which is the equivalent of Kryptonite for spies. As a consequence, we spent the next 40 days trapped in an airport instead of sleeping on piles of money while waiting for the next parade. But we walked out with heads held high.

The cost for Harrison has, and will continue to be, high. Under a threat not dissimilar to the one encountered by Assange, she may never be able to set foot in England again. Harrison left for Hong Kong fully aware that she faced risks that most people run from, but she went anyway.


O’Hagan's account strips Harrison of her bravery and her agency. The entire Snowden saga has been fashioned into a male adolescence for the front row. Every segment and detail of his article follows this pattern. It is as though he has accepted the role of a pulp mill, turning history and content into a 'must read' emptiness.


This approach to WikiLeaks might be the height of fashion in UK media circles. And it might have advanced O’Hagan's career by titillating and comforting the political class. But it is also an abandonment, made in service of nothing.