Who is Julian Assange?
Julian Assange, putative founder of the Web site WikiLeaks, has been described by Congressman Peter King (R-NY) as an international terrorist and his Web site a terrorist organization. Other descriptions of Assange range from being an anarchist to various shades of he’s simply performing a public service holding state secrets up to the light.
The Swedish seem to think he’s a rapist, guilty of sexual molestation and coercion from a case in August which led to his recent arrest in England. Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, claims the charges apparently stem from a "dispute over consensual but unprotected sex" and claims the case is turning into "an exercise in persecution."
WikiLeaks depends on donations to fund its activities and has recently seen some of its funding sources shut off. PayPal recently announced it was discontinuing taking donations for it. Apparently MasterCard has shut them off as well since I heard its Web site has been undergoing attacks by WikiLeaks supporters in an effort to disrupt business after Assange’s arrest.
All this brouhaha raises the question of just exactly who the heck is Julian Assange and where did he come from. Information on Assange, the self-appointed king of transparency, is pretty scant. What is available paints a picture of an obsessive personality spawned by a chaotic upbringing.
He was born Julian Paul Assange in 1971 in Townville, Queensland, Australia. From all reports his parents were non-conformist and operated a touring theatre group. Raised on the road, at first with both parents then later with his mother and a step-brother, they were trying to evade an abusive father who they believed belonged to a cult.
By age 16, Assange had attended 37 different schools. By reading and self-study along with his public education he was able to enter a university to study pure mathematics and physics. He reportedly left the university in 2006 prior to starting WikiLeaks a year later.
Reportedly, Assange became a hacker as a teenager and with a Commodore 64 and a modem he illegally entered others’ computer systems. Along with two friends he formed a group called "International Subversives" and regularly hacked into computer systems belonging to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory and others belonging to various Australian and Canadian organizations.
At age 19 Assange was in trouble with the law.
The Australian Federal Police rounded up the International Subversives leading him to plead guilty to 25 charges. He paid a fine and was set free with no jail time. Of this experience he told a reporter from The Age newspaper in Melbourne, "Justice wasn’t something that came out of the justice system. Justice was something you bring to the justice system. And if you’re lucky, or skilled, and you’re in a country that isn’t too corrupt, you can do that."
Assange sees life as a struggle of man; not one of political leanings but of individuals struggling against institutions. So, why the particular obsession with government institutions? According to his mother he saw great bureaucracies that were squashing people.
Assange says that WikiLeaks, which uses multiple servers in multiple nations and whose material appears on many domains, practices what he calls "harm immunization" to protect sources and innocent people mentioned in the releases. He terms anyone inadvertently harmed by his information dumps as "collateral damage." According to Assange, WikiLeaks is an international effort, a "super-national organization" that is not interested in national security. He said, "When governments stop torturing and killing people, and when corporations stop abusing the legal system, then perhaps it will be time to ask if free-speech activists are accountable."
Larry Sanger, a Wikipedia co-founder, tweeted WikiLeaks last week and said, "What you’ve been doing to us is breathtakingly irresponsible & can’t be excused with pieties of free speech and openness."
He went on to blast the notion WikiLeaks is an influence for openness and transparency, pointing out that a great deal of democratic government – especially matters dealing with privacy, public safety and defence – is necessarily conducted behind closed doors and anyone who thinks otherwise is dangerously naive. "Speaking as Wikipedia’s co-founder, I consider you enemies of the U.S.—not just the government, but the people."
It’s apparent Assange doesn’t really want to encourage free speech and openness. His real intention, as he freely explains, is to paralyze the U.S. government, which he calls an "authoritarian conspiracy," by forcing the authorities to restrict the flow of information so severely that they themselves are rendered powerless. "It is not our goal to achieve a more transparent society; it’s our goal to achieve a more just society," he says. "An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think efficiently cannot act to preserve itself."
One thing is evident: What is certain to arise out of this whole WikiLeaks episode will most assuredly be an effort to greatly increase security procedures at all levels of industry, government and the military.
Could it be he and other such activists use as justification one written in 100 BC by Publilius Syrus: "For a just cause, wrong-doing is virtuous"? According to Robert Louis Stevenson, "Everyone, sooner of later, sits down to a banquet of consequences." One can only wonder what Julian Assange’s banquet will be like.