Assange was the overwhelming winner of the popular vote for Time magazine's "Person of the Year" and Le Monde's less politically correct "Man of the Year".
If Rupert Murdoch, who turns 80 this
month, is the most influential Australian of the postwar era, Julian Assange,
who will soon turn 40, is undoubtedly the most consequential Australian of
the present time.
In what is called the "Researcher's Introduction", Assange begins with a cryptic quote from Oscar Wilde,
Nothing about Assange has ever been straightforward.
One of the main characters in Underground is the Melbourne
hacker Mendax. Although there is no way readers at that time could have
known it, Mendax is Julian Assange.
There is, however, a problem. Journalists as senior as David Leigh of the Guardian or John F Burns of the New York Times in general accept on trust many of Assange's stories about himself. They do not understand that their subject is a fabulist.
By contrast, when Daniel Domscheit-Berg,
Assange's lieutenant at WikiLeaks between late 2007 and September 2010,
heard that Assange was writing an autobiography he tells us in Inside
WikiLeaks that his "first thought" was that it should be placed "in the
This seems a little grandiose. Christine's
father, Warren Hawkins, was the principal of the Northern Rivers College of
Advanced Education. Christine fell in love with a man called John Shipton in
Sydney. A year or so after Julian was born, in Townsville, they parted.
Assange did not meet Shipton again till he was 25.
Together Brett and Christine travelled around the country, performing. He painted a vivid portrait for Khatchadourian of an idyllic life after the family settled for a time on Magnetic Island.
To Dreyfus, Julian claimed his stepfather was a decent man but also an alcoholic.
By the time he was addressing audiences worldwide, his father - he could only be referring to Brett Assange - had become idealized as a "good and generous man" who had taught him the most fundamental lesson in life: to nurture victims rather than to create them.
Assange also told Dreyfus about a foundational political memory, an incident that had occurred while he was about four. His mother and a male friend had discovered evidence concerning the British atomic bomb tests that had taken place in Maralinga in greatest secrecy, which they intended to give to an Adelaide journalist.
The male friend had
been beaten by police to silence him. Christine had been warned that she was
in danger of being charged with being "an unfit mother". She was advised to
stay out of politics. For a four year old to grasp the political meaning of
an encounter such as this seems a little improbable.
To Dreyfus, Julian described Hamilton as a "manipulative and violent psychopath". A bitter battle for the custody of Julian's half-brother began.
Christine's family was now once more on the move - this time not as before on a "happy-go-lucky odyssey", but hiding on both sides of the continent in permanent terror. To Khatchadourian but not Dreyfus, Julian claimed there was evidence that this man was a member of the Anne Hamilton-Byrne cult The Family and, rather fancifully, that he probably discovered their whereabouts from the "moles" that the cult had inside the government.
Because of his itinerant life as a child, and also because his mother was suspicious of the authoritarian culture of formal schooling, Julian claimed that he was home-schooled or independently educated either by professors encountered on their travels or by following his curiosity in public libraries. He did, however, also claim to have attended "very many schools.
According to Dreyfus, by the time Mendax was 15 he "had lived in a dozen different places" and had "enrolled in at least as many different schools".
His lawyer in his trial of 1996, Paul Galbally, also told the
court Assange had been enrolled in about 12 schools. By 2006, Assange
claimed he had attended 37 different schools. Given that after his rise to
fame the Northern Star reported that he had attended Lismore's Goolmangar
Primary School between 1979 and 1983, the story of 37 schools seems
In the blog he posted on 18 July 2006, there is an account of his and another outsider's experience at this school.
Eventually Julian's family settled on the outskirts of Melbourne in Emerald and then Teeoma, according to Dreyfus.
Christine bought Julian a $700 computer and a modem. Assange fell in love with a 16-year-old girl, Teresa, whom he had met through a program for gifted children. He left home, moved in with and then married his girlfriend. They had a son. This was the period when the underground subculture of hacking was forming in Melbourne.
Around 1988 Assange joined this subculture, under the handle Mendax. By October 1989 an attack was mounted from Australia on the NASA computer system via the introduction of what was called the WANK worm in an attempt to sabotage the Jupiter launch of the Galileo rocket as part of an action of anti-nuclear activists.
No one claimed responsibility for this attack, which is outlined in the first chapter of Underground, In an article he later published in the left-wing magazine CounterPunch, Assange would claim the WANK worm attack was "the origin of hacktivism".
In a Swedish television documentary, WikiRebels, made with Assange's co-operation, there are hints he was responsible.
from Viddler Website
They called themselves the International Subversives. According to Dreyfus, their politics was fiercely anti-establishment; their motive adventure and intellectual curiosity; their strict ethic not to profit by their hacking or to harm the computers they entered.
Mendax wrote a program called Sycophant. It allowed the International Subversives to conduct "massive attacks on the US military". The list of the computers they could recall finding their way into "read like a Who's Who of the American military-industrial complex". Eventually Mendax penetrated the computer system of the Canadian telecommunications corporation Nortel. It was here that his hacking was first discovered.
The Australian Federal Police conducted a long investigation into the International Subversives, Operation Weather.
Eventually Trax lost his nerve and began to talk. He told the police that the International Subversives had been hacking on a scale never achieved before. In October 1991 the Australian Federal Police raided Prime Suspect's and Mendax' homes.
They found Assange in a state of near mental collapse. His young wife had recently left him, taking their son Daniel.
Assange told Dreyfus that he had been dreaming incessantly of,
When the police arrived, the incriminating
disks, which he had been in the habit of hiding inside a beehive, were
scattered by his computer. The evidence was removed.
He entered a psychiatric ward briefly. He tried and failed to return home to live with his mother. He frequently slept along Merri Creek in Melbourne or in Sherbrooke Forest. He told Dreyfus that 1992 was "the worst year in his life". The formal charges against Assange were not laid until July 1994. His case was not finally settled until December 1996.
