THE GUARDIAN 7th DECEMBER 2012
Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy for six months. In a rare interview,
the Guardian asked the WikiLeaks founder about reports of illness, paranoia – and if he'll ever come
Julian Assange: 'I suppose it’s quite nice that people are worried about me.’ Photograph: Gian Paul Lozza for the Guardian The Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge looks rather lavish from the street, but inside it's not much bigger than a family apartment. The armed police guard outside is reported to cost £12,000 a day, but I can see only three officers, all of whom look supremely bored. Christmas shoppers heading for Harrods next door bustle by, indifferent or oblivious to the fact that they pass within feet of one of the world's most famous fugitives.
It's almost six months since Julian Assange took refuge in the embassy, and a state of affairs that was at first sensational is
slowly becoming surreal. Ecuador has granted its guest formal asylum, but the WikiLeaks founder can't get as far as Harrods, let
alone to South America, because the moment he leaves the embassy, he will be arrested – even if he comes out in a diplomatic bag or
handcuffed to the ambassador – and extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. Assange says he'll happily
go to Stockholm, providing the Swedish government guarantees he won't then be extradited on to the US, where he fears he will be
tried for espionage. Stockholm says no guarantee can be given, because that decision would lie with the courts. And so the weeks
have stretched into months, and may yet stretch on into years.
Making the whole arrangement even stranger are the elements of normality. A receptionist buzzes me in and checks my ID, and then
a businesslike young woman, Assange's assistant, leads me through into a standard-issue meeting room, where a young man who has
something to do with publicity at Assange's publishers is sitting in front of a laptop. There are pieces of camera equipment and a
tripod; someone suggests coffee. It all looks and feels like an ordinary interview.
But when Assange appears, he seems more like an in-patient than an interviewee, his opening words slow and hesitant, the voice so
cracked as to be barely audible. If you have ever visited someone convalescing after a breakdown, his demeanour would be instantly
recognisable. Admirers cast him as the new Jason Bourne, but in these first few minutes I worry he may be heading more towards
Assange tells me he sees visitors most days, but I'm not sure how long it was since a stranger was here, so I ask if this feels
uncomfortable. "No, I look forward to the company. And, in some cases, the adversary." His gaze flickers coolly. "We'll see
which." He shrugs off recent press reports of a chronic lung infection, but says: "I suppose it's quite nice, though, actually,
that people are worried about me." Former hostages often talk about what it meant to hear their name on the radio and know the
outside world was still thinking of them. Have the reports of his health held something similar for him? "Absolutely. Though I felt
that much more keenly when I was in prison."
Assange spent 10 days in jail in December 2010, before being bailed to the stately home of a supporter in Suffolk. There, he
was free to come and go in daylight hours, yet he says he felt more in captivity then than he does now. "During the period of
house arrest, I had an electronic manacle around my leg for 24 hours a day, and for someone who has tried to give others liberty
all their adult life, that is absolutely intolerable. And I had to go to the police at a specific time every day – every day –
Christmas Day, New Year's Day – for over 550 days in a row." His voice is warming now, barbed with indignation. "One minute late
would mean being placed into prison immediately." Despite being even more confined here, he's now the author of his own
confinement, so he feels freer? "Precisely."
And now he is the author of a new book, Cypherpunks: Freedom And The Future Of The Internet. Based on conversations and interviews
with three other cypherpunks – internet activists fighting for online privacy – it warns that we are sleepwalking towards a "new
transnational dystopia". Its tone is portentous – "The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the
most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen" – and its target audience anyone who has ever gone online or used a
"The last 10 years have seen a revolution in interception technology, where we have gone from tactical
interception to strategic interception," he explains. "Tactical interception is the one that we are all familiar with, where particular individuals become of interest to the state or its friends:
activists, drug dealers, and so on. Their phones are intercepted, their email communication is intercepted, their friends are intercepted, and so on. We've gone from that situation to strategic interception, where everything flowing out of or into a country – and for some countries domestically as well – is intercepted and stored permanently. Permanently. It's more efficient to take and store everything than it is to work out who
you want to intercept."
The change is partly down to economies of scale: interception costs have been halving every two years, whereas the human population has been doubling only every 20. "So we've now reached this critical juncture where it is possible to intercept everyone – every SMS, every email, every mobile phone call – and store it and search it for a nominal fee by governmental standards. A kit produced in South Africa can store and index all
telecommunications traffic in and out of a medium-sized nation for $10m a year." And the public has no idea, due largely to a powerful lobby dedicated to keeping it in the dark, and partly to the legal and technological
complexity. So we spend our days actively assisting the state's theft of private information about us, by putting it all online.
"The penetration of the Stasi in East Germany is reported to be up to 10% of the population – one in 10 at some stage acted as informers – but the enetration of Facebook in countries like Iceland is 88%, and those people are informing much more frequently and in much more detail than they ever were in the Stasi. And they're not even getting paid to do it! They're doing it because they feel they'll be excluded from social opportunities otherwise. So we're now in this unique position where we have all the ingredients for a turnkey totalitarian state."
In this dystopian future, Assange sees only one way to protect ourselves: cryptography. Just as handwashing was once a novelty that became part of everyday life, and crucial to protecting our health, so, too, will we have to get used to encrypting our online activity. "A well-defined mathematical algorithm can encrypt something quickly, but to decrypt it would take billions of years – or trillions of dollars' worth of electricity to drive the Computer. So cryptography is the essential building block of independence for organisations on the internet, just like armies are the essential building blocks of states, because otherwise one state just takes over another. There is no other way for our intellectual life to gain proper independence from the security guards of the world, the people who control physical reality."
