Julian Assange
Julian Assange (Norway, March 2010).jpg
Assange in 2010
Born (1971-07-03) 3 July 1971 (age 49)[1][2][3]
Townsville, Queensland, Australia
Nationality Australian
Occupation Editor-in-chief and spokesperson for WikiLeaks
Children Daniel Assange[4]
Awards Economist Index of Censorship Award (2008)
Amnesty International UK Media Award (2009)
Sam Adams Award (2010)

Julian Paul Assange (/[invalid input: 'icon']əˈsɑːnʒ/ ə-SAHNZH; born 3 July 1971) is an Australian journalist,[5][6][7] publisher[8][9] and Internet activist. He is best known as the spokesperson and editor in chief for WikiLeaks, a whistleblower website. Before working with the website, he was a physics and mathematics student as well as a computer programmer.[10] He has lived in several countries and has told reporters he is constantly on the move. He makes irregular public appearances to speak about freedom of the press, censorship, and investigative reporting; he has also won three journalism awards for his work with WikiLeaks.

Assange founded the controversial WikiLeaks website in 2006 and serves on its advisory board. In this capacity, he has been involved in the publication of material documenting extrajudicial killings in Kenya, a report of toxic waste dumping on the African coast, Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay procedures, and material involving large banks such as Kaupthing and Julius Baer among other documents.[11] He has recently received widespread public attention for the publication of classified material from WikiLeaks documenting details about the involvement of the United States in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. On 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks and its five media partners began publishing the United States diplomatic cables leak. According to The Guardian, this has placed Assange "at the centre of intense media speculation and a hate campaign against him in America".[12]

On 30 November 2010, Interpol placed Assange on its red notice list of wanted persons;[13] concomitantly, a European Arrest Warrant was issued for him.[14] He is wanted for questioning on suspicion of "sex crimes"; it is reported that while having consensual sex his condom broke and he either did not disclose the breakage to his partner or continued after his partner asked him to stop. He has not been formally charged with any crime.[15] Mark Stephens, a British legal representative of Assange, said "It is highly irregular and unusual for the Swedish authorities to issue a red notice in the teeth of the undisputed fact that Mr Assange has agreed to meet voluntarily to answer the prosecutor's questions".[16]

Early life

Assange was born in Townsville, Queensland, and spent much of his youth living on Magnetic Island.[17] Assange's parents ran a touring theatre company. In 1979, his mother, Christine,[18] remarried; her new husband was a musician who belonged to a controversial New Age group led by 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 mother then took both children into hiding for the next five years. Assange moved several dozen times during his childhood, attending many schools, sometimes being home schooled, and later attending several universities at various times in Australia.[19][20]


In 1987, after turning 16, Assange began hacking under the name "Mendax" (derived from a phrase of Horace: "splendide mendax," or "nobly untruthful").[19] He and two other hackers joined to form a group which 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".[19]

In response to the hacking, the Australian Federal Police raided his Melbourne home in 1991.[21] He was reported to have accessed computers belonging to an Australian university, the Canadian telecommunications company Nortel,[19] and other organisations, via modem.[22] In 1992, he pleaded guilty to 24 charges of hacking and was released on bond for good conduct after being fined AU$2100.[19][23] The prosecutor 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".[19]

Assange later commented, "It's a bit annoying, actually. Because I cowrote a book about [being a hacker], there are documentaries about that, people talk about that a lot. They can cut and paste. But that was 20 years ago. It's very annoying to see modern day articles calling me a computer hacker. I'm not ashamed of it, I'm quite proud of it. But I understand the reason they suggest I'm a computer hacker now. There's a very specific reason."[8]

Child custody issues

In 1989, Assange started living with his girlfriend and soon they had a son. She separated from him after the 1991 police raid and took their son.[24] They engaged in a lengthy custody struggle, and did not agree on a custody arrangement until 1999.[19] The entire process prompted Assange and his mother to form Parent Inquiry Into Child Protection, an activist group centered on creating a "central databank" for otherwise inaccessible legal records related to child custody issues in Australia.[24]

Computer programming and university studies

In 1993, Assange started one of the first public internet service providers in Australia, Suburbia Public Access Network.[8][25] Starting in 1994, Assange lived in Melbourne as a programmer and a developer of free software.[23] In 1995, Assange wrote Strobe, the first free and open source port scanner.[26][27] He contributed several patches to the PostgreSQL project in 1996.[28] 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.[29] Starting around 1997, he co-invented the Rubberhose deniable encryption system, a cryptographic concept made into a software package for Linux designed to provide plausible deniability against rubber-hose cryptanalysis;[30] he originally intended the system to be used "as a tool for human rights workers who needed to protect sensitive data in the field."[31] Other free software that he has authored or co-authored includes the Usenet caching software NNTPCache[32] and Surfraw, a command-line interface for web-based search engines. In 1999, Assange registered the domain leaks.org; "But", he says, "then I didn't do anything with it."[33]

Assange has reportedly attended six universities.[20] From 2003 to 2006, he studied physics and mathematics at the University of Melbourne.[19] On his personal web page, he described having represented his university at the Australian National Physics Competition around 2005.[19][34] He has also studied philosophy and neuroscience.[20]


Main article: WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks was founded in 2006.[19][35] That year, Assange wrote two essays setting out the philosophy behind WikiLeaks: "To radically shift regime behavior 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."[36][37][38] In his blog he wrote, "the more secretive or unjust an organisation 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."[36][39]

Assange sits on Wikileaks's nine-member advisory board,[40] and is a prominent media spokesman on its behalf. While newspapers have described him as a "director"[41] or "founder"[21] of Wikileaks, Assange has said, "I don't call myself a founder";[42] he does describe himself as the editor in chief of WikiLeaks,[43] and has stated that he has the final decision in the process of vetting documents submitted to the site.[44] Like all others working for the site, Assange is an unpaid volunteer.[42][45][46][47][48] 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."[35] Assange 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."[49][50] In 2006, CounterPunch called him "Australia's most infamous former computer hacker."[51] The Age has called him "one of the most intriguing people in the world" and "internet's freedom fighter."[33] Assange has called himself "extremely cynical".[33] The Personal Democracy Forum said that as a teenager he was "Australia's most famous ethical computer hacker."[20] He has been described as being largely self-taught and widely read on science and mathematics,[23] and as thriving on intellectual battle.[52]

WikiLeaks has been involved in the publication of material documenting extrajudicial killings in Kenya, a report of toxic waste dumping on the African coast, Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay procedures, the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike video, and material involving large banks such as Kaupthing and Julius Baer among other documents.[11]

Public appearances

Assange in Copenhagen, 2009

In addition to exercising great authority and editorial control within WikiLeaks, Assange acts as its public face. He has appeared at media conferences such as New Media Days '09 in Copenhagen,[53] the 2010 Logan Symposium in Investigative Reporting at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism,[54] and at hacker conferences, notably the 25th and 26th Chaos Communication Congress.[55] 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.[56][57] Ellsberg told MSNBC "the explanation he [Assange] used" for not appearing in person in the USA was that "it was not safe for him to come to this country."[58] On 11 June he was to appear on a Showcase Panel at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Las Vegas,[59] but there are reports that he cancelled several days prior.[60] On 10 June 2010, it was reported that Pentagon officials are trying to determine his whereabouts.[61][62] Based on this, there have been reports that U.S. officials want to apprehend Assange.[63] Ellsberg said that the arrest of Bradley Manning and subsequent speculation by U.S. officials about what Assange may be about to publish "puts his well-being, his physical life, in some danger now."[58] 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."[64] In 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 U.S. government, by intimidating possible whistleblowers.[65]