Although Assange had been speaking in secretive tones about the technical possibility of a massive prison sentence, in the end he received a $5000 good behavior bond and a $2100 reparations fine. The experience of arrest and trial nonetheless scarred his soul and helped shape his politics.
In his blog of 17 July 2006, Assange wrote:
This is a characteristically self-dramatizing passage.
incarcerated in the Gulag Archipelago, harassed for years by the KGB and
eventually expelled from the Soviet Union. Assange was investigated by the
AFP and received a good behavior bond and a fine.
He was furious. He sent Lowenstein a series of threatening emails in which he outlined details of Lowenstein's sexual life. Lowenstein protested. Had Assange no understanding of the concept of privacy?
Privacy, Assange replied, is "relative".
If Lowenstein wanted to keep details of his life confidential he should use encrypted email.
Lowenstein told Assange he had not realized that the information was confidential.
While awaiting trial, Julian Assange began to try to reconstruct his life.
One overwhelming preoccupation was the bitter struggle waged for the custody of his son, Daniel. In their struggle, Julian and Christine Assange formed a small activist group - Parent Inquiry into Child Protection. They found sources of support inside the Victorian Department of Health and Community Services. An insider provided them with a document of great value to their cause - an internal departmental manual outlining the current rules determining custody disputes.
It is almost certainly from this experience that Assange became seriously interested in the political possibilities of leaks. He told Dreyfus that in his fight against government corruption in Victoria he had "acted as a conduit for leaked documents".
On several occasions recently, Assange has claimed that while he registered a domain site in 1999 known as "leaks.org" he did nothing with it. This cannot be accurate.
In November 1996 he sent the following enigmatic message to those on certain email lists he had created.
All these lists were connected to an internet service provider, Suburbia Public Access Network, that Assange had taken over when its original owner, Mark Dorset, went to live in Sydney.
He likened it to a "low cost power-to-the-people enabling technology". Suburbia was the vehicle for several email lists - Interesting Questions (IQ), Best of Security (BoS), Legal Aspects of Computer Crime (LACC), Inside-Source (IS) and, presumably, LEAKS - that Assange created.
It was also the free site for several groups of Melbourne activists, artists and others - the Powerline Action Group; the Alternative Technology Association; the Centre for Contemporary Photography; the Australian Public Access Network Association and, strangely enough, the Private Inquiry Agents Association.
It is because of the continued existence on the internet of some of the commentary he wrote for these lists in his mid twenties that we can begin to hear, for the first time, the distinctive political voice of Julian Assange. In general, it is intelligent and assured.
One of Suburbia's clients had published some of the Church of Scientology's holy scriptures. The church threatened legal action against Suburbia. The client, Dave Gerard, fought back.
In March 1996, Assange issued an appeal to join an anti-Scientology protest.
At this time, to judge by the pieces he wrote that have survived, Assange's
main political preoccupation seems to have been the extraordinary democratic
possibilities of the information.sharing virtual communities across the
globe created by the internet, and the threat to its freedom and flourishing
posed by censorious states, greedy corporations and repressive laws.
One evening in April 1995 he composed 'The Dan Farmer Rap' for 'firewalls', a list to which he subscribed.
Several subscribers to 'firewalls' were appalled.
Assange wrote a sort of apology.
Nonetheless, he expressed high amusement regarding all those who had publicly condemned him while privately sending their congratulations.
Assange's Dan Farmer 'peccadillo'
was still remembered six years later by a British computer geek, Danny
The concept was Assange's. Assange argued a convoluted and rather improbable psychological case about why Rubberhose would cause rational torturers to put away their weapons. Danny O'Brien captured the obvious objection rather well.
Despite Rubberhose's deniable cryptography,
l am in no position to judge the sophistication of the Rubberhose software or the level of creativity it required.
I can however assess the quality of the posting announcing its creation, which Assange sent to the firewalls list in June 1997. Assange called it "One Man's Search for a Cryptographic Mythology".
His search to find a suitable name for Rubberhose takes him, in a zany and hilarious stream of consciousness,
Don't ask why" - he finally arrives with a joyous heart at the Mesopotamian god MARUTUKKU, "Master of the Arts of Protection".
Alas, he was. Assange, "on a cold and wintry night here in Melbourne", discovers in the 4000-year-old Babylonian tablets a reference to the supposedly secret eavesdropping intelligence agency in Maryland, the National Security Agency!
It is a magnificently exuberant, bravura literary
performance. Assange was not merely a talented code writer and computer
geek. There was in him daring, wildness and a touch of genius. For a while
he signed his emails not with his customary "Proff." but "Prof. Julian
Here are three.
By the time Assange was working on NetBSD he had been involved for several years with a movement known as the cypherpunks.
It was the cypherpunks more
than the free software movement who provided him with his political
education. Although there are tens of thousands of articles on Julian
Assange in the world's newspapers and magazines, no mainstream journalist so
far has grasped the critical significance of the cypherpunks movement to
Assange's intellectual development and the origin of WikiLeaks.
Its founders were,
They created a small group, which met monthly in Gilmore's office at a business he had created, Cygnus.
At one of the early meetings of the group, an editor at Mondo 2000, Jude Milhon, jokingly called them cypherpunks, a play on cyberpunk, the "hi-tech, low-life" science-fiction genre.
The name stuck. It soon referred to a vibrant emailing list, created shortly after the first meeting, which had grown to 700 by 1994 and perhaps 2000 by 1997 with by then up to a hundred postings per day. It also referred to a distinctive subculture - eventually there were cypherpunk novels, Snowcrash, Cryptonomicon, Indecent Communications; a cypherpunk porno film, Cryptic Seduction; and even a distinctive cypherpunks dress: broad-brimmed black hats.
however, it referred to a political-ideological crusade.
