[FoRK] The Cypherpunk Revolutionary

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Mon Mar 21 10:02:48 PDT 2011


http://www.themonthly.com.au/julian-assange-cypherpunk-revolutionary-robert-manne-3081

EXCLUSIVE: THE COMPLETE 15,000-WORD ESSAY

Interview: Late Night Live

Extract of 3,0000-words: The Australian

March 2011: Revised in light of a lengthy email exchange initiated by Julian
Assange

Robert Manne's picture
 
March 2011 | The Monthly Essays | Assange | Assassination | Communications |
Human Rights | Iraq | Julian Assange | Wikileaks | HRAFF

The Cypherpunk Revolutionary

Julian Assange

Robert Manne

March 2011 cover image


Less than twenty years ago Julian Assange was sleeping rough. Even a year ago
hardly anyone knew his name. Today he is one of the best-known and
most-respected human beings on earth. 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 recently turned
eighty, is the most influential Australian of the post-war era, Julian
Assange, who will soon turn forty, is undoubtedly the most consequential
Australian of the present time. Murdoch’s importance rests in his
responsibility for injecting, through Fox News, the poison of rabid populist
conservatism into the political culture of the United States; Assange’s in
the revolutionary threat that his idea of publishing damaging documentary
information sent by anonymous insiders to WikiLeaks poses to governments and
corporations across the globe.

Julian Assange has told the story of his childhood and adolescence twice,
most recently to a journalist from the New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian, and
some fifteen years ago, secretly but in greater detail, to Suelette Dreyfus,
the author of a fascinating book on the first generation of computer hacking,
Underground, for which Assange was the primary researcher. In what is called
the “Researcher’s Introduction”, Assange begins with a cryptic quote from
Oscar Wilde: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him
a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” 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. Putting Khatchadourian and Dreyfus together,
and adding a little detail from a blog that Assange published on the internet
in 2006–07 and checking it against commonsense and some material that has
emerged since his rise to fame, the story of Assange’s childhood and
adolescence can be told in some detail. 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, like many natural writers, he has
fashioned his life into a fable.

According to Assange, his mother, Christine Hawkins, left her Queensland home
for Sydney at the age of seventeen, around 1970, at the time of the
anti–Vietnam War movement when the settled culture of the Western world was
breaking up. Christine’s father, Dr Warren Hawkins, was the principal of the
Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education; her mother was a specialist in
medieval literature. 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 twenty-five.

When Julian was about one, Christine met and married a roving theatrical
producer and member of what was by now called the counter-culture, Brett
Assange. According to what Julian told Khatchadourian, Brett was the
descendant of a Chinese immigrant who had settled on Thursday Island, Ah Sang
or Mr Sang. 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. “Most of this time
was pretty Tom Sawyer. I had my own horse. I built my own raft. I went
fishing. I was going down mine shafts and tunnels.” To Dreyfus, Julian
claimed his stepfather was a decent man but also an alcoholic. By the time he
was addressing audiences worldwide, his “father” – which Assange informed me
is an amalgam of Brett Assange and John Shipton, created to protect their
identities – had become idealised 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 but was much spoken of
later. 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.

When Julian was eight or nine years old, Christine and Brett Assange
separated and then divorced. His mother now formed a “tempestuous”
relationship with an amateur musician, Keith Hamilton, with whom she had
another child, a boy. To Dreyfus, Julian described Hamilton as a
“manipulative and violent psychopath”. A brief bitter battle over access to
Julian’s half-brother was fought. 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. In his final years of
education Julian was home-schooled or independently educated either by
professors encountered on their travels or by following his curiosity in
public libraries. He did, however, attend very many schools. According to
Dreyfus, by the time Mendax was fifteen 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 twelve schools. By 2006, Assange claimed he had attended
thirty-seven different schools. To answer my doubt, Assange explained: “Since
my mother was going to be a witness and could only reliably remember the
schools I had spent a long time at … we claimed merely twelve to be safe. The
figure of 37 includes schools I spent a single day attending.”

One of the schools Julian attended was in rural Victoria. In the blog he
posted on 18 July 2006, there is an account of his and another outsider’s
experience at this school.

We were bright sensitive kids who didn’t fit into the dominant sub-culture
and fiercely castigated those who did as irredeemable boneheads.

This unwillingness to accept the authority of a peer group considered risible
was not appreciated. I was quick to anger and brutal statements such as
“You’re a bunch of mindless apes out of Lord of the Flies” when faced with
standover tactics were enough to ensure I got into a series of extreme ?ghts
and I wasn’t sorry to leave when presented with the dental bills of my
tormentors.

Eventually Julian’s family settled on the outskirts of Melbourne in Emerald
and then Tecoma, 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 claims to have met through a program for gifted children. He left
home and then married his girlfriend. They had a son. This was the period
when the underground sub-culture of hacking was forming in Melbourne. Around
1988 Assange joined it 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 a Swedish television documentary, WikiRebels, made
with Assange’s co-operation, there are hints he was responsible.

Mendax formed a closed group with two other hackers – Trax and Prime Suspect.
They called themselves the International Subversives. According to Dreyfus,
their politics were 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’s 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 “police raids … of shadows in the pre-dawn
darkness, of a gun-toting police squad bursting through his backdoor at 5
a.m.” 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.

Assange descended into a personal hell. He was admitted briefly to hospital,
suffering from what Suelette Dreyfus describes as “a deep depression and
consuming rage”. 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 behaviour 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:

If there is a book whose feeling captures me it is First Circle by
Solzhenitsyn.

To feel that home is the comraderie [sic] of persecuted, and in fact,
prosecuted, polymaths in a Stalinist labor camp! How close the parallels to
my own adventures! … Such prosecution in youth is a defining peak experience.
To know the state for what it really is! To see through that veneer the
educated swear to disbelieve in but still slavishly follow with their hearts!
… True belief only begins with a jackboot at the door. True belief forms when
lead [sic] into the dock and referred to in the third person. True belief is
when a distant voice booms “the prisoner shall now rise” and no one else in
the room stands.