Assange talks in the manner of a man who has worked out that the Earth is round, while everyone else is lumbering on under the impression that it is flat. It makes you sit up and listen, but raises two doubts about how to judge his thesis. There's no debate that Assange knows more about the subject than almost anyone alive, and the case he makes is both compelling and scary. But there's a question mark over his own credentials as a crusader against abuses of power, and another over his frame of mind. After all the dramas of the last two and a half years, it's hard to read his book without wondering, is Assange a hypocrite – and is he a reliable witness?
Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy: ‘It would be nice to go for a walk in the woods.’ Photograph: Gian Paul Lozza for the Guardian Prodigiously gifted, he is often described as a genius, but he has the autodidact's tendency to come across as simultaneously credulous and a bit slapdash. He can leap from one country to another when characterising surveillance practices, as if all nations were analogous, and refers to the communications data bill currently before the UK parliament in such alarmist terms that I didn't even recognise the legislation and thought he must be talking about a bill I'd never heard of. "A bill promulgated by the
Queen, no less!" he emphasises, as if the government could propose any other variety, before implying that it will give the state the right to read every email and listen in on every mobile phone call, which is simply not the case. It's the age-old dilemma: are we being warned by a uniquely clear-sighted Cassandra, or by a paranoid conspiracy theorist whose current circumstances only confirm all his suspicions of sinister secret state forces at work?
But first, the hypocrisy question. I say many readers will wonder why, if it's so outrageous for the state to read our emails, it is OK for WikiLeaks to publish confidential state correspondence.
"It's all about power," he replies. "And accountability. The greater the power, the more need there is for transparency, because if the power is abused, the result can be so enormous. On the other hand, those people who do not have power, we mustn't reduce their power even more by making them yet more transparent."
Many people would say Assange himself is immensely powerful, and should be held to a higher standard of accountability and transparency. "I think that is correct," he agrees. So was WikiLeaks' decision to publish Afghan informers' names unredacted an abuse of power? Assange draws himself up and lets rip. "This is absurd
propaganda. Basic kindergarten rhetoric. There has been no official accusation that any of our publications over a six-year period have resulted in the deaths of a single person – a single person – and this shows you the incredible political power of the Pentagon, that it is able to attempt to reframe the debate in that way."
Others have wondered how he could make a chatshow for a state-owned Moscow TV station. "I've never worked for a Russian state-owned television channel. That's just ridiculous – the usual propaganda rubbish." He spells it out slowly and deliberately. "I have a TV production company, wholly owned by me. We work in partnership with Dartmouth Films, a London production company, to produce a 12-part TV series about activists and thinkers from around the world. Russia Today was one of more than 20 different media organisations that purchased a licence. That is all." There is no one to whom he wouldn't sell a licence? "Absolutely not. In order to go to the hospital, we must put Shell in our car. In order to make the maximum possible impact for our sources, we have
to deal with organisations like the New York Times and the Guardian." He pauses. "It doesn't mean we approve of these organisations."
I try twice to ask how a campaigner for free speech can condone Ecuador's record on press controls, but I'm not sure he hears, because he is off into a coldly furious tirade against the Guardian. The details of the dispute are of doubtful interest to a wider audience, but in brief: WikiLeaks worked closely with both the Guardian and the New York Times in 2010 to publish huge caches of confidential documents, before falling out very badly with both. He maintains that the Guardian broke its word and behaved disgracefully, but he seems to have a habit of falling out with erstwhile allies. Leaving aside the two women in Sweden who were once his admirers and now allege rape and sexual assault, things also ended badly with Canongate, a small publisher that paid a
large advance for his ghosted autobiography, only to have Assange pull out of the project after reading the first draft. It went ahead and published anyway, but lost an awful lot of money.
Several staff walked out of WikiLeaks in 2010, including a close colleague, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who complained that Assange was behaving "like some kind of emperor or slave trader".
It clearly isn't news to Assange that even some of his supporters despair of an impossible personality, and blame his problems on hubris, but he isn't having any of it. I ask how he explains why so many relationships have soured. "They haven't." OK, let's go through them one by one. The relationship with Canongate…
"Oh my God!" he interrupts angrily, raising his voice. "These people, we told them not to do that. They were wrong to do it, to violate the author's copyright like that." Did he ever consider giving his advance back? "Canongate owes me money. I have not seen a single cent from this book. Canongate owes me hundreds of thousands of pounds." But if he hasn't seen any money, it's because the advance was deposited in Assange's lawyers' bank account, to go towards paying their fees. Then the lawyers complained that the advance didn't cover the fees, and Assange fell out with them, too.
"I was in a position last year where everybody thought they could have a free kick. They thought that because I was involved in an enormous conflict with the United States government. The law firm was another. But those days are gone."
What about the fracture with close colleagues at WikiLeaks? "No!" he practically shouts. But Domscheit-Berg got so fed up with Assange that he quit, didn't he? "No, no, no, no, no. Domscheit-Berg had a minor role within WikiLeaks, and he was suspended by me on 25 August 2010. Suspended." Well, that's my point – here was somebody else with whom Assange fell out. "Be serious here! Seriously – my God. What we are talking about here in our work is the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people – hundreds of thousands – that we have exposed and documented. And your question is about, did we suspend someone back in 2010?" My
point was that there is a theme of his relationships turning sour. "There is not!" he shouts.
I don't blame Assange for getting angry. As he sees it, he's working tirelessly to expose state secrecy and save us all from tyranny. He has paid for it with his freedom, and fears for his life. Isn't it obvious that shadowy security forces are trying to make him look either mad or bad, to discredit WikiLeaks? If that's true, then his flaws are either fabricated, or neither here nor there. But the messianic grandiosity of his self-justification is a little disconcerting.
I ask if he has considered the possibility that he might live in this embassy for the rest of his life. "I've considered the possibility. But it sure beats supermax [maximum security prison]." Does he worry about his mental health? "Only that it is nice to go for a walk in the woods, and it's important – because I have to look after so many people – that I am close to the peak of my performance at all times, because we are involved in an adversarial conflict and any misjudgment will be seized upon."
