The Inner Workings Of WikiLeaks

NPR's Guy Raz talks to Raffi Khatchadourian of the New Yorker about the inner workings of WikiLeaks as an organization. Khatchadourian published an in-depth profile of WikiLeaks for the New Yorker earlier this year.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Julian Assange has been described as a megalomaniac by some, a visionary by others and even a terrorist. One thing about the WikiLeaks founder is clear, though. He is in charge and in almost complete control over the organization -and a complex one at that.

New Yorker reporter Raffi Khatchadourian sent a couple weeks with Assange and wrote a profile for the magazine earlier this year. He joins me now. Raffi, can you, first of all, explain how WikiLeaks operates?

Mr. RAFFI KHATCHADOURIAN (Reporter, New Yorker): WikiLeaks is a highly fluid and decentralized organization in some respects. Basically, Julian brings together teams to work on various projects. And a trusted circle of people gather together to work on these various projects. When I was with WikiLeaks, there were perhaps a core group of about, let's say, three people or four people who devoted their energies to WikiLeaks on a full-time basis.

There's a slightly wider circle of people who, I would say, were highly active volunteers and then a much broader circle, let's say, in the hundreds who come in and out at various times to provide assistance.

RAZ: Where do they operate from? I mean, can you sort of say WikiLeaks has a geographical home base or is it just everywhere?

Mr. KHATCHADOURIAN: I don't think you can. And I think that that's by design. The idea is...

RAZ: I mean, he's sometimes in Sweden. He's sometimes in the U.K. He's sometimes in Iceland. Is that right?

Mr. KHATCHADOURIAN: Yeah, that's definitely right. Julian moves around quite a bit. He doesn't really have a designated home base, both because that's part of who he is and how he feels comfortable, at least at this point in his life. But, also, it helps maintain the fluidity and sort of international reach of WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks gains by being decentralized in that way and not wedded to any particular location where there would be a very circumscribed jurisdiction that could basically impose some leverage on the organization to cause it to act in one way or the other.

RAZ: You spent weeks with Assange. He comes across as a somewhat prickly and defensive person in interviews. What did you make of him?

Mr. KHATCHADOURIAN: I think that Julian is a highly intelligent person and he's a complicated person. He has a combative nature and that's come across in a number of interviews and the way he's carried himself. But he's also a very adaptable person. Clearly he's had to adapt to a number of very difficult circumstances that have been imposed on WikiLeaks or, one could look at it the other way, that WikiLeaks has kind of placed itself in.

But I do see WikiLeaks evolving. And I think that that is partly because he does have an overarching sense of mission and a kind of underlying pragmatism. He does want to accomplish certain things and does recognize that in order to do that, WikiLeaks has to evolve in some ways.

RAZ: What is it that he wants to accomplish? I mean, what is his agenda?

Mr. KHATCHADOURIAN: Well, Julian's political beliefs aren't necessarily easily categorized as left or right. One insight that became clear to me is that, you know, kind of the defining human struggle for him is between individual and institution. And a phrase that he used often when I was in his company was that patronage networks within institutions, within large sort of social structures had this kind of corrupting influence on human behavior.

I think for Julian, injustice and conspiracy are two things that are often also tied very closely together. And the way in which I think he sees the role that WikiLeaks can play is that by making conspiracies difficult to function, you can minimize the amount of injustice there is in the world.

RAZ: There is much speculation, Raffi, as you know, now about the next major leak. And this one will likely be internal documents from a major U.S. bank, and no one knows which one, but I guess it's worth noting that Bank of America's stock went down after this information came out. I mean, is WikiLeaks just going to get more and more powerful as, you know, as we go forward?

Mr. KHATCHADOURIAN: Conceivably. I mean, it all depends on how WikiLeaks continues to evolve. It also depends upon how people who are leaking stuff to WikiLeaks ultimately regard it as an organization that they can trust. People don't have faith in the way Julian is running the organization or feel that WikiLeaks itself is insecure, we'll see fewer leaks of that kind going in that direction.

Some people from WikiLeaks have left the organization and said that they will start a spin-off group. Whether or not WikiLeaks continues to be successful in pulling off these large mega-leaks or whether or not it's shut down, I don't think that will mean that the end of the WikiLeaks phenomenon is something that we can expect.

RAZ: That's Raffi Khatchadourian. He's a staff writer with the New Yorker who profiled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Raffi, thank you so much.

Mr. KHATCHADOURIAN: Thank you.

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