Julian Assange

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Julian Assange


Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks.

"Mendax"

The Australian newspaper has unraveled striking parallels between Assange and a character named Mendax in a book called Underground, which details the exploits of teenage Melbourne computer hackers. Assange, who collaborated with Suelette Dreyfus, the author, has not denied that he was Mendax.

According to Underground, Mendax was a prodigiously intelligent child who never knew his father and spent much of his youth traveling across Australia. As a teenager, Mendax invented a computer program that enabled a group of hackers called the International Subversives to invade computers at the Pentagon, Nasa and other top-secret organisations.

Mendax/Assange supposedly left home at 17 after being alerted to a police raid, fathered a child at 18, and had a breakdown after he was charged by police. “Briefly hospitalised, he lived rough in the hills outside Melbourne for a period,” the publication summarised.

What is known is that in October 1989, just as the Atlantis space shuttle was about to be launched, Nasa’s computer monitors suddenly showed one giant word — “Wank”, the acronym for a hacker group calling itself Worms Against Nuclear Killers. Assange was one of six Melbourne teenagers arrested by police; although never implicated in the Nasa attack, he was charged with more than 30 counts of computer crime. Admitting 24 of them, he was placed on a “good behaviour bond” and ordered to pay A$2,100.

“He was opposed to Big Brother, to the restriction of freedom of communication,” recalled Ken Day, who led the federal investigation. “His moral sense about breaking into computer systems was, ‘I’m not going to do any harm, so what’s wrong with it?’ ”

Inspiration

Assange worked in computer security in Melbourne and raised his son. He traveled extensively and enrolled in a mathematics and physics course at Melbourne University. Assange’s inspiration for Wikileaks allegedly came from one of the most notorious leaks of all.

In 1969 Daniel Ellsberg, a "disillusioned military analyst", made copies of the US defence department’s official history of the Vietnam war. But the so-called “Pentagon Papers” hit the presses two years after Ellsberg got them. “As a leak, it’s almost an example of what not to do,” Assange said. “By the time he got the info out, it was of little political consequence.”

His solution took months of effort, according to Dreyfus: “The thing about Julian is that he is absolutely obsessively driven when he has a goal he wants to achieve. So he basically dropped everything, lived on the smell of an oily rag, enlisted a range of people from around the world and got them involved.”[1]

Roots of WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks also has roots in an influential 1990s discussion group, the Cypherpunk mailing list. “Cypherpunk”, formed from the words “cipher”, or code, and “cyberpunk”, a science fiction genre full of rogue hackers fighting corporate tyrants, indicates the members’ loose ideology -- that the anonymity and security provided by computerised cryptography (“crypto”) could create a new society free from coercion, a system know as crypto-anarchy.[2]

Many of us see strong crypto as the key enabling technology for a new economic and social system, a system which will develop as cyberspace becomes more important. A system which dispenses with national boundaries, which is based on voluntary (even if anonymous) free trade. At issue is the end of governments as we know them today... Strong crypto permits unbreakable encryption, unforgeable signatures, untraceable electronic messages, and unlinkable pseudonymous identities. This ensures that some transactions and communications can be entered into only voluntarily. External force, law, and regulation cannot be applied. This is "anarchy," in the sense of no outside rulers and laws.

The cypherpunks were ahead of their time, clearly anticipating Wikileaks’s use of anonymous, encrypted internet drop-boxes by 15 years or more -- but then Julian Assange was a regular poster to the list. The hacker community has created the future it used to speculate about.

In one notorious incident, cypherpunk Jim Bell published an essay entitled “Assassination Politics”, which discussed the creation of a completely anonymous site where users could sponsor the assassination of corrupt politicians. Bell was later jailed for spying on federal agents, themselves sent to spy on him for writing the essay.

Assange laid the philosophical groundwork for Wikileaks when he replied to "Assassination Politics" in his State and Terrorist Conspiracies:

How can we reduce the ability of a conspiracy to act? … We can split the conspiracy, reduce or eliminating important communication between a few high weight links or many low weight links. Traditional attacks on conspiratorial power groupings, such as assassination, have cut high weight links by killing, kidnapping, blackmailing or otherwise marginalizing or isolating some of the conspirators they were connected to... The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. 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.

WikiLeaks launched

Wikileaks went public in January 2007. The website stated vaguely that it was “founded by Chinese dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and start-up company technologists from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa”. Assange described himself merely as a member of the site’s advisory board and was later referred to as the founder.

With a budget of £175,000 a year, the site relied on small donations, with free legal support donated by media organizations such as the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

Assange claims submissions are vetted, and attempts are made to investigate leakers’ bona fides. Asked who gets the final call, he replied: ‘Me, actually. I’m the final decision if the document is legit.”

To his detractors, it does not amount to accountability. Assange’s answer? “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.”[3]

Bradley Manning

In June 2010, Assange followed legal advice and canceled a scheduled trip to the US to speak about internet censorship after the arrest of US intelligence analyst Bradley Manning. Manning is accused of leaking secret materials, including 260,000 classified state department cables.

