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JULIAN ASSANGE: QUICK FACTS

UPDATE: THE Ecuadorian government last night announced it would grant the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange political asylum.

Ecuador foreign minister Ricardo Patino said the country had decided to grant political asylum to Mr Assange following a request sent to president Rafael Correa.

“We believe that his fears are legