Friday, January 14, 2011

Julian Assange – International Man of Mystery

Julian Assange b.1971, Australian journalist, publisher, Internet activist and spokesperson, cryptographer and editor in chief and founder of WikiLeaks, a whistleblower website and repository for news leaks. Previously Assange was a computer programmer and a hacker. In 2010 Assange was described as “the most famous man in the world” (Rintoul et al 2010). Assange has received a number of human-rights-related awards. November 2010, WikiLeaks and media partners began publishing secret US diplomatic cables causing great embarrassment among leaders of many nations. In the same month Interpol placed Assange on its list of wanted persons, wanted for questioning about alleged sexual offences. Assange voluntarily surrendered to the London Metropolitan Police Service in December 2010. Assange denies the accusations made against him. There have been calls for Assange to be prosecuted for espionage and even calls for his assassination. Assange has had a falling out with some WikiLeaks collaborators, and has been accused of being a dictator with an oversized ego. WikiLeaks is a secretive organization, and Assange has been living an itinerant, secretive life travelling the world.

Assange spent most of his youth living on beautiful Magnetic Island off Queensland. His family had an unconventional lifestyle. Assange was homeschooled and he had his own horse. The family home burnt down. His step-father described Assange as a very intelligent child with a strong sense of morality "He always stood up for the underdog,... he was always very angry about people ganging up on other people." When Assange was 11 years his mother took Assange and his half-brother into hiding for 5 years during a custody dispute over his half-brother, in which the family moved homes and schools. Assange was homeschooled, also self-taught, a voracious reader citation-surfing in libraries, did some study by correspondence and also studied informally with university professors (Khatchadourian 2010). Assange started computer hacking at 16, joining a hacker group. This set has been described thus: "These were gifted kids who the system really couldn't accommodate and so they had exited - mentally, emotionally, physically." (Suelette Dreyfus quoted by Rintoul et al 2010). According to Wikipedia, in 1991 police raided his home and Assange pleaded guilty to hacking in 1992 and he was released and fined. According to another source (Wilson 2011) five years passed between the hacking and Assange being sentenced. Court documents from the 1996 sentencing portray Asssange as a lonely computer geek kid who had an unsettled family and educational life who failed his year 12 exams (Wilson 2011). One needs to consider that such documents would have a bias. While awaiting trial Assange reportedly became depressed and briefly booked himself into a hospital (Khatchadourian 2010). When Assange broke up with a girlfriend whom he had “married in an unofficial ceremony” (Khatchadourian 2010) he became involved in a custody battle over his own son, resulting in Assange and his mother creating a database of legal records related to child custody issues in Australia. An important internal manual was leaked by a child protection worker. According to Assange’s mother, this was the stressful time when Assange’s hair turned grey. Assange was involved with starting one of Australia’s first ISPs, and he has developed free software, becoming a key figure in the free software movement (Barrowclough 2010). Assange also co-invented the Rubberhose deniable encryption system. Assange has reportedly attended six universities at various times but has never graduated, studying maths, physics, philosophy and neuroscience. Assange became disenchanted with studying maths because fellow Australian students were working on projects for the US military.

Assange’s voice has been described as a “droning bass monotone” (Hosenball 2010). He has a pale complexion and hair that has gone completely grey before the age of 40. An account of a former housemate describes Assange’s lifestyle as one in which he would forget to eat and sleep, and would work through the night on his computer. Assange is capable of intense concentration but can also be absent-minded in practical matters (Khatchadourian 2010). Assange has been described as “brilliant and charming one minute but insufferable the next” (Hosenball 2010). According to one report Assange “has described himself to collaborators, only partly in jest, as "somewhere on the autistic spectrum."” (Hosenball 2010). There has also been some online speculation about Assange and autism.

Some quotes from Julian Assange

''I live a broad intellectual life. I'm good at a lot of things, except for spelling.'' (Barrowclough 2010)

"That is my temperament. I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable. And I enjoy crushing bastards."

“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.'' (Barrowclough 2010)

“The austerity of one’s interaction with a computer is something that appealed to me,” he said. “It is like chess—chess is very austere, in that you don’t have many rules, there is no randomness, and the problem is very hard.” (Khatchadourian 2010)

“We were bright sensitive kids who didn’t fit into the dominant subculture and fiercely castigated those who did as irredeemable boneheads.” (Khatchadourian 2010)

"I'm a combative person. So I like crushing bastards. So it is deeply, personally, personally, deeply satisfying to me."

“When a judge says, ‘The prisoner shall now rise,’ and no one else in the room stands—that is a test of character.” (Khatchadourian 2010)

“If it feels a little bit like we’re amateurs, it is because we are; everyone is an amateur in this business.” (Khatchadourian 2010)

"Real bastards are people who have power and abuse their power to afflict people who are weaker than they are.”

“When it comes to the point where you occasionally look forward to being in prison on the basis that you might be able to spend a day reading a book, the realization dawns that perhaps the situation has become a little more stressful than you would like.”

“It has given me enough anger to last me 100 years.”

References about Julian Assange

Barrowclough, Nikki (2010) The secret life of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Sydney Morning Herald. May 22, 2010.

Cadwalladr, Carole (2010) Julian Assange, monk of the online age who thrives on intellectual battle. Scot Network. August 5th 2010.
[“At times, he can seem almost autistic, although “he doesn’t lack charm””]

Carrick, Damien (2010) Julian Assange. Law Report. ABC Radio National. December 14th 2010.

Cjb (accessed 2011) Things People Say About Julian Assange. (blog)

[good for a laugh]

Dreyfus, Suelette & Assange, Julian (researcher) (1997) Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier. Reed Books Australia.

Fowler, Andrew (2010) Truth or dare. Foreign Correspondent. ABCTV. Broadcast 22nd June 2010.

[about WikiLeaks, includes a link to video and a transcript]

Hosenball, Mark (2010) Special Report: Julian Assange versus the world. Reuters. December 13th 2010.
[includes a claim that Assange has described himself only partly in jest as somewhere on the autistic spectrum]

Kenber, Billy and Whitworth, Damian (2010) Pied Piper Julian Assange brooks no dissent in land of WikiLeaks. Times. December 18, 2010.

Khatchadourian, Raffi (2010) No secrets: Julian Assange’s mission for total transparency. New Yorker. June 7th 2010.

Rintoul, Stuart, Parnell, Sean, Elks, Sarah, Rout, Milanda & Owens, Jared (2010) Julian Assange, wild child of free speech. Australian. December 11, 2010. Weekend Australian. December 11-12 2010. p. 1, 8.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2010) Julian Assange. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wilson, Lauren (2011) Assange 'addicted' to computer as a boy. Weekend Australian. January 15-16th 2011. (The Nation).

Copyright Lili Marlene 2011.

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