Sarah Harrison, the woman from WikiLeaks, who was sitting next to Edward

13.07.2013 17:03

LONDON — He didn’t have the
space for it, but Gavin MacFadyen
needed more bodies. The American
running a British think tank for
investigative journalism had eight
staffers crammed into an 15-by-12-
foot office in east central London,
trying to crack a story on
wrongdoing at a multinational
Then Sarah Harrison walked
through his door.
Within a few years, Harrison
would become the intense, 31-year-
old emissary of WikiLeaks founder
Julian Assange, the mystery
woman sent to spirit former
National Security Agency
contractor Edward Snowden from
Hong Kong to Moscow, where she is
now aiding his quest to evade U.S.
But then, in late 2009, Harrison
was an eager 27-year-old applying
for an unpaid internship, a
graduate of a prestigious boarding
school with ambitions to become a
Harrison had no prior experience,
but MacFadyen said he saw a spark
that led him to bring her on board
— a break that would set her on the
path to meeting Assange and
eventually bring her into the
whistleblower Web site’s inner
“It was an intelligent choice to send
her” to Snowden, MacFadyen said.
“She’s smart, determined and fully
believes in the moral principle of
shedding light. This is something she
has strong feelings about.”
After being recommended by
MacFadyen, Harrison began
working with WikiLeaks in August
2010 on the internal vetting of
confidential U.S. documents
supplied by Army Pfc. Bradley
Manning , which the site later
released. At some point that year,
according to two people with direct
knowledge of the situation and who
spoke on the condition of
anonymity, Harrison and Assange
became intimately involved. They
cautioned that the relationship was
not Harrison’s prime motivation in
championing the WikiLeaks cause.
“She is firmly committed to what
WikiLeaks is trying to do; she
believes 100 percent in the
mission,” one of the people said.
“Any suggestion that her
relationship with Julian is what has
compelled her to do the things she
has would be a totally wrong
Although those who know her as an
Assange confidante describe her as
more comfortable behind the
scenes, Harrison now finds herself
in the spotlight. She has raced
across continents to aid Snowden,
assisting in his flight from Hong
Kong and his search for asylum
from Moscow. (On Friday,
Venezuela offered Snowden asylum
and Nicaragua said it would do so
“if circumstances allow it.”) All the
while, she has has maintained a
low profile and refrained from
public statements.
Acknowledgment of her role has
come via bare-bones WikiLeaks
statements and a comment from
one Russian authority. Kristinn
Hrafnsson, a WikiLeaks spokesman,
declined to comment for this
article. Harrison did not respond to
an interview request. Assange, who
has been holed up at Ecuador’s
embassy in London for more than a
year, said in an e-mailed statement
that “Sarah is spirited, courageous
and completely incorruptible,” but
did not comment further.
Those who know Harrison say she
appeared to blossom under
Assange’s tutelage, going from
starry-eyed intern to a savvy
crusader for the no-holds-barred
brand of public disclosure that has
come to define WikiLeaks.
Perfect fit for WikiLeaks
Harrison grew up in a privileged
British home, her father a retail
industry executive and her mother
a specialist in treating reading
disabilities. In a brief telephone
interview, her father, Ian Harrison,
74, said he was not “going to make
any further comments about our
family and our private life,” citing
bad experiences with the British
tabloid press.
He referred to an interview the
family had given to the Daily Mail,
which produced an article last
weekend headlined: “The public
school girl who fell for Julian
Assange — then went on the run
with the world’s most wanted
He said he had not spoken to his
daughter since her involvement
with the Snowden case became
known and had been keeping up
with her movements largely by
following the news. “We are proud
of our daughter,” he said. “We just
hope she is well.” When asked how
his daughter would describe her
profession, he said: “I would have
said investigative journalist would
have summed her view of what she
Still, Harrison’s role within
WikiLeaks has taken many forms
over the years. A short biography
on the WikiLeaks Web site describes
her as a member of the group’s
“legal defence team.” But Harrison
is not a lawyer and studied English
while at Queen Mary, University of
MacFadyen called her a dogged
researcher, one reason he
recommended her in 2010 to work
on WikiLeaks documents. He
believed she was a perfect fit for
the work being done by Assange,
whom MacFadyen had first met in
California in the late 2000s and
had since come to know and trust.
By 2011, however, Harrison had
risen through the WikiLeaks ranks,
becoming what some describe as
“Julian’s gatekeeper.” She stepped in
for Assange to conduct at least one
WikiLeaks news conference,
coming off as good-natured and
self-assured. In a conversation
with two Washington Post reporters
in February 2011 at the Frontline
Club for journalists in London,
Harrison, who was sitting with
Assange at the time, appeared
fiercely loyal, criticizing a media
outlet she felt had betrayed his
“She was at first in an incredibly
vulnerable position, put in a job
without any kind of mentoring, and
then basically became Julian’s
assistant,” said Heather Brooke, an
American journalist who
investigated WikiLeaks for her book
“The Revolution Will Be Digitized.”
“She is one of the cult of the
faithful to Julian now, his
gatekeeper, someone who ended up
managing who did and didn’t get
Harrison’s defenders describe her
as technical-minded and a fierce
advocate of information disclosure.
“Sarah is there not because of any
relationship with Julian,” said
Stefania Maurizi, a journalist with
Italy’s l'Espresso magazine who has
maintained weekly contact with
Harrison over the past three years.
“Sarah is there because of her skills;
she is a very skilled person. She
believes in what she is doing.”
Vaughan Smith — who gave Assange
refuge inside his sprawling English
estate, Ellingham Hall, for 17
months while he fought a Swedish
extradition order — recalled
Harrison as deeply involved not
only in WikiLeaks-related tasks, but
also as a researcher on Assange’s
legal case. Assange was fighting a
request by Swedish authorities to
question him on sexual assault
allegations, which he has called a
politically motivated smear
campaign. Harrison, Smith said,
quickly became part of a small
group of WikiLeaks lieutenants who
regularly strategized his defense
from inside Smith’s country home,
which Assange left in June 2012 to
seek asylum.
Smith said that during Assange’s
long stay, Harrison was a
peacemaker always able to smooth
things over during tense moments.
He said he applauded her dedication
despite “meager pay and potential
“It’s not as if she’s getting anything
out of this other than doing
something that she believes is right,
helping a whistleblower,” said
Smith, who owns the Frontline
Club. “What she’s done takes a
certain amount of courage,
especially for someone who never
sought the spotlight. This will be
difficult for her; she is not used to
getting this kind of attention. But
she is trusted by Assange, and she
clearly wanted to help WikiLeaks
help Snowden. Assange needed
someone, and she volunteered.”