Does he ever try to work out whether he is being paranoid? "Yes. I have a lot of experience. I mean, I have 22 years of experience." He'd rather not say to whom he turns for emotional support, "because we are in an
adversarial conflict", but he misses his family the most. His voice slows and drops again.
"The situation is, er, the communication situation is difficult. Some of them have had to change their names, move location. Because they have suffered death threats, trying to get at me. There have been explicit proposals through US rightwing groups to target my son, for example, to get at me. The rest of the family, having seen that, has taken precautions in response." But it has all been worth it, he says, because of what he's achieved.
"Changes in electoral outcomes, contributions to revolutions in the Middle East, and the knowledge that we have contributed
towards the Iraqi people and the Afghan people. And also the end of the Iraq war, which we had an important contribution towards.
You can look that up. It's to do with the circumstances under which immunity was refused to US troops at the end of 2011. The
documents we'd published directly were cited by Iraqis as a reason for discontinuing the immunity. And the US said it would refuse to
stay without continued immunity."
Assange says he can't say anything about the allegations of rape and sexual assault for legal reasons, but he predicts that the
extradition will be dropped. The grounds for his confidence are not clear, because in the next breath he adds: "Sweden refuses to
behave like a reasonable state. It refuses to give a guarantee that I won't be extradited to the US." But Sweden says the
decision lies with the courts, not the government. "That is not true," he snaps. "It is absolutely false. The government has the
final say." If he's right, and it really is as unequivocal as that, why all the legal confusion? "Because there are enormous
powers at play," he says, heavy with exasperation. "Controversy is a result of people trying to shift political opinion one way or
And so his surreal fugitive existence continues, imprisoned in a tiny piece of Ecuador in Knightsbridge. He has a special
ultraviolet lamp to compensate for the lack of sunlight, but uses it "with great trepidation", having burned himself the first time
he tried it. His assistant, who may or may not be his girlfriend – she has been reported as such, but denies it when I check – is a
constant presence, and by his account WikiLeaks continues to thrive. Reports that it has basically imploded, undone by the
dramas and rows surrounding its editor-in-chief, are dismissed as yet more smears. The organisation will have published more than a
million leaks this year, he says, and will publish "considerably more" in 2013. I'm pretty sure he has found a way to get rid of
his electronic tag, because when I ask, he stares with a faint gnomic smile. "Umm… I'd prefer not to comment."
Assange has been called a lot of things – a terrorist, a visionary, a rapist, a freedom warrior. At moments he reminds me
of a charismatic cult leader but, given his current predicament, it's hardly surprising if loyalty counts more than critical
distance in his world. The only thing I could say with confidence is that he is a control freak. The persona he most frequently
ascribes to himself is "gentleman", a curiously courtly term for a cypher–punk to choose, so I ask him to explain.
"What is a gentleman? I suppose it's, you know, a nice section of Australian culture that perhaps wouldn't be recognised in thieving
metropolises like London. The importance of being honourable, and keeping your word, and acting like a gentleman. It's someone who
has the courage of their convictions, who doesn't bow to pressure, who doesn't exploit people who are weaker than they are. Who acts
in an honourable way."
Does that describe him? "No, but it describes an ideal I believe men should strive for."
ASSANGE - YOUTUBE
Julian Paul Assange was born on the 3rd of July 1971. He is an Australian editor, activist, publisher and journalist. He is best known as the editor-in-chief and founder of WikiLeaks, which publishes submissions of secret information, news leaks and classified media from anonymous news sources and whistleblowers.
Assange was a hacker as a teenager, then a computer programmer before becoming internationally known for his work with WikiLeaks and making public appearances around the world speaking about freedom of the press, censorship, and investigative journalism.
WikiLeaks became internationally well known in 2010 when, with its partners in the news media, it began to publish U.S. military and diplomatic documents. Bradley Manning has since been arrested on suspicion of supplying the cables to WikiLeaks. U.S. Air Force documents reportedly state that military personnel who make contact with WikiLeaks or "WikiLeaks supporters" are at risk of being charged with "communicating with the enemy," and the United States Department of Justice reportedly has considered prosecuting Assange for several offenses. During the trial of Manning prosecutors presented evidence that they claim reveals that Manning and Assange collaborated to steal and publish U.S. military and diplomatic documents. Since November 2010, Assange has been subject to a European Arrest Warrant in response to a Swedish police request for questioning in relation to a sexual assault investigation. In June 2012, following final dismissal by the Supreme Court of the UK of his appeal against enforcement of the European Arrest Warrant, Assange has failed to surrender to his bail, and has been treated by the UK authorities as having absconded. Since 19 June 2012, he has been inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has since been granted diplomatic asylum. The British government intends to extradite Assange to Sweden under that arrest warrant once he leaves the embassy, which Assange says he fears may result in his subsequent extradition to the United States to face charges over the diplomatic cables case.
While on bail in England during 2012, Assange hosted a political talk show The World Tomorrow which was broadcast on the RT TV channel.
Assange has announced his intention to launch a political party and run a campaign for a Senate seat representing either New South Wales or Victoria in the Australian federal election, 2013. Australian commentators have questioned his eligibility.
Assange was born in Townsville, Queensland, Australia and is a "sixth-generation Australian". The name Assange is an anglicisation of "Ah Sang", Cantonese for "Mr. Sang", another name for Sun Tai Lee, a Chinese immigrant to Thursday Island, Australia. Assange has described an ancestor as a "Taiwanese pirate".."who settled on Thursday Island where he met and married a Thursday Islander woman." According to former colleague, Daniel Domscheit-Berg: "There were stories of him having at least ten ancestors from various corners of the globe, from the South Sea pirates to Irishmen." His mother, Christine Ann Assange (née Hawkins), was born in Sydney. Her mother was a "specialist in medieval literature", and her father was a Sydney-born Australian World War II veteran, academic, and principal at Southern Cross University.
