Julian Assange

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Julian Assange
Julian Assange cropped (Norway, March 2010).jpg
Assange in Norway 2010
Born(1971-07-03) 3 July 1971 (age 42)[1]
Townsville, Queensland, Australia
ResidenceEmbassy of Ecuador, London, United Kingdom
NationalityAustralian
OccupationEditor-in-chief and spokesman for WikiLeaks
Home townMelbourne, Australia[2]
 
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Julian Assange
Julian Assange cropped (Norway, March 2010).jpg
Assange in Norway 2010
Born(1971-07-03) 3 July 1971 (age 42)[1]
Townsville, Queensland, Australia
ResidenceEmbassy of Ecuador, London, United Kingdom
NationalityAustralian
OccupationEditor-in-chief and spokesman for WikiLeaks
Home townMelbourne, Australia[2]

Julian Paul Assange (/əˈsɑːn/ ə-SAHNJ;[3][4] born 3 July 1971) is an Australian publisher[5][6] and journalist.[7][8] He is known as the editor-in-chief and founder of WikiLeaks,[5] which publishes submissions of secret information,[9] news leaks[10] and classified media from anonymous news sources and whistleblowers.[11]

Assange was a hacker as a teenager, then a computer programmer before becoming known for his work with WikiLeaks, initially started in 2006.[12] WikiLeaks became internationally well known in 2010 when it began to publish U.S. military and diplomatic documents with assistance from its partners in the news media. Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning) has since pled guilty to supplying the cables to WikiLeaks. U.S. Air Force documents reportedly state that military personnel who make contact with WikiLeaks or "WikiLeaks supporters" are at risk of being charged with "communicating with the enemy",[13] and the United States Department of Justice reportedly has considered prosecuting Assange for several offenses.[14] During the trial of Manning, military prosecutors presented evidence that they claim reveals that Manning and Assange collaborated to steal and publish U.S. military and diplomatic documents.[15]

Since November 2010, Assange has been subject to a European Arrest Warrant in response to a Swedish police request for questioning in relation to a sexual assault investigation. In June 2012, following final dismissal by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom of his appeal against enforcement of the European Arrest Warrant, Assange has failed to surrender to his bail, and has been treated by the UK authorities as having absconded. Since 19 June 2012, he has been inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has since been granted diplomatic asylum.[16][17] The British government intends to extradite Assange to Sweden under that arrest warrant once he leaves the embassy, which Assange says may result in his subsequent extradition to the United States to face charges over the diplomatic cables case.[16]

While on bail in England during 2012, Assange hosted a political talk show World Tomorrow which was broadcast on the RT TV channel.[18][19]

Early life

Assange was born in Townsville

Assange was born in Townsville, Queensland[20][21] and is a sixth-generation Australian.[22] He is the child of Christine Ann Assange (née Hawkins),[20][23] and John Shipton, who ended their relationship when Christine became pregnant.[24]

Christine moved with her infant son to a cottage in Picnic Bay, Magnetic Island, Queensland, and married Richard Brett Assange when Julian was one year old.[25][26] The name Assange is an anglicised form of "Ah Sang", Cantonese Chinese for "Mr. Sang", which was another name for Sun Tai Lee, a Chinese immigrant to Thursday Island, Queensland.[27][28][29][30][31][32]

Youth

In 1976, the family returned to live on Magnetic Island, where they lived in Horseshoe Bay in an old abandoned pineapple farm.[33][34] Assange and his mother lived with his grandparents in Lismore from the mid-1970s to the early-1980s.[35][36][37][38] During Assange's upbringing, Brett and Christine ran a touring theatre company. In the mid-1970s, Assange and his parents moved to North Lismore, New South Wales, and Assange attended Goolmangar Primary School in the nearby town of Goolmangar from 1979 to 1983.[39]

In 1979, his mother married "Leif Meynall – or Leif Hamilton".[40] The couple had a son, but broke up in 1982 and engaged in a custody struggle for Assange's half-brother. His divorced mother travelled across Australia, taking both children into hiding for the next five years. According to Andrew O'Hagen, Assange's ghostwriter, they were running from The Family, a New Age Aryan cult that focused on collecting and indoctrinating children. O'Hagan has also written that Assange requested that information about their apparent involvement with The Family as well as about his stepfather's alcoholism not be included in the final book.[41] Assange moved thirty times before he turned 14, attending many schools, including Townsville State High School, and sometimes being home-schooled.[25][34][42][43][44][45] By his late teens, he and his mother were living near Melbourne.[46][47]

"Mendax" and the Nortel case

In 1987, after turning 16, Assange began hacking under the name "Mendax" (derived from a phrase of Horace: "splendide mendax", or "nobly untruthful").[25] He and two other hackers joined to form a group 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."[25] The Personal Democracy Forum said he was "Australia's most famous ethical computer hacker".[48]

The Australian Federal Police became aware of this group and set up "Operation Weather" to investigate their hacking. In September 1991, Mendax was discovered in the act of hacking into the Melbourne master terminal of Nortel, the Canadian telecommunications company.[25] In response, the Australian Federal Police tapped Assange's phone line and subsequently raided his Melbourne home in 1991.[49] He was also reported to have accessed computers belonging to an Australian university,[25] the USAF 7th Command Group in the Pentagon and other organisations, via a modem.[50]

After three years the case was presented in court, where Assange was charged with 31 counts of hacking and related crimes. Nortel claimed that his incursions resulted in more than A$100,000 worth of damages. Assange's lawyers represented his hacking as a victimless crime. In May 1995, he pleaded guilty to 25 charges of hacking, after six charges were dropped, and was released on bond for good conduct with a fine of A$2,100.[25][51][52] The judge 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"[25] and stated that Assange would have gone to jail for up to 10 years if he had not had such a disrupted childhood.[33] After the trial, Assange was an unemployed father in Melbourne, surviving on a single parent pension, as the family courts had granted him sole custody of his son.[51]

Family and child custody issues

Assange left the home he shared with his mother to live with his wife Teresa, with whom he had a son, Daniel Assange (born in 1989).[35][53][54] They separated before the period of Assange's arrest and conviction. They subsequently engaged in a lengthy custody struggle and did not agree on a custody arrangement until 1999.[25] Assange has stated that he raised his eldest son as a single father for more than 14 years.[55]

Assange and his mother formed Parent Inquiry Into Child Protection, an activist group centred on creating a "central databank" for otherwise inaccessible legal records related to child custody issues in Australia. In an interview with ABC Radio, his mother explained their "most important" issue was demanding "that there be direct access to the children's court by any member of the public for an application for protection for any child that they believe is at serious risk from abuse, where the child protection agency has rejected that notification."[56] According to Assange, both his son and his mother have moved and changed their names.[57]

Assange fathered a second child, a daughter, who was born in 2006.[53][58][59] He is reported by multiple sources (including testimony to the Swedish police) to have at least four children total,[60] and to have been present at the birth of all but one, although Assange told his ghost writer, Andrew O'Hagan, in 2011 that he only has a son.[41]

Computer programming and other employment

In 1993, Assange helped the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit by providing technical advice and assisted in prosecuting persons.[61] During this year, Assange was also involved in starting one of the first public internet service providers in Australia, Suburbia Public Access Network.[62][63] Starting in 1994, he lived in Melbourne, where he worked on developing free software and programming.[52] In 1995, he wrote Strobe, a freeware port scanner.[64][65] He contributed several patches to the PostgreSQL project in 1996.[66][67] 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.[68][69]

Starting around 1997, he co-invented the Rubberhose deniable encryption system, a cryptographic concept made into a software package for the Linux operating system designed to provide plausible deniability against rubber-hose cryptanalysis;[70] he originally intended the system to be used "as a tool for human rights workers who needed to protect sensitive data in the field."[71] Other free-software that he has authored or co-authored includes the Usenet caching software NNTPCache[72] and Surfraw, a command-line interface for web-based search engines. In 1998, "Assange co-founded his first and only Australian company, Earthmen Technology".[33]

Assange was characterised as a "cryptographer" in a Suelette Dreyfus article published in The Independent on 15 November 1999 – "This is just between us (and the spies)", and was said to have been the moderator of "the online Australian discussion forum AUCRYPTO", and during this time Assange claimed to have found a new patent relating to the US National Security Agency's technology for monitoring calls, "while investigating NSA capabilities". Assange said that "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".[73] In 1999, he registered the domain leaks.org, but he says he "didn't do anything with it."[74]

University studies

Assange had been enrolled in a computer programming course at Central Queensland University,[75] and from 2002 to 2005, Assange attended the University of Melbourne as an undergraduate student. He started a Bachelor of Science degree, studying physics, pure mathematics and, briefly, philosophy and neuroscience, but he did not graduate.[42][48][76][77][78] The fact that his fellow students were doing research for the Pentagon's DARPA was reportedly a factor in motivating him to drop out and start WikiLeaks.[25][42][78]

Career as head of WikiLeaks

Assange, c. 2006

WikiLeaks was founded in 2006.[25][79] That year, Assange wrote two essays setting out the philosophy behind WikiLeaks: "To radically shift regime behaviour 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."[80][81] In his blog he wrote, "the more secretive or unjust an organization 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."[82]

Assange is the most prominent media spokesman on WikiLeaks' behalf. In June 2010, he was listed alongside several others as a member of the WikiLeaks advisory board.[83][84] While newspapers have described him as a "director"[85] or "founder"[49] of WikiLeaks, Assange holds that he is instead the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, [86][87] and he has stated that he has the final decision in the process of vetting documents submitted to the site.[88] Assange says that WikiLeaks has released more classified documents than the rest of the world press combined.[79]

WikiLeaks has been involved in the publication of material documenting extrajudicial killings in Kenya, a report of toxic waste dumping on the coast of Côte d'Ivoire, Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay detention camp procedures, the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike video, and material involving large banks such as Kaupthing and Julius Baer among other documents.[89]

Public appearances and residency

Assange has not lived in Australia since he left after starting to work on WikiLeaks. He has been in Europe since his work with Wikileaks gained notoriety.[90] In 2007 Assange moved to Nairobi, Kenya, he then also spent time in Tanzania, stayed in Cairo, Egypt for a week,[91] Paris, France and Wiesbaden, Germany for two months at the end of 2008.[92] He appeared at a hacker conference, the 25th and 26th Chaos Communication Congress in Germany.[93] He was in Linz, Austria for the Ars Electronica in September 2009[94] and Barcelona, Spain for the Personal Democracy Forum in November 2009[95][96][97][98] and at a media conference, New Media Days '09, in Copenhagen, Denmark.[99] He began by renting a house in Iceland on 30 March 2010, from which he and other activists, including Birgitta Jónsdóttir, worked on the Collateral Murder video.[25] He was in San Francisco, California, United States, for the Logan Symposium in Investigative Reporting at the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism in April 2010, then in Oslo, Norway for the Oslo Freedom Forum from 26 to 29 April, before he returned to Australia in June 2010.[100][101][102][103] On 21 June 2010, he took part in a hearing in Brussels, Belgium, appearing in public for the first time in nearly a month.[104] He was a member on a panel that discussed Internet censorship.[105][106]

On 17 July 2010, Jacob Appelbaum spoke on behalf of WikiLeaks at the Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) conference in New York City, replacing Assange due to the presence of federal agents at the conference.[107][108] He announced that the WikiLeaks submission system was again up and running, after it had been temporarily suspended.[107][109] Assange was a surprise speaker at a TED conference on 19 July 2010 in Oxford, England and confirmed that WikiLeaks was now accepting submissions again.[110][111][112] On 26 July, after the release of the Afghan War Diary, he appeared at the Frontline Club for a press conference.[113] Later in July 2010 he was in London, United Kingdom, then in August in Stockholm before returning to London, where he was imprisoned.[114]

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.[115][116] Ellsberg told MSNBC "the explanation he (Assange) used" for not appearing in person in the US was that "it was not safe for him to come to this country."[117] On 11 June he was to appear on a showcase panel at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Las Vegas,[118] but there are reports that he cancelled several days prior.[119]

On 10 June 2010, it was reported that Pentagon officials were trying to determine Assange's whereabouts.[120][121] Based on this, there were reports that US officials wanted to apprehend him.[122] 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."[123]

In October 2010, his application for a residency permit was denied in Sweden.[124] On 4 November 2010, Assange told Swiss public television TSR that he was seriously considering seeking political asylum in neutral Switzerland and moving the operation of the WikiLeaks foundation there.[125]

In late November 2010, Kintto Lucas, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Ecuador, spoke about giving 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".[126] Lucas believed that Ecuador may benefit from initiating a dialogue with Assange.[127] Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño stated on 30 November that the residency application would "have to be studied from the legal and diplomatic perspective".[128] 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."[129][130] 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.[130]

In December 2010, it was reported that the US Ambassador to Switzerland, Donald S. Beyer, had warned the Swiss government against offering asylum to Assange, citing the arrest warrant issued by Interpol.[131]

In a hearing at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on 7 December 2010, Assange identified a post-office box as his address. When told by the judge that this information was not acceptable, he submitted "Parkville, Victoria, Australia" on a sheet of paper. His lack of permanent address and nomadic lifestyle were cited by the judge as factors in denying bail.[132] He was ultimately released, in part because journalist Vaughan Smith offered to provide Assange with an address for bail during the extradition proceedings, Smith's Norfolk mansion, Ellingham Hall.[133] He lived there for a year, then moved out in December 2011 to a "3,000-acre estate in East Sussex".[134][135]

On 14 February 2011, Assange filed for the trademark "Julian Assange" in Europe. The trademark is to be used for "public speaking services; news reporter services; journalism; publication of texts other than publicity texts; education services; entertainment services".[136]

On 19 February 2012 the 500th episode of The Simpsons, "At Long Last Leave", was aired, which features Assange guest-starring as himself in a scene written by Australian author Kathy Lette, the wife of Assange's adviser Geoffrey Robertson QC.[137][138]

Julian Assange by videoconference at the ConventionCamp in Hanover

On 27 November 2012 Assange took part in the ConventionCamp in Hanover by videoconference.

Release of US diplomatic cables

On 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks began releasing some of the 251,000 American diplomatic cables in their possession, of which over 53 percent are listed as unclassified, 40 percent are "Confidential" and just over six percent are classified "Secret". The following day, the Attorney-General of Australia, Robert McClelland, told the press that Australia would inquire into Assange's activities and WikiLeaks.[139] 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".[140] 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.[141] The Federal Police inquiry found that Assange had not committed any crime.[142]

The United States Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation related to the leak. US prosecutors are reportedly considering charges against Assange under several laws, but any prosecution would be difficult.[14] In relation to its ongoing investigations of WikiLeaks, on 14 December 2010, the US Department of Justice issued a subpoena ordering Twitter to release information relating to Assange's account, amongst others.[143][144]

The WikiLeaks diplomatic cable revelations have been credited by some commentators with being a factor in sparking the Tunisian Revolution, as such leaked cables revealed the degree of corruption in the then ruling government. Writing for Foreign Policy magazine, journalist Elizabeth Dickinson suggested that "Tunisians didn't need any more reasons to protest when they took to the streets these past weeks – food prices were rising, corruption was rampant, and unemployment was staggering. But we might also count Tunisia as the first time that WikiLeaks pushed people over the brink..."[145][146]

Financial developments

On 6 December 2010, the Swiss bank PostFinance announced that it had frozen assets of Assange's totalling 31,000 euros, because he had "provided false information regarding his place of residence" when opening the account.[147] MasterCard,[148] Visa Inc.,[149] and Bank of America[150] also halted dealings with WikiLeaks. Assange described these actions as "business McCarthyism".[151] Assange was quoted as saying that legal costs for the whistleblowing website and his own defence had reached £500,000. Assange said WikiLeaks had been receiving as much as £85,000 a day at its peak, before the financial blockade.[152] WikiLeaks took legal action against VALITOR, the Icelandic partner for Visa, and won their case in an Icelandic court, forcing Visa to begin processing payments again.

