Assange was born in Townsville located in northern Queensland
Assange was born in the north Queensland city of Townsville, to Christine Ann Assange (née Hawkins) (b. 1951), a visual artist, and John Shipton, an anti-war activist and builder. The couple had separated before Assange was born.
When he was a year old, his mother married Richard Brett Assange, an actor, with whom she ran "a small eccentric theatre company." They divorced around 1979, and Assange's mother then became involved with Leif Meynell, also known as Leif Hamilton, a member of the Australian New Age group The Family, with whom she had a son before the couple broke up in 1982. Assange had a nomadic childhood, and had lived in over thirty different Australian towns by the time he reached his mid-teens, when he settled with his mother and half-brother in Melbourne, Victoria.
In September 1991, he was discovered hacking into the Melbourne master terminal of Nortel, a Canadian multinationaltelecommunications corporation. The Australian Federal Police tapped Assange's phone line (he was using a modem), raided his home at the end of October, and eventually charged him in 1994 with thirty-one counts of hacking and related crimes. "Trax" and "Prime Suspect" were each charged with a smaller number of offenses. In December 1996, he pleaded guilty to twenty-five charges (the other six were dropped), and was ordered to pay reparations of A$2,100 and released on a good behaviour bond, avoiding a heavier penalty due to the perceived absence of malicious or mercenary intent and his disrupted childhood. After the trial, Assange lived in Melbourne, where he survived on single-parent income support.
In 1993, Assange gave technical advice to the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit and assisted with prosecutions. In the same year he was involved in starting one of the first public internet service providers in Australia, Suburbia Public Access Network. He began programming in 1994, authoring the TCP 'half-open' port scanner (a type of stealth TCP/IP network reconnaissance tool) strobe.c (1995), patches to the open-source database PostgreSQL (1996), the Usenet caching software NNTPCache (1996), the Rubberhosedeniable encryption system (1997), which reflected his growing interest in cryptography, and Surfraw, a command-line interface for web-based search engines (2000). During this period he also moderated the AUCRYPTO forum, ran Best of Security, a website "giving advice on computer security" that had 5,000 subscribers in 1996, and contributed research to Suelette Dreyfus'sUnderground (1997), a book about Australian hackers, including the International Subversives. In 1998, he co-founded the company Earthmen Technology.
In 1999, he registered the domain leaks.org, but, as he put it, "I didn't do anything with it." He did, however, publicise a patent granted to the National Security Agency in August 1999 for voice-data harvesting technology: "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." This would remain an abiding concern, to which he returned more than a decade later in Cypherpunks (2012), foreseeing a dystopian future in which, "the Internet, our greatest tool for emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen".
After his period of study at the University of Melbourne, Assange and others established WikiLeaks in 2006. Assange is a member of the organisation's advisory board and describes himself as the editor-in-chief. From this time on he was continuously on the move and stayed in places such as Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, Germany (2007–2008); Malaysia, Iceland, the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom (2010). The purpose was to develop the organisation’s infrastructure, promote its activities at conferences and through the media, and further his editorial work.
WikiLeaks posted large amounts of material exposing government and corporate wrongdoing between 2006 and 2009, attracting various degrees of publicity. But it was only when it began publishing documents supplied by Chelsea Manning that Wikileaks became a household name. The Manning material included the Collateral Murder video (April 2010), an edited version of which was viewed 14.5 million times on YouTube over the next four years, the Afghanistan war logs (July 2010), the Iraq war logs (October 2010), a quarter of a million diplomatic cables (November 2010), and the Guantánamo files (April 2011).
WikiLeaks was criticised by Amnesty International and other human rights groups for failing to remove all identifying information from the Afghanistan war logs, beyond those 15,000 reports already withhold. Despite withholding some 15,000 incident reports for "safety reasons," thousands of documents in the Wikileaks Afghan war log do identify Afghans by name, family, location, and ideology. The Taliban issued a warning to Afghans, alleged in the log to have worked as informers for the NATO-led coalition, that "US spies" will be hunted down and punished, indicating they will investigate the named individuals before deciding on their fate. Asked what he thought of the dangers to those families created by the release of their personal information, Assange claimed that many informers in Afghanistan were "acting in a criminal way" by sharing false information with NATO authorities. He insisted that any risk to informants’ lives was outweighed by the overall importance of publishing the information. Wikileaks took greater care with the Iraq war logs, and set to do the same with the diplomatic cables until the cables had became available online, fully unredacted. In response, WikiLeaks decided on 1 September 2011 to also publish the 251,287 unedited documents after getting the go-ahead from his Twitter followers.
