21 April 2015


A manically sour review by Julian Assange in Newsweek of Luke Harding's The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man (2014) may have been fun to write but confirms what many of his critics have written about the reviewer.

Assange characterises the book as "a hack job in the purest sense of the term", "Hollywood bait" and "a turkey" from an institution that should "be called out for institutional narcissism".

His spleen may reflect the comment that
Harding was also the co-author of 2011's WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy, another tour de force of dreary cash-in publishing, which went on to be the basis for Dreamworks' catastrophic box-office failure: 2013's The Fifth Estate
From there it's on to
 Since I've started praising the book, I might as well continue. As hack jobs by Luke Harding go, a lot of work has gone into this one. Mr. Harding has clearly gone to uncharacteristic lengths in rewriting most of his source material, although it remains in large part unattributed. 
Notoriously, as the Moscow bureau chief for The Guardian, Harding used to ply his trade ripping off work by other Moscow-based journalists before his plagiarism was pointed out by The eXile's Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, from whom he had misappropriated entire paragraphs without alteration. For this he was awarded "plagiarist of the year" by Private Eye in 2007. But—disciplined by experience—he covers his tracks much more effectively here. This book thereby avoids the charge of naked plagiarism. Yet the conclusion cannot be resisted that this work is painfully derivative. ...
 The subtitle of the book, "The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man," is therefore disingenuous. If this is an inside story of Snowden, then anyone can write an inside story of anything. Something in me has to applaud the chutzpah. There simply isn't a book here. Tangents and trivia serve as desperate page-filler, padding out scarce source material to book length. We are subjected to routine detours through Snowden's historical namesakes, rehearsals of the plot of the James Bond movie Skyfall and lengthy forays into Harding's pedestrian view of Soviet history. Elsewhere, Harding runs out of external material to recycle and begins to rehash his own, best evidenced in the almost identical Homeric introductions Harding's boss, Alan Rusbridger, receives every time he arrives on the page. To be fair, not all of the book is secondhand information. The middle chapters, which document The Guardian's internal struggles over the publication of the Snowden information, contain mostly novel anecdotes. True, I'd already heard many of them (The Guardian leaks like a sieve), but it’s convenient to have them all written down in one place. For most of his narrative, however, Harding is riding on the coattails of other journalists. His is more of a “backside story” than an “inside story.” It reveals a glaring lack of expertise in just about every topic it touches on: the Internet and its subcultures, information and operational security, the digital rights and policy community, hacker culture, the cypherpunk movement, geopolitics, espionage and the security industry. ... 
We are left with a "Bullshitter's Guide" to the world of the world's most wanted man. It is a book by someone who wasn't there, doesn't know, doesn't belong and doesn't understand. Where the book is accurate, it is derivative. And where it is not derivative, it is not accurate. … The result is a story that is a non-story—a generic rendition of the Snowden cycle where lifeless bromide and imagined melodrama stand in for authentic human narrative.
In case you haven't got the message, Assange claims
As you'd expect from a serial plagiarist, the book is a stylistic wasteland. There are no regular impasses in here, only the more refined kind of "impasse we can't get past." Never simply "deny" when you can "categorically deny." Sympathetic characters are always either "wry" or "calm"; that is their entire emotional repertoire. The words "Orwellian," "Kafkaesque" and "McCarthyite" seem to apply to everything. Far too much is found to be "ironic," all too often "cruelly" so. Cliché after cliché sweeps by in a wash of ugly prose until you are overwhelmed with the cynical functionalism of the thing. It wouldn't be a Guardian book without some institutional axe-grinding. I made the mistake of glancing at the index before I read the book. There I spotted my name, with the following reference:
Assange, Julian; Manichean world view of..........224.
There is something about seeing my "Manichean world view" casually assigned its own index entry that epitomizes the Guardian's longstanding, cartoon-like vendetta against me. ...
 If anyone should answer to the charge of "Manicheanism," it is Harding, who, when he is not slogging through clumsy Hollywood film treatments smearing whistleblowers, can be found busily obsessing over Putin in the pages of The Guardian. … 
Thanks to Russia (and thanks to WikiLeaks), Snowden remains free. Only someone with a "Manichean world view" would be unable to acknowledge this. The most disappointing thing of all about The Snowden Files is that it is exploitative. It should not have existed at all. We all understand the pressures facing print journalism and the need to diversify revenue in order to cross-subsidize investigative journalism. But investigative journalism involves being able to develop relationships of trust with your sources. There is a conflict of interest here. Edward Snowden was left in the lurch in Hong Kong by The Guardian, and WikiLeaks had to step in to make sure he was safe. While WikiLeaks worked to find him a safe haven, The Guardian was already plotting to sell the film rights. How can one reconcile the duty to a source with the mad rush to be the first to market with a lucrative, self-glorifying, unauthorized biography? For all the risks he took, Snowden deserves better than this.
Conclusion, according to Mr Assange?
The Snowden Files is a walloping fraud, written by frauds to be praised by frauds.