Autobiography

In December 2010, Assange sold the publishing rights[153] to his proposed autobiography for over £1 million. He told The Sunday Times that he was forced to enter the deal for an autobiography because of the financial difficulties he and the site encountered, stating "I don't want to write this book, but I have to. I have already spent £200,000 for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat."[154]

A draft of this work was published, without Assange's consent, in September 2011. The book was ghostwritten by Andrew O'Hagan and was given the title Julian Assange – The Unauthorised Autobiography (2011). Assange and the publisher, Canongate, gave differing accounts of the circumstances surrounding the publication.[155][156] In February 2014, O'Hagan wrote a detailed account based on his taped recordings of Assange as to what happened with the book, writing that Assange had felt uncomfortable talking about personal details and considered autobiography to be prostitution. When the unauthorized autobiography came out, he apparently tried to get O'Hagan's help with a policy of seeking simultaneous "maximum publicity and maximum debunking".[41]

Allegations of possible extradition to the United States

Emails leaked by WikiLeaks from Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, have discussions surrounding a secret grand jury[157] with a secret indictment.[158] Later, the media organisation received declassified diplomatic cables that confirm a secret indictment exists.[159] The documents go on to state that Australia has no objection to a potential extradition to the United States. The Australian government confirmed the possibility of extradition but stated that it was not unusual as there was an ongoing investigation about WikiLeaks. They point out that the United States may not be intent on extraditing Assange.[160] In November 2013, US Justice Department officials stated that they have "all but concluded" that they will not bring charges against Assange, due to a so-called "New York Times problem" - that prosecuting Assange would necessitate prosecuting the New York Times for keeping and publishing the same materials.[161]

Support and criticism around the world

Comments by the Australian government

The publication of Australian government briefings following a Senate request showed that the government had privately discussed charging Assange with treason, which it had never mentioned publicly.[162] The then Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, claimed that Assange's actions were illegal, which was later retracted when an Australian Federal Police commission determined he had not broken any Australian laws.[163]

Since then, government representatives and the major opposition, including Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, Minister for Trade Craig Emerson and former Minister for Communications Helen Coonan have made statements supportive of WikiLeaks and deprecated some threats. Emerson stated on ABC's 'Q&A' program: "We condemn absolutely the threats that have been made by some people in the United States against Julian Assange and he deserves all of the rights of being an Australian citizen".[164]

Senator Ludlam's WikiLeaks support website[165] leads with: "[We] are demanding the Australian Government take action to ensure WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange's legal and consular rights are upheld. We are concerned that our government has done nothing to investigate the secret US Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks, which could lead to Assange's extradition to the US."

These supportive statements by the Australian government have complicated Assange's attempts to seek political asylum. Under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, refugees must have a "well-founded fear of being persecuted" in their home country.[166]

On 18 August, a Freedom of Information request made by the Sydney Morning Herald showed that the Australian government had been told repeatedly by the US that Washington was undertaking "unprecedented" efforts to get Assange, but that Canberra had not once objected.[167]

Support from Australians

Demonstration in support of Assange in front of Sydney Town Hall, 10 December 2010.

Gillard came under widespread condemnation and a backlash within her own party for failing to support Assange after calling the leaks "an illegal act" and suggesting that his Australian passport should be cancelled. Hundreds of lawyers, academics and journalists came forward in his support, with the then Attorney-General, Robert McClelland unable to explain how Assange had broken Australian law. Opposition Legal Affairs spokesman, Senator George Brandis, a Queen's Counsel, accused Gillard of being "clumsy" with her language, stating, "As far as I can see, he (Assange) hasn't broken any Australian law, nor does it appear he has broken any American laws."[168] The former Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, said that "decisions concerning the withdrawal or otherwise of passports rests exclusively with himself as foreign minister based on the advice of the relevant agencies", and that Mrs Gillard's comments about illegality referred to the US, on whom he placed blame for the affair.[169]

Queen's Counsel Peter Faris, who acted for Assange in a hacking case in the late 1990s, said that the motives of Swedish authorities in seeking Assange's extradition for alleged sex offences were suspect: "You have to say: why are they (Sweden) pursuing it? It's pretty obvious that if it was Bill Bloggs, they wouldn't be going to the trouble."[170] Following the Swedish Embassy issuing a "prepared and unconvincing reply" in response to letters of protest, Gillard was called on to send a message to Sweden "querying the way charges were laid, investigated and dropped, only to be picked up again by a different prosecutor."[168][170][171][172][173]

On 10 December 2010, over 500 people rallied outside Sydney Town Hall and about 350 people gathered in Brisbane, Queensland.[174]

Australian jouranalist and GetUp member Mary Kostakidis published an online petition calling on Bob Carr and the Australian Government to stand up for the rights of all Australian citizens, to prevent Julian Assange's extradition to the United States.[175] Circulated by GetUp!, which has placed full page ads in support of Assange in The New York Times and The Washington Times, it has received more than 50,000 signatures.[172]

On 23 July 2012, ABC's Four Corners investigative journalism series ran a popular 45-minute feature Sex, Lies and Julian Assange by Andrew Fowler and Wayne Harley. The programme examined evidence to-date on the timeline of the sexual assault allegations and claims of interference from the United States, and included interviews and quotes from individuals linked with the case.