The year 2010 culminated with the Sam Adams Award, which Assange accepted in October, and a string of distinctions in December—the Le Monde readers' choice award for person of the year, the Time readers' choice award for person of the year (he was also a runner-up in Time's overall person of the year award), a deal for his autobiography worth at least US$1.3 million, and selection by the Italian edition of Rolling Stone as "rockstar of the year."
Financial matters become uncertain after MasterCard and Visa suspended donations to Wikileaks after 2010. The Wau Holland Foundation received €1.33 million in 2010, €139,000 in 2011 and €69,000 in 2012, of which WikiLeaks spent €1.45 million over the same period, leaving a balance of €85,000 with Wau Holland as 2013 began. Assange described it as "economic censorship outside the judicial system" performed by the US.
U.S. legal position
After WikiLeaks released the Manning material, there were two avenues open to U.S. authorities under the Espionage Act of 1917—they might try to prosecute Assange for publishing it, or they might try to prosecute him for inciting, abetting, or conspiring with Manning to obtain it.
The difficulty with the first approach was that the Manning material had been carried by many media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian, and it would be untenable to pursue one without pursuing all. Journalists and publishers in the U.S. are also protected by the First Amendment guarantee of free speech, which makes it unlikely that such a prosecution would succeed. WikiLeaks' First Amendment immunity was recognised as early as 2008 by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Bank Julius Baer v. WikiLeaks. No one has been put on trial simply for publishing the leaks.
The difficulty with the second approach was that the offence had to be proven. If it were, Assange could expect punishment proportional to Manning's thirty-five-year jail term. The same precedent seemed to rule out the death penalty or transportation to Guantánamo, concerns that had already been dismissed as "ridiculous." In any event, there was no certainty that the U.S. government would get its way, as the example of Thomas Drake showed.
In November 2010, U.S. Attorney-GeneralEric Holder said there was "an active, ongoing criminal investigation" into WikiLeaks. It emerged from legal documents leaked over the ensuing months that Assange and others were being investigated by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, although it is unclear when it was impanelled (a vague reference in a leaked email from September 2010 to "grand jury matters" is inconclusive). Like all grand juries, it was operating in camera, so there is no public record of its deliberations.
A one-line email from an employee of intelligence consultancy Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor) leaked in 2012 said, "We have a sealed indictment on Assange." This has been dismissed as evidence of "how a Texas-based corporate research firm can get a little carried away in marketing itself," and, like all the leaked Stratfor material, as inconsequential and oversold "gossip." There were other grounds for scepticism. First, the email was sent in January 2011, when the grand jury was still in its infancy, and before what appears to have been its main period of activity later that year. Second, in December 2011, prosecution filings at a pre-trial hearing for Chelsea Manning indicated that there were no U.S. charges against Assange at that time. Third, the grand jury was still impanelled in November 2013, nearly three years after the Stratfor employee boasted that charges had been finalised. U.S. authorities have consistently denied the existence of such an indictment.
Meanwhile, the argument that Assange and Manning were accomplices was being rehearsed by prosecutors in the Manning case, beginning at the pre-trial hearing in December 2011, when they revealed the existence of chat logs between Manning and a WikiLeaks interlocutor they claimed to be Assange. He "flatly" denies this, dismissing the alleged connection as "absolute nonsense." The logs were presented as evidence (Exhibit 123) during the court-martial in June–July 2013. The most significant exchange occurs on the afternoon of 8 March 2010, when Manning asks, "any good at lm hash cracking?", her interlocutor replies, "yes … we have rainbow tables for lm," Manning sends a string of letters and numbers, and the interlocutor says, "passed it onto our lm guy." The prosecution argued that this shows WikiLeaks helping Manning reverse-engineer a password. The evidence that the interlocutor was Assange is circumstantial, however, and Manning insists she acted alone. In January 2011, the U.S. military conceded that it had "been unable to make any direct connection between" the two.