On 21 June 2010, Assange took part at a hearing in Brussels, Belgium, appearing in public for the first time in nearly a month.[66] 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 altering their online archives sometimes by removing entire articles.[67][68] He told The Guardian that he does not fear for his safety but is on permanent alert and will avoid travel to America, saying "[U.S.] 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 U.S. during this period."[66]

On 17 July, Jacob Appelbaum spoke on behalf of WikiLeaks at the 2010 Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) conference in New York City, replacing Assange due to the presence of federal agents at the conference.[69][70] He announced that the WikiLeaks submission system was again up and running, after it had been temporarily suspended.[69][71] Assange was a surprise speaker at a TED conference on 19 July 2010 in Oxford, and confirmed that WikiLeaks was now accepting submissions again.[72][73][74] On 26 July, after the release of the Afghan War Diary, Assange appeared at the Frontline Club for a press conference.[75]

Release of American diplomatic cables

On 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks began releasing more than 251,000 American diplomatic cables, mostly unclassified but including many labelled "classified" or "secret". The following day, the Attorney-General of Australia, Robert McClelland, told the press that Australia would inquire into Assange's activities and WikiLeaks.[76] 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".[77] 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.[78] McClelland also vowed to fully support any U.S. legal action against Wikileaks and Assange.[79] Greg Barns, director of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, wrote "Mr. McClelland’s decision amounts to little more than posturing. This is because Mr. Assange would appear to have committed no crime under Australia’s suite of laws on disclosure of sensitive state information".[80]

The United States launched a criminal investigation related to the leak of US government information by Assange and WikiLeaks on 29 November.[81] US prosecutors are reportedly preparing charges against Assange under the Espionage Act.[82]

In a Time interview conducted after the release of the cables, Richard Stengel asked Assange whether Hillary Clinton should resign; he responded by stating, "She should resign if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations, in violation of the international covenants to which the U.S. has signed up".[83]

Reactions to leaking

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg said that Assange "is serving our [American] democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations, which are not laws in most cases, in this country." On the issue of national security considerations for the U.S. regarding Wikileaks's publication of American diplomatic cables, Ellsberg added that "He’s obviously a very competent guy in many ways. I think his instincts are that most of this material deserves to be out. We are arguing over a very small fragment that doesn’t. He has not yet put out anything that hurt anybody’s national security".[84]

On the other hand, Daniel Yates, a former British military intelligence officer, wrote "Assange has seriously endangered the lives of Afghan civilians ... The logs contain detailed personal information regarding Afghan civilians who have approached NATO soldiers with information. It is inevitable that the Taliban will now seek violent retribution on those who have co-operated with NATO. Their families and tribes will also be in danger."[85] Responding to the criticism, Assange said in August 2010 that 15,000 documents are still being reviewed "line by line", and that the names of "innocent parties who are under reasonable threat" will be removed.[86] This was in response to a letter from a White House spokesman. Assange replied to the request through Eric Schmitt, a New York Times editor. This reply was Assange's offer to the White House to vet any harmful documents; Schmitt responded that "I certainly didn't consider this a serious and realistic offer to the White House to vet any of the documents before they were to be posted, and I think it's ridiculous that Assange is portraying it that way now."[87]

Glenn Greenwald and others have criticized the media's profiles of Assange. Greenwald calls one New York Times article (written by John F. Burns) on Assange a "sleazy hit piece".[88][89][90] Burns defended his article, saying it was an "absolutely standard journalistic endeavour"; Greenwald disputed this, saying "What Burns did to Julian Assange is most certainly not a ‘standard journalistic endeavor’ for The New York Times ... please show me any article that paper has published which trashed the mental health, psyche and personality of a high-ranking American political or military official—a Senator or a General or a President or a cabinet secretary or even a prominent lobbyist—based on quotes from disgruntled associates of theirs. That is not done, and it never would be. This kind of character smear ... is reserved for ... people without power or standing in Washington and, especially, those whom American Government authorities scorn. ... the Pentagon hates Assange and wants him destroyed, and therefore the ‘reporters’ who rely on, admire and identify with Pentagon officials immediately adopt that perspective—and that's why he was the target of this type of attack".[88][91]

