behind the news

Did Assange Play Lawyer?

WikiLeaks insider suggests a legal adviser never existed
February 9, 2011

A recently published book excerpt suggests that “Jay Lim,” an occasional WikiLeaks spokesperson often identified as its legal advisor, was merely an online pseudonym of Julian Assange.

The excerpts, posted on, are (naturally) leaked scans of an early copy of WikiLeaks’s defector Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s upcoming book. Domscheit-Berg, before his break with the organization, had long operated under the pseudonym of “Daniel Schmidt.”

Domscheit-Berg, usually described as once being the organization’s second most important player, writes that Assange used many pseudonyms, and suggests that “Lim” may have been one of them:

If true, this naturally raises questions about the historic quality of legal advice WikiLeaks did (or, perhaps more accurately, did not) receive, and the seriousness with which the organization approached legal questions.

This past summer, I took a look at an oft-stated claim from WikiLeaks that by hosting some of their operations on Swedish soil, leakers would be covered by the country’s unusual source protection laws, which usually make it illegal for journalists to unmask their own confidential sources and for the state to attempt to identify such sources.

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A variety of Swedish media law experts made it clear that Assange and WikiLeaks had repeatedly misrepresented not only the strength of the law, but its application to WikiLeaks.

Despite years of claims that WikiLeaks and its sources would derive protection from the laws, the site had never bothered to file a simple application claiming the protections. Furthermore, had they applied, the head of the agency who oversees the registration process cast doubt on whether or not WikiLeaks would qualify, given that the site had no sustained track record of performing editorial work from Sweden.

One person who claimed that WikiLeaks sources would be well protected under Swedish law was “Jay Lim.” In 2009, WikiLeaks issued a press release warning an Australian senator not to attempt to identify the source of a document the site had posted. Lim, identified as “Legal Adviser” to the closely linked (perhaps indistinguishable) WikiLeaks affiliate Sunshine Press, was quoted saying:

Under the Swedish Constitution’s Press Freedom Act, the right of a confidential press source to anonymity is protected, and criminal penalties apply to anyone acting to breach that right.

Wikileaks source documents are received in Sweden and published from Sweden so as to derive maximum benefit from this legal protection. Should the Senator or anyone else attempt to discover our source we will refer the matter to the Constitutional Police for prosecution, and, if necessary, ask that the Senator and anyone else involved be extradited to face justice for breaching fundamental rights.

As I wrote in early September, Lim’s description of the law’s powers would not be recognized by knowledgeable Swedes:

There are no known cases of WikiLeaks making such a referral, and Swedish media law experts scoff at the concept—only Swedish authorities are forbidden from looking for a source under Sweden’s constitution. Private companies and foreign governments are not.

Furthermore, there is no body formally known as the “Constitutional Police” in Sweden. Within the Swedish Security Service (akin to the United States’s FBI) there is a Department of Security Intelligence, which performs some domestic intelligence and counter-intelligence functions. That department has something called The Protection of the Constitution Unit.

But its functions are perhaps better described by its alternate name: the Counter-Subversion unit. The unit monitors political extremists (neo-Nazis, for example) who are judged to represent a threat to Sweden and its constitution. A journalist who is targeted by threats from some sort of extremist could expect the Protection of the Constitution Unit to become involved, but the same journalist would not turn to them in the event someone in the government was trying to expose their source in violation of constitutional protections.

“We have to abide by that law, but as far as my knowledge, this law is not within our jurisdiction,” says Sirpa Franzén, the Security Service’s press secretary.

What would “Jay Lim” think of that?

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.