Assange was being examined separately by "several government agencies" in addition to the grand jury. WikiLeaks stated that, "The CIA has publicly declared a WikiLeaks Task Force. Even earlier, the Pentagon publicly declared a 120-member operation into WikiLeaks working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.". CIA officials described the goal to assess the impact of the Manning leaks, with the CIA task force looking at the diplomatic cables in the winter of 2010–2011, and minimize the risk of a new WikiLeaks-like leak, and the Pentagon describing its mission as identify names and other "sensitive" information from the classified war logs of Iraq. In 2010, Wikileaks published an 2008 Army Counterintelligence Center assessment report under the headline "U.S. Intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks". The report suggest to track down and punish whistleblowers in order to destroy the Wikileaks website as a trust center and deter new whistleblowers from using it.
In August 2012, U.S. government officials were reported to be "divided over the wisdom of prosecuting Assange," and to have suggested that "the likelihood of U.S. criminal charges against him is probably receding rather than growing," but in June 2013 the Justice Department confirmed that investigations were "ongoing." In November 2013, officials said the government had "all but concluded" that it would not bring a case against Assange, but declined to say whether they were winding up the grand jury investigation.
On the 12th of July 2014, Politiken reported that Wikileaks had filed a criminal complaint against the FBI's illegal activities against it in Denmark, specifically demanding an investigation into Danish authorities' involvement as agents of the US and threatening to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Swedish legal position
Demonstration in support of Assange in front of Sydney Town Hall, 10 December 2010
Assange is wanted for questioning over one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation, and one count of lesser-degree rape (mindre grov våldtäkt) alleged to have been committed against two women during a visit to Sweden in August 2010. The allegations relate to "non-consensual behaviour within consensual sexual encounters." Assange denies the allegations.
Political asylum in Ecuador
Julian Assange on a balcony in the Ecuadorian embassy in London
Assange said he would go to Sweden if provided with a diplomatic guarantee that he would not be turned over to the U.S. Lawyer David Allen Green responded that while Assange was less likely to be extradited from Sweden than from the United Kingdom, Sweden could not provide such a guarantee under its own or international law: "Assange is asking the impossible, as he probably knows." Ecuadorian officials also suggested that Swedish authorities could question Assange at the embassy. The prosecutor explained that Assange was not wanted "merely to assist with our enquiries," but for "the purpose of conducting criminal proceedings"—that is, to be arrested, charged, and tried.
Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño met with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy on 16 June 2013.
On 16 August 2012, Foreign Minister Patiño announced that Ecuador was granting Assange political asylum. Swedish lawyer Claes Borgström called Ecuador's decision "completely absurd" and "an abuse of the asylum instrument," a view echoed by others. Latin American states expressed support for Ecuador. President Correa confirmed on 18 August that Assange could stay at the embassy indefinitely, and the following day Assange gave the first of his addresses from the balcony.
His home since then has been an office converted into a studio apartment, equipped with a bed, telephone, sun lamp, computer, shower, treadmill, and kitchenette. There was concern that the British police would try to extricate Assange from the embassy by force, but this did not occur. Officers of the Metropolitan Police Service remain stationed outside the building to arrest him should he try to leave. The cost of the policing operation for the first two years of Assange's stay was £6.5 million.
The individuals who stood bail for Assange, including Ken Loach, Jemima Khan, Michael Moore, John Pilger, and those others who had provided a cash deposit of £200,000, forfeited everything in July 2012, and in October, a separate group of nine supporters who had pledged sureties totalling £140,000 were ordered to pay £93,500 after the judge made various reductions on compassionate grounds.
In an interview with Democracy Now! on July 7, 2014, Assange partly explained the impact of his case in the UK.