United States response to Afghan war logs

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.[176]

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.[176]

Current and former US government officials have accused Assange of terrorism. When asked if he saw Assange more as a high-tech terrorist or as a whistleblower, like those who released the Pentagon papers in the 1970s, US Vice President Joe Biden said: "I would argue it is closer to being a high-tech terrorist than the Pentagon papers."[177] In May 2010, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had used the phrase, calling Assange "a high-tech terrorist", and saying "he has done enormous damage to our country. I think he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law".[178] Also in May 2010, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said: "Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism. He should be treated as an enemy combatant."[179]

In July 2010, after WikiLeaks released classified documents related to the war in Afghanistan, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, said at a Pentagon news conference, "Disagree with the war all you want, take issue with the policy, challenge me or our ground commanders on the decisions we make to accomplish the mission we've been given, but don't put those who willingly go into harm's way even further in harm's way just to satisfy your need to make a point. Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is, they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family." Assange responded later in an interview by saying, "There is, as far as we can tell, no incident of that. So it is a speculative charge. Of course, we are treating any possible revelation of the names of innocents seriously. That is why we held back 15,000 of these documents, to review that". Assange also claimed it was 'ironic' of US officials and military leaders to accuse him of having blood on his hands.[180]

On 30 November 2010, former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin called for Assange to be pursued "with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders".[181]

Calls for Assange's assassination

On 30 November 2010, Tom Flanagan, a former aide to the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, called for Assange's assassination. Flanagan later retracted his comments, after a Vancouver lawyer filed a complaint with the Calgary Police against Harper,[182] and Canadian nationals filed complaint with the ombudsman of CBC News.[183]

On 1 December 2010, Republican Mike Huckabee called for those behind the leak of the cables to be executed,[184] a view partly supported by Kathleen McFarland, former Pentagon advisor under Nixon, Ford and Reagan,[185] and current Fox News national security expert.

On 6 December 2010, during a segment of the Fox Business show Follow The Money, Fox News political commentator and analyst Bob Beckel stated: "A dead man can't leak stuff. This guy's a traitor, he's treasonous, and he has broken every law of the United States ... And I'm not for the death penalty, so ... there's only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch." Other guests on the programme agreed.[186]

Assange responded on the Guardian newspaper website to a reader's question about Flanagan's remarks, by contending that "Mr. Flanagan and the others seriously making these statements should be charged with incitement to commit murder."[187]

Members of US Congress call for Espionage Act prosecution

On 29 November 2010, Rep. Peter T. King, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) wrote to the Attorney General, Eric Holder, asking that Assange should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917, and that he should be declared a terrorist.[188][189] The same day, King also wrote to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, requesting that she designate WikiLeaks as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).[188][190] "I am calling on the attorney general and supporting his efforts to fully prosecute Wikileaks and its founder for violating the Espionage Act. And I’m also calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare Wikileaks a foreign terrorist organization," King said on WNIS radio on Sunday evening.[191] "By doing that, we will be able to seize their funds and go after anyone who provides them help or contributions or assistance whatsoever," he said. "To me, they are a clear and present danger to America."

On 30 November 2010, on Fox News, Rep. King repeated his assertions that Wikileaks was a terrorist organisation.[192]

On 2 December 2010, Senator Feinstein and Senator Kit Bond, respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), sent a joint-letter to Attorney General Holder, asking him to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act [18 U.S.C. 793(e)], offering to "close those gaps in the law" if the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) found it difficult to apply the law to Assange's case. In televised interviews Senators Bond and Feinstein stated that:

We believe that Mr. Assange's conduct is espionage and that his actions fall under the elements of this section of law ... Therefore, we urge that he be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.[193]

On 7 December 2010, Senator Feinstein published an editorial commentary on Assange entitled "Prosecute Assange Under the Espionage Act".[194] Punishments under the Espionage Act can include the death penalty, although in practice the US has not executed anyone for a crime other than murder since 1964 when James Coburn was executed in Alabama for robbery.[195]

Support in the United States

Daniel Ellsberg, who was working in the US Department of Defense when he leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, was a signatory to a statement by an international group of former intelligence officers and ex-government officials in support of Assange's work, which was released in late December 2010. Other signatories included David MacMichael, Ray McGovern, and five recipients of annual Sam Adams Award: Frank Grevil, Katharine Gun, Craig Murray, Coleen Rowley and Larry Wilkerson.[196] Ellsberg has said, "If I released the Pentagon Papers today, the same rhetoric and the same calls would be made about me … I would be called not only a traitor – which I was [called] then, which was false and slanderous – but I would be called a terrorist … Assange and Bradley Manning are no more terrorists than I am."[197]

