When is a Deal Not a Deal?

By late September, Guardian reporters had been going through the cables for four weeks. Systems Editor Frayman had further refined the search capabilities, allowing journalists to search by individual embassies or by degree of classification. The reporters found that some 6 percent of the cables were secret, 40 percent confidential, and the rest unclassified. [1] The collection included no top-secret documents. Chief topics emerged: the spread of nuclear material; military exports to Iran and Syria; perceptions of foreign leaders. Almost none dealt with Israel. There were also the titillating accounts: Saudi sex parties, drunken Central Asian weddings, Prince Andrews questionable trade dealings. But there was still no publication date for the cables. Whats more, under Rusbridgers agreement with Assange, the Guardian had not shared them with the New York Times or Spiegel .

Brooke file. In late September, Leigh had lunch with a friend, freelancer Heather Brooke. [2] Brooke was a dual US/UK citizen who worked in Britain and was behind the 2009 disclosure of misappropriation of government funds by members of Parliament for personal expenses. To Leigh, Brooke dropped a bombshell. A disaffected member of WikiLeaks in Iceland, she told Leigh, had given her the entire file of diplomatic cables. Leigh was appalledbut also saw a silver lining. If the Guardian had access to the cables through a source other than Assange, that released the paper from its promise to publish only when he allowed it, not to mention from the promise to keep the cables confidential.

After Brooke was able to prove to Leighs satisfaction that she had the cables, he confided to her that the Guardian had them as well. Leigh went to Rusbridger and Deputy Editor (News) Ian Katz with the disturbing news about Brooke. That was a moment of extreme panic, remembers Katz, because we then knew there was another version of the database around that we didnt have control of [and] we didnt know to how many other people her source had leaked the database. After some debate, they decided to offer her a consulting position. [3]

Files to NYT . But Leigh had another decision to make, although he did not discuss it with anyone. [4] To all appearances, Assange intended to freeze out the New York Times from any further collaboration. In late July, Times Editor Keller had smoothed over relations in phone calls after the paper failed to link to WikiLeaks in the Afghan war logs. But Assange was newly angry about a profile of Private Manning which the Times had published on August 8 (he called it absolutely disgusting). Moreover, the Guardian had learned that Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame and Icelandic WikiLeaks former programmer Smri McCarthy (who had given Brooke the copy) also had the cables. It looked as though Assange himself was not observing his own stipulation to keep them private. I said to myself right, this is all collapsing. Everything is going to pieces. I am going to share these cables with everybody else, says Leigh.

Leigh himself was fed up with Assange and what he considered his high-handed approach to the original agreement with the Guardian , and subsequently with the Times and Der Spiegel . There came a point at which I concluded that Julian was never going to give us the go-ahead to publish these cables because he was so unreliable and so manipulative, says Leigh. Assanges behavior had worsened since the Swedish charges; he talked of moving to Cuba. Youve got the most important story that anybodys got hold of for the last X years in the hands of somebody who is being completely unpredictable and irresponsible, says Leigh.

So Leigh contacted Times Editor Keller, told him he had the diplomatic cables, and offered to share them. [5] The Times, Leigh stipulated , would have to keep confidential its source for the cables. I think I uploaded the stuff to a secure NYT server, recalls Leigh. [6] On September 27, the New York Times quietly assigned a few reporters to go through the documents. At the same time, he created a flash drive for Der Spiegel containing the cables. Editor Marcel Rosenbach flew to London to pick it up.

All three publications agreed to keep their continued cooperation secret until just before publicationtentatively scheduled for Friday, November 5because Assange had threatened to publish all the cables online if the Guardian broke its agreement with him. Eventually, Leigh told Rusbridger what hed done. Says Leigh:

I was deliberately doing all these things myself and taking all these decisions myself, because I knew that Alan had undertaken to Julian that he wouldnt do this, that, and the other. I thought, I cant ask Alan to do this. Im going to unilaterally take the decision to do things behind his back to protect him.

Listen to Leigh talk about taking matters into his own hands.

Meanwhile, Leigh also went to see Assange at the Frontline Club, where he was living in London, and told him that Brooke had the cables and that the Guardian wanted to publish quickly. Julian had said OK, I understandIm sort of losing control of this Julian was fairly composed about all that, recalls Leigh. Assange agreed that the Guardian could give the cables to Der Spiegel .

Then on October 24, New York Times correspondents John Burns and Ravi Somaiya published a profile of Assange. Titled WikiLeaks Founder on the Run, Trailed by Notoriety , the piece quoted one critic as saying, he is not in his right mind. It also said Assange dismissed the reporters questions as cretinous and facile. The front-page article, which ran the day after release of the Iraq war logs, enraged Assange. He felt the paper had betrayed him. Does the Times , he asked rhetorically, employ only "journalists with extremely bad character?" [7]

On Friday, October 29, Leigh was in Washington for a meeting at the New York Times bureau to finalize a joint publication date. At the table with him were Spiegel s Rosenbach and Goetz, and Schmitt from the Times . We formalized this decision that we were all going to go on November 8th, regardless of what Julian [Assange] thought, says Leigh. But the Germans asked that the group first meet with Assange to notify him, clarify the situation, and determine whether the partnership with WikiLeaks was still viable.

[1] Leigh and Harding, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assanges War on Secrecy , p. 181.

[2] Leigh does not remember the precise date.

[3] Brooke was on board by November 3.

[4] In addition to being longtime professional colleagues, Rusbridger and Leigh were brothers-in-law; they had married sisters.

[5] Leigh does not remember the precise date. Der Spiegel reports that [t]he Guardian and the New York Times had already begun concrete preparations in early October to publish the embassy cables without WikiLeaks' consent. Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark, An Inside Look at Wikileaks Negotiations, Der Spiegel , January 29, 2011.

[6] Email from Leigh to author, May 26, 2011.

[7] Michael Calderone, NY Times reporter defends profile of WikiLeaks Assange, Yahoo! News , October 26, 2010.