The former intelligence analyst is being held by US military authorities in Kuwait. Wikileaks provided three lawyers to assist him. It is Wikileaks’ policy not to identify its sources and to provide lawyers and other help when people have been identified.[4]

Ellsberg connection

Veteran whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg has expressed his concern about Assange’s safety now that his site is so badly embarrassing the US government. Ellsberg leaked a top secret study into the US war on Vietnam in 1971, showing that US war operations were being hidden from the US public. The leak received international attention and became known as the “Pentagon Papers”.

Speaking to the US-based political website Daily Beast, Ellsberg said: “I would think that [Assange] is in some danger. Granted, I would think that his notoriety now would provide him some degree of protection.”

Ellsberg speaks from experience as he has been on the receiving end of a US “special operation”. US military operations against its own citizens are not routine, but such operations have been authorised in periods of extreme tension.

“I was in fact the subject of a White House hit squad in … 1972”, said Ellsberg. “A dozen Cuban assets [right-wing Cubans] were brought up from Miami with orders, quote, quoting the prosecutor, to incapacitate Daniel Ellsberg totally … [They were worried that] I would leak [then US] President Nixon’s nuclear threats [against South-East Asia], which he was making at that precise time in 1972.”[5]

Arrest and support

Julian Assange was ordered held without bail, December 7, 2010, after he surrendered to face sex-crime charges in Sweden and told the court he intended to fight moves to extradite him.

The 39-year-old Australian appeared at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court in the heart of London soon after surrendering at a police station that morning.

Assange was asked by Judge Howard Riddle whether he understood that he could consent to be extradited to Sweden, where he faces one count of rape, one of unlawful coercion and two counts of sexual molestation. The anti-secrecy campaigner, who denies all of the charges, responded, "I understand that, and I do not consent," The Associated Press reported.

Six WikiLeaks' supporters -- including film director Ken Loach and veteran war journalist John Pilger -- offered to guarantee Assange's bail of $150,000. However, the judge refused bail and ordered the WikiLeaks founder held until Dec. 14 on the grounds that he might fail to surrender for his next court appearance and had the financial means to flee Britain.[6]

Pressure

Assange's major sources of funding have slowly dried up since his organization began releasing hundreds of U.S. diplomatic cables -- a leak known as Cablegate. The Visa Europe credit card company today suspended transfers to WikiLeaks "pending further investigation into the nature of its business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules." Swiss authorities froze Assange's bank account, reported to contain about $41,000, after claiming he had provided false personal information. MasterCard also blocked transfers to WikiLeaks, saying the organization was involved in "illegal activity," according to CNet News. Online credit firm PayPal has refused to pass on donations to the site.[7]

Hired by Russia Today

Christian Science Monitor Moscow correspondent Fred Weir reports that Starting in March, 2012, Julian Assange will host a 10-part series of interview programs with "key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries" on Russia Today, a state-funded English-language satellite news network which claims to reach more than 85 million viewers in the US alone.

According to a statement on his website, the new Assange series will explore the "upheavals and revolutions" that are shaking the Middle East and expose how "the deterioration of the rule of law has demonstrated the bankruptcy of once leading political institutions and ideologies" in the West.

Entitled "The World Tomorrow," the show will be filmed by an RT satellite crew at Ellingham Hall, the remote manor house 130 miles north of London. It's the same place Assange has been under house arrest since December 2010 awaiting a Supreme Court decision on his extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.

One British newspaper, The Guardian, has published its own wish list of people it would like to see go head-to-head with him, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Through this series I will explore the possibilities for our future in conversations with those who are shaping it," Assange said in his statement. "Are we heading towards utopia, or dystopia and how we can set our paths? This is an exciting opportunity to discuss the vision of my guests in a new style of show that examines their philosophies and struggles in a deeper and clearer way than has been done before."

The network says the series could reach as many as 600 million viewers worldwide.

The six-year-old Russia Today, which seems far better funded than most media these days, has battled accusations that it is a Kremlin vanity project since its inception.

The station tends to tiptoe gingerly around the controversies of Russian politics, but aggressively applies its own slogan – "Question More" – in its coverage of Western affairs and particularly the global role of the US.

In 2010 it opened a full-time US TV channel, RT America, which produces independent content on US politics and economics from what it calls an alternative – critics say anti-American – point of view.

Hiring Assange would seem a perfect fit for RT. Worries that WikiLeaks might dump a lot of embarrassing material about the Russian government into Internet never panned out.

However, the thousands of US diplomatic cables that it did release proved to be the gift-that-keeps-on-giving for critics and rivals of Washington, including the Kremlin.

"We liked a lot of the WikiLeaks revelations. It was very much in sync with what Russia Today has been reporting about the Arab Spring, and about the duplicitous policies of the US and its allies all along," says Peter Lavelle, a senior journalist with RT and host of its Cross Talk public affairs program.

"I think the Russian government will be pleased [to see Assange working on RT]. It's a soft power coup for Russia," he added.[8]

References