Many cypherpunks were optimistic that in the battle for the future of humankind - between the State and the Individual - the individual would ultimately triumph. Their optimism was based on developments in intellectual history and computer software: the invention in the mid 1970s of public-key cryptography by Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, and the creation by Phil Zimmerman in the early 1990s of a program known as PGP, 'Pretty Good Privacy'.
The seminal historian of codes, David Kahn, argued that the Diffie-Hellman invention represented the most important development in cryptography since the Renaissance. Zimmerman's PGP program democratized their invention and provided individuals, free of cost, with access to public-key cryptography and thus the capacity to communicate with others in near-perfect privacy.
Although George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was one
of the cypherpunks' foundational texts, because of the combination of
public-key cryptography and PGP software, they tended to believe that in the
coming battle between Big Brother and Winston Smith, the victor might be
For the cypherpunks, the question of whether cryptography would be freely available would determine the outcome of the great battle of the age. Their most important practical task was to write software that would expand the opportunities for anonymous communication made possible by public-key cryptography.
One of the key projects of the cypherpunks was 'remailers', software systems that made it impossible for governments to trace the passage from sender to receiver of encrypted email traffic.
Another key project was 'digital cash', a means of disguising
financial transactions from the state.
May called his system crypto-anarchy. He regarded crypto-anarchy as the most original contribution to political ideology of contemporary times. May thought the state to be the source of evil in history. He envisaged the future as an Ayn Rand utopia of autonomous individuals dealing with each other as they pleased.
Before this future arrived, he advocated tax avoidance, insider trading, money laundering, markets for information of all kinds, including military secrets and what he called assassination markets not only for those who broke contracts or committed serious crime but also for state officials and the politicians he called "Congressrodents".
He recognized that in his future world only elites with control over technology would prosper. No doubt "the clueless 95%" - whom he described as "inner city breeders" and as "the unproductive, the halt and the lame" - "would suffer, but that is only just". May acknowledged that many cypherpunks would regard these ideas as extreme.
He also acknowledged that, while the overwhelming majority of cypherpunks were, like him, anarcho-capitalist libertarians, some were strait-laced Republicans, left-leaning liberals, Wobblies or even Maoists. Neither fact concerned him.
The cypherpunks formed a house of many rooms. The only thing they all shared was an understanding of the political significance of cryptography and the willingness to fight for privacy and unfettered freedom in cyberspace. Like an inverse Marxist, Tim May tended to believe that the inexorable expansion of private cryptography made the victory of crypto-anarchism inevitable.
A new "balance of power between individuals and larger entities" was already emerging. He predicted with some confidence "the end of governments as we know them". Another even more extreme cypherpunk of the libertarian Right, Jim Bell, like an inverse Leninist, thought that history might need a push. In mid 1995, drawing upon May's recommendation of assassination markets, he began a series explaining his "revolutionary idea", which he called "Assassination Politics".
These were perhaps the most notorious and controversial postings in the history of the cypherpunks list.
Bell devised a system in which citizens could contribute towards a lottery fund for the assassination of particular government officials. The prize would go to the person who correctly predicted the date of the death.
The winner would obviously be the official's murderer.
However, through the use of public-key cryptography, remailers and digital cash, from the time they entered the competition to the collection of the prize no one except the murderer would be aware of their identity. Under the rubric "tax is theft" all government officials and politicians were legitimate targets of assassination.
Journalists would begin to ask of politicians,
As prudence would eventually dictate that no one take the job, the state would simply wither away.
Moreover, as assassination lotteries could be extended across borders, no leader would again risk taking their people to war. Eventually, through the idea of the assassination lottery, then, not only would the era of anarchy arise across the globe, the condition of permanent peace humankind had long dreamt of would finally come to pass.
Bell ended his 20,000 word series of postings with these words.
A year or so later he was arrested on tax
There were many reasons Assange was likely to be attracted to the cypherpunks. As his encounter with Richard Lowenstein had revealed, he was already interested in the connection between privacy and encrypted communication. Even before his arrest he had feared the intrusion into his life of the totalitarian surveillance state. An atmosphere of paranoia pervaded the cypherpunks list.
Assange believed that he had been wrongly convicted of what he called a "victimless crime".
The struggle against victimless crimes - the right to consume pornography, to communicate in cyberspace anonymously, to distribute cryptographic software freely - was at the centre of the cypherpunks' political agenda. Moreover the atmosphere of the list was freewheeling - racism, sexism, homophobia were common. Not only Tim May believed that political correctness had turned Americans into "a nation of sheep".
On the cypherpunks list no one would disapprove of "The Dan Farmer rag".
was probably more to it than all this. Cypherpunks saw themselves as Silicon
Valley Masters of the Universe. It must have been more than a little
gratifying for a self-educated antipodean computer hacker, who had not even
completed high school, to converse on equal terms with professors of
mathematics, whiz-kid businessmen and some of the leading computer
code-writers in the world.
When someone asks for assistance in compiling a public list of hackers with handles, names, email addresses, Assange responds:
In a dispute over religion and intolerance one cypherpunk had written:
Following a savaging from Assange for total computer incompetence, a hapless cypherpunk pointed out that he has been writing code since the age of 14.
If one thing is clear from the cypherpunks list, it is that the young Julian Assange did not suffer those
he regarded as fools gladly.
Some posts reflect his faith in the theory of evolution.
Assange forwarded an article about the role played by the CIA in supplying crack gangs in Los Angeles. A cypherpunk responded:
Other posts reflect his recent life experiences.
Assange had helped Victoria Police break a pedophile ring in 1993. On the cypherpunks list he defended the circulation of child pornography on the internet on the grounds that it would cut the need for new production and make it easier for police to capture pedophiles. In another post he expressed deep anger at perceived injustice regarding those with whom he identifies - convicted hackers.
One, Tsutomu Shimamura, had not only played a role in the hunting down of a notorious American fellow hacker, Kevin Mitnick (known personally to Assange through his research for Underground), but had even co-authored a book about it, Takedown.
Assange also posted on the reports of violence against another hacker, Ed Cummings AKA Bernie S, imprisoned in the US.
Already there are qualities in Assange's postings unusual in the standard cypherpunk.
One is a fascination with language. Assange acquired a software program that created anagrams. The deepest institutional enemy of the cypherpunks was the National Security Agency.
Assange put the name into his computer. Among the anagrams that emerged were:
...and, Assange's apparent favorite:
He was also interested in what he described as "tracking language drift; i.e. the relative change in word frequency on the internet as time goes by".
He informed the cypherpunks that he had just discovered that in a "10 billion word corpus" the following frequency occurred:
His eccentricity would also have been obvious after a member of the
'firewalls' list forwarded his MARUTUKKU fantasia to cypherpunks.
In September 1996, Esther Dyson, the chair of the lobby group for freedom in cyberspace, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as being in favor of certain extremely limited restrictions on internet anonymity. On the cypherpunks list a furious controversy, called "The Esther Dyson Fuss", broke out.
Some cypherpunks defended Dyson on the ground that she had every right to argue a more nuanced position and that it was anyhow healthy for individuals to speak their mind. May vehemently disagreed. The issue was not her freedom of speech. A critical moment in the battle between freedom and surveillance had arrived.
Dyson had defected to the enemy camp.
Assange went further. He launched a stinging ad hominem attack.
Perhaps Dyson remembered the incident.
When Assange was in trouble last year she wrote a piece on the
Salon website arguing that even unpleasant characters need to be defended.
Some cypherpunks had some sympathy for Kapor's moderation. Even they recognized that with September 11 something major had occurred.
One pointed out, in addition, that Stu Baker was,
This was too much for Assange:
From beginning to end Assange was, in short, a hard-line member of the
tendency among the cypherpunks that Tim May called the "rejectionists", an
enemy or those who displayed even the slightest tendency to compromise on
the question of Big Brother and the surveillance state.
In October ]996, a prominent cypherpunk, Duncan Frissell, claimed that in the previous fiscal year the American government had seized more tax than any government in history.
Assange pointed out that, as the US was the world's largest economy and that its GDP had grown in the previous rear, this was a ridiculous statement designed to be deceptive. In October 2001, Declan McCullagh expressed "surprise" when a "critique of laissez-faire capitalism" appeared on the cypherpunks list "of all places".
Assange was, then, an absolutist crypto-anarchist but one who leant decidedly to the Left.
Mainstream cypherpunks did not defend trade unions or
speak negatively of "rampant capitalists" and positively of "human rights
activists". He was an electronic but not an economic libertarian.
From 1997 to 2002 Julian Assange accompanied all his cypherpunks postings with this beautiful passage from Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
On one occasion in July 1999 William H Geiger III presented standard Ayn Rand Objectivist praise of human selfishness.
Assange replied with a defense of altruism, for Objectivists an evil.
On another occasion, a cypherpunk suggested that in I the great struggle for privacy and against censorship ordinary people could not give a damn.
Perhaps with Tim May's contempt for "the clueless 95%" in his mind, in March 2002, in what was one of his final cypherpunks postings, Assange responded:
Already he seems to have imagined the future as a struggle to the death between autocratic elites and electronic freedom fighters.
Increasingly, Assange began to mock Tim May. Many thought of May as an anti.Semite, with good reason. In November 2001, when May used a quote from a cypherpunk fellow traveler, David Friedman (Milton's son), Assange emailed:
Julian Assange was a regular contributor to the cypherpunks mailing list particularly before its decline in late 1997 following a meltdown over the question of the possible moderation of the list - censorship! - and the departure of John Gilmore.
The cypherpunks list clearly mattered to him deeply. Shortly before his travels in 1998, Assange asked whether anyone could send him a complete archive of the list between 1992 and the present time. While commentators have comprehensively failed to see the significance of the cypherpunks in shaping the thought of Julian Assange, this is something insiders to the movement understand.
When Jeanne Whalen from the Wall Street Journal approached John Young of Cryptome in August last year, he advised her to read the Assange cypherpunk postings he had just placed on the internet, and also Tim May's "Cyphernomicon".
Likewise, in his mordant online article on WikiLeaks and Assange, the influential cyberpunk novelist and author of The Hacker Crackdown Bruce Sterling wrote:
In 2003 Julian Assange seems to have considered living a more conventional life.
He went to the University of Melbourne to study mainly mathematics and physics. As a student of mathematics his results were mediocre. This can hardly be explained by lack of talent.
No one worked more closely with Assange than Suelette Dreyfus.
Assange claimed that he became disillusioned with the applied maths department when he discovered its members were working with defense authorities in the U.S. on a military bulldozer adapted to desert conditions known as "The Grizzly Plough".
He also claimed that visits to the ANU were thoroughly dispiriting.
On one occasion he represented University of Melbourne students at a competition.
On another occasion he saw 900 senior
physicists in Canberra proudly carrying bags with the logo of the Defence
Science and Technology Organization. He described them as "snivelling
fearful conformists of woefully inferior character".
He described his role as "plot/script, general nonsense, Abstract(ion), Caesar Cipher, Disc, Platonic, Score, Surstro:mming". Organizing a puzzle hunt was a somewhat less engrossing ambition than planning world revolution. And towards the end of his studies this was exactly what he was doing.
A female friend provided the journalist Nikki Barrowclough with a vivid portrait of the atmosphere of a share house close-by the University of Melbourne that Assange lived in at this time.
