In January 2011, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange chose Scottish novelist and non-fiction author Andrew O’Hagan to ‘ghostwrite’ his autobiography/manifesto.
The project failed spectacularly over the next five months.
O’Hagan, an Editor at Large of Esquire, has now written a 25,000-word lambasting in the London Review of Books, in which he describes the 42-year-old Australian as “thin-skinned, conspiratorial, untruthful, [and] narcissistic.”
O’Hagan, who is actually quite sympathetic to Assange, spent months around the publisher and his entourage.
The account, which seems genuine, is devastating to popular notions of Assange as a hero of transparency who has been persecuted by the governments that he holds into account.
Here are 10 of the most damning parts:
• “The man who put himself in charge of disclosing the world’s secrets simply couldn’t bear his own. The story of his life mortified him and sent him scurrying for excuses.”
• “His pride could engulf the room in flames. … I was often the only person over 35 near him, apart from himself, of course, and he didn’t see the problem. He didn’t see the cult-leader aspect.”
• “I felt quite sorry for Julian. … He had signed up to a project that his basic psychology would not allow. … he dressed his objections in rhetoric and principles, but the reality was much sadder, and much more alarming for him.”
• “Julian scorns all attempts at social graces. He eats like a pig. He marches through doors and leaves women in his wake. … I found his egotism at the dinner table to be a form of madness more striking than anything he said.”
• “He doesn’t understand other people in the slightest and it would be hard to think of a leader who so reliably got everyone wrong, mistaking people’s motivations, their needs, their values, their gifts, their loyalty, and thereby destroys their usefulness to him.”
• “He thought I was his creature and he forgot what a writer is, someone with a tendency to write things down and perhaps seek the truth and aim for transparency.”
• “It may turn out that Julian is not Daniel Ellsberg or John Wilkes, but Charles Foster Kane, abusive and monstrous in his pursuit of the truth that interests him, and a man who, it turns out, was motivated all the while not by high principles but by a deep sentimental wound.”
• “I’ve never been with anybody who made me feel so like an adult. And I say that as the father of a 10-year-old.”
• “Julian is an actor who believes all the lines in the play are there to feed his lines; that none of the other lives is substantial in itself. … and the extent of Julian’s lying convinced me that he is probably a little mad, sad and bad, for all the glory of WikiLeaks as a project.”
• “I knew the truth would hurt him because the truth, after all, was not his friend. It takes a bigger person than Julian to see what they did wrong, … and many of us … continued to flatter him with our tolerance.”
During O’Hagan’s last visits with Assange, they spoke about Edward Snowden. Assange had sent his personal assistant and girlfriend, Sarah Harrison, to advise the 30-year-old leaker sometime after he outed himself in Hong Kong on June 10.
Assange, who O’Hagan notes has chatted to Snowden, considers the NSA fugitive the 9th best hacker in the world (while he considers himself to be No.3).
Harrison accompanied Snowden on June 23 when he flew from Hong Kong to Moscow, where Snowden was promptly stranded. Harrison, who O’Hagan describes as “strung between loving [Assange] and being baffled,” stayed with Snowden for more than four months before going to Berlin.
Assange told Janet Reitman of Rolling Stone that he advised Snowden that the former CIA technician “would be physically safest in Russia.” And that’s where Snowden remains for the foreseeable future.
“Snowden was now the central hub and Julian was keen to help him and keen to be seen to be helping him,” O’Hagan writes. “It’s how the ego works and the ego always comes first.”
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