No doubt the experience of investigation and prolonged trial was harrowing.
Nonetheless, this is a rather self-dramatising passage. Solzhenitsyn was
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 behaviour bond and a fine.

Julian Assange was extremely sensitive about any public discussion of his
impending trial. In 1994 he offered to assist the director of Dogs in Space,
Richard Lowenstein, with a film about hackers. Assange spoke about the 290
years he might theoretically spend in prison. He learned that Lowenstein had
not kept this information confidential. He was furious. He sent Lowenstein a
series of threatening emails in which he outlined details of Lowenstein’s
sexual life. Assange explained to me he did so to make Lowenstein aware of
“the significance of his confidentiality breach by way of analogy”.
Lowenstein protested. Had Assange no understanding of the concept of privacy?
Privacy, Assange replied, is “relative”. “I could monitor your keystrokes,
intercept your phone and bug your residence. If I could be bothered … As one
who’s has [sic] one’s life monitored pretty closely, you quickly come to the
realisation that trying to achieve complete privacy is impossible.” If
Lowenstein wanted to keep details of his life confidential he should use
encrypted email. Lowenstein told Assange he had not realised that the
information was confidential. “I do not doubt your reasons were not
malicious. Stupidity, ignorance and lack of respect come to mind. You seem to
think I have only one life. I have many.”

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. 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, in answering questions about the
origin of WikiLeaks, Assange has spoken of a domain site registered in 1999,
but with which he did nothing, known as “leaks.org”. His interest in leaks
must have preceded that. In November 1996 he sent the following enigmatic
message to those on certain email lists he had created.

A few pointy heads in Canberra have been considering your moderator’s
continued existence. Consequentially I’ve been called on to justify labour
and resources spent on all projects under my control, particularly those that
can’t easily be quantified such as IQ, BOS, LACC, IS, LEAKS …

All these lists were connected to an internet service provider, Suburbia
Public Access Network, for which Assange was, as he puts it, “the chief
technical brains” and which he 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.

What you have then is a Church based on brainwashing yuppies and other people
with more money than sense … If Nicole Kiddman [sic], Kate Cerbrano [sic],
John Travolta, Burce [sic] Willis, Demi Moore and Tom Cruise want to spend
their fortunes on learning that the earth is in reality the destroyed prison
colony of aliens from outer space then so be it. However, money brings power
and attracts the corrupt … Their worst critic at the moment is not a person,
or an organisation but a medium – the Internet. The Internet is by its very
nature a censorship free zone … The fight against the Church is far more than
the Net versus a bunch of wackos. It is about corporate suppression of the
Internet and free speech. It is about intellectual property and the big and
rich versus the small and smart.

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.

Not everything Assange wrote at this time was serious. He was interested in a
computer security software program developed by Dan Farmer of Silicon
Graphics known as SATAN. One evening in April 1995 he composed “The Dan
Farmer Rap” for “firewalls”, a list to which he subscribed.

I’m Dan Farmer you can’t fool me —

The only security consultant to be on MTV,

 

I’ve got red hair – hey hands off man!

don’t touch the locks of the mighty Dan.

 

AC/DC – from the front or from behind,

you can fuck my arse but you can’t touch my mind.

 

philosophy’s the trip – evil ’n’ stuff,

god, we know a lot, Mike me and Muff.

 

A real ardent feminist – just like she tells me to be,

See me out there rooting for sexual e-qual-ity …

 

I coded it all – yes the mighty Dan did it alone,

if you can’t believe it, you and your note pad can fuck off home.

 

I’m Dan Farmer – now take that down – it’s not every

day you get to interview the world’s biggest security clown.

Several subscribers to “firewalls” were appalled. One wrote: “Just reading
this made me feel dirty. In 20+ years associated with this business, I don’t
think I’ve ever seen debate among professionals degraded to quite this
slime-ball level. Mr Assange is an unprincipled ass …” Assange wrote a
sort-of apology. “It was perhaps an error of judgment on my behalf to equate
the people on this list with those who knew myself and Dan more fully. Such
mistakes are ripe to happen when one is merry and full of wine in the wee
hours of the morning.” Nonetheless, he expressed high amusement regarding all
those who had publicly condemned him while privately sending their
congratulations. “You know who you are.” Assange’s Dan Farmer “peccadillo”
was still remembered six years later by a British computer geek, Danny
O’Brien.

By 1997 Julian Assange, with his friends Suelette Dreyfus and Ralf Weinmann,
had written Rubberhose, a piece of “deniable cryptography” for human rights
activists and troublemakers, the purpose of which 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. It was designed to make torture to
extract passwords pointless, and defection and betrayal in the face of such
torture impossible. 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,
“won’t rational torturers just beat you up ‘forever’?” Assange disagrees.
“Rational torturers have opportunity costs and understand them.”

I 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, on a journey through Greek and
Roman mythology, the incestuous Cerberus and the clichéd Janus; to the moral
pessimism of David Hume, who argued the inescapable connection between joy
and despondency; to an unexplained rejection of his request for mythological
advice by the Princeton History Department; to Sigmund Freud, the Medusa’s
Head and the castration complex; to a spoof on Zen Buddhism; to a memory of a
visit to a mercenary hypnotherapist in Melbourne’s Swanston Street – until,
through the suggestion of a Swedish friend with an interest in ancient
Sumerian mythology – “who calls himself Elk on odd days and Godflesh on even
days. Don’t ask why” – he finally arrives with a joyous heart at the
Mesopotamian god MARUTUKKU, “Master of the Arts of Protection”.

If MARUTUKKU was my exquisite cryptographic good, of wit, effusive joy,
ravishing pleasure and ?attering hope; then where was the counter point? The
figure to its ground – the sharper evil, the madness, the melancholy, the
most cruel lassitudes and disgusts and the severest disappointments. Was Hume
right?

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 Assange”.

Assange was by now a committed member of the free software movement,
pioneered by Richard Stallman, whose aim was to regulate communication in
cyberspace by software not by law. As members of the movement put it, freedom
here meant free speech rather than free beer. The movement stressed
democratic, collective contribution. Assange tended to be somewhat sceptical
about the movement, on one occasion arguing that in reality usually one or
two people did 80% of the work. Assange was nonetheless involved in the
development of NetBSD, an open source computer operating system derived from
the original Berkeley Software Distribution source code. Some of the slogans
he invented to spruik its virtues can still be found on the internet. Here
are three. “We put the OS in OrgaSm”; “Bits for Tits”; “More ports than a
Norwegian crack whore” – all examples, as Assange now sees it, of his
youthful “ribald humour”.

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.

The cypherpunks emerged from a meeting of minds in late 1992 in the Bay Area
of San Francisco. Its founders were Eric Hughes, a brilliant Berkeley
mathematician; Timothy C. May, an already wealthy, former chief scientist at
Intel who had retired at the age of thirty-four; and John Gilmore, another
already retired and wealthy computer scientist – once number five at Sun
Microsystems – who had co-founded an organisation to advance the cause of
cyberspace freedom, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. 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 sub-culture –
eventually there were cypherpunk novels, Snowcrash, Cryptonomicon, Indecent
Communications; a cypherpunk porno film, Cryptic Seduction; and even a
distinctive cypherpunk dress: broad-brimmed black hats. Most importantly,
however, it referred to a political–ideological crusade.

At the core of the cypherpunk philosophy was the belief that the great
question of politics in the age of the internet was whether the state would
strangle individual freedom and privacy through its capacity for electronic
surveillance or whether autonomous individuals would eventually undermine and
even destroy the state through their deployment of electronic weapons newly
at hand. 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 democratised
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
Winston Smith.

At the time the cypherpunks formed, the American government strongly opposed
the free circulation of public-key cryptography. It feared that making it
available would strengthen the hands of the espionage agencies of America’s
enemies abroad and of terrorists, organised criminals, drug dealers and
pornographers at home. 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.

Almost all cypherpunks were anarchists who regarded the state as the enemy.
Most but not all were anarchists of the Right, or in American parlance,
libertarians, who supported laissez-faire capitalism. The most authoritative
political voice among the majority libertarian cypherpunks was Tim May, who,
in 1994, composed a vast, truly remarkable document, “Cyphernomicon”. 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
recognised 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, “Why should you
not be killed?” 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. “Is all this
wishful thinking? I really don’t know!” A year or so later he was arrested on
tax avoidance charges.

Julian Assange informed me he joined the cypherpunks email list in late 1993
or early 1994. There were many reasons Assange was likely to be attracted to
it. As his encounter with Richard Lowenstein had revealed, he was 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”. Yet there
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.

Julian Assange contributed to the cypherpunks list until June 2002. As it
happens, almost all his interventions have been placed on the internet. On
the basis of what historians call primary evidence, the mind and character of
Julian Assange can be seen at the time of his obscurity.

The first thing that becomes clear is the brashness. Over a technical
dispute, he writes: “[B]oy are you a dummy.” When someone asks for assistance
in compiling a public list of hackers with handles, names, email addresses,
Assange responds: “Are you on this list of morons?” In a dispute over
religion and intolerance one cypherpunk had written: “Because those being
hatefully intolerant have the ‘right’ beliefs as to what the Bible says. Am I
a racist if I don’t also include an example from the Koran?” “No, just an
illiterate,” Assange replied. Following a savaging from Assange for total
computer incompetence, a hapless cypherpunk pointed out that he has been
writing code since the age of fourteen. 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.

In his posts there is humour, although often it is sarcastic. In one of his
earliest interventions Assange has read about the arrest of someone caught
with diesel fuel and fertiliser. “Looks like I’ve just been placed into the
ranks of the pyro-terrorist. Golly, Deisel [sic] fuel. Gosh, Fertilizer. Ma,
other items.” 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: “I wish they’d get back
to the business, but add an overt poison to the product. Clean out the shit
from the cities. Long live Darwinism.” “Darwinism is working as well as it
ever was. You may not like it but shit is being selected for,” Assange shot
back. Other posts reflect his recent life experiences. Assange had helped
Victoria Police break a paedophile 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 paedophiles. 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. “This makes me ill. Tsutomu, when Mitnick cracks will you dig
up his grave and rent his hands out as ash trays?” Assange also posted on the
reports of violence against another hacker, Ed Cummings a.k.a. Bernie S,
imprisoned in the US. “I was shocked. I’ve had some dealings with the
SS…Those that abuse their power and inflict grave violence on others must be
held accountable and their crimes deplored and punished in the strongest
manner. Failure to do so merely creates an environment where such behaviour
becomes predominant.”

Already there are qualities in Assange’s postings that are unusual in the
standard cypherpunk. One is a fascination with language. Assange invented
with Richard Jones 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:
“National Anti-Secrecy Guy”; “Secret Analytic Guy Union”; “Caution Laying Any
Secret”; “Insane, ugly, acne atrocity”; and, Assange’s apparent favourite:
“National Gay Secrecy Unit”. 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:

God – 2,177,242

America – 2,178,046

Designed – 2,181,106

Five – 2,189,194

December – 2,190,028

His eccentricity would also have been obvious after a member of the
“firewalls” list forwarded his MARUTUKKU fantasia to cypherpunks.

Where did Assange stand with regard to the radical cypherpunks agenda of Tim
May? This question is best answered in two parts. On the question of
cryptographic freedom and hostility towards the surveillance state and its
chief embodiment – the National Security Agency – Assange was, if anything,
even more absolute and extreme than May. 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 favour 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.

Examining in detail Dyson’s interests it appears she maintains a sizeable and
longstanding interest in Eastern European technology companies. She is also
very far to the right of the political spectrum (rampant capitalist would be
putting it mildly). She also speaks Russian. I’m not saying she’s been
working for the CIA for the past decade, but I would be very surprised if the
CIA has not exerted quite significant pressure … in order to bring her into
their folds during that time period.

 “At least you don’t accuse me of being a Communist,” Dyson responded. “For
the record, I am not a tool of the CIA nor have they pressured me, but
there’s no reason for you to believe me.” Later, Assange informed me, they
became friends. However, when Assange was in trouble last year Dyson wrote a
piece on the Salon website arguing that even unpleasant characters need to be
defended.

A month or so after September 11 a controversy broke out on the cypherpunks
list over the report of a civilised discussion about increased FBI
surveillance over internet communications between Mitch Kapor, a co-founder
and former board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Stu Baker,
an attorney who had once been employed by the National Security Agency. Some
cypherpunks had some sympathy for Kapor’s moderation. Even they recognised
that with September 11 something major had occurred. One pointed out, in
addition, that Stu Baker was “a gun-for-hire, not a doctrinaire blinders-on
true believer for either the surveillance enthusiasts or privacy freaks”.
This was too much for Assange:

Stu is a well known NSA zealot. The only reason there’s a bridge between
Kapor and Baker is due to the cavernous ravine that lays [sic] between them.
Kapor is now apparently half-way across, following Stu’s silently beckoning
?nger, fearfully running from the sounds of angels [sic] wings; fooled into
believing that they lie behind and not ahead of him.

>From beginning to end Assange was, in short, a hardline member of the
tendency among the cypherpunks that Tim May called the “rejectionists”, an
enemy of those who displayed even the slightest tendency to compromise on the
question of Big Brother and the surveillance state.

On another question, however, Assange was at the opposite end of the
cypherpunks spectrum from Tim May. At no stage did Assange show sympathy for
the anarcho-capitalism of the cypherpunks mainstream which, as he explained
to me, he regarded as “naive” about “the state tendencies of corporatism”. In
October 1996, 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 year, 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 replied:

Declan, Declan.

Put away your straw man … Nobel economic laureates have been telling us for
years to be careful about idealised market models … This years [sic] Nobel
for Economics won by George A. Akerlof, A. Michael Spence and Joseph E.
Stiglitz “for their analysis of markets with assymmetric [sic] information”
is typical. You don’t need a Nobel to realize that the relationship between a
large employer and employee is brutally assymmetric [sic] … To counter this
sort of assymetery. [sic] Employees naturally start trying to collectivise to
increase their information processing and bargaining power. That’s right.
UNIONS Declan. Those devious entities that first world companies and
governments have had a hand in suppressing all over the third world by
curtailing freedom of association, speech and other basic political rights we
take for granted.

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.

There is also evidence that Assange was increasingly repelled by the
corrosive cynicism common in cypherpunks ranks. Something in his spirit seems
to have changed after his trial and the writing of his MARUTUKKU mythology.
>From 1997 to 2002 Julian Assange accompanied all his cypherpunks postings
with this beautiful passage from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “If you want to
build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign
them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity
of the sea.” On one occasion in July 1999 William H. Geiger III presented
standard Ayn Rand Objectivist praise of human selfishness. “Everyone is a
predator out to advance their own agenda at the expence [sic] of others. Tim
is just more honest than most about it.” Assange replied with a defence of
altruism, for Objectivists an evil.

No … Everyone maybe self-interested, but some are self-interested in a way
that is healthy (to you, or the people you care about), some in a way which
is benign, and some in a manner that is pernicious. It is important to
distinguish between these different behaviours and support or undermine them
accordingly.

On another occasion, a cypherpunk suggested that in 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: “The 95%
of the population which comprise the flock have never been my target and
neither should they be yours; it’s the 2.5% at either end of the normal that
I find in my sights, one to be cherished and the other to be destroyed.”
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
traveller, David Friedman (Milton’s son), Assange emailed: “Quoting Jews
again, Tim?”

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”. “This background has not been
explored in the WikiLeaks saga. And WikiLeaks cannot be understood without
it.” Likewise, in his mordant online article on WikiLeaks and Assange, the
influential cyberpunk novelist and author of The Hacker Crackdown Bruce
Sterling wrote: “At last – at long last – the homemade nitroglycerin in the
old cypherpunks blast shack has gone off.”  

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 mixed but generally
mediocre. This can hardly be explained by lack of talent. No one worked more
closely with Assange than Suelette Dreyfus. “A geek friend of his once
described Assange as having an IQ ‘in excess of 170’,” she wrote in the
Sydney Morning Herald of 12 December 2010. “I suspect this could be true.”
Assange claimed that he became disillusioned with the applied maths
department when he discovered its members were working with defence
authorities in the US 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. “At the prize ceremony, the head of ANU
physics motioned to us and said, ‘you are the cream of Australian physics.’ I
looked around and thought, ‘Christ Almighty I hope he’s wrong.’” On another
occasion he saw 900 senior physicists in Canberra proudly carrying bags with
the logo of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. He described
them as “snivelling fearful conformists of woefully, woefully inferior
character”.

Perhaps there were other reasons for dissatisfaction. By 2004 Assange had
reached the elevated position of vice-president of the students’ Mathematics
and Statistics Society and chief organiser of their Puzzle Hunt—a quiz
leading the winner to $200 of buried treasure. He described his role as
“plot/script, general nonsense, Abstract(ion), Caesar Cipher, Disc, Platonic,
Score, Surstro:mming”. Assange explained that he “invented/founded the
competition to improve the intellectual climate in Australia.” Nonetheless,
organising 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.