Between July 2006 and August 2007 - the period when WikiLeaks was being planned and actualized - Julian Assange maintained a blog at IQ.ORG, some of which he collected under the title "Selected Correspondence".
The correspondence can still be found on the internet. Because of its existence, a detailed map of his mind at the age of 35 and at the moment of WikiLeaks' creation is available. Strangely enough, even though there are now some 27 million Google entries on Assange, so far as I am aware no one has offered an analysis.
When Domscheit-Berg released his memoir in mid February there was excitement around the globe at his claim that Assange had boasted about fathering several children.
On his blog, Assange includes a photo of a bonneted baby under the title "Those Eyes" with the caption,
She is his new daughter.
In an email of January 2007 he asks someone who is about to publish confidential email correspondence to remove at least the reference to IQ.ORG, which is "near my daughters [sic] photo".
The existence of Assange's son, Daniel, is well
known. However, if any journalist had read the evidence closely we would not
have needed to wait for Domscheit-Berg to learn of at least one of Assange's
more recent "love children".
Assange writes of his loathing for the
He explains why as one of the committed developers of NetBSD he has refused to sign a proposed contract:
Some entries, such as his defense of altruism, are familiar to those who have followed his postings on the cypherpunks list.
Many others have the range and also
eccentricity revealed in his MARUTUKKU performance. There are abstract
speculations on philosophy, mathematics, neuroscience, human physiology, the
law, history and sociology.
One is from a Buddhist text from 500 BC, Ajita Kesakamhal, in defense of materialism.
Another is a wonderful story from the Nazi concentration camp.
A Jewish inmate can save his daughter if he chooses which eye of his guard is glass. He chooses the left eye, correctly.
His guard asks how he knew.
Assange has great interest in the history of European totalitarianism.
One extract is a poem - "bad ... but elevated by its monumental context" - about the atom bomb spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg:
There is also a long extract from an article about the problems besetting those possessing super-high IQs, such as the unfulfilled genius William James Sidis.
It concludes with these words:
not difficult to understand why this article interested him.
Some passages are awkward in a Mills & Boon kind of way,
Others are rather sinister, like his study of the etymology of the word 'cad'.
This coldness is striking because other passages in the correspondence are tender.
Assange writes of meeting Antony, a country kid he had known since they were both 14, at a mental health centre in East Ringwood.
What is most important about the correspondence, however, is that in it we can hear for the first time Julian Assange's distinctive political voice.
As a former cypherpunk crypto-anarchist the enemy for him is, unsurprisingly, that abstraction he calls the State.
The state represents the principle of "mendacity".
True understanding requires the individual "to know the state for what it really is". Yet, unlike most of his fellow cypherpunks, by now Assange unambiguously extends his idea of the state to big business.
In thinking about the US, in one blog entry, he asks:
He answers in the following way.
Assange is a profound anti-communist.
But he regards power in western society as belonging to
political and economic elites offering ordinary people nothing more
nourishing than a counterfeit conception of democracy and a soul-destroying
consumption culture. He points out that when the American colonists waged
their struggle for independence there was no talk of shopping or even
democracy. Such shallow ideas could not stir the passions.
It involves a revolutionary call to arms.
Assange seems not particularly interested in future political institutions or in economic arrangements.
The revolution he speaks about is moral. He believes that individual action can re-fashion the world. The state may do "what it can get away with" but it does "what we let it get away with" and even "what we let ourselves get away with, for we, in our interactions with others, form the state".
Over the whole selected correspondence there is a quotation from the German-Jewish revolutionary anarchist Gustav Landauer, beaten to death by right-wing troops after the Munich soviet experiment of 1919.
The question is how new institutions can be
He is also witheringly contemptuous of those he calls "the typical shy intellectual".
For Assange the central political virtue is courage.
One of his favorite sayings is:
He attributes it to the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. In fact it was coined by the evangelist Billy Graham.
Assange's politics are also generational.
For Assange the great moving forces in history are the need for Love and the thirst for Truth.
In his final piece in the selected correspondence, Assange admits that often "outcomes are treated with more reverence than Truth".
But how will the rotten edifice be smashed? On 22 November 2006 Assange provides a link to a paper.
He tells his coterie of readers:
He is pointing them to the
central theoretical breakthrough that led to WikiLeaks.
Stripped of its inessential mathematical gobbledygook, its argument goes like this. The world is at present dominated by the conspiratorial power of authoritarian governments and big business corporations.
As President Theodore Roosevelt understood, behind "ostensible governments", there exists,
Authoritarian governments and corporations maintain and entrench their power through a conspiracy.
For Assange the conspiracy involves the maintenance of a network of links between the conspirators, some vital, some less so. Conspiracies naturally provoke resistance.
Among revolutionaries of earlier generations resistance has involved the attempt to break the links between the leaders of the conspiracy by,
Such methods are no longer appropriate.
The new generation of revolutionaries,
Contemporary conspiracies rely on unrestricted information flow to adapt to and control their environments.
Conspirators need to be able to speak freely to each other and to disarm resistance by spreading disinformation among I the people they control, something they presently very successfully achieve. Conspirators who have control over information flow are infinitely more powerful than those who do not.
Drawing on a passage from Lord Halifax in which political parties are described as "conspiracies against the rest of the nation", Assange asks his readers to imagine what would happen in the struggle between the Republican and Democratic parties in the US,
He asks them to think of the conspiracy as a living organism,
Rather than attacking the conspiracy by assassinating its leading members, he believes it can be "throttled" by cutting its information flows.
The promise is fulfilled in a blog entry of 31 December 2006.
Here he outlines finally the idea at the core of the WikiLeaks strategy.
There is a direct link between Assange's cypherpunks period and the theory behind WikiLeaks.
As we have seen, Assange joined the cypherpunks list at the time when Jim Bell's "Assassination Politics" was being hotly discussed. There is evidence that Assange was fascinated by the idea.
