Paranoid egoists do everything they can to control the people in their inner circle. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's tactic is to cajole associates into a blackmail-friendly, $20 million nondisclosure agreement.
The Wikileaks' absurdly harsh "confidentiality agreement," (PDF) reads like something image-obsessed Oprah would make her underlings sign. It asserts that all material leaked to Wikileaks is "solely the property of Wikileaks" and prevents signatories from discussing "all newsworthy information relating to the workings of Wikileaks"—even the existence of the confidentiality agreement itself must be kept confidential. The agreement imposes a $20 million (£12 million) penalty if the contract is breached.
The document was leaked to the New Statesman by former Wikileaks volunteer James Ball. Writing in the Guardian, Ball describes a January meeting of a handful of young Wikileaks volunteers in England, during which Assange tried to make them all sign the document.
But in Ball's case, the agreement not only imposed absurd terms for the future, it was backdated by seven months—months during which Ball had given "dozens" of interviews about Wikileaks. "Could this document now be used retrospectively to mount a legal challenge should ever so wish?" he writes. "It could."
So, Ball didn't sign the document and describes the following classic Julian Assange freakout:
I refused to sign, and listed several reasons why. At this point, more than one person in the room asked for their copy of the agreement back. This was refused.
Julian then proceeded to spend two hours — shouting — explaining why I must sign the document, or else risk the lives and wellbeing of everyone in the room, and never be trusted again. Eventually, he departed.
The rest of the day, and long into the night, was spent with other WikiLeakers begging, reasoning, or cajoling me into signing the document. I later learned Julian had specifically requested they use every possible effort to "apply psychological pressure" until I signed.
Today's lesson for idealistic youngsters: If a silver-haired champion of transparency (who happens to be a bit creepy, sex-wise) tries to gag you with a $20 million confidentiality agreement, don't sign anything. As for the unfortunates who have signed their souls away, take heart: The agreement only lasts until 2020. Can't wait for the tell-alls.
[Image via AP]