WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has a history of falling out with his confederates. He has turned on the newspapers who helped him leak U.S. government documents to the world, accusing them of ingratitude and cowardice. The colleagues with whom he started WikiLeaks, meanwhile, have soured on him and launched their own competing clearinghouse for state secrets called OpenLeaks.
Now the publishing house that cut a deal with Assange last winter for an autobiography has released the book over Assange's objections, leaving the world's leaker-in-chief to object to the public disclosure of personal data that he would apparently prefer to keep private.
Canongate books published "Julian Assange: The Unauthorized Autobiography" in the U.K. on Thursday. In a column published in the Guardian newspaper, Canongate exec Nick Davies explained that the company published the book despite Assange's opposition because of the quality and importance of the material, and because Canongate needed the money.
For a reported advance of $1 million, Canongate made a deal with Assange for a memoir at the end of 2010, as he fought extradition to Sweden from the comfort of a mansion in the English countryside. A ghost writer interviewed Assange for 50 hours, and then prepared a draft by late March.
"We read it and loved it," wrote Davies. "Julian didn't. . . . It was an extraordinary reaction to a manuscript he should have been grateful for and immensely proud of."
According to Davies, Assange then took six weeks to edit and rewrite the draft himself, but failed to deliver any copy. He tried to cancel the contract, but couldn't repay the advance, having already used it to pay legal bills. Canongate was left without money or an approved manuscript, and elected to print the original draft.
"As for that much commented-upon subtitle, 'The Unauthorized Autobiography,' it is definitely a publishing first," wrote Davies. "And given we're talking about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks there is, of course, a sweet irony to it too."
Assange has fired back at Canongate by accusing the publisher of "opportunism and duplicity," telling the Associated Press that Assange had acted "in breach of contract, in breach of confidence."
Canongate had also made 38 subsidiary deals with publishers around the globe to republish the autobiography. In the United States, Alfred Knopf has decided against issuing the American version of the book.
"We have cancelled our contract for Julian Assange's memoir," said Paul Boogards, publicity director for Knopf. "The author did not complete his work on the manuscript or deliver a book to us in accordance with our agreement. We will not be moving forward with our publication."
In the book, Assange repeats his claims about yet another "misunderstanding" with former friends. Two Swedish women have accused him of sexual assault, and British authorities have ordered him extradited to Sweden to face charges.
According to British police documents, one of the accusers claims Assange pulled her clothes off, pinioned her arms and legs and refused to use a condom. She told a friend that the act was both violent and the worst sex she'd ever had. A British attorney representing Swedish prosecutors told the court earlier this year that Assange had raped the second woman while she was sleeping.
Assange says that the sex was consensual. "I may be a chauvinist pig of some sort," the book quotes him as saying, "but I am no rapist." Assange says that he was warned by an intelligence source that the U.S. government wanted to discredit him with bogus drug or sex charges. He also says the charges may be the result of a "terrible misunderstanding that was stoked up" by his accusers.
Though British authorities have ordered that Assange be extradited to Sweden, he has appealed the order, and the court has not yet ruled on his appeal.
WikiLeaks was founded in 2006, and began releasing confidential and sensational information, including battle footage, Scientology manuals, government documents and Sarah Palin's private emails. In early 2010, it released a video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter strike that killed Iraqi civilians and two Reuters employees. In late 2010, it began releasing 250,000classified U.S. State Department cables.