In January 1998 he had come upon an advertisement for a prize - "Scoop the Grim Reaper. Who Will Live? Who Will Die?" - which was to be awarded to the person who guessed on what dates certain Hollywood celebrities would die.
Assange posted the advertisement on the cypherpunks list under the heading:
The similarity between Bell's thought and Assange's are unmistakable.
Like Bell, Assange was possessed by a simple "revolutionary idea" about how to create a better world.
As with Bell, the idea emerged from reflection upon the political possibilities created by untraceable anonymous communication, through the use of remailers and unbreakable public-key cryptography. The differences are also clear. Unlike with Bell, the revolution Assange imagined would be non-violent. The agent of change would not be the assassin but the whistleblower.
The method would not be the bullet but the leak.
"Conspiracy as Governance" can most accurately be interpreted as his answer
to "Assassination Politics".
From his cypherpunk days he had become interested in the political possibilities of untraceable encrypted communication. And from his involvement in the free software movement he had seen what collective democratic intellectual enterprise might achieve. In essence, his conclusion was that world politics could be transformed by staunching the flow of information among corrupt power elites by making them ever more fearful of insider leaks.
He believed he could
achieve this by establishing an organization that would allow whistleblowers
from all countries to pass on their information, confident that their
identities would not be able to be discovered. He proposed that his
organization would then publish the information for the purpose of
collective analysis so as to empower oppressed populations across the globe.
Under the heading, "What am I doing with my life?", he answered:
Under the heading,
There was something distinctly Walter Mittyish about it all.
Under the informal leadership of Julian Assange, a group of
mainly young men, without resources and linked only by computers, now began
to implement their plans for a peaceful global political revolution.
As he put it, WikiLeaks would be to leaks what Wikipedia was to the encyclopedia. Strangely and perhaps revealingly, it was registered under the names of two fathers, his biological one, John Shipton, and his cypherpunk political one, John Young, a New York architect who ran the intelligence leak website Cryptome, which could be seen as WikiLeaks' predecessor.
Assange explained his request for assistance to Young like this:
The choice of Young reveals something about Assange.
For Young was undoubtedly the most militant security cypherpunk of all, who had published on his website an aerial photo of Dick Cheney's hideout bunker, a photograph of the home of Fox News's Bill O'Reilly, and the names of 276 British and some 600 Japanese intelligence agents and 2619 CIA "sources". Young was also Jim Bell's greatest champion. After Bell's arrest and imprisonment, Young nominated him for the Chrysler Award for Innovation in Design.
Bell had, he argued in his nomination, contributed,
A potential WikiLeaks logo in development, 2006, as published by Cryptome.
Serious work on the establishment of WikiLeaks began in December 2006.
One of the first tasks was to decide upon a logo. Before opting for the hourglass, the WikiLeaks team thought seriously about a mole breaking through a wall above which stood three sinister authoritarian figures, arms folded. Another early task was to put together an advisory board. The first person he wanted was Daniel Ellsberg.
Assange explained the purpose of WikiLeaks and why he had been approached:
Here was one generation speaking to another.
A month after being contacted Ellsberg replied.
He did not agree to join the board.
Two leading cypherpunks were approached - the British computer security specialist Ben Laurie and one of the cypherpunks founders, John Gilmore. Laurie became actively involved. Gilmore instead asked the Electronic Frontier Foundation he had also co-founded to help. Assange's old cypherpunk sparring partner, Danny O'Brien, now with the EFF, offered to assist.
Also approached not long after
were two Chinese Tiananmen Square dissidents, a member of the Tibetan
Association in Washington and Australian journalist Phillip Adams. All
agreed to join the board of advisers and, then, most seem never to have
heard from WikiLeaks again.
In his invitation to Gilmore, Assange had pledged that WikiLeaks,
In its first public statement, WikiLeaks argued that,
And in an email of 2 January 2007 Assange even argued that WikiLeaks could advance by several years,
And yet, despite these statements, the evidence surrounding WikiLeaks' foundation makes it abundantly clear that anti-Americanism was not the primary driving force.
Time and again, in its internal documents, it argued that its,
China is a special focus.
One or more of WikiLeaks' inner coterie were Taiwanese hacking into Chinese government sources. At the time of its foundation, WikiLeaks claimed to have more than a million documents. Almost certainly almost all came from China.
For this reason, WikiLeaks argued publicly that,
Concerning its targets, the formulation is precise.
WikiLeaks has in its sights authoritarian
governments, the increasingly authoritarian tendencies seen in the recent
trajectory of the western democracies, and the authoritarian nature of
contemporary business corporations.
At its foundation, Assange frequently argued that WikiLeaks' true nature did indeed need to be disguised.
Inevitably governments would try to crush WikiLeaks. But if the mask of moderation was maintained, at least for some time, opposition would be "limp wristed".
A quotation from the Book of Isaiah, he believed, might be suitable,
To John Young he wrote:
The emphases are mine.
He also knew that if WikiLeaks was to prosper, and also to win support from philanthropic bodies such as the Soros Foundation, the hacker-cypherpunk origin of the inner circle needed to be disguised.
The key to WikiLeaks was that its true revolutionary ambitions and its moderate liberal public face would be difficult for opponents to disentangle.
Open government and freedom of
information were standard liberal values. However, as explained in the
theory outlined in "Conspiracy as Governance", they were the values in whose
name authoritarian structures would be undermined world-wide, through the
drying up of information flows and a paralyzing fear of insider leaks.
Despite those involved understanding the need for disguise, at its foundation the excitement was so palpable and the ambition so boundless that, when it was called upon to explain itself, the mask of apple pie liberal reformist moderation instantly fell away.
On 3 January 2007 a small crisis arose when WikiLeaks' existence was prematurely revealed.
