Julian Assange’s ghost writer has broken his silence to describe the WikiLeaks founder as a “mad, sad and bad” narcissist.
Andrew O’Hagan was contracted to ghost write a memoir but the deal eventually collapsed because Assange, despite all his promises, was “mortified” by the idea of revealing his own secrets.
The deal had sold to 40 countries and was worth $2.5 million before is fell through acrimoniously with Assange publicly attacking his publisher.
A 26,000-word account by O’Hagan has now been published online by the London Review of Books in which he details the WikiLeaks founder’s inconsistencies and character flaws.
O’Hagan described Assange as a vain man who, for all his idealism “is an actor who believes all the lines in the play are there to feed his lines; that none of the other lives is substantial in itself”.
He wrote: “He sees every idea as a mere spark from a fire in his own mind. That way madness lies, of course, and the extent of Julian’s lying convinced me that he is probably a little mad, sad and bad, for all the glory of WikiLeaks as a project.
“The impulse towards free speech…is only permissible if it adheres to his message. His pursuit of governments and corporations was a ghostly reverse of his own fears for himself. That was the big secret with him: he wanted to cover up everything about himself except his fame.”
Assange was characterised as a flawed personality who in many ways was an enemy to himself because of his capacity to alienate his friends and supporters, and seemed overly concerned with portraying himself as a hero.
“Julian treated his supporters as subjects, and learned nothing when they walked away,” he wrote. “He hardly mentioned the right-wing press that called him a criminal and a traitor: he expended all his ire on the journalists who had tried to work with him and who had basic sympathy for his political position.
“He had a strange, on-the-spectrum inability to see when he was becoming boring or demanding. He talked as if the world needed him to talk and never to stop. Oddly for a dissident, he had no questions.”
O’Hagan, who said he has many hours of tapes to substantiate his account, said that when Jemima Khan broke with Assange after he breached bail terms by seeking sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy, he responded with rudeness.
“It takes a bigger person than Julian to see what they did wrong, and many of us, including several of those who stood bail for him, hung back and continued to flatter him with our tolerance,” wrote O’Hagan.
“When Jemima Khan publicly broke with him, he didn’t pause to ask why a loyal supporter might become aggrieved; when I raised it with him he simply made a horribly sexist remark.”
Assange initially collaborated with The Guardian and The New York Times to get WikiLeaks documents into the open but he fell out with them and felt as if they had betrayed him.
Assange, said O’Hagan, had also convinced himself that he was worshipped by people who came into contact with him. Speaking of Nick Davies, a Guardian reporter who had worked with WikiLeaks, the ghostwriter recalled Assange saying: “The problem was he was in love with me. Not sexually. But just in love with me. Like I was this younger guy he wanted to be.”
O’Hagan continued: “He said the same thing about the Icelandic politician and activist Birgitta Jónsdóttir: ‘She was in love with me.’ I knew from then on that any understanding of him would involve a recognition of his narcissism.”
The account recorded Assange’s fear of being followed, spied upon and even killed because of his leaks. One day when the writer accompanied Assange to a police station Sarah Harrison – Assange’s assistant and girlfriend – got out of the car to check if anyone was in the nearby bushes. When O’Hagan asked if she was looking for paparazzi he was told, “Assassins.”
Assange is wanted in Sweden for the alleged sexual assault of two women, which he denies. O’Hagan's account considers the hacker's interaction with women.
He recalled Harrison revealing how Assange was angry with her simply for having given a friendly hug to a member of staff. She told him: “Julian was like “that’s so disrespectful to me” and went off on one. He said I’d said the guy smelled nice and that was humiliating. He did smell nice; he’d just had a bath. Julian was furious.” When he asked her about the sex allegations she insisted: “He didn’t rape them but he was really fucking stupid.”
But O’Hagan, who has attempted to remain friends with Assange, also spoke of the good that his subject tried to do: “One of the things Julian found it hardest to admit to was the amount of hacking he did himself….. At the time of the Egyptian uprising, Mubarak tried to close down the country’s mobile phone network, a service that came through Canada. Julian and his gang hacked into Nortel and fought against Mubarak’s official hackers to reverse the process. The revolution continued and Julian was satisfied, sitting back in our remote kitchen eating chocolates.
“What Julian lacked in efficiency or professionalism he made up for in courage. What he lacked in carefulness he made up for in impact.”