An editorial in the Washington Times by Jeffrey T. Kuhner said Assange should be treated "the same way as other high-value terrorist targets" and be assassinated.[92] Former Nixon aide and talk radio host G. Gordon Liddy has reportedly suggested that Assange's name be added to the "kill list" of terrorists who can be assassinated without a trial.[93]

Dispute about status as a journalist

Assange received the 2009 Media award from Amnesty International,[6] which are intended to "recognise excellence in human rights journalism"[94] and he has been recognized as a journalist by the Centre for investigative journalism.[5] In December 2010 however, US State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley declared that Assange is not a journalist,[95] and also stated that the US State Department does not regard WikiLeaks as a legitimate media organization.[96] Alex Massie wrote an article in The Spectator called "Yes, Julian Assange is a journalist", but acknowledged that "newsman" might be a better description of Assange.[7] Assange himself points out he has been publishing factual material since age 25, and that it is not necessary to debate whether or not he is a journalist. He has stated that his role is "primarily that of a publisher and editor-in-chief who organises and directs other journalists".[97]

Swedish arrest warrant for alleged sex offenses

On 20 August 2010, an investigation was opened against Assange in Sweden in connection with an allegation that he had raped a woman named Anna Ardin, a radical feminist and anti-Semite,[98][99][100] in Enköping on the weekend of 14 August after a seminar, and two days later had sexually harassed a second woman he had been staying with in Stockholm.[101][102] Shortly after the investigation opened, however, chief prosecutor Eva Finné overruled the prosecutor on call the night the report was filed, withdrawing the warrant to arrest Assange and saying "I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape." He was still being investigated for harassment, which covers reckless conduct or inappropriate physical contact.[103] The second woman was a member of the Swedish Association of Christian Social Democrats, a Christian affiliate of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, who organized a seminar and news conference in Sweden for Assange. She was acting as Assange's spokeswoman and hosting him as a guest in her home during his stay in Sweden.[104] Assange said "the charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing"; his supporters say he is the victim of a smear campaign.[105] Assange denies any wrongdoing but admits to having had unprotected but, he says, consensual encounters with two women during a visit to Sweden in August.[104][14] He was questioned by police for an hour on 31 August,[106] and on 1 September a senior Swedish prosecutor re-opened the investigation saying new information had come in. The women's lawyer, Claes Borgström, a Swedish politician, had earlier appealed against the decision not to proceed.[107] Assange has said that the accusation against him is a "set-up" arranged by the enemies of WikiLeaks.[108]

In late October, Sweden denied Assange's application for a Swedish residency and work permit. Subsequently, on 4 November, Assange said that he is considering a formal request for political asylum in Switzerland as "a real possibility."[108] He would also move the WikiLeaks servers to Switzerland in order to "operate in safety."[109] However, according to the Swiss Refugee Council (Schweizerische Flüchtlingshilfe), his chances of obtaining asylum there are small. Assange would first need to claim protection from his native Australia, and then make a credible argument that Australia could not protect him. This would be extremely difficult, according to the organisation.[110]

On 18 November, Stockholm District Court approved a request to detain Assange for questioning on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation, and unlawful coercion.[111] Director of Public Prosecutions Marianne Ny, who had reopened the investigation in September, said she had requested the warrant because, "so far, we have not been able to meet with him to accomplish the interrogation."[111][112] Assange's British legal counsel, Mark Stephens, disputed this, saying "we were willing to meet at the Swedish embassy or Scotland Yard or via video link" and that "all of these offers have been flatly refused by a prosecutor who is abusing her powers by insisting that he return to Sweden at his own expense to be subjected to another media circus that she will orchestrate."[113][114] On 20 November, Sweden's National Criminal Police force issued an international arrest warrant for Assange via Interpol; an EU arrest warrant was issued through the Schengen Information System. "We made sure that all the police forces in the world would see it", a spokesman for the National Criminal Police said.[115]

