Dec. 15, 2010 — -- A mutiny within WikiLeaks has former associates of leaker-in-chief Julian Assange charging that he's turned the web site into a cult of personality, and asking what has happened to the money.
In interviews to be broadcast tonight on World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline, Assange's ex-colleagues talk about what prompted their falling out with the WikiLeaks founder, and their plans for a new, rival web site to be called OpenLeaks.
Known as Daniel Schmitt when he made public appearances with Assange last year, German "hacktivist" Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a member of the core group that launched WikiLeaks, has reverted to his real name since he defected this September.
He began working with Assange in 2007, when the Australian was little known outside the world of hackers.
The release of previously secret Pentagon tapes and state department cables put WikiLeaks on the map. Assange is now well-known enouigh to be a candidate for Time Person of the Year and the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit.
"He certainly is different today from the way that I met him," Domscheit-Berg told ABC News. "It's either his way or the highway, so he can command everyone like in the military. We are not people like that."
Ironically, his former colleague says Assange became enraged over leaks about him he thought were coming from inside WikiLeaks.
"Was this you?" Assange wrote during an on-line chat with Domscheit-Berg just before their split."I didn't speak to Newsweek or other media," he responded.
"I am investigating a serious security breach," Assange replied. "Are you refusing to answer?"
"He's not the best person to deal with criticism, I would say," said Domscheit-Berg.
The exchange ended with Domscheit-Berg writing, "You behave like some kind of emperor or slave trader."Assange answered, "You are suspended for one month immediately."
Assange Will 'Love A Show Trial'
Others who have split with him say Assange's ego is out of control.
"His specific words were, 'I am the heart and soul of this organization,' " recalled Herbert Snorrason, an Icelandic University student who was part of the group's security team. " 'If you have a problem with me, you can piss off.' "
The most serious issue, say former Assange associates, is the secrecy surrounding the group's money, where it comes from and where it goes.
"I'd like to know myself what has been happening behind the curtains," said Domscheit-Berg. Another of WikiLeaks' early leaders said Assange's goal from the beginning was to make a lot of money and seek personal fame.
"No question," said John Young. "All the signs are there. It's a well-known aspect of underground hacking. Much money to be made here."
The WikiLeaks was first registered to Young, a New Yorker who has his own web site, Cryptome.org, that has published government secrets from around the world, including the names of British and Japanese spies.
Young said Assange had always hoped to be put behind bars, as a way to further establish his fame, like a marketing tool.
Said Young, "He was trained as an actor and he has a wonderful speaking voice. He works on his appearance, he works on his slow speaking thing. He loves to provoke people, he loves to make dramatic statements. He loves to be thrown in jail. He'll love to have a show trial."
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"He's already issued his first letters from prison, and letters from prison is money in the bank," said Young. "They tried for three years to get attention and couldn't get much traction. Now they've got it, they're not going to let go."
Money Raised For Bradley Manning's Defense
But former WikiLeaks members said the person being lost in all this is Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of providing secret U.S. documents to WikiLeaks.
Assange's critics want to know what happened to the $50,000 that was supposed to go to Pfc. Manning's defense fund.
A defense attorney has offered to defend Manning for a flat fee of $100,000. According to Manning supporters, WikiLeaks said it would supply half the total. Last week, a WikiLeaks spokesman said there had been a misunderstanding and that WikiLeaks would be providing $20,000. As of Saturday, a spokesperson for the Manning defense fund said it had not received any funds from WikiLeaks, but said that the Wau Holland Foundation, an organization that handles financial transactions for WikiLeaks, had said a check for $20,000 would be coming shortly.
Domscheit-Berg said he and others pressed for the money to be transferred "for quite a while," but that Assange would not comment on why it had not been transferred, other than to say "it was all taken care of.""That, to me," said Domscheit-Berg, "says that it's time to leave this organization."
Said Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of Iceland's parliament, "It was irresponsible in a sense for WikiLeaks to call the people to donate money for the Bradley defense. And not deliver."
Birgitta Jonsdottir was one of the early backers of WikiLeaks, and introduced a bill that would make Iceland a safe haven for whistleblowers.
She told ABC News that after working closely with Assange, she had become deeply disillusioned.
"Very many people have forgotten the fact that Bradley Manning has been sitting in jail for 200 days," said Jonsdottir. "And his defense fund is struggling to get together the money to pay for his lawyers."
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At the same time, WikiLeaks is providing the money for Assange's defense fund.
He is facing charges of rape in Sweden, a case that he says is meant to silence both him and WikiLeaks.Jonsdottir said one has nothing to do with the other.
"And I don't think that is, is justifiable," And this is why I did suggest that he must step down."
Launch of OpenLeaks
Instead she and the others have quit WikiLeaks and are now working to set up their own, rival web site to be called OpenLeaks.
They plan to have OpenLeaks up and running later this week. It will focus, they said, more on disclosing corruption and secrets , less on making anyone famous.
Domscheit-Berg said he believed it was dangerous for an organization like WikiLeaks to become too popular, because it encouraged adulation from "fan boys," who don't think critically or ask hard question.
He and the others would prefer that OpenLeaks not publish information itself, but act as a go-between, providing information to other organizations, which can then bring their own expertise to bear and decide what to publish.
"You see, this whole topic is way too complex for one organization to handle all of the responsibilities," said Domscheit-Berg, "all of the accountability that comes with these decisions."
"I don't have all the experience needed to take all of these decisions myself," he said. "No one has that. ""That's why it's better to have more than just one media corporation that is telling you the truth."
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Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesman for WikiLeaks. told ABC News that there had been a delay and he was no longer sure how much of the $50,000 that WikiLeaks would be able to send to Manning's defense fund. He also said the former WikiLeaks members who are launching OpenLeaks are people with an agenda, and that their description of Julian Assange is not accurate.
But Hrafnsson also applauded the idea of a new leak web sites. "I think it's an excellent idea and I wish them well. I think the more, the better."