There were beds everywhere, she says. There was even a bed in the kitchen.
This woman slept on a mattress in Assange’s room, and says she would
sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to ?nd him still glued to his
computer. He frequently forgot to eat or sleep, wrote mathematical formulas
all over the walls and the doors, and used only red light bulbs in his room –
on the basis that early man, if waking suddenly, would see only the gentle
light of the camp?re, and fall asleep again.

Between July 2006 and August 2007 – the period when WikiLeaks was being
planned and actualised – 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 reasonably detailed map of his mind at the age of thirty-five 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.

The blog reveals a young man of unusual intellectual range, ambition and
curiosity. As expected, there are references to cypherpunks and his work as a
code-writer in the free software movement. Assange writes of his loathing for
the “‘everything which is not explicitly permitted is denied’ security types”
who “make concurrent salutes to the Fuhrer, Baal and Jack Straw”. He explains
why as one of the committed developers of NetBSD he has refused to sign a
proposed contract: “The contract as well as being an instrument of the state
is written in the demeaning language of the corporate state. It should have
been written in the language of our programmer world.” Some entries, such as
his defence 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.

There are also very striking and revealing extracts. One is from a Buddhist
text from 500 BC, Ajita Kesakambali, in defence of materialism. “The words of
those who speak of existence after death are false, empty chatter. With the
break-up of the body, the wise and the foolish are alike annihilated,
destroyed.” 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. “‘I’m
sorry,’ trembled Moshe, ‘but the left eye looks at me with a kindly gleam.’”
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: “Even so, we did what we
believed in: / Treason, yes, perhaps, but with good cause.” 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: “And so we see that the explanation for the Sidis
tragedy is simple. Sidis was a feral child; a true man born into a world
filled with animals – a world filled with us.” It is not difficult to
understand why this article interested him.

Many blog entries are personal. When Daniel Domscheit-Berg released his
memoir, Inside WikiLeaks, there was excitement around the globe at his claim
that Assange had boasted about fathering several children, something Assange
fiercely denies. About one child at least there can be no doubt. On his blog,
Assange includes a photo of a bonneted baby under the title “Those Eyes” with
the caption, “All the pink ribbons in the world can’t hide them.” She is his
new daughter. Another entry referred obliquely to his mother’s organisation
of “The Great Bikini March” against Sheikh Hilaly, who had recently compared
women who dressed scantily to “uncovered meat”. Some entries about women
fleetingly encountered are awkward in a Mills & Boon kind of way. “A lovely
girl I knew … stood for a moment fully clothed in her shower before letting
the wind and rain buffet her body as she made her tremulous approach to my
door and of course I could not turn her away.” One – Assange’s study of the
etymology of the word “cad” – seems to me rather sinister. “Caddie or cadet
used to denote the passenger of a horse-coach picked up for personal profit
by the driver … So a ‘cad’ is a man who picks up women, profits from them and
leaves them by the road side … Such romantic etymology is enough to make a
man want to don his oilskin and mount his horse with whip and smile at the
ready.” The coldness of tone here, which Assange ascribes to his taste for
“black humour”, is striking precisely because other passages in the
correspondence are so tender. Assange writes of meeting Antony, a country kid
he had known since they were both fourteen, at a mental health centre in East
Ringwood. “His smile was shaky but characteristic. His physical edges rounded
off by weight gain and his imagination dulled … His limbs and jaw gently
shuddered with some frequency.” Assange visited him later still at a
psychiatric hospital. “When I asked about the cause of his shaking,
suggesting a dopamine antagonist, he said, ‘No … If you look closely you’ll
notice a number of people around here acting the same way. Julian … we’re all
doing the Mont Park shuffle.’”

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. “Where words have power to change, the
state tries hard to trap, burn or blank them, such is its fear of their
power.” The state represents the principle of “mendacity”. “The state does
what it can get away with.” 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: “What
kinds of states are giant corporations?” He answers in the following way. As
executive power is wielded by a central committee; as there is unaccountable
single-party rule; as there is no freedom of speech or association, and
“pervasive surveillance of movement and electronic communication”, what then
do you have in that federation of giant corporations that control the US?
What else but a “United Soviet of America”. 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.

Assange’s selected correspondence is addressed to a small coterie of
followers. It involves a revolutionary call to arms. “If we can only live
once, then let it be a daring adventure that draws on all our powers … Let
our grandchildren delight to find the start of our stories in their ears but
the endings all around in their wandering eyes.” 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 state is a
condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour.
We destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently
toward one another … We are the state and we shall continue to be the state
until we have created the institutions that form a real community and society
of men.” The question is how new institutions can be formed.

In the struggle to create a truly human society, Assange warns his
interlocutors not to believe they can think globally but act locally. This is
an illusion. Action must be taken on a truly global scale. He is also
witheringly contemptuous of those he calls “the typical shy intellectual”.

This type is often of a noble heart, wilted by fear of conflict with
authority. The power of their intellect and noble instincts may lead them to
a courageous position, where they see the need to take up arms, but their
instinctive fear of authority then motivates them to find rationalizations to
avoid conflict.

For Assange the central political virtue is courage. One of his favourite
sayings is: “Courage is contagious.” 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. “Perhaps as an old man I
will take great comfort in pottering around in a lab and gently talking to
students in the summer evening and will accept suffering with insouciance.
But not now; men in their prime, if they have convictions are tasked to act
on them.”

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”.

Yet just as we feel all hope is lost and we sink into the miasma, back to the
shadow world of ghosts and gods, a miracle arises, everywhere before the
direction of self interest is known, people yearn to see where its compass
points and then they hunger for truth with passion and beauty and insight …
Here then is the truth to set them free. Free from the manipulations and
constraints of the mendacious. Free to choose their path, free to remove the
ring from their noses, free to look up into the infinite void and choose
wonder over whatever gets them through. And before this feeling to cast
blessings on the pro?ts and prophets of truth … on the Voltaires, the
Galileos and Principias of truth, on the Gutenbergs, Marconis and Internets
of truth, those serial killers of delusion, those brutal, driven and obsessed
miners of reality, smashing, smashing, smashing every rotten edi?ce until all
is ruins and the seeds of the new.