Stephens dismissed the charges,[113] issuing a statement in which he called the allegations "false and without basis" and said "even the substance of the allegations, as revealed to the press through unauthorized disclosures do not constitute what any advanced legal system considers to be rape."[116][117]

On November 18, Assange's Swedish lawyer, Björn Hurtig, stated that the evidence against Assange was "very meager. It's not enough to get him convicted for crime."[118]

On 24 November 2010, Assange lost an appeal against his detention, and thus remains under arrest in absentia and under an arrest warrant. The Svea Court of Appeal rejected his appeal and upheld the decision to remand him by the Stockholm district court.[112][119] In late November, Assange escalated the process by appealing to the Supreme Court of Sweden,[119][120] but the Court refused to hear the appeal.[121][122]

On 30 November 2010, Interpol issued a red notice against Assange on behalf of Sweden for questioning on allegations of "sex crimes."[123][124] Interpol's spokesman clarified, "if it wasn't for a request from Sweden, we would not have changed the status of his warrant."[125] Initially the notice was marked "restricted" but made public only after Sweden said they should.[126] British police rejected the arrest warrant. A spokeswoman for the Swedish National Police Board told the BBC that Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency had requested a new order as the original one had listed only the maximum penalty for the most serious crime alleged, rather than for all of the crimes. Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny admitted the procedural fault and immediately filed a new detention order.[127]

Ny filed charges of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.[128][129] Assange denies the charges, which his lawyer, Mark Stephens, described as stemming from a "dispute over consensual but unprotected sex",[129] which may constitute rape under the Swedish law.[128] The coincidence of the Interpol notice and European Arrest Warrant on Assange with the United States diplomatic cables leak was subject of commentary by the media.[128][129]


Assange was the winner of the 2009 Amnesty International Media Award (New Media),[130] awarded for exposing extrajudicial assassinations in Kenya with the investigation The Cry of Blood – Extra Judicial Killings and Disappearances.[131] In accepting the award, he said: "It is a reflection of the courage and strength of Kenyan civil society that this injustice was documented. Through the tremendous work of organisations such as the Oscar foundation, the KNHCR, Mars Group Kenya and others we had the primary support we needed to expose these murders to the world."[132] He also won the 2008 Economist Index on Censorship Award.[5]

Assange was awarded the 2010 Sam Adams Award by the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.[133][134] In September 2010, Assange was voted as number 23 among the "The World's 50 Most Influential Figures 2010" by the British magazine New Statesman.[135] In their November/December issue, Utne Reader magazine named Assange as one of the "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World".[136]

On 12 November he was leading in the poll for Time magazine's "Person of the Year, 2010".[137]


While an Australian citizen, Assange does not plan to return to Australia based on the stances that officials there have taken about his WikiLeaks activities. He has often been profiled as not having a permanent address. Assange has said he is constantly on the move, living in airports.[9] He has lived for periods in Australia, Kenya and Tanzania, and 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.[19]

For much of 2010, he was visiting the UK, also visiting Iceland, Sweden and other European countries. On 4 November 2010, Assange told Swiss public television TSR that he is seriously considering seeking political asylum in neutral Switzerland and setting up a WikiLeaks foundation in the country to move the operation there.[138][139] According to Assange, Switzerland and Iceland are the only countries where WikiLeaks would feel safe to operate.[140][141]

In late November 2010, Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas of Ecuador appeared to be offering 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".[142] Lucas believed that Ecuador may benefit from initiating a dialogue with Assange.[143] Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino stated on 30 November that the residency application would "have to be studied from the legal and diplomatic perspective".[144] 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."[145][146] 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.[146]


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