Assange immediately put together a brilliant description of WikiLeaks for public release.
Julian Assange recognized that the language of what amounted to the WikiLeaks Manifesto might appear a little "overblown". He recognized that it had about it too much the flavor of "anarchy".
But in general when it was written he was pleased. John Young was not.
In early January 2007 he decided that WikiLeaks was a CIA-backed fraud.
Young decided now to post all the WikiLeaks correspondence between early December 2006 and early January 2007 on his website.
Later, in 2010,
he published Assange's contributions to the cypherpunks list between 1995
and 2002. It is because of his baseless suspicion that the mind of Julian
Assange and the intellectual origins of WikiLeaks are able to be understood.
He stayed on in Kenya for several months, involved with anti-corruption forces but also fascinated and repelled by the world of superstition he encountered:
Assange was a true Enlightenment Man.
In the first he assures his supporters that WikiLeaks' future is secure.
Some people have apparently argued that WikiLeaks' idealism or "childlike naivety" is a weakness.
He believes they are entirely wrong.
Confronted by it, "virtuous sophisticates" are "marooned".
Some people are clearly worried that WikiLeaks will be captured by "the Left". Assange assures his followers they need not be concerned. In the US the problem is rather that WikiLeaks is seen as too close to the CIA and American foreign policy. In fact, "we'll take our torch to all."
Some people have dearly expressed doubts about Social Forum types. Assange more than shares them.
They are by and large "ineffectual pansies" who,
In Africa Assange has seen human rights fighters of real backbone.
He warns his followers not to expect to find such people in the US. He quotes at length from Solzhenitsyn's 1979 Harvard address about the radical decline of "civic courage" in the West especially among the "ruling and intellectual elites". Nonetheless, to advance WikiLeaks' cause, the Social Forum - the world's biggest NGO "beach party" - matters. Assange anticipates that anti-Iraq War feeling will hold it together.
Although WikiLeaks has so far concentrated on "the most closed governments", he explains that it is about to publish explosive material on American "involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan".
He hopes that the anti-war movement
will embrace these documents so that WikiLeaks can avoid the "retributive"
blast from pro-war forces. It is vital to position itself "as everyone's
friend". If anyone still needs it, this dispatch is proof that Assange has a
biting tongue, a mordant wit and a brilliant political mind.
He sent a different email to them:
WikiLeaks was in danger, he argued, of being positioned either as a CIA front by John Young types or as a same-old left-wing outfit "preaching to the choir".
All partisanship would be lethal. WikiLeaks needed to keep itself open to whistleblowers of all stripes - even,
This email is not only illuminating from the point of view of WikiLeaks' grand strategy. It is also decisive as to his true political position.
might have been on the left of the spectrum by anarcho-capitalist cypherpunk
standards but he was by no means a standard leftist. His politics were
anti-establishment but genuinely beyond Left and Right.
This aspect of his politics amounted to a kind
of political Darwinism, a belief not in the survival of the fittest but of
the most transparent and most just. As an organization that encouraged
whistleblowers and published their documents, WikiLeaks was aiding and
speeding up this process.
The world would either opt for a closed system akin to Chinese political secrecy and American intellectual property laws, or an open system found to some extent in Belgium and Sweden. Once more, Assange hoped that WikiLeaks was assisting a positive outcome to this struggle through its role as what he called a global publisher of last resort.
If WikiLeaks could survive the attacks certain to be mounted by governments and corporations, the rights of human beings to communicate freely with each other without the intervention of governments would be entrenched. WikiLeaks was, according to this argument, the canary in the mine. Assange was taken with the famous Orwell quote. He who controls the present controls the past and he who controls the past controls the future.
The world was at a turning point. Either Big Brother would take control of the internet or an era of unprecedented freedom of communication would arrive. Assange was by now in the habit of composing motivational emails for his volunteers.
This is the message he sent them on 12 March 2008:
This might have come straight out of a cypherpunks manifesto.
In the first
weeks of 2010 Assange was involved in an ultimately successful political
maneuver to turn Iceland into the world's first "data haven" with the most
politically progressive anti-censorship laws on Earth. According to
Domscheit-Berg, Assange's idea of a data haven came straight from the
canonical cypherpunk novel by Neal Stephenson,
Cryptonomicon, which ranked
with Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle as Assange's favorite.
Although it was a peripatetic organization with only four permanent staff - Assange, Domscheit-Berg and two others known as " the architect" and "the technician" - WikiLeaks had proven to be an outstanding success in attracting leaks and then publishing them.
By late 2009 it had published documents concerning,
Further, it had released,
WikiLeaks had never been successfully sued, although Julius Baer had tried.
None of the identities of the whistleblowers who sought to conceal them had been uncovered. WikiLeaks had won awards from the Economist, in 2008, and from Amnesty International, in 2009. Assange believed that WikiLeaks' information had determined a Kenyan election.
knew that the publication of the loans book in
Iceland had riveted the
nation, especially after Kaupthing had brought down an injunction against
the national broadcaster's evening television news. And yet, as his internal
communications make clear, he was puzzled and appalled by the world's
indifference to his leaks.
In January 2007 he sincerely believed that when WikiLeaks published commentary on the Somalia assassination order document it would be,
This simply had not happened.
Commentary by the people on material produced by their intelligence agency never would. He had once hoped for engaged analysis from the blogosphere. What he now discovered were what he thought of as indifferent narcissists repeating the views of the mainstream media on "the issues de jour" with an additional flourish along the lines of "their pussy cat predicted it all along".
Even the smaller newspapers were hopeless. They relied on press releases, ignorant commentary and theft. They never reported the vitally significant leaks without WikiLeaks intervention. Counter-intuitively, only the major newspapers in the world, such as the New York Times or the Guardian, undertook any serious analysis but even they were self-censoring and their reportage dominated by the interests of powerful lobby groups.
