A Whistle Too Far? It's War Within WikiLeaks

Dissent and infighting may be the new order of business at WikiLeaks -- and it may be tearing the whistle-blowing website apart.

A prominent WikiLeaks spokeswoman and Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir told the Daily Beast on Friday that she has urged Julian Assange to step down as the organization's figurehead.

"I'm not angry with Julian, but this is a situation that has clearly gotten out of hand," she said. "I have strongly urged him to focus on the legalities that he’s dealing with -- and let some other people carry the torch."

Jonsdottir's comments followed the reopening of a controversial rape investigation by Swedish officials, the latest scandal to swirl around the mysterious and controversial leader of the website. Assange has not replied publicly to Jonsdottir's comments -- indeed, his own lawyers often have trouble getting in touch with him. And the site did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Indeed, Jonsdottir is one of the few WikiLeaks staffers to identify themselves publicly.

Anonymous insiders agree that the attention on Assange and the rape charges are disrupting day-to-day site operations, Newsweek reported, noting that internal protests led to several temporary shutdowns of WikiLeaks last week. These unnamed insiders also were incensed when Assange used WikiLeak’s Twitter feed to suggest Swedish rape charges were the product of "dirty tricks."

Many within the organization disagree with Assange that the rape charges are part of an American-organized smear campaign, Jonsdottir included. They believe Assange to be innocent -- yet concur with Jonsdottir that there are clear personality issues that need to be addressed.

In an anonymous post to encrypted message board PGPBoard, an alleged group of insiders suggest Assange has been using his position of power to live an extravagant lifestyle -- and worry that this abuse will bring down WikiLeaks with him.

"The 'insiders' here at WikiLeaks firmly believe that Julian Assange is no rapist. However, we do believe that Assange is a crook who misappropriates donor funding to support an Austin Powers international lifestyle."

Jonsdottir questioned the authenticity of the anonymous post in a more measured reply, noting she has no personal issues with Assange. Her main goal is instead to eliminate distractions while increasing transparency of the historically secretive organization, which she says includes calling for anonymous insiders to reveal their identities.

"The messenger should never become the message as has happened with Julian Assange," Jonsdottir said. "WikiLeaks should have spokespeople that are conservative -- rather dull, so to speak" -- meaning free of controversy, not politically.

Jonsdottir said that she had no personal desire to take over as a front person (despite that suggestion in yet another anonymous message), fearing that the "media circus" would similarly build her up as another "mythic person."

"I find it troubling to mix together WikiLeaks and personal matters like what is happening right now," she said. "I feel the most urgent matter is that the core people of WikiLeaks have a meeting where structure and transparency issues are solved."