A little while ago I watched Julian Assange of Wikileaks being interviewed by a CNN reporter. She couldn’t get off the subject of his private life. He got quietly irritated that, in the face of such important matters to discuss, she was poking about in something totally irrelevant to the world. He told her a couple of times that if she wouldn’t stop he’d leave. She didn’t stop. He got up and left. I admired that, but there was something about him that was a bit unsettling; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
With his latest stunt, the publication of 291 US diplomatic cables, many leaders and politicians are having their dirty laundry hung out to dry, and from the leaks we’re seeing evidence of the pettiness, double-dealing and hypocrisy which characterizes international relations. I’m not sure if this is a bad thing. We live in a world of rampant paranoia, exaggerated suspicion, double standards; and general hoodwinking of the common man, in the name of public interest. That can’t be good.
Well some of that hoodwinking is out in the open now. Now we know China doesn’t view North Korea in a very favorable light, and I think that’s good. We also know that Arab Leaders want the US to attack Iran and force it to give up its nuclear weapons program. That’s very interesting. Then there’s the widespread use of computer hacking by the Chinese Government – but we all know that China doesn’t care about human rights, so it’s not news. Alleged Russian Government links to organized crime isn’t news either.
Is any of this going to turn the world upside down? I don’t know. I wonder if the enigmatic Assange does this because he believes truth is important, or because he enjoys the role he’s playing. His fans see him as a hero campaigning valiantly for the truth, but his critics say he’s irresponsible. He could be a man on a mission for the truth, or he could be an anarchist.
Clearly he loves the world of intrigue. He was born in 1971 in Townsville, northern Australia, to a couple who had a travelling theatre. Having been arrested for hacking in his early 20’s, he co-wrote a book on the emerging subversive element of the internet with Suelette Dreyfus, then studied math and physics at university. He excelled at the former.
In 2006 he started Wikileaks with a group of like-minded people from around the web. Right from the start it was a cloak and dagger affair. To keep their sources safe, they had to encrypt everything, spread assets, and move people and telecommunications around the world to hide behind the protection of various laws in different countries. I should imagine it was inspiring in those days, probably pretty exciting.
But things have got a whole lot darker now. Whatever Assange’s motives, whether he’s a hero or a self-centered anarchist, he’s playing with fire and he’s not going to be the only one getting burned. The repercussions have already started for him. He was denied residency in Sweden in October, despite that Sweden is a refuge for whistle-blowers. In fact, Sweden has a red alert out for him – they want him hauled in for questioning regarding rape and molestation charges (which could easily have been fabricated). And Australia is investigating him to see if he’s broken the law there.
The thing is, he can probably always find a place to escape, but that isn’t always going to be so for the people who send him the leaked information. For example the 23 year old American accused of stealing the cables is facing 50 years in jail and some are calling for the death sentence. His story breaks my heart. I’ll tell it tomorrow.