No one seemed truly interested in the vital material WikiLeaks offered or willing to do their Own work.
He wrote to his volunteers:
In Iraq, a junior American intelligence analyst, Private Bradley Manning - at least according to very convincing evidence yet to be tested in court - had been following WikiLeaks' activities with interest.
On 25 November 2009 WikiLeaks released a document comprising 573,000 messages from September 11. As this material could only come from a National Security Agency leak, Manning was now convinced that WikiLeaks was genuine.
Eventually, after sending WikiLeaks some cables concerning the American Ambassador in Iceland, he decided to download 93,000 logs from the Afghan War, 400,000 incident reports from the war in Iraq and 250,000 State Department cables, to which he and hundreds of thousands of American officials had access, and to send them to WikiLeaks.
As a cover, he brought along Lady Gaga CDs and, while downloading these documents onto disc, pretended to be mouthing the words to the music. Some time after, he confessed to a convicted hacker, Adrian Lamo, what he had done. The most secure encryption and remailing systems were powerless against human, all-too-human frailty.
Lamo in turn informed the FBI and American military authorities. Shortly after, Manning was arrested and taken to a military prison in West Virginia. Lamo also went with his evidence to a longstanding acquaintance, another convicted hacker, Kevin Poulsen, who worked at the magazine Wired.
Poulsen published the log of some of the conversation between Manning and Lamo.
One of the items sent to WikiLeaks was a video of a coldblooded, American Apache helicopter attack on a group of Iraqis, in which up to 15 men were gunned down. Assange made the decision to concentrate the resources and the energies of WikiLeaks on publishing it under the title: "Collateral Murder".
In early April 2010, he flew to Washington to launch it, with his temporary chief-of-staff in Iceland (where the video had been edited), Rop Gonggrijp, the Dutch veteran of Berlin's Chaos Computer Club. On 5 April, Assange addressed the National Press Club.
His frustration with the indifference of
the world was, to put it mildly, about to end.
Complex and heated negotiations between WikiLeaks and the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel were now conducted. Even though these negotiations are one of the less interesting aspects of this story, already three books from the news outlets involved offering their own perspectives have been published.
Assange had long
regarded the western media as narcissistic. It is likely that his judgment
was now confirmed.
Assange was unrepentant. Both in private and in public, he argued that if they were collaborators they deserved to die. Assange did, however, learn from the experience.
When the Iraq War logs were released in October most names had been redacted. By now, WikiLeaks was beginning to implode.
Relations between Assange and Domseheit-Berg became increasingly tense, especially after Assange warned him, in April 2010, rather alarmingly:
Some insiders such as Birgitta Jonsdottir, the anarchist Icelandic parliamentarian, were concerned about the cavalier way in which Assange had handled the moral issue of the Afghan War Diary.
Many resented what they saw as the increasingly dictatorial tendency inside WikiLeaks.
Assange told the Icelandic anarchist historian Herbert Snorrason:
On 21 August, Assange discovered that he was under investigation for sexual crime after he slept with two Swedish supporters during a triumphal visit to Stockholm, one of whom, Anna Ardin, to complicate matters, had written advice on her blog concerning seven legal [correction] kinds of revenge women might take after sexual mistreatment.
Facing these charges, Assange expected total loyalty. Neither Domscheit-Berg nor Jonsdottir were willing to give him what he wanted. Domscheit-Berg was suspended from WikiLeaks; Jonsdottir quit.
The "architect" followed. He and Domscheit-Berg took the WikiLeaks' submissions with them, at least temporarily, on the grounds that its sources needed far more scrupulous protection. Yet there was more to the implosion of WikiLeaks than concerns about Assange's laxity over security, or his cavalier and dictatorial behavior.
In December, Rop Gonggrijp confessed to the Chaos Computer Club:
Assange had taken on the power of the American state without flinching.
His identification with Solzhenitsyn was no longer empty. Assange decided to release the 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables WikiLeaks still had in its possession on drip-feed so their content could be absorbed. On 28 November the first batch was published.
The American vice-president, Joe Biden, called Assange a "high-tech terrorist".
The rival vice-presidential candidate of 2008, Sarah Palin, thought he should be hunted down like Osama Bin Laden, a suggestion that led Assange to quip to Paris Match that at least that option assured him of a further ten years of freedom. Visa, Mastercard and Pay Pal severed connections with WikiLeaks. A global guerrilla hacker army of WikiLeaks supporters, Anonymous, mounted an instant counterattack.
Assange was by now facing two legal threats:
After a preliminary hearing in
London on the Swedish extradition request, he was first imprisoned in Wandsworth jail and then placed under a form of house arrest.
Ironically, if that broke out, his staunchest and most eloquent defenders were likely to be people such as John Pilger or Tariq Ali, whom Assange privately had once derided as followers of the "Progressive Commie Socialist" agenda, or the left-wing American film-maker Michael Moore, whom, Domseheit-Berg tells us, Assange considered "an idiot".
He would also be championed by millions of "average
shy intellectuals" across the western world who had watched on passively as
the political and business elites and their spin-masters in the US and
beyond plunged Iraq into bloody turmoil, brought chaos to the global
financial markets and resisted action over the civilizational crisis of
In "Conspiracy as Governance" he had called the disinformation the political and business elites fed the people to safeguard their power and their interests the "Fox News Effect". As the pressure on Assange mounted, Murdoch was clearly on his mind.
In December, he spoke to Pilger in the New Statesman of an "insurance file" on Murdoch and News Corp his supporters would release if he came to harm and to Paris Match about Murdoch's supposed "tax havens".
If a culture war was engaged over Assange's extradition to the US it would involve, strangely enough, the clash of cultural armies mobilized by the creators of Fox News and WikiLeaks, the two most influential Australians of the era.