In an interview with Robert Manne, Assange said that his "biological father" is named John Shipton, and that they did not meet "until he was 25". Manne writes: "strangely and perhaps revealingly, it (WikiLeaks) was registered under the names of two fathers, his biological one, John Shipton, and his cypherpunk political one, John Young, a New York architect who ran the intelligence leak website Cryptome, which could be seen as WikiLeaks' predecessor." John Shipton is also referred to as an "architect" and an "Australian citizen living in Kenya", who resided in Nairobi, Kenya in 2008 at the same time as Assange. He "met Assange's mother, Christine, then aged 17, at an antiques shop on his way to a Vietnam war demonstration ... little is known about the relationship, except that it had ended by the time of their son's first birthday – if not earlier"; Shipton "never took up residence or if he did only took up residence for a very short time" and "had no contact with [Assange]".
His mother, Christine, married theatre director Richard Brett Assange when Julian was one year old. As a single mother with infant Julian, Christine moved to a cottage in Picnic Bay, Magnetic Island, Queensland. In 1976, they returned to live on Magnetic Island, where they lived in Horseshoe Bay in an old, abandoned pineapple farm.
During Assange's upbringing Brett and Christine Assange ran a touring theatre company. In the mid-1970s, Assange and his parents moved to North Lismore, New South Wales, and Assange attended Goolmangar Primary School in the nearby town of Goolmangar from 1979 to 1983.
In 1979, his mother remarried "Leif Meynall – or Leif Hamilton"; her new husband was a musician whom Assange believed belonged to a New Age group called The Family, led by Yoga teacher Anne Hamilton-Byrne. The couple had a son, but broke up in 1982 and engaged in a custody struggle for Assange's half-brother. His divorced mother fled her boyfriend and travelled across Australia, taking both children into hiding for the next five years. Assange moved thirty times before he turned 14, attending many schools, including Goolmangar Primary School and Townsville State High School, sometimes being home-schooled. In an interview conducted by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Assange stated that he had lived in 50 different towns and attended 37 different schools. When questioned by Robert Manne, he clarified that the 37 schools he has attended include those he attended for only a single day. Manne reported a statement that Assange had been officially enrolled in 12 of those schools. He and his mother "by the time he was 16 or 17" lived in "a tiny cement bungalow in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne, (Victoria, Australia)", first in the town of "Emerald and then Tecoma", now in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
"Mendax" and the Nortel case
In 1987, after turning 16, Assange began hacking under the name "Mendax" (derived from a phrase of Horace: "splendide mendax", or "nobly untruthful"). He and two other hackers joined to form a group they named the International Subversives. Assange wrote down the early rules of the subculture: "Don't damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don't change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information." The Personal Democracy Forum said he was "Australia's most famous ethical computer hacker".
The Australian Federal Police became aware of this group and set up "Operation Weather" to investigate their hacking. In September 1991, Mendax was discovered in the act of hacking into the Melbourne master terminal of Nortel, the Canadian telecommunications company. In response the Australian Federal Police tapped Assange's phone line and subsequently raided his Melbourne home in 1991. He was also reported to have accessed computers belonging to an Australian university, the USAF 7th Command Group in the Pentagon and other organisations, via a modem. It took three years to bring the case to court, where he was charged with 31 counts of hacking and related crimes. Nortel said that his incursions cost it more than $100,000. Assange's lawyers represented his hacking as a victimless crime. In May 1995, he pleaded guilty to 25 charges of hacking, after six charges were dropped, and was released on bond for good conduct with a fine of A$2,100. The judge said "there is just no evidence that there was anything other than sort of intelligent inquisitiveness and the pleasure of being able to — what's the expression — surf through these various computers" and stated that Assange would have gone to jail for up to 10 years if he had not had such a disrupted childhood.
In 2011, court records revealed that, in 1993, Assange helped the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit by providing technical advice and assisted in prosecuting persons.
Marriage and child custody issues
In 1988–1989, Assange married, then left the home he shared with his mother and started living with his wife after they had a son, Daniel Assange. They split up before the period of Assange's arrest and conviction. They subsequently engaged in a lengthy custody struggle and did not agree on a custody arrangement until 1999. He claims that he raised his eldest son as a single father for more than 14 years.
The entire process prompted Assange and his mother to form Parent Inquiry Into Child Protection, an activist group centred on creating a "central databank" for otherwise inaccessible legal records related to child custody issues in Australia. In an interview with ABC Radio, his mother explained their "most important" issue was demanding "that there be direct access to the children's court by any member of the public for an application for protection for any child that they believe is at serious risk from abuse, where the child protection agency has rejected that notification."
Assange also has a younger daughter.
Computer programming and other employment
In 1993, Assange was involved in starting one of the first public internet service providers in Australia, Suburbia Public Access Network. Starting in 1994, he lived in Melbourne, where he worked on developing free software and programming. In 1995, he wrote Strobe, a freeware port scanner. He contributed several patches to the PostgreSQL project in 1996. He helped to write the book Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier (1997), which credits him as a researcher and reports his history with International Subversives. Starting around 1997, he co-invented the Rubberhose deniable encryption system, a cryptographic concept made into a software package for the Linux operating system designed to provide plausible deniability against rubber-hose cryptanalysis; he originally intended the system to be used "as a tool for human rights workers who needed to protect sensitive data in the field." Other free-software that he has authored or co-authored includes the Usenet caching software NNTPCache and Surfraw, a command-line interface for web-based search engines. In 1998, "Assange co-founded his first and only Australian company, Earthmen Technology". Assange was characterised as a "cryptographer" in a Suelette Dreyfus article published in The Independent, 15 November 1999 – "This is just between us (and the spies)", and was said to have been the moderator of "the online Australian discussion forum AUCRYPTO", and during this time Assange claimed to have found a new patent relating to the US National Security Agency's technology for monitoring calls, "while investigating NSA capabilities". Assange said that "this patent should worry people. Everyone's overseas phone calls are or may soon be tapped, transcribed and archived in the bowels of an unaccountable foreign spy agency". In 1999, he registered the domain leaks.org, but he says he "didn't do anything with it."
