Defying governments and corporations by publishing their classified data, WikiLeaks has altered the media landscape and helped ignite a global online revolution. Taking the heat off Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ new spokesman is Kristinn Hrafnsson, an award-winning investigative reporter, who joined the team after working on the shocking Iraq War footage entitled Collateral Murder.
Published in the 2011 spring issue of Iceland Review – IR 49.01. By Ásta Andrésdóttir, photo by Páll Stefánsson.
Ásta Andrésdóttir: How does it feel to be known as ‘the other face of WikiLeaks’?
Kristinn Hrafnsson: I suppose that says more about the world press than the organization. I am part of a core group, which operates WikiLeaks alongside Assange, and someone must oversee media relations. There’s always this tendency to put a face to a concept. Once Assange stepped forward as the face of WikiLeaks, an unbelievable spectacle ensued; there is much greater interest in his person than the content of the information WikiLeaks publishes. The media has created a myth of an IT nomad, roaming the globe with a backpack and four laptops. For me, this was like any other job; I wasn’t seeking the spotlight. I simply felt that this information must be brought to the world’s attention.
ÁA: Do you expect to be attacked like he has been?
KH: Absolutely. However, after twenty years working in the Icelandic media, I have developed thick skin. The Icelandic community is exceptionally venomous, full of rumors, libel and backstabbing. The dirt thrown my way cannot be topped. Working with WikiLeaks, I have never received direct or personal threats.
ÁA: How did you get involved?
KH: As a reporter, I had been investigating Iceland’s financial collapse. I had made some discoveries pertaining to one of the banks, leading to the cancellation of my program [the award-winning Kompás] as well as a formal investigation of my alleged breach of bank secrecy laws. Then I began working at RÚV, the National Broadcasting Service. On my third day there, in August 2009, I received a tip to look at WikiLeaks. I had never heard of WikiLeaks before. There I found the bank’s entire loan log, revealing that its largest borrowers were its owners. The bank tried in vain to have it removed from the site, but managed to get an injunction on RÚV’s coverage, absurdly forbidding the media to cover material accessible to everyone online. This solidified WikiLeaks as a movement that cannot be contained. Of course, this raised my interest in the organization.
ÁA: When did you first meet Assange?
KH: We met later that year and soon became friends. At the end of February, 2010, he showed me the Collateral Murder video footage from Baghdad, showing fighter pilots nonchalantly killing a group of innocent people. I immediately offered my help showing it to the world. I spent the following week analyzing it thoroughly, and a few days before its scheduled release, producer and cameraman Ingi R. Ingason and I headed to Baghdad. We made four segments for RÚV. This was historical because never before had WikiLeaks collaborated with the traditional media.
You can read the remainder of this article in the 2011 spring issue of Iceland Review – IR 49.01. Four times a year the print edition of Iceland Review brings you a wealth of articles on all aspects of life in Iceland including Páll Stefánsson's latest images of the country's majestic landscape. Click here to subscribe and here to browse through a selection of pages from the current issue.