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Europe

For WikiLeaks founder Assange, a life of secrets and shadows

©

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-12-09

After publishing documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as cables between the US State Department and its ambassadors, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has grabbed the global spotlight as a controversial and elusive figure.

He’s a hero to some and a criminal to others.

In 2006, Julian Assange used what has been called a genius IQ and extensive hacking skills to create WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing site that gathers state secrets and diplomatic leaks from all over the world and publishes them en masse.

After publishing documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as top-secret cables between the US State Department and its ambassadors abroad, Assange has also grabbed the global spotlight as a highly controversial and elusive figure.

Supporters view him as an intelligent and courageous rebel taking on the corrupt powers that be. Detractors – most notably the Obama administration – say he is a threat to national security with no scruples about the potential human cost of his revelations.

'The core responsibility lies with US personnel.'

A life of shadows and motion

People who have spent time with Assange describe him as a man of extreme discipline. A reporter who profiled him for The New Yorker magazine noted that he is able to work without eating or sleeping regularly.

Those survival skills have come in handy for Assange since he established the site. Indeed, over the past few years, he has led a shadowy life, spending lengthy stretches of time in hiding, moving from one country to the next, and popping up every now and then for a video interview broadcast on the Web.

Assange’s semi-nomadic lifestyle began early, shortly after his birth in Townsville, Queensland, in northern Australia, in 1971. He was homeschooled as a child and moved around frequently with his parents, who managed a touring theatre company.

The 39-year-old has spoken of a childhood spent mostly in rural areas and small towns of Australia, where people were plainspoken and distrustful of big government – values which he says shaped his creation of WikiLeaks.

After fathering a child at 18 with his girlfriend (and becoming embroiled in a custody battle after their separation), Assange entered a formative period: the internet was rising to prominence and Assange soon became an active hacker. In the early 1990s, he pleaded guilty and paid a fine of several thousand Australian dollars for illegally accessing computers belonging to various companies, including Nortel, the Canadian telecom company

Assange also briefly studied physics, math, neuroscience and philosophy at Melbourne University.

Telling secrets

Assange started Wikileaks in 2006 as an online forum for leaks. He has said the site is intended to use new technology to uncover the truth, and has denied that people are harmed by the information published.

WikiLeaks achieved far-reaching notoriety in 2007 with the release of a video shot from a US helicopter during an airstrike in Baghdad. Assange’s visibility increased as he defended the release of the footage and of classified US military documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though the WikiLeaks’ recent publication of US diplomatic cables provoked a fair share of embarrassment around the world, Assange’s name has also been in the headlines for another reason; he is under investigation for accusations of rape and molestation involving two Swedish women. Assange has denied the allegations, saying the sexual relations were consensual. But police in Britain have arrested him on a Swedish warrant and kept him in custody (bail has been denied).

Assange has claimed the accusations are part of a smear campaign aimed at destroying his web site.

But in an interview with The New York Times last fall, Assange confided that he sometimes looked forward to possible jail time; he said that if he were locked away from the WikiLeaks frenzy, he “might be able to spend a day reading a book”.


 

Date created : 2010-12-08

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