Assange had been enrolled in a computer programming course at CQUniversity, and from 2002 to 2005, Assange attended the University of Melbourne and the University of Canberra as an undergraduate student. He started a 'Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree, studying physics, pure mathematics and, briefly, philosophy and neuroscience, but he did not graduate. There are four passing grades in the Australian university system
- "pass", "credit" or "merit", "distinction" and "high distinction"; in most of his maths courses, he received "pass" (50-65%). The fact that his fellow students were doing research for the Pentagon's DARPA was reportedly a factor in motivating him to drop out and start WikiLeaks.
Career as head of WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks was founded in 2006. That year, Assange wrote two essays setting out the philosophy behind WikiLeaks: "To radically shift regime behaviour we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not." In his blog he wrote, "the more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie.... Since unjust systems, by their nature, induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance."
Assange is the most prominent media spokesman on WikiLeaks' behalf. In June 2010, he was listed alongside several others as a member of the WikiLeaks advisory board. While newspapers have described him as a "director" or "founder" of WikiLeaks, Assange has said, "I don't call myself a founder"; he does describe himself as the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, and he has stated that he has the final decision in the process of vetting documents submitted to the site. Assange says that WikiLeaks has released more classified documents than the rest of the world press combined: "That's not something I say as a way of saying how successful we are – rather, that shows you the parlous state of the rest of the media. How is it that a team of five people has managed to release to the public more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined? It's disgraceful."
WikiLeaks has been involved in the publication of material documenting extrajudicial killings in Kenya, a report of toxic waste dumping on the coast of Côte d'Ivoire, Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay detention camp procedures, the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike video, and material involving large banks such as Kaupthing and Julius Baer among other documents.
Public appearances and residency
Assange has not lived in Australia since he left after starting to work on WikiLeaks. He has been in Europe since his work with Wikileaks gained notoriety. In 2007 Assange moved to Nairobi, Kenya, he then also spent time in Tanzania, stayed in Cairo, Egypt for a week, Paris, France and Wiesbaden, Germany for two months at the end of 2008, He appeared at a hacker conference, the 25th and 26th Chaos Communication Congress in Germany He was in Linz, Austria for the Ars Electronica in September 2009 and Barcelona, Spain for the Personal Democracy Forum in November 2009. and at a media conference, New Media Days '09, in Copenhagen, Denmark. He began renting a house in Iceland on 30 March 2010, from which he and other activists, including Birgitta Jónsdóttir, worked on the Collateral Murder video. He was in San Francisco, California, United States, for the Logan Symposium in Investigative Reporting at the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism in April 2010, then in Oslo, Norway for the Oslo Freedom Forum from 26 to 29 April, before he returned to Australia in June 2010. On 21 June 2010, he took part in a hearing in Brussels, Belgium, appearing in public for the first time in nearly a month. He was a member on a panel that discussed Internet censorship and expressed his worries over the recent filtering in countries such as Australia. He also talked about secret gag orders preventing newspapers from publishing information about specific subjects and even divulging the fact that they are being gagged. Using an example involving The Guardian, he also explained how newspapers are sometimes altering their online archives by removing entire articles. He told The Guardian that he does not fear for his safety but is on permanent alert and will avoid travel to America, saying "[US] public statements have all been reasonable. But some statements made in private are a bit more questionable." He said "politically it would be a great error for them to act. I feel perfectly safe but I have been advised by my lawyers not to travel to the US during this period."
On 17 July 2010, Jacob Appelbaum spoke on behalf of WikiLeaks at the Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) conference in New York City, replacing Assange due to the presence of federal agents at the conference. He announced that the WikiLeaks submission system was again up and running, after it had been temporarily suspended. Assange was a surprise speaker at a TED conference on 19 July 2010 in Oxford, England and confirmed that WikiLeaks was now accepting submissions again. On 26 July, after the release of the Afghan War Diary, he appeared at the Frontline Club for a press conference. Later in July 2010 he was in London, United Kingdom, then in August in Stockholm, Sweden, before returning to London, where he was imprisoned.
In the first half of 2010, he appeared on Al Jazeera English, MSNBC, Democracy Now!, RT and The Colbert Report to discuss the release of the Baghdad airstrike video by WikiLeaks. On 3 June he appeared via videoconferencing at the Personal Democracy Forum conference with Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg told MSNBC "the explanation he (Assange) used" for not appearing in person in the US was that "it was not safe for him to come to this country." On 11 June he was to appear on a showcase panel at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Las Vegas, but there are reports that he cancelled several days prior.
On 10 June 2010, it was reported that Pentagon officials were trying to determine Assange's whereabouts. Based on this, there were reports that US officials wanted to apprehend
him. In The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder called Ellsberg's concerns "ridiculous" and said that "Assange's tendency to believe that he is one step away from being thrown into a black hole hinders, and to some extent discredits, his work." On Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald questioned "screeching media reports" that there was a "manhunt" on Assange underway, arguing that they were only based on comments by "anonymous government officials" and might even serve a campaign by the US government, by intimidating possible whistleblowers.
In October 2010, his application for a residency permit was denied in Sweden.
On 4 November 2010, Assange told Swiss public television TSR that he was seriously considering seeking political asylum in neutral Switzerland and moving the operation of the WikiLeaks foundation there.
