Julian Assange Biography | Profile
Julian Assange, is an Australian-Ecuadoran computer programmer who founded the media organization WikiLeaks in 2006.
Practicing what he called “scientific journalism” which is providing primary source materials with a minimum of editorial commentary.
Assange, through WikiLeaks, released thousands of internal or classified documents from an assortment of government and corporate entities.
Birth And Early Life
Assange was born on July 3, 1971, in Townsville, Australia to Christine Ann Hawkins, a visual artist, and John Shipton, an anti-war activist and builder. The couple had separated before Assange was born.
When he was a year old, his mother married Richard Brett Assange, an actor, with whom she ran a small theatre company. Brett Assange later described Julian as a “sharp kid who always fought for the underdog”.
They divorced around 1979. Christine Assange then became involved with Leif Meynell, also known as Leif Hamilton, a member of Australian cult The Family, with whom she had a son before the couple broke up in 1982.
Assange’s family moved frequently when he was a child, and he was educated with a combination of homeschooling and correspondence courses. He had a nomadic childhood, and had lived in over thirty Australian towns by the time he reached his mid-teens, when he settled with his mother and half-brother in Melbourne, Victoria.
As a teenager, he demonstrated an uncanny aptitude with computers, and, using the hacking nickname “Mendax,” he infiltrated a number of secure systems, including those at NASA and the Pentagon.
In 1991 Australian authorities charged him with 31 counts of cyber crime; he pleaded guilty to most of them. At sentencing, however, he received only a small fine as punishment, and the judge ruled that his actions were the result of youthful inquisitiveness.
He attended many schools, including Goolmangar Primary School in New South Wales (1979–1983) and Townsville State High School, as well as being schooled at home.
He studied programming, mathematics, and physics at Central Queensland University (1994) and the University of Melbourne (2003–2006), but did not complete, he withdrew before earning a degree, and worked as a computer security consultant.
Personal Life And Children
While in his teens, Assange married a woman named Teresa, and in 1989 they had a son, Daniel Assange, now a software designer. The couple separated and initially disputed custody of their child. Assange was Daniel’s primary caregiver for much of his childhood.
Details of his personal life over the recent past are not known though it was rumored that he was once in a relationship with journalist Sarah Harrison and also Lisa.
Later rumours of a relationship between Assange and actress Pamela Anderson surfaced after the former Baywatch star was spotted visiting the Ecuadorian embassy in late 2016. “Julian is trying to free the world by educating it,” she later told People. “It is a romantic struggle , I love him for this.”
In an open letter to French President François Hollande, Assange stated his youngest child lives in France with his mother. He also said that his family had faced death threats and harassment because of his work, forcing them to change identities and reduce contact with him.
In April 2017, Showtime announced that it would air the Assange documentary Risk, which had premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival but updated with events related to the U.S. presidential election.
Career And Works
Assange discovered his passion for computers as a teenager. At the age of 16, he got his first computer as a gift from his mother. Before long, he developed a talent for hacking into computer systems.
His 1991 break-in to the master terminal for Nortel, a telecommunications company, got him in trouble. Assange was charged with more than 30 counts of hacking in Australia, but he got off the hook with only a fine for damages.
Assange continued to pursue a career as a computer programmer and software developer. An intelligent mind, he studied mathematics at the University of Melbourne.
He dropped out without finishing his degree, later claiming that he left the university for moral reasons; Assange objected to other students working on computer projects for the military.
In 2006, Assange created WikiLeaks, a website intended to collect and share confidential information on an international scale to serve as a clearinghouse for sensitive or classified documents.
Its first publication, posted to the WikiLeaks Web site in December 2006, was a message from a Somali rebel leader encouraging the use of hired gunmen to assassinate government officials.
The document’s authenticity was never verified, but the story of WikiLeaks and questions regarding the ethics of its methods soon overshadowed it.
The site officially launched in 2007 and it was run out of Sweden at the time because of the country’s strong laws protecting a person’s anonymity.
Later that year, WikiLeaks published a number of other scoops, including details about the U.S. military’s detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, a secret membership roster of the British National Party, internal documents from the Scientology movement, and private e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.
WikiLeaks also shared emails from then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin that it received from an anonymous source in September 2008.
In 2010 WikiLeaks posted almost half a million documents,mainly relating to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While much of the information was already in the public domain, Pres. Barack Obama’s administration criticized the leaks as a threat to U.S. national security.
In November of that year, WikiLeaks began publishing an estimated 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables. Those classified documents dated mostly from 2007 to 2010, but they included some dating back as far as 1966.
