Julian Assange threatened to sue The Guardian unless the paper ceased its plans to published the State Department cables the WikiLeaks chief had given it, a Vanity Fair piece released Thursday reveals.
The article, written by Sarah Ellison, details, the tense, volatile relationship between Assange and various media organizations after he decided to collaborate with them to publish WikiLeaks material. But the piece devotes most of its time to the Guardian, which had the idea for the partnership and maintained the most direct contact with Assange.
The threat of a suit came after a series of negotiations over the publication of the Iraq and Afghan war logs during the summer and fall, Ellison writes. Assange demanded a delay of the release of the Afghan war logs so that another media partner could also look at them. The Guardian's chief investigations editor, David Leigh, made a demand as part of his negotiations:
Leigh said he could arrange for a six-week delay--but only if Assange gave him the third batch of documents, the so-called "package three," [the State Department cables], potentially the most tantalizing of them all. According to Leigh, Assange said, "You can have package three tonight, but you have to give me a letter signed by the Guardian editor saying you won't publish package three until I say so." Assange got his letter.
However, the Guardian caught what it felt was a big break: unbeknownst to Assange, a former WikiLeaks volunteer had leaked the State Department cables to British freedom of information activist and journalist Heather Brooke, who had been instrumental in exposing the scandal over politician's expense accounts that rocked Britain in 2009. Leigh convinced Brooke to work with the Guardian, and the paper considered itself released from its pledge not to publish until Assange's say-so.
When Assange discovered that the Guardian had obtained the documents, had passed them on to other media outlets, including the New York Times, and was poised to publish them, he raced into the paper's headquarters and made his threat of a suit:
Assange was pallid and sweaty, his thin frame racked by a cough that had been plaguing him for weeks. He was also angry, and his message was simple: he would sue the newspaper if it went ahead and published stories based on the quarter of a million documents that he had handed over to The Guardian just three months earlier...He had become the victim of his own methods: someone at WikiLeaks, where there was no shortage of disgruntled volunteers, had leaked the last big segment of the documents...enraged that he had lost control, Assange unleashed his threat, arguing that he owned the information and had a financial interest in how and when it was released.
Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian's editor, managed to convince Assange to back off, though he had to agree to another delay in the cables' publication.
To read the full article, which details all of the twists and turns in the media collaboration with Assange, click here.