In late November 2010, Kintto Lucas, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Ecuador, spoke about giving Assange residency with "no conditions... so he can freely present the information he possesses and all the documentation, not just over the Internet but in a variety of public forums". Lucas believed that Ecuador may benefit from initiating a dialogue with Assange. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño stated on 30 November that the residency application would "have to be studied from the legal and diplomatic perspective". A few hours later, President Rafael Correa stated that WikiLeaks "committed an error by breaking the laws of the United States and leaking this type of information... no official offer was [ever] made." Correa noted that Lucas was speaking "on his own behalf"; additionally, he will launch an investigation into possible ramifications Ecuador would suffer from the release of the cables.
In December 2010, it was reported that the US Ambassador to Switzerland, Donald S. Beyer, had warned the Swiss government against offering asylum to Assange, citing the arrest warrant issued by Interpol.
In a hearing at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on 7 December 2010, Assange identified a post-office box as his address. When told by the judge that this information was not acceptable, he submitted "Parkville, Victoria, Australia" on a sheet of paper. His lack of permanent address and nomadic lifestyle were cited by the judge as factors in denying bail. He was ultimately released, in part because journalist Vaughan Smith offered to provide Assange with an address for bail during the extradition proceedings, Smith's Norfolk mansion, Ellingham Hall. He lived there for a year, then moved out in December 2011 to a "3,000-acre estate in East Sussex" – "a lodge on Lord Abergavenny's Eridge Park estate, near Tunbridge Wells".
On 14 February 2011, Assange filed for the trademark "Julian Assange" in Europe. The trademark is to be used for "public speaking services; news reporter services; journalism; publication of texts other than publicity texts; education services; entertainment services".
On 19 February 2012 the 500th episode of The Simpsons, "At Long Last Leave", was aired, which features Assange guest-starring as himself in a scene written by Australian author Kathy Lette, the wife of Assange's adviser Geoffrey Robertson QC.
On 27 November 2012 Assange took part in the ConventionCamp in Hanover by videoconference.
Release of US diplomatic cables
On 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks began releasing some of the 251,000 American diplomatic cables in their possession, of which over 53 percent are listed as unclassified, 40 percent are "Confidential" and just over six percent are classified "Secret". The following day, the Attorney-General of Australia, Robert McClelland, told the press that Australia would inquire into Assange's activities and WikiLeaks. He said that "from Australia's point of view, we think there are potentially a number of criminal laws that could have been breached by the release of this information. The Australian Federal Police are looking at that". McClelland would not rule out the possibility that Australian authorities will cancel Assange's passport, and warned him that he might face charges should he return to Australia. The Federal Police inquiry found that Assange had not committed any crime.
The United States Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation related to the leak. US prosecutors are reportedly considering charges against Assange under several laws, but any prosecution would be difficult. In relation to its ongoing investigations of WikiLeaks, on 14 December 2010, the US Department of Justice issued a subpoena ordering Twitter to release information relating to Assange's account, amongst others.
The WikiLeaks diplomatic cable revelations have been credited by some commentators with being a factor in sparking the Tunisian Revolution, as such leaked cables revealed the degree of corruption in the then ruling government. Writing for Foreign Policy magazine, journalist Elizabeth Dickinson suggested that "Tunisians didn't need any more reasons to protest when they took to the streets these past weeks – food prices were rising, corruption was rampant, and unemployment was staggering. But we might also count Tunisia as the first time that WikiLeaks pushed people over the brink..."
On 6 December 2010, the Swiss bank PostFinance announced that it had frozen assets of Assange's totalling 31,000 euros, because he had "provided false information regarding his place of residence" when opening the account. MasterCard, Visa Inc., and Bank of America also halted dealings with WikiLeaks. Assange described these actions as "business McCarthyism". The English-language Swedish newspaper website The Local quoted Assange on 27 December 2010 as saying that legal costs for the whistleblowing website and his own defence had reached £500,000. Assange said WikiLeaks had been receiving as much as £85,000 a day at its peak, before the financial blockade.
In December 2010, Assange sold the publishing rights to his proposed autobiography for over £1 million. He told The Sunday Times that he was forced to enter the deal for an autobiography because of the financial difficulties he and the site encountered, stating "I don't want to write this book, but I have to. I have already spent £200,000 for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat.
A draft of this work was published, without Assange's consent, in September 2011. The book was ghostwritten by Andrew O'Hagan and was given the title Julian Assange – The Unauthorised Autobiography (2011). Assange and the publisher, Canongate, gave differing accounts of the circumstances surrounding the publication.
Allegations of possible extradition to the United States Emails leaked by WikiLeaks from Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, have discussions surrounding a secret grand jury with a secret indictment. Later, a media
organisation received declassified diplomatic cables that confirm a secret indictment exists. The documents go on to state that Australia has no objection to a potential extradition to the United States. The Australian government confirmed the possibility of extradition but stated that it wasn't unusual as there was an ongoing investigation about WikiLeaks. They point out that the United States may not be intent on extraditing Assange.
Support and criticism around the world
Comments by the Australian government
The publication of Australian government briefings after a Senate request showed the government had privately discussed charging Assange with treason, which they never mentioned publicly. Julia Gillard claimed that Assange's actions were illegal, which was later retracted when an Australian Federal Police commission determined he had not broken any Australian laws.
They also found no grounds to withdraw his Australian passport after an investigation by the Australian Federal Police.
Since then, government representatives and the major opposition, including Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, Minister for Trade Craig Emerson and former Minister for Communications Helen Coonan have made statements supportive of WikiLeaks and deprecated some threats. Emerson stated on ABC's 'Q&A' program: "We condemn absolutely the threats that have been made by some people in the United States against Julian Assange and he deserves all of the rights of being an Australian citizen".
Senator Ludlam's WikiLeaks support website leads with: "[We] are demanding the Australian Government take action to ensure WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange's legal and consular rights are upheld. We are concerned that our government has done nothing to investigate the secret US Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks, which could lead to Assange's extradition to the US."
These supportive statements by the Australian government have complicated Assange's attempts to seek political asylum. Under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, refugees must have a "well-founded fear of being persecuted" in their home country.
On 18 August, a Freedom of Information request made by the Sydney Morning Herald showed that the Australian government had been told repeatedly by the US that Washington was undertaking "unprecedented" efforts to get Assange, but that Canberra had not once objected.
On 16 October 2012, Lawyers Weekly reported that Assange is considering launching a defamation lawsuit against Gillard.
Request for political asylum in Ecuador
In December 2011, Assange's lawyer in Britain, Mark Stephens, repeated Assange's earlier claims that the allegations in Sweden were a "holding case" whilst the United States prepared its prosecution over Wikileaks's activities. He said Assange could face extradition or illegal rendition from Sweden to the US, where he could be detained in a high-security prison and face the death penalty under the Espionage Act of 1917. Stephens also stated his belief that Swedish officials were co-operating with US authorities.
On 19 June 2012, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, announced that Assange had applied for political asylum and that the government was analysing his request, and that Assange was in the Ecuadorian Embassy in
London. The Metropolitan Police Service stated that he was in breach of one of the conditions of his bail and could therefore be lawfully
arrested. Ecuador was required by international law to consider his application, but some extradition experts contended that he might have to show that he was being persecuted in his home country,
Australia. On 23 June, Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, recalled his Ambassador to the UK back to Quito, to discuss the
situation. On 24 June, Assange said he would go to Sweden if provided with a diplomatic guarantee that he would not be turned over to the
US. Ecuadorian officials at the London embassy offered to allow Swedish prosecutors to question Assange there. This was, however, spurned by the
In July 2012, Assange and human rights jurist Baltasar Garzón jointly announced that Garzón would lead his legal
Claes Borgström, the lawyer of the two Swedish women who made allegations of sexual assault against Assange, denounced Ecuador's move as "absurd". Borgström told reporters that the move was an abuse of the asylum instrument, the purpose of which is to protect people from persecution and torture if sent back to their country of origin. "He doesn't risk being handed over to the United States for torture or the death penalty. He should be brought to justice in Sweden," he
said. However, Ricardo Patiño, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, claims that Sweden has refused to rule out the extradition of Assange if it were requested by the United States because, as stated by the Swedish foreign ministry, Sweden's legislation does not allow any judicial decision like extradition to be
Grant of asylum
On 16 August, Ricardo Patiño, the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, stated in a press conference that the Ecuadorian government was granting Assange political
asylum. Patiño cited concerns that Assange might be extradited to the US, which could conceivably lead to his execution or indefinite incarceration. The British Foreign Office stated that it was "disappointed" at Ecuador's decision and that it remained under a binding agreement to extradite Assange to Sweden in spite of the decision taken by
Ecuador. On 16 August, the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said that the UK would not allow Assange safe passage out of the
country. Rafael Correa said on 18 August that Assange could stay at the embassy
indefinitely. Later, Patiño announced the decision to grant Assange asylum to the
A lot of people think it's strange that a government could act on principles. But we act on principles.... when we were deciding on the asylum... What has happened here is that Ecuador has recovered its dignity at an international level...previous governments in Ecuador did what the US or Europe told them to do. Even worse,... based on what they imagined the US or Europe wanted .... What happened since 2007, since Rafael Correa has been president... is that we have started thinking with our own head and we walk on our own feet. We have dignity and sovereignty."
In a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy on 19 August, Assange urged the United States to "end its witch hunt" against WikiLeaks and said: "Bradley Manning must be released" on several
occasions. He also said, "The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the
powerful." He also referred to the imprisonment of Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel
Rajab and three of the members of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot in
saying: "There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response."
Washington has denied there is any "witchhunt" and stated that Assange was making "wild" claims to deflect attention from his alleged sexual misconduct in
Sweden. There were also protests outside the British embassy in Ecuador, as well as support for Correa's approval of the asylum
In a poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion in August 2012, 41% of Britons said they would agree with the UK government ordering a raid of the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest Assange, but a similar proportion (38%) said they would disagree with this course of action. Seumas Milne of The Guardian has pointed out the unlikelihood of Britain threatening to forcibly enter a foreign embassy in order to apprehend a common sexual assault
Earlier, on 15 August, the Ecuadorian foreign minister stated that Britain had threatened to storm his country's embassy in London to arrest
Assange. At a press conference Patiño said, "Such actions would be a blatant disregard of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of the rules of international law over the past four centuries. It would set a dangerous precedent, of allowing the violation of embassies as recognised sovereign
spaces." The UK's position was that it was merely informing Ecuador of the legal position under UK's own Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, which allows the host government to determine what land is considered to be diplomatic or consular premises. Meanwhile, the 12-nation bloc of the Union of South American Nations
(UNASUR), the 'Alianza Bolivariana' (ALBA), comprising some of these nations besides others from Central America and the 34-nation Organization of American States
(OAS), have rallied behind Ecuador, condemning such a possibility and reiterating the inviolability of its diplomatic
premises. Correa then announced that they had received "a communication from the British Foreign Office which said that there was no threat to enter the embassy."
adding, "We consider this unfortunate incident over, after a grave diplomatic error by the British in which they said they would enter our embassy."
Officers from the Metropolitan Police Service have remained stationed outside the Ecuadorian embassy since Assange entered the building on 19 June 2012. They have been tasked to arrest Assange in the event he attempts to leave the building. Police disclosed in February 2013 that, as of 31 January 2013, the full cost of keeping officers outside the embassy was estimated to be £2.9 million ($4.5 million).
Assange lives in a small office room converted into a living quarters. Visitors stated that the room is equipped with a bed, telephone, sun lamp, computer with internet connection, shower, treadmill, and small kitchenette. Assange reportedly lives on a diet of pizza and other take-away food.