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: “No. Don’t skip
to the good stuff. This is the good stuff.” He is pointing them to the
central theoretical breakthrough that led to WikiLeaks.       

Julian Assange published this paper twice, the first time on 10 November 2006
under the title “State and Terrorist Conspiracies”, the second time, in more
developed form, on 3 December under the title “Conspiracy as Governance”.
Stripped of its inessential mathematical gobbledegook, 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
“an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no
responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul
this unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the
first task of statesmanship.” 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 “assassination … killing, kidnapping, blackmailing, or otherwise
marginalising or isolating some of the conspirators they were connected to”.
Such methods are no longer appropriate. “The act of assassination – the
targeting of visible individuals, is the result of mental inclinations honed
for the pre-literate societies in which our species evolved.” The new
generation of revolutionaries “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”.

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 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 “if one of
these parties gave up their mobile phones, fax and email correspondence – let
alone the computer systems that manage their subscribes [sic], donors,
budgets, polling, call centres and direct mail campaigns”. He asks them to
think of the conspiracy as a living organism, “a beast with arteries and
veins whose blood may be thickened and slowed until it falls, stupefied;
unable to sufficiently comprehend and control the forces in its environment”.
Rather than attacking the conspiracy by assassinating its leading members, he
believes it can be “throttled” by cutting its information flows. “Later,” he
promises, “we will see how new technology and insights into the psychological
motivations of conspirators can give us practical methods for preventing or
reducing important communication between authoritarian conspirators, foment
strong resistance to authoritarian planning and create powerful incentives
for more humane forms of governance.”

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.

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear
and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in
minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in
cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline
resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands
adaptation.

Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are
nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by
their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand,
leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them
with more open forms of governance.

There is a link between Assange’s cypherpunks period and the theory behind
WikiLeaks. Assange was a contributor to the cypherpunks list at the time when
Jim Bell’s “Assassination Politics” was being hotly discussed. There is
evidence that Assange was intrigued 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. “Anyone noticed this before?”
Assange posted the advertisement on the cypherpunks list under the heading:
“Jim…Bell…lives…on…in…Hollywood”. Although Assange assured me he was not
thinking about “Assassination Politics” at the time he was inventing
WikiLeaks, there are similarities between Bell’s thought and Assange’s. 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. 

In arriving at this position, Assange had drawn together different personal
experiences. It was as a “frontier hactivist” and as “Australia’s first
electronic publisher” that he had become interested in the political potency
of leaks. From his cypherpunk days he had become engaged in discussions about
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
organisation 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 organisation would then publish the
information for the purpose of collective analysis so as to empower oppressed
populations across the globe.

There are few original ideas in politics. In the creation of WikiLeaks,
Julian Assange was responsible for one.

In late 2006 Assange sought a romantic partner through OKCupid using the name
of Harry Harrison. Under the heading, “What am I doing with my life?”, he
answered: “directing a consuming, dangerous human rights project which is, as
you might expect, male-dominated”. Under the heading, “I spend a lot of time
thinking about”, he answered: “Changing the world through passion,
inspiration and trickery”. 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.

On 4 October 2006 Assange registered the domain name “WikiLeaks.org” in the
US. He called it WikiLeaks because he had been immensely impressed by the
success of the Wikipedia experiment, where 3 million entries had been
contributed through the input of a worldwide virtual community. 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:

You knew me under another name from cypherpunks days. I am involved in a
project that you may have a feeling for … The project is a mass document
leaking project that requires someone with backbone to hold the .org domain
registration … We expect the domain to come under the usual political and
legal pressure. The policy for .org requires that registrants [sic] details
not be false or misleading. It would be an easy play to cancel the domain
unless someone were willing to stand up and claim to be the registrant.

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 “an imaginative and sophisticated
prospective for improving governmental accountability by way of a scheme for
anonymous, untraceable political assassination”.

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:

We’d like your advice and we’d like you to form part of our political armor.
The more armor we have, particularly in the form of men and women sanctified
by age, history and class, the more we can act like brazen young men and get
away with it.

Here was one generation speaking to another. A month after being contacted
Ellsberg replied. “Your concept is terrific and I wish you the best of luck
with it.” 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.

What do the early internal documents reveal about the charge that WikiLeaks
was an anti-American outfit posing as a freedom of information organisation?
In his invitation to Gilmore, Assange had pledged that WikiLeaks “will
provide a catalyst that will bring down government through stealth
everywhere, not least that of the Bushists”. In its first public statement,
WikiLeaks argued that “misleading leaks and misinformation are already well
placed in the mainstream media … an obvious example being the lead-up to the
Iraq war”. And in an email of 2 January 2007 Assange even argued that
WikiLeaks could advance by several years “the total annihilation of the
current US regime and any other regime that holds its authority through
mendacity alone”. 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 “roots are in dissident communities” and that its “primary
targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia and central
Eurasia”. 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 “a politically motivated legal attack on us would be seen as a
grave error in western administrations”. 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.

What then of the charge that WikiLeaks was a revolutionary organisation
pretending to be concerned merely with reformist liberal issues such as
exposure of corruption, open government and freedom of information and
expression? The internal WikiLeaks documents show that the answer to this
question is complex. At its foundation, Assange frequently argued that
WikiLeaks’ true nature did indeed need to be disguised. Because “freedom of
information is a respected liberal value”, Assange argued, “we may get some
sympathy” but it would not last. 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 “if we were to front as a Ploughshares
[peace] organisation”. To John Young he wrote: “We have the collective
sources, personalities and learning to be, or rather appear to be, the
reclusive ubermensch of the 4th estate.” 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. “We expect difficult state lashback
[sic] unless WikiLeaks can be given a sanctified frame (‘center for human
rights, democracy, good government and apple pie press freedom project’ vs
‘hackers strike again’).” 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 worldwide, through the drying up
of information flows and a paralysing fear of insider leaks.

It was not only opponents who found it difficult to keep the public and
private faces of WikiLeaks distinct. 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.

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.

Julian Assange recognised that the language of what amounted to the WikiLeaks
Manifesto might appear a little “overblown”. He recognised that it had about
it too much the flavour 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. “Fuck your cute hustle and disinformation campaign. Same
old shit, working for the enemy … Fuck ’em all.” “We are going to fuck them
all. Chinese mostly but not entirely a feint,” Assange cryptically replied.
Young decided now to post all the WikiLeaks correspondence he had seen
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.

In February 2007, Julian Assange travelled to Nairobi to attend the World
Social Forum, a very large gathering of mainly left-wing human rights
activists and NGOs. 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:

Here, in Africa there was a two page fold out on the “Night Runner” plague.
Plague? Yes. Of people – typically old, who supposedly run around naked at
night … tapping on windows, throwing rocks on peoples [sic] roofs, snapping
twigs, rustling grass, casting spells and getting lynched because it’s the
“right thing to do”.

Insofar as we can affect the world, let it be to utterly eliminate guilt and
fear as a motivator of man and replace it cell for cell with love of one
another and the passion of creation.

Assange was a true Enlightenment Man.

The next Social Forum was to be held between 27 June and 4 July in Atlanta.
Assange wanted WikiLeaks volunteers to attend. Emails he sent in early June
can be found on the internet. They provide the clearest evidence of his
political viewpoint and strategic thinking at this time. In the first he
assures his supporters that WikiLeaks’ future is secure. “[T]he idea can’t be
stopped. It’s everyone’s now.” Some people have apparently argued that
WikiLeaks’ idealism or “childlike naivety” is a weakness. He believes they
are entirely wrong. “Naivety is unfailingly attractive when it adorns
strength. People rush forward to defend and fight for individuals and
organizations imbued with this quality.” 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 clearly expressed doubts about Social Forum types.
Assange more than shares them. They are by and large “ineffectual pansies”
who “specialize in making movies about themselves and throwing ‘dialogue’
parties … with foundation money”, while fantasising that “the vast array of
functional cogs in brute inhumanity … would follow their lead, clapping,
singing and videotaping their way up Mt. Mostly Harmless”. 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
despatch is proof that Assange has a biting tongue, a mordant wit and a
brilliant political mind.

It is obvious that by June 2007 several members of the Left had indeed
gravitated to WikiLeaks. In Assange’s view, this group were thinking of
publishing commentary on leaked documents in a way that allowed their
political bias to show. He sent a different email to them:

OK, you guys need to keep the Progressive/Commie/Socialist agendas and
rhetoric to yourselves or you’re going to go absolutely nowhere very, very
fast. Now, now, don’t get your dander up: if I can pass by gross
mis-characterizations of the existing world order as “capitalism” or “white
supremacy”, you can stay calm and listen a minute.

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 “conservative and religious
types waking up to the fact that they’ve been taken for a ride”. “What you
need to strive for is the same level of objectivity and analytical
disinterest as the League of Women Voters. No, even higher. Else I’ll be so
disheartened that I’ll lower myself to government contracting work.” 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. Assange
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.

Between 2007 and 2010 Assange’s political thinking was shaped by two key
ideas. The first, as we have seen, was that all authoritarian structures –
both governments and corporations – were vulnerable to insider leaks. Fear
would throttle information flows. Assange called this a “secrecy tax”.
Inevitably, he argued, because of this tax, governments and corporations with
nothing to hide would triumph over their secretive, unjust conspiratorial
competitors. 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 organisation that encouraged whistleblowers
and published their documents, WikiLeaks was aiding and speeding up this
process.

There was, however, another dimension of his politics that reflected his long
association with the cypherpunks. Assange believed that, in the era of
globalisation, laws determining communication were going to be harmonised.
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:

Mankind has successfully adapted changes as monumental as electricity and the
engine. It can also adapt to a world where state sponsored violence against
the communications of consenting adults is not only unlawful, but physically
impossible. As knowledge flows across nations it is time to sum the great
freedoms of every nation and not subtract them. It is time for the world as
an international collective of communicating peoples to arise and say “here I
am”.

This might have come straight out of a cypherpunks manifesto. In the first
weeks of 2010 Assange was involved in an ultimately successful political
manoeuvre to turn Iceland into the world’s first “data haven” with the most
politically progressive anti-censorship laws on Earth.

There was an aspect of WikiLeaks’ work that was, through 2008 and 2009,
beginning to trouble Assange. Although it was a peripatetic organisation with
a small permanent staff, WikiLeaks had proven to be an outstanding success in
attracting leaks and then publishing them. By late 2009 it had published
documents concerning an Islamist assassination order from Somalia; massive
corruption in Daniel arap Moi’s Kenya; tax avoidance by the largest Swiss
bank, Julius Baer; an oil spill in Peru, a nuclear accident in Iran and toxic
chemical dumping by the Trafigura corporation off the Ivory Coast. Further,
it had released the Guantanamo Bay operational manuals; secret film of
dissent in Tibet; the emails of Sarah Palin; a suppressed report into an
assassination squad operating in Kenya; American intelligence reports on the
battle of Fallujah, and reports into the conditions in its jails; the
Climategate emails; the internet censorship lists from Australia; and,
finally, the loans book of the Icelandic bank Kaupthing. 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. He 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.

Assange had once regarded WikiLeaks as the people’s intelligence agency. In
January 2007 he sincerely believed that when WikiLeaks published commentary
on the Somalia assassination order document it would be “very closely
collaboratively analysed by hundreds of Wikipedia editors” and by “thousands
of refugees from the Somali, Ethiopian and Chinese expat communities”. 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:

What does it mean when only those facts about the world with economic powers
behind them can be heard, when the truth lays [sic] naked before the world
and no one will be the first to speak without a bribe?

WikiLeaks’ unreported material is only the most visible wave on an ocean of
truth rotting in draws [sic] of the fourth estate, waiting for a lobby to
subsidize its revelation into a profitable endeavour.

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
alleged conversation between Manning and Lamo.

(12.15:11 PM) bradass87: hypothetical question: if you had free reign [sic]
over classified networks for long periods of time … say 8-9 months … and you
saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the public
domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … what
would you do?

(12.26:09 PM) bradass87: lets just say “someone” I know intimately well, has
been penetrating US classified networks, mining data like the ones described
… and been transferring that data from the classified networks over the “air
gap” onto a commercial network computer … sorting the data, compressing it,
encrypting it, and uploading it to a crazy white haired aussie who can’t seem
to stay in one country very long.

One of the items sent to WikiLeaks was a video of a cold-blooded, American
Apache helicopter attack on a group of Iraqis, in which up to fifteen 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.  

For once, the cliché is true. What happened over the next ten months is
stranger than fiction. With the release of the “Collateral Murder” footage,
WikiLeaks became instantly famous. Assange decided to publish the new
material he had received from Manning anonymously in association with some of
the world’s best newspapers or magazines. 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 judgement
was now confirmed.

In July the first of the Manning tranche, the “Afghan War Diary”, was
published. Assange held back only 15,000 of the 93,000 reports. Unforgivably,
those released included the names of perhaps 300 Afghans who had assisted
Western forces. A Taliban spokesperson, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed that a
nine-member commission had been created after the documents were released “to
find out about people who were spying”. Assange was unrepentant. In a speech
in Sweden of 14 August, in talking about the practical impossibility of
redacting names from the 93,000 reports, he distinguished between those who
are “innocent” and those who are not. Regarding the latter he asked: “Are
they entitled to retribution or not?” He did, however, learn from the
experience. When the Iraq War logs were released in October most names had
been redacted.

By now, fissures were emerging inside WikiLeaks. Relations between Assange
and Domscheit-Berg became increasingly tense, especially after Assange warned
him, in April 2010, regarding the exposure of sources: “If you fuck up, I’ll
hunt you down and kill you.” Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the anarchist Icelandic
parliamentarian, was concerned about what she saw as the cavalier way in
which Assange had handled the moral issue of the Afghan War Diary. The young
Icelandic anarchist historian, Herbert Snorrason, resented what he thought of
as the increasingly dictatorial tendency inside the organisation. He claimed
that Assange had warned: “I don’t like your tone. If it continues you’re out.
I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher,
spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier, and all of the rest. If
you have a problem … piss off.”

On 21 August, Assange discovered that he was under investigation for sexual
crimes after he slept with two Swedish supporters during a triumphal visit to
Stockholm, one of whom, Anna Ardin, to complicate matters, had published
advice on her blog concerning seven lawful kinds of revenge women might take
after sexual mistreatment. Facing these charges, Assange expected total
loyalty. Neither Domscheit-Berg nor Jónsdóttir were willing to give him what
he wanted. Domscheit-Berg was suspended from WikiLeaks; Jónsdóttir quit. The
man Domscheit-Berg called “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. Assange
regards this as a pure “post facto fabrication”. Yet there was more to the
troubles at WikiLeaks than supposed concerns about Assange’s laxity over
security or his cavalier and dictatorial behaviour. In December, Rop
Gonggrijp confessed to the Chaos Computer Club: “I guess I could make up all
sorts of stories about how I disagreed with people or decisions, but the
truth is that [during] the period that I helped out, the possible
ramifications of WikiLeaks scared the bejezus out of me. Courage is
contagious, my ass.” 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 US 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 PayPal severed connections with WikiLeaks. A
global guerrilla hacker army of WikiLeaks supporters, Anonymous, mounted an
instant counter-attack.

Assange was by now facing two legal threats – extradition to Sweden to be
interviewed about his relations with Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilén or
extradition to the US where a secret grand jury had been established to look
into whether he had committed crimes outlined in the 1917 Espionage Act or
broken some other law. After a preliminary hearing in London on the Swedish
extradition request, he was first imprisoned in Wandsworth gaol and then
placed under a form of house arrest.

In early April 2010 hardly anyone had heard of Julian Assange. By December he
was one of the most famous people on Earth, with very powerful enemies and
very passionate friends. A future extradition to the US was almost certain to
ignite a vast Left versus Right global cultural war, a kind of 21st-century
equivalent of the Dreyfus Affair. Ironically, if that broke out, his
staunchest and most eloquent defenders were likely to be people Assange
assured me he now genuinely admires, such as John Pilger or Tariq Ali or
Michael Moore. These are the kind of thinkers whom Assange privately had once
derided as followers of the “Progressive Commie Socialist” agenda.
Domscheit-Berg tells us Assange considered Moore “an idiot”. In an email
Assange denied this with considerable eloquence: “I would never call someone
as successful and influential as Moore an ‘idiot’...His precise position is,
I suspect, more a function of his market than his limitations. Similarly when
people have called George W. Bush ‘an idiot’, I think they are wrong, and
that they are wishfully blind to other forms of intelligence.” In the coming
cultural war, 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 civilisational crisis of climate change.

Assange had long grasped the political significance of his compatriot, Rupert
Murdoch. 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 the future work of WikiLeaks was threatened by his arrest
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 mobilised by the creators of Fox News
and WikiLeaks, the two most influential Australians of the era.

March 2011: Revised in light of a lengthy email exchange initiated by Julian
Assange



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