Julian Assange of Wikileaks
Oct 24, 2010 Leann Richards
Julian Assange - Wikimedia commons
Julian Assange is said to be the founder of Wikileaks, the on line whistleblower organisation. Assange is a mysterious figure and little is known about him.
Julian Assange is the public face of Wikileaks, the online whistleblower organisation. However, little is known about this mysterious Australian.
Birth and Early Life
Assange was born in Townsville in the north of Queensland, Australia, in 1971. His parents were in a traveling theatre troupe and were itinerant employees.They traveled around the countryside throughout Julian's early life until they separated when he was 11 years old.
People from Magnetic Island in Queensland remember the family as living an alternative lifestyle like hippies who always had something interesting going on in their house.
After the divorce, Julian's mother frantically ran from town to town seeking to avoid domestic violence. The family rarely stayed in the one place and kept a low profile.
Education and teenage years
Assange left home when he was 16 . He enrolled at several universities including Melbourne University, where he studied Mathematics. He was an exceptional mathematician and soon turned these skills towards computer programming.
Around this time he became involved with a group of outlaw hackers. The group, called the "International Subversives" were based in Melbourne and hacked into large corporations including Telecom, the Australian telecommunications company, RMIT, the Australian National University and even allegedly, the Australian Federal Police, where they read the file about the investigation into their activities.
In 1991, the group were caught and charged . Assange was given a good behaviour bond and a fine. The judge said that he had hacked into these corporations because of intellectual curiosity and with no malicious intent.
In 1997 a book called Underground which dealt with the Melbourne underground hacking scene appeared. Assange was listed as one of the researchers for the book. It was alleged he was the hacker called Mendax whose activities were described in the publication.
Assange's genius with computers lead to him working with some large companies writing encryption codes.He never completed his degree and was largely self educated.
In 2007 Assange with some like-minded people formed Wikileaks, an online organisation that released information and documents from whistleblowers.
In 2009 Wikileaks released a secret black list of banned websites from the Australian communication authority. Also in that year the organisation with Assange won an Amnesty International Media award for publishing information about human rights abuses in Kenya in 2008.
Wikileaks has become known worldwide for its leaking of documents relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In 2010, large caches of secret government documents relating to these conflicts were revealed by Wikileaks.
Due to issues with the information on the site, Assange has found it necessary to revert to his childhood pattern of itinerancy, traveling from place to place with little more than a back pack and computer. He rarely talks about his private life and remains focused on wikileaks.
Julian Assange is a controversial figure with a stated mission to resolve the problem of press and whistleblower censorship. His ability to access whistleblowers and government documents is unprecedented in the modern age. Whether these revelations will have lasting effect is yet to be seen.
Carly Crawford, Hacker or Revolutionary? Herald Sun, Melbourne,July 31 2010
Andrew Strutton, Rogue Website Author Local Lad, Townsville Bulletin,Townsville QLD, July 29 2010
Will Pavia, Aussie Behind Invulnerable site for Whistleblowers , The Australian, Canberra ACT, July 28 2010
Bernard Lagan, International Man of Mystery, Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney NSW, April 10, 2010.
Who is Julian Assange?
GLENDA KWEK - Sydney Morning Herald
Last updated 05:00 10/12/2010
SUPER-GEEK: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The super-geek who is now staking a claim to being the world's most notorious leaker of secrets grew up on a small idyllic Queensland island with just 500 residents - a "Tom Sawyer" who fished and built rafts while his mother "lived in a bikini" and shot a taipan on his bed.
Born in July 1971 in Townsville on the Queensland coast, Julian Assange says he's never been a stranger to the nomadic way of life, moving 37 times by the time he was 14. His parents worked in theatre and were often on the road.
He and his half-brother did not receive formal education, with his mother Christine telling The New Yorker magazine in June: "I didn't want their spirits broken."
"Assange's mother believed that formal education would inculcate an unhealthy respect for authority in her children and dampen their will to learn," the magazine reported, adding that Mr Assange's parents were "tough-minded nonconformists".
Assange said he "spent a lot of time in libraries going from one thing to another, looking closely at the books I found in citations, and followed that trail", took correspondence classes, had informal lessons with university professors and was occasionally home-schooled.
Two of the locations he and his family frequented included Magnetic Island - a small heritage-listed island eight kilometres off Townsville - and Byron Bay.