Forfeiture of sureties
On 8 October 2012, at Westminster Magistrates Court, nine individuals who had each stood surety for bail for Assange were ordered by the Chief Magistrate, Howard Riddle, to forfeit sums totalling three-quarters of the total amount pledged. He accepted that the individuals had acted in good faith and that the case was unusual. However, he considered that there was no difference in principle between Assange seeking diplomatic asylum in the Ecuador embassy and absconding to that country. He ruled that he would not forfeit "more than is necessary" to protect the integrity of the system of surety for bail. He ordered the nine individuals to pay a total of £93,500 between them. The Chief Magistrate pointed out that the sureties had been given previous opportunities "to make representations to show cause why their recognizance should not be estreated".
The Chief Magistrate ruled under § 120(3) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 that each of the nine must pay the money demanded in full by 6 November 2012 or appear in front of him to show cause why they should "not be committed to custody for non-payment". He ruled that Professor Tricia David must pay £10,000; Lady Caroline Evans £15,000; Joseph Farrell and Sarah Harrison (WikiLeaks aides) £3,500 each; Phillip Knightley (a journalist) £15,000; Sarah Saunders £12,000; Vaughan Smith £12,000; Sir John Sulston £15,000 and Tracy, Marchioness of Worcester £7,500.
The World Tomorrow interview programme
In January 2012, WikiLeaks announced that Assange would launch "a series of in-depth conversations with key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries from around the world", titled The World Tomorrow. The first of twelve completed interview programmes was broadcast by RT Russia Today on 17 April, with other networks expected to follow. The series is broadcast on a weekly basis and the 26-minute episodes are being made available online. Guests included Hassan Nasrallah, Slavoj Žižek, David Horowitz, Moncef Marzouki, Nabeel Rajab, Rafael Correa, David Graeber, Jacob Appelbaum, Imran Khan, Noam Chomsky and Anwar Ibrahim.
Assange has announced his intention to launch a political party and run a campaign for a Senate seat representing either New South Wales or Victoria in the Australian federal election, 2013. Australian commentators have questioned his eligibility. The Australian Electoral Commission has accepted Julian Assange's enrolment as an eligible overseas elector in the Victorian federal seat of Isaacs. As of 16 March 2013 The Australian Electoral Commission website does not mention the proposed Wikileaks Party or Julian Assange.
Political and economic views
Assange purports the views of Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky in supporting countries which are independent of the large powers:
NATO, the United States, Russia, or China. According to these views the United States controls the world by setting up regimes, including replacement regimes. This is done by cooperation of the government, the media, and large corporations.
In a video released by Wikileaks channel in January 2013, Assange sided with the Iranian Islamic (Shiite) regime, saying that they cannot deal with human rights concerns because of the country's intense fear of being attacked by hostile governments on all its borders. He said that banning Hizbullah-affiliated Al Manar broadcasts was "killing off" that TV station. Assange noted that "Democracies are always lied into war" by intelligence institutions but more importantly by the large media outlets which are culturally biased.
In an interview with Hizbullah leader Hassan Nassrallah, Assange said that he wished to understand how millions see him as a liberator, while millions of others see him as a terrorist. He asked Nassrallah if the Israeli claims that Hizubullah is deliberately targeting civilians is true, and accepted Nassrallah's answer that it was a way of protecting their own towns. He then asked about Nassrallah's support for Bashar Assad in neighboring Syria, and accepted Nassrallah's answer that Assad was supportive of the Palestinian and anti-American efforts throughout the years, while the funding for the war within Syria is coming from external countries such as the US. Nassrallah said that he was supportive of a political solution without war and that the reason this was not happening was due to Israeli, American and Sunni interests coming from organisations such as Al-Qaeda. Nassrallah also said that Arab regimes supporting the Syrian uprising were doing so in order to appease the US and other Western governments. Assange concluded the interview by discussing a joke he enjoyed about encryption that Nassrallah had told during the second Lebanon War.
According to Assange, "It's not correct to put me in any one philosophical or economic camp, because I've learned from many. But one is American libertarianism, market libertarianism. So as far as markets are concerned I'm a libertarian, but I have enough expertise in politics and history to understand that a free market ends up as monopoly unless you force them to be free."
He advocates a "transparent" and "scientific" approach to journalism, saying that "you can't publish a paper on physics without the full experimental data and results; that should be the standard in journalism." Assange has called himself "extremely cynical". He has been described as being largely self-taught and widely read on science and mathematics, and as thriving on intellectual battle.
In 2008, Assange published an article entitled "The Hidden Curse of Thomas Paine", in which he wrote "What does it mean when only those facts about the world with economic powers behind them can be heard, when the truth lays naked before the world and no one will be the first to speak without payment or subsidy?"
In 2012, Assange stated that he has read the World Socialist Web Site "for many years" and appreciated the site's accuracy, though he avoided its commentary on what he called "socialist sectarian issues".
case is not a million miles away from something closer to home in the
United Kingdom, that of a certain person challenging local authority, then
being convicted unjustly of
sexual charges - that if one looks at them closely, are completely out of
character. It appears to us that given the opportunity, local and national
authorities will use whatever is at their disposal to bury anyone who
dares to question their administration. Freedom of speech? Yes, but for how
cannibalism in humans is commonplace where the (UK) state still pays
bunny-boilers to fabricate allegations - despite the untenable ratio of
false allegations. This is called Noble
Cause Corruption, so named because the cause (more convictions of
rapists and perverts) is noble, but the means (convicting significant
numbers of innocent men) is corrupt. A decent justice system is one where
convictions are safe; where an appeal is guaranteed and where the court
system does not refuse appellants the evidence for their barristers to
perfect grounds of appeal. Unlike most European countries, the right of
appeal in the UK in not mandatory and the discretionary single judge paper
system is open to startling abuses. This book is based on a real case
study, that reveals the fatal flaws in the English justice system. No man
in England is safe until these issues are dealt with - it could happen to