Some other prominent US public figures that have repeatedly voiced independent support for Assange (in the context of his fight against extradition and possible US prosecution) include: feminist author Naomi Wolf, filmmaker Oliver Stone, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and EFF founder John Perry Barlow.[198][199]

Support from other countries

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, then president of Brazil, expressed his "solidarity" with Assange following his 2010 arrest in the United Kingdom.[200][201] He further criticised the arrest of Assange as "an attack on freedom of expression".[202]

Vladimir Putin, then Prime Minister of Russia, condemned Assange's detention as "undemocratic".[171] A source within the office of the Russian President suggested that Assange be nominated for a Nobel Prize and said that "Public and non-governmental organisations should think of how to help him."[203]

In December 2010, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank LaRue, said that Assange or other WikiLeaks staff should not face criminal charges for any information they disseminated, noting that "if there is a responsibility by leaking information it is of, exclusively of the person that made the leak and not of the media that publish it. And this is the way that transparency works and that corruption has been confronted in many cases."[204]

Prominent public figures from outside the US and Australia that have repeatedly voiced independent support for Assange (in the context of his fight against extradition and possible US prosecution) include: President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, filmmaker Ken Loach, investigative journalist John Pilger, Frontline Club founder Vaughan Smith, writer & activist Tariq Ali, fundraiser Jemima Khan, human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger, and Swedish Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge.[205][206][207][208]

Recognition

Assange received the 2009 Amnesty International UK Media Award (New Media)[209] for exposing extrajudicial assassinations in Kenya by distributing and publicizing the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)'s investigation Kenya: The Cry of Blood – Extra Judicial Killings and Disappearances.[210][211][212] Accepting the award, Assange said, "It is a reflection of the courage and strength of Kenyan civil society that this injustice was documented."[213]

In 2010, Assange was awarded the Sam Adams Award,[214][215] Readers' Choice in TIME magazine's Person of the Year poll,[216] and runner-up for Person of the Year.[217] In April 2011 he was listed on the Time 100 list of most influential people.[218] An informal poll of editors at Postmedia Network named him the top newsmaker for the year after six out of 10 felt Assange had "affected profoundly how information is seen and delivered".[219][220]

Le Monde, one of the five publications to cooperate with WikiLeaks' publication of the recent document leaks, named him person of the year with fifty six percent of the votes in their online poll.[221][222][223]

In February 2011, it was announced that Assange had been awarded the Sydney Peace Foundation gold medal by the Sydney Peace Foundation of the University of Sydney for his "exceptional courage and initiative in pursuit of human rights."[224] There have been four recipients of the award in the foundation's 14-year history: Nelson Mandela; the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso; Daisaku Ikeda; and Assange.[224]

In June 2011, Assange was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. The prize is awarded on an annual basis to journalists "whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth that exposes establishment propaganda, or 'official drivel'". The judges said, "WikiLeaks has been portrayed as a phenomenon of the hi-tech age, which it is. But it's much more. Its goal of justice through transparency is in the oldest and finest tradition of journalism."[225][226]

In November 2011, he was awarded the 2011 Walkley Award in the category Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism. The annual Walkley Awards honour excellence in journalism, and the Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism, awarded since 1994, recognises commitment and achievement in the Australian media.[227][228]

Assange has been a member of the Australian journalists' union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, for several years, and in 2011 was made an honorary member.[229][230] Alex Massie wrote an article in The Spectator called "Yes, Julian Assange is a journalist", but acknowledged that "newsman" might be a better description.[231] Alan Dershowitz said "Without a doubt. He is a journalist, a new kind of journalist".[232] Assange has said that 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".[233] He has been described as a journalist by the Centre for Investigative Journalism.[234]

In 2006, CounterPunch called him "Australia's most infamous former computer hacker."[235] The Age newspaper named him "one of the most intriguing people in the world" and the "internet's freedom fighter."[74]

Allegations of sexual assault and political refugee

Assange is wanted for questioning regarding alleged sexual misconduct with two women while in Sweden in August 2010, and has not been formally charged.[236] In 20 August 2010, Swedish police began an investigation into the allegations.[236][237][238][239]

The arrest warrant was cancelled on 21 August 2010 by one of Stockholm's Chief Prosecutors, Eva Finne, and the investigation was downgraded to only cover one of the lesser allegations. [240] The warrant was subsequently re-issued on 1 September 2010 by another Swedish Chief Prosecutor, Marianne Ny.[241] On 18 November 2010, a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was issued. Assange appealed the arrest warrant on 22 November; on 24 November the Svea Court of Appeal refused the appeal and took the decision that the arrest warrant was to remain in place, but with changes to the initial list of probable causes for the warrant.[242][243] Assange voluntarily attended a police station in England on 7 December 2010, and was arrested and taken into custody. After ten days in Wandsworth prison, he was freed on bail with a residence requirement at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk, England, fitted with an electronic tag and ordered to report to police daily.

An extradition hearing took place on 7–8 and 11 February 2011 before the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court.[244][245] At the hearing, Assange's defence raised a variety of objections.[246][247][248][249] On 24 February 2011, the court upheld the extradition warrant.[250][251][252][253] On 2 March 2011, Assange's lawyers lodged papers at the High Court challenging the ruling to extradite Assange to Sweden,[254] saying the allegations were "without basis".[255][256] After a hearing on 12 and 13 July 2011, the High Court reserved its judgment. On 2 November 2011 the High Court upheld the extradition decision and rejected all four grounds of appeal presented by Assange's legal representatives. Costs of £19,000 were awarded against Assange.[257] He was freed on bail of £200,000 posted by a group of friends and supporters.

On 5 December 2011, Assange's lawyers were granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, after the High Court certified that a point of law of general public importance, that ought to be considered by the Supreme Court, was involved in its decision.[258] The certified question was whether a prosecutor can be a judicial authority.[259][260] The Supreme Court heard argument in the appeal on 1 and 2 February 2012[261] and reserved its judgment,[262] while Assange remained on conditional bail.[254][263] On 30 May 2012, the court dismissed the appeal by a majority of 5–2.[264] The court granted Assange two weeks to make an application to reopen the appeal after his counsel argued the judgments of the majority relied on an interpretation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which was not argued during the hearing.[265]

Barring any appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, extradition had been expected to take place over a ten-day period commencing on 28 June 2012.[266]

Request for political asylum in Ecuador

In December 2011, Assange's lawyer in Britain, Mark Stephens, repeated Assange's earlier claims that the allegations in Sweden were a "holding case" whilst the United States prepared its prosecution over Wikileaks's activities. He said Assange could face extradition or illegal rendition from Sweden to the US, where he could be detained in a high-security prison and face the death penalty under the Espionage Act of 1917. Stephens also stated his belief that Swedish officials were co-operating with US authorities.[267]

Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London

On 19 June 2012, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, announced that Assange had applied for political asylum and that the government was analysing his request, and that Assange was in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.[268][269] The Metropolitan Police Service stated that he was in breach of one of the conditions of his bail and could therefore be lawfully arrested.[270] Ecuador was required by international law to consider his application, but some extradition experts contended that he might have to show that he was being persecuted in his home country, Australia.[271][272] On 23 June, Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, recalled his ambassador to the UK back to Quito, to discuss the situation.[273] On 24 June, Assange said he would go to Sweden if provided with a diplomatic guarantee that he would not be turned over to the US.[274] Ecuadorian officials at the London embassy offered to allow Swedish prosecutors to question Assange there. This offer was rejected by the Swedish authorities.[275]

In July 2012, Assange and human rights jurist Baltasar Garzón jointly announced that Garzón would lead his legal team.[276]

Claes Borgström, the lawyer of the two Swedish women who made allegations of sexual assault against Assange, described Ecuador's move as "absurd". Borgström told reporters that the move was an abuse of the asylum instrument, the purpose of which is to protect people from persecution and torture if sent back to their country of origin. "He doesn't risk being handed over to the United States for torture or the death penalty. He should be brought to justice in Sweden," he said.[277] However, Ricardo Patiño, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, claims that Sweden has refused to rule out the extradition of Assange if it were requested by the United States because, as stated by the Swedish foreign ministry, Sweden's legislation does not allow any judicial decision like extradition to be predetermined.[278]

Grant of asylum

On 16 August 2012 Ricardo Patiño, the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, stated in a press conference that the Ecuadorian government was granting Assange political asylum.[16][17] Patiño cited concerns that Assange might be extradited to the US, which could conceivably lead to his execution or indefinite incarceration. The British Foreign Office stated that it was "disappointed" at Ecuador's decision and that it remained under a binding agreement to extradite Assange to Sweden in spite of the decision taken by Ecuador.[279] On 16 August, the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said that the UK would not allow Assange safe passage out of the country.[280] Rafael Correa said on 18 August that Assange could stay at the embassy indefinitely.[281] Later, Patiño announced the decision to grant Assange asylum to the media:[282]

A lot of people think it's strange that a government could act on principles. But we act on principles.... when we were deciding on the asylum... What has happened here is that Ecuador has recovered its dignity at an international level...previous governments in Ecuador did what the US or Europe told them to do. Even worse,... based on what they imagined the US or Europe wanted .... What happened since 2007, since Rafael Correa has been president... is that we have started thinking with our own head and we walk on our own feet. We have dignity and sovereignty.

In a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy on 19 August 2012, Assange urged the United States to "end its witch-hunt" against WikiLeaks, and said: "Bradley Manning must be released" on several occasions.[283] He also said, "The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful."[284] He also referred to the imprisonment of Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab[285] and three of the members of the Russian punk-rock band Pussy Riot in saying: "There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response."[286]

Washington has denied there is any "witch-hunt"[287] and stated that Assange was making "wild" claims to deflect attention from his alleged sexual misconduct in Sweden.[288] There were also protests outside the British embassy in Ecuador, as well as support for Correa's approval of the asylum request.[289]

In a poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion in August 2012, 41% of Britons said they would agree with the UK government ordering a raid of the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest Assange, but a similar proportion (38%) said they would disagree with this course of action.[290] Seumas Milne of The Guardian has pointed out the unlikelihood of Britain threatening to forcibly enter a foreign embassy in order to apprehend a common sexual assault suspect.[291]

