Whatever you may think of Julian Assange and his methods to hold governments and big businesses accountable, there is no doubt he is extraordinary in his crusade for the truth to be made public.
Early life in australia
Julian Assange was born to Christine Assange (maiden name Hawkins), on July 3rd, 1971, and grew up in the northern Queensland town of Townsville on the east coast of Australia. In 1976, his mother married Richard Assange and they moved to Magnetic Island; there, they lived on an abandoned pineapple farm in Horseshoe Bay.
During this early time in Julian’s life, his mother and stepfather managed a touring theatre show. In the late 1970s they relocated to Lismore, a country town in northern New South Wales, where Julian would attend the Goolmanger Primary School from 1979 to 1983.
In 1979, Julian’s mother remarried to Leif Hamilton and they had a son; however, the relationship ended in a custody struggle in 1982. Julian, his mother and half-brother travelled around Australia for the next five years, moving 30 times before Julian was 14 years old. He was home-schooled during this time; he would sometimes attend public schools – even if only for one day – and soon have to relocate. By the time Julian was in his mid-teens, the family was living in the Victorian Dandenong Ranges towns of Emerald and Tecoma.
A Teenage Hacker
In 1987, at only 16 years old, Julian and two others – Trax and Prime – formed a group they called “International Subversives.” This was to be a group of computer hackers bonded by the commonality and interests of sub-culture. At this time, Julian gave himself the hacker name “Mendax.” The rules of the group were: "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.” Julian would go on to be promoted as Australia’s first “ethical computer hacker” by the Personal Democracy Forum.
Julian moved out between 1988 and 1989 and married his girlfriend, Teresa. They soon had a son named Daniel, but split in 1991.
As personal computers become more popular, the Australian Federal Police established “Operation Weather,” the goal of which was to investigate computer-hacking.
Mendax Hacks Nortel
In 1991, the computer hacker name “Mendax” was discovered to be hacking into the master terminal of Nortel, a Canadian telecommunications company, and this was brought to the attention of the Australian Federal Police. This resulted in Julian’s phone line being tapped and his home being raided.
Julian was charged with 31 counts of computer hacking and related crimes; however, it took three years before his case was heard in court. According to the report, Julian was said to have accessed computers of Nortel, Australian University and USAF 7th Command Group in the Pentagon through his computer telephone’s modem. These charges were not made formal until 1994.
In 1992, Julian spent a brief period of time in a hospital suffering from what could be described as deep depression and “consuming rage.” Julian’s wife and son had left him and he was facing criminal charges from the Australian Federal Police. Julian lived with his mother during this time; he would say in later interviews that it was the worst year of his life.
Julian was also one of the pioneers of internet service providers with “Suburbia Public Access Network” in Australia in 1993. Living in Melbourne at the time, he would develop and work on programming and free software throughout 1994. One of the earlier free programs he wrote was “Strobe,” designed as a free software port scanner, in 1995.
Julian Pleads Guilty
In 1996, Julian settled the case with the Australian Federal Police, pleading guilty to 25 of the hacking charges (six were dropped) from 1991 and Julian was released on $5,000 good behavior bond with a reparation fine of $2,100. The presiding 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," and stated that Julian would have gone to jail for up to ten years if he had not had such a “disrupted childhood.”
In 1996, Julian assisted in the development of several software patches for the “PostreSQL” project.
Writing a Book and Developing “Rubberhose”
The year 1997 was a busy year for Julian, as he invested his time to co-invent the “Rubberhose” deniable encryption system. This system was designed to be used for human right workers who needed to protect their sensitive data while in the field. The purpose was to make it impossible for torturers or their victims to know whether all the encrypted data on a computer hard drive had been revealed; this was a software concept made for the Linux system that provided plausible deniability against Rubberhose cryptanalysis. Also in 1997, he would assist in writing a book called “Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier.”
Founding “Earthmen Technology” and Going Back to School
In 1998, Julian co-founded his first company, “Earthmen Technology.” During this time, Julian claimed to have discovered a new patent relating to technology of monitoring calls by the U.S. National Security, which led him to later state publicly: “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."
In 1999, Julian registered the domain name “leaks.org,” however it was only a registration and Julian has said he “didn’t do anything with it." He also agreed to custody of his son with his former wife.