"Most of this period of my childhood was pretty Tom Sawyer," he told the New Yorker.
"I had my own horse. I built my own raft. I went fishing. I was going down mine shafts and tunnels."
Assange wrote warmly about his childhood on Australia's east coast in an opinion article for The Australian newspaper, citing Queenslanders' willingness to "[speak] their minds bluntly" as influencing his desire to create WikiLeaks, whose motto is "we open governments".
"I grew up in a Queensland country town where people spoke their minds bluntly. They distrusted big government as something that could be corrupted if not watched carefully. The dark days of corruption in the Queensland government before the Fitzgerald inquiry are testimony to what happens when the politicians gag the media from reporting the truth," he wrote in the hours before his arrest yesterday.
"These things have stayed with me. WikiLeaks was created around these core values. The idea, conceived in Australia, was to use internet technologies in new ways to report the truth."
In September 2009, Mrs Assange wrote about her time on Magnetic Island in its History and Craft Centre visitor's book.
"My name is Assange. I have lived on the Island three times. 1971 as a single mum with a young baby (Julian). I rented an island cottage for $12 per week in Picnic Bay," the Magnetic Times community paper reported, quoting from the book.
"I lived in a bikini, 'going native' with my baby and other mums on the island. ...
"Back again in 1976 with new husband. Lived in Horseshoe Bay on an old abandoned pineapple farm. Slashed way to front door with machete. Shot a taipan in the water tank and on son's bed. Had to suspend fruit from ceiling to protect from possums.
"Back again in 1982 with another little child. Lived in a flat on esplanade in Picnic Bay. Back again as a grandmother with long-term boyfriend - still in love with island - only staying 2 weeks."
Magnetic Times editor George Hirst said the island in the 1970s would have had 500 residents, with most of them "highly transient". It now has more than 2000 residents.
"For a kid growing up, it's one of the best places you can imagine. People are much more laid back and casual," he said today.
"There's not much crime and you see kids running around and having fun. They can do things without the safety paranoia of the modern age."
When Assange was eight, his parents split up and his mother started dating a musician who she said was abusive towards her.
She left him, but, fearful that she would lose custody of her second son, who was fathered by the musician, the trio went on the run.
She said "we now we need to disappear", Mr Assange told the New Yorker.
At 13, Mrs Assange bought Julian his first computer for $600.
"Being a very bright boy in a country town he really needed something extra than what the country town could give him," Mrs Assange told The Sunshine Coast Daily this week.
"Julian had been drooling over these things [computers] for about a year and I just thought that he really needed to have it for his intellectual growth.
"I was just indulging his childhood passion."
By the time Assange moved to Melbourne with his family in his teens, he had built up a reputation as a sophisticated computer programmer.
He also fell in love with a 16-year-old girl and left home to live with her. At 18, they married and had a son, Daniel.
Assange's experiments with computer hacking soon attracted the ire of the police. In 1991, he was tracked down by authorities after he and other hackers broke into Canadian telecommunications company Nortel's main terminal, and eventually charged with 31 counts of hacking. At the same time, his wife left, taking their baby son with her.
Assange struggled to cope with fighting to regain custody of Daniel and waiting for his criminal trial to take place. When it finally concluded in 1995, he pleaded guilty to 25 of the hacking charges, avoiding prison on condition he did not reoffend.
The judge said then: "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."
But it was the custody battle that eventually drained all the colour out of his brown hair, Mrs Assange told the New Yorker. Although Mr Assange obtained an agreement with his wife over Daniel in 1999, both he and his mother "experienced very high levels of adrenaline".
"And I think that after it all finished I ended up with PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder]. It was like coming back from a war. You just can't interact with normal people to the same degree, and I am sure that Jules has some PTSD that is untreated."
Assange travelled in Asia and worked in a number of different fields, including as a security consultant, a researcher in journalism, and started his own IT company, scraping together money to help support Daniel. In his late 20s he went to Melbourne University to study mathematics and physics.
He founded WikiLeaks in 2006, creating a web-based "dead letter drop" for would-be leakers.
In 2007, he told smh.com.au: "Imagine a world where companies and government make plans the public likes, open up rather than covering up and treat employees well.
"Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?"
But he added in another interview with the website this year that he did not see himself as a computer guru.
"I live a broad intellectual life. I'm good at a lot of things, except for spelling."
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