Earlier, on 15 August, the Ecuadorian foreign minister stated that Britain had threatened to storm his country's embassy in London to arrest Assange.[292][293] At a press conference Patiño said, "Such actions would be a blatant disregard of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of the rules of international law over the past four centuries. It would set a dangerous precedent, of allowing the violation of embassies as recognised sovereign spaces."[294] The UK's position was that it was merely informing Ecuador of the legal position under the UK's own Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, which allows the host government to determine what land is considered to be diplomatic or consular premises. Meanwhile, the 12-nation bloc of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR);[295] the 'Alianza Bolivariana' (ALBA),[296] comprising some of these nations besides others from Central America; and the 35-nation Organization of American States (OAS), with footnoted reservations from the U.S. and Canada,[297] have rallied behind Ecuador, condemning such a possibility and reiterating the inviolability of its diplomatic premises.[287] Correa then announced that they had received "a communication from the British Foreign Office which said that there was no threat to enter the embassy",[298] adding, "We consider this unfortunate incident over, after a grave diplomatic error by the British in which they said they would enter our embassy."

Officers from the Metropolitan Police Service have remained stationed outside the Ecuadorian embassy since Assange entered the building on 19 June 2012. They have been ordered to arrest Assange if he attempts to leave the building. Police disclosed in February 2013 that, as of 31 January 2013, the full cost of keeping officers outside the embassy was estimated at £2.9 million ($4.5 million).[299]

Living conditions

Assange lives in a small office room converted into living quarters. Visitors stated that the room is equipped with a bed, telephone, sun lamp, computer with internet connection, shower, treadmill, and small kitchenette.[300][301][302]

In May 2013, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, said the UK's treatment of Assange amounted to a violation of his human rights.[303]

Forfeiture of sureties

On 8 October 2012, at Westminster Magistrates Court, nine individuals who had each stood surety for bail for Assange were ordered by the Chief Magistrate, Howard Riddle, to forfeit sums totalling three-quarters of the total amount pledged.[304][305]

The World Tomorrow interview programme

In January 2012, WikiLeaks announced that Assange would launch "a series of in-depth conversations with key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries from around the world", titled The World Tomorrow.[306] The first of twelve completed interview programmes was broadcast by RT Russia Today on 17 April, with other networks expected to follow.[307] The series is broadcast on a weekly basis and the 26-minute episodes are being made available online.[308][309] Guests included Hassan Nasrallah, Slavoj Žižek, David Horowitz, Moncef Marzouki, Nabeel Rajab, Rafael Correa, David Graeber, Jacob Appelbaum, Imran Khan, Noam Chomsky and Anwar Ibrahim.[310][311][312]

Political activities

Assange launched an Australian political party called The WikiLeaks Party and campaigned for a Senate seat in Victoria in the 2013 Australian federal election.[313][314] He failed in his bid for a Senate seat, he received 6,044 or 0.19%, and the party received 39,087 votes, or 1.21%.[315][316] Australian commentators questioned his eligibility.[317][318][319]

Political and economic views

Assange purports the views of Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky in supporting countries which are independent of the large powers: NATO, the United States, Russia, or China. According to these views the United States controls the world by setting up regimes, including replacement regimes. This is done by cooperation of the government, the media, and large corporations.[320] According to Assange, "It's not correct to put me in any one philosophical or economic camp, because I've learned from many. But one is American libertarianism, market libertarianism. So as far as markets are concerned I'm a libertarian, but I have enough expertise in politics and history to understand that a free market ends up as monopoly unless you force them to be free."[321]

He 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."[322][323] Assange has called himself "extremely cynical".[74] He has been described as being largely self-taught and widely read on science and mathematics,[52] and as thriving on intellectual battle.[105]

Assange has written, "What does it mean when only those facts about the world with economic powers behind them can be heard, when the truth lays naked before the world and no one will be the first to speak without payment or subsidy?"[324] He has also stated that he has read the World Socialist Web Site "for many years" and appreciated the site's accuracy, though he avoided its commentary on what he called "socialist sectarian issues."[325]

Assange has voiced support for Iran, saying that they cannot deal with human rights concerns because of the country's intense fear of being attacked by hostile governments on all its borders. He said that banning Hezbollah-affiliated Al Manar broadcasts was "killing off" that TV station. Assange noted, "Democracies are always lied into war" by intelligence institutions but more importantly by the large media outlets which are culturally biased.[326]

In August 2013, Assange voiced support for Ron and Rand Paul, and the libertarian wing of the United States Republican Party, calling the latter "the only useful political voice really in the U.S. Congress."[327][328]

Depictions in media

Skyfall

Many commentators believe that the main antagonist in the 2012 James Bond film, Skyfall, is modeled after Assange.[329][330]

The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate is a dramatic thriller about Wikileaks released in the US on 18 October 2013. The actor Benedict Cumberbatch plays the character of Assange. Cumberbatch requested a meeting with Assange as part of his preparation for the film and the reply from Assange was published on The Guardian's website on 10 October 2013. Assange turned down the request, explaining:

I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film. I do not believe it is going to be positive for me or the people I care about. I believe that it is going to be overwhelmingly negative for me and the people I care about. It is based on a deceitful book by someone who has a vendetta against me and my organisation.[331]

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

A 2013 American independent documentary film about Wikileaks which uses previously recorded interviews with Julian Assange.

Underground: The Julian Assange Story

A 2012 Australian television film.

Works

Books
Essays
Songs

See also

References

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External links

Official site
Works by/about Assange
Interviews and talks
Profiles