Re-enrolling in his studies, Julian attended both the University of Melbourne and University of Canberra between 2002 and 2005. He undertook studies in math, neuroscience, philosophy and physics. He didn’t follow through, however, after finding out that some of his fellow classmates were doing research for the DARPA (U.S. Pentagon). These realizations motivated and inspired Julian to begin his crusade with WikiLeaks.
In 2006, he was inspired by “Wikipedia,” which saw a community of over three million people contribute factual information on a worldwide viral community interface. Julian founded “WikiLeaks” in the hope that it would be to leaks what Wikipedia is to encyclopedias. He went on to write two essays outlining the philosophy of the new WikiLeaks Organization; the following is a section of Julian’s essay:
“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.”
Julian continued to expand on his WikiLeaks philosophy by publishing in his blog: “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."
Quotes on Leaking Controversial Information
Julian also worked diligently on creating the WikiLeaks logo: an hourglass, which replaced an earlier logo version of a mole breaking through a wall. With that, he organized an advisory team; one of the people he approached was Daniel Ellsberg, who declined the offer. He then approached Ben Laurie, who joined, as well as Danny O’Brien and Australian journalist Philip Adams.
His rallying messages included: “Will provide a catalyst that will bring down government through stealth everywhere, not least that of the Bushists…” and “Misleading leaks and misinformation are already well placed in the mainstream media … an obvious example being the lead-up to the Iraq war.” They cemented the focus and formula of WikiLeaks to expose behind-the-scenes endeavors of authoritarian governments, as well as those of international businesses and organizations.
Julian knew that his stance would eventually be seen as a threat, despite not appearing so at first; therefore, when the public grew more aware of their actions, these governments and big businesses did everything they could to shut WikiLeaks down; then, the true nature of the site need not be disguised. However, the success and support they found was so great that Julian announced to the press its place on the world stage with the following statement in 2007:
“Principled leaking has changed the course of human history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead to a better future … Public scrutiny of otherwise unaccountable and secretive institutions pressures them to act ethically. What official will chance a secret corrupt transaction when the public is likely to find out? … When the risks of embarrassment through openness and honesty increase, the tables are turned against conspiracy, corruption, exploitation and oppression …
Instead of a couple of academic specialists, WL will provide a forum for the entire global community to examine any document relentlessly for credibility, plausibility, veracity and falsifiability … WL may become the most powerful intelligence agency on earth, an intelligence agency of the people … WL will be an anvil at which beats the hammer of the collective conscience of humanity … WL, we hope, will be a new star in the political firmament of humanity.”
Early in 2007, Julian travelled to Nairobi to attend the World Social Forum. He also went on to stay in Kenya and Tanzania, involving himself with various anti-corruption forces.
Survival of the transparent
Between 2007 and 2010, Julian continued to travel, learn and shape his political ideas. He travelled to Cairo, Paris and Wiesbaden, attending various conferences. He was also in Austria, Denmark, Iceland and Spain, as well as the U.S.A. Over this time, Julian would come to see that both governments and global businesses are vulnerable to leaks. He has his own Darwinian principle: it will not be the fittest and strongest who survive, but the most transparent and just who will be victorious as the truth ultimately prevails.
Julian went on to say fear would throttle information flow, calling it a “secrecy tax,” and that governments and corporations with nothing to hide would ultimately be the winners over secretive and unjust organizations. According to him, WikiLeaks was simply speeding up this process.
Releasing “Collateral Murder” Video
WikiLeaks went on to publicize the extra-judicial killings in Kenya, toxic waste dumping in Corte d Ivoire, Guantanamo Bay camp procedures and Church of Scientology manuals.
What brought worldwide attention to WikiLeaks was their publishing of a video of a Baghdad airstrike on July 12th, 2007, in which 15 men were gunned down. It was published under the title “Collateral Murder.”
In 2010, Julian and his WikiLeaks organization achieved instant fame after releasing the video. Julian became the catalyst of heated debates, one side rallying and supporting him for lifting the veil of truth and the other side calling for his execution.
Media frenzy then ensued in August 2010 when it was made public that Julian was under investigation by the Swedish government for sexual crimes after he slept with two Swedish supporters during an earlier visit to Stockholm. To complicate matters, Anna Ardin – one of the accusers – had also published advice on her blog concerning seven lawful kinds of revenge women might take after sexual mistreatment. This occurred around the time Julian was applying for Swedish residency, which was denied.
Julian and his WikiLeaks organization, which was still in possession of over 250,000 U.S. Government Cables, decided to slowly drip-feed them to the public beginning in November 2010. Another firestorm of public debate ensued when the U.S. Vice President labelled Julian a “high tech terrorist” and Sarah Palin said he should be hunted down like Osama Bin Laden. This led to Visa and MasterCard severing ties with WikiLeaks. The wave of supporters for Julian and WikiLeaks, however, mounted an immediate counter-attack.
Julian was then facing two legal battles: first, the extradition from Sweden for his alleged sexual crimes, and second, extradition from the U.S. in front of a secret grand jury on the grounds of espionage, among other charges.
This was followed by the deputy Foreign Minister of Ecuador speaking about giving Julian residency so that “he (Julian) can freely present the information he possesses and all the documentation, not just over the Internet but in a variety of public forums.” However, this was later rejected by the Ecuadorian Prime Minister.
To further complicate matters, Julian told Swiss public TV network TSR that he was considering seeking political asylum in Switzerland and moving the WikiLeaks operation there. It was later reported that the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland had warned the Swiss government about offering asylum for Julian because was a “fugitive.”
In the heat of all of these legal battles, Julian, in late 2010, sold the publishing rights to his autobiography for a reported one million pounds, which was given the title “Julian Assange – The Unauthorized Autobiography.” Julian went on to say to the U.K. press that he was forced into the deal: "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.”
2011’s “Most Influential Person in the World”
Throughout 2011, organizations and establishments bombarded Julian with awards, and TIME Magazine named him their “Readers’ Choice” as the “Most Influential Person in the World.” He also received the “Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism,” the “Australian Wakley Award for Journalism,” the “International Freedom of Expression Award” and the Sydney Peace Gold Medal for “exceptional courage and innovation in the pursuit of human rights.”
Rallies were held in the Australian cities of Sydney and Brisbane to generate publicity and political support for Julian and his extradition. TIME Magazine also received over 50,000 signatures in support of him.
Also in 2011, Julian’s extradition hearings to Sweden were held in London, and his defense stated mismatches and exaggerations of the sexual complaints. Ultimately, the court upheld the extradition warrant, and Julian’s lawyers lodged papers at the High Court on grounds of the extradition having no basis. Following this, in November 2011, the High Court rejected the appeal and bail was posted at 200,000 pounds, which was provided by friends and supporters of Julian.
In December 2011, Julian’s lawyers were granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court on grounds that the point of law was of general public importance, sighting that the allegations in Sweden were a “holding case” while the United States prepared its prosecution over unrelated WikiLeaks activities. His lawyers 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.” Julian’s lawyer also stated his belief that Swedish officials were cooperating with US authorities. In May 2012, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by a majority of 5–2.
On June 19th, 2012, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister publicly stated that Julian had applied for political asylum in Ecuador and, while the Ecuadorian Government assessed his request, Julian was residing at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The British Police claimed that Julian breached his bail and could be lawfully arrested; however, Ecuador stated that they were required by international law to consider his application. On June 24th, Julian made a public statement that he would go to Sweden if provided with a diplomatic guarantee that he would not be turned over to the U.S.
On August 16th, the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister announced that Julian would receive political asylum in Ecuador on the grounds that he might be extradited to the U.S., thus leading to his execution or indefinite incarceration. To counter this, the British Foreign Secretary said he could not allow Julian safe passage out of the country, to which the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister said Julian could stay indefinitely in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
Later that month, Julian made a speech on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, calling on the U.S. to “end its witch hunt against WikiLeaks.” He also said that “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."
Today, Julian Assange remains at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Awards & Achievements
- 2008: “Economist Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award”
- 2009: “Amnesty International UK Media Award” (New Media) for exposing extra-judicial assassinations in Kenya
- 2010: “Sam Adams Award,” “Readers' Choice” in TIME magazine and runner-up for “Person of the Year”
- 2011: Awarded a Gold Medal from the Sydney Peace Foundation of the University of Sydney for his “exceptional courage and initiative in pursuit of human rights”
- 2011: Awarded the “Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism” and the “Walkley Award” in the category of “Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism”
- 2012: Awarded an “Australian Aboriginal Passport” in a ceremony
- 2012: Received the “Italian Privacy Award” for his dedication to the promotion of transparency and public disclosure in the interest of civil society and human rights