As a result of the abuses in my case, which were seen by the Supreme Court—there was a split in the Supreme Court. Here in Britain. And subsequently, the Cambridge Journal of Comparative Law wrote two papers about what had happened. And there's a lot of concern about this idea that you could extradite someone without even charging them. So, political pressure—there was a backbench revolt in the British Parliament, principally amongst the conservative backbench, that this was—you know, that any police officer in Europe could just ask for someone in the U.K. to be extradited without it going before a court and without them being charged. And so new legislation was introduced to prevent that happening. So, no more extradition without charge from the U.K. But there was then debate that, "Well, will this in fact protect Assange?" And so, a specific clause was entered into it that it will not be retrospective for those people where the court has decided that they will be extradited, but they haven’t been extradited yet—which just applies to me.
On 18 August 2014, Assange announced in a press conference that he would be leaving the Ecuadorian embassy "soon". Early news reports attributed potentially life-threatening health concerns to his decision to leave, including a severe vitamin D deficiency as a result of the lack of exposure to sunlight, a chronic lung problem, cardiac arrhythmia, and very high blood pressure. However, in an interview with Fairfax Media, Assange clarified his position, saying that although his health had "deteriorated" during his two-year confinement, he was leaving "not for the reason you might think". He later stated that the United Kingdom's recent withdrawal from the European Arrest Warrant system under which Sweden sought his extradition would allow him to leave the embassy without repercussions. In an interview with The Guardian, WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson said Assange would be "ready to leave at any moment as soon as the ridiculous siege outside will stop and he is offered safe passage."
During the year of 2012, Assange worked on analyzing and assessing the historic records, a vast amount of data held at the U.S. National Archives and releasing it in a searchable form. Assange held two interviews at the end 2010 in which he complained about Swedish police report being leaked, and that the Guardian was "selectively publishing" parts of it, the day before his bail hearing, while others noted the irony of the leak.
Former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Public AffairsPhilip J. Crowley said Assange had "painted himself into a corner and he's going to stay there for some time,". When Edward Snowden leaked the Global surveillance disclosures in June 2013, Snowden displaced Assange in media coverage, according to a study of Google Trends search results published 31 December 2013, despite his role in getting Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow. In March 2014, Andrew O'Hagan's 2011 book, The Unauthorised Autobiography prompted Sarah Sands to dismiss Assange as a "fading star of cyberspace". Colin Robinson of the Guardian countered that its "shallow presumptions about the character of someone never met and the guilt of someone never tried", and "that it is especially dangerous to pass casual judgment on the character of people who confront the powerful" when the "(Glenn) Greenwald report reveals that Assange and WikiLeaks have been the specific target of operatives in GCHQ and the NSA".
His Unauthorised Autobiography (2011) was published against his wishes, and appears to be entirely the work of Andrew O'Hagan, based on interviews with Assange.Cypherpunks is primarily a transcript of the The World Tomorrow episode 8 two-part interview between Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, and Jérémie Zimmermann.
While still in his teens, Assange married a woman known only as Teresa, and in 1989 they had a son, Daniel Assange, now a software designer. The couple separated and fought over custody of the child until 1999. Assange says he was Daniel's primary caregiver for much of his childhood. For a time he was the partner of WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison.
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, 2013 American independent documentary film about the organization started by Julian Assange, and people involved in the collection and distribution of secret information and media by whistleblowers. The film was denounced by Assange as "an unethical and biased title in the context of pending criminal trials. It is the prosecution's claim and it is false", leading the executive producer Jemima Khan to feel "alienated".
Julian Assange and Andrew O'Hagan, Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography (London: Canongate, 2011).
Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, and Jérémie Zimmermann, Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet (New York and London: OR Books, 2012).
Heather Brooke, The Revolution Will Be Digitised: Dispatches from the Information War (London: William Heinemann, 2011).
Daniel Domscheit-Berg and Tina Klopp, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website, translated by Jefferson Chase (London: Jonathon Cape, 2011). First published as Inside WikiLeaks: Meine Zeit bei der gefährlichsten Website der Welt (Berlin: Econ Verlag / Ullstein Buchverlage, 2011).