Among the wide ranging topics covered were behind the scenes U.S. efforts to politically and economically isolate Iran, primarily in response to fears of Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
Reaction from governments around the world was swift, and many condemned the publication.
Assange became the target of much of that ire, and some American politicians called for him to be pursued as a terrorist.
Assange recorded a series of interviews that were collected as The World Tomorrow, a talk show that debuted online and on the state-funded Russian satellite news network RT in April 2012.
Hosting the program from a makeshift broadcast studio, Assange began the series with an interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Nasrallah’s first with a Western journalist since the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.
In June 2012, after his extradition appeal was denied by the Supreme Court, Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy. He applied for asylum on the grounds that extradition to Sweden could lead to eventual prosecution in the United States for actions related to WikiLeaks.
Assange claimed that such a trial would be politically motivated and would potentially subject him to the death penalty.
In August Assange’s request was granted, but he remained confined within the embassy as British and Ecuadoran officials attempted to resolve the issue. Assange began his second year within the walls of the embassy by launching a bid for a seat in the Australian Senate.
Sexual Assault Controversy
In early December 2010, Assange discovered that he had other legal problems to worry about. Since early August, he had been under investigation by the Swedish police for allegations that included two counts of sexual molestation, one count of illegal coercion, and one count of rape.
After a European Arrest Warrant was issued by Swedish authorities on December 6, Assange turned himself in to the London police.
Following a series of extradition hearings in early 2011 to appeal the warrant, Assange learned on November 2, 2011, that the High Court dismissed his appeal. Still on conditional bail, Assange made plans to appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court.
According to a New York Times article, Assange came to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in June 2012, seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden.
Nearly two months later, in August 2012, Assange was granted political asylum by the Ecuadorean government, which, according to the Times, “protects Mr. Assange from British arrest, but only on Ecuadorean territory, leaving him vulnerable if he tries to leave the embassy to head to an airport or train station.”
The article went on to say that the decision “cited the possibility that Mr. Assange could face ‘political persecution’ or be sent to the United States to face the death penalty,” putting further strain on the relationship between Ecuador and Britain, and instigating a rebuttal from the Swedish government.
In August 2015 the lesser sexual assault allegations from 2010, with the exception of rape were dropped due to statute of limitation violations by Swedish prosecutors. The statue of limitations on the rape allegations will expire in 2020.
In February 2016, a United Nations panel determined that Assange had been arbitrarily detained, and recommended his release and compensation for deprivation of liberty.
However, both the Swedish and British governments rejected those findings as non-binding, and reiterated that Assange would be arrested if he left the Ecuadorian embassy.
On May 19, 2017, Sweden said it would drop its rape investigation of Julian Assange. “While today was an important victory and important vindication, the road is far from over,” he told reporters from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. “The war, the proper war, is just commencing.”
Assange still faces a warrant in Britain for failing to appear in court, and the U.S. Justice Department said it was reconsidering whether to charge him for revealing classified information.
Political Asylum And Life At The Ecuadorian Embassy
Influencing the 2016 U.S. Presidential Race
Assange and WikiLeaks returned to the headlines during the summer of 2016 as the U.S. presidential race was narrowing to two main candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
In early July, WikiLeaks released more than 1,200 emails from Clinton’s private server during her tenure as secretary of state.
Later in the month, WikiLeaks released an additional round of emails from the Democratic National Committee that indicated an effort to undermine Clinton’s primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, leading to the resignation of DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
In October, WikiLeaks unveiled more than 2,000 emails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, which included excerpts from speeches to Wall Street banks.
By this point, U.S. government officials had gone public with the belief that Russian agents had hacked into DNC servers and supplied the emails to WikiLeaks, though Assange repeatedly insisted that was not the case.
On the eve of the election, Assange released a statement in which he declared no “personal desire to influence the outcome,” noting that he never received documents from the Trump campaign to publish.
“Irrespective of the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election,” he wrote, “the real victor is the U.S. public which is better informed as a result of our work.” Shortly afterward, Trump was declared the winner of the election.
In May 2011 Assange was awarded the Sydney Peace Foundation’s gold medal, an honour that had previously been bestowed on Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, for his “exceptional courage in pursuit of human rights.” Assange’s memoir, Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography, was published against his wishes in September 2011.
Assange had received a sizable advance payment for the book, but he withdrew his support for the project after sitting for some 50 hours of interviews, and the resulting manuscript, although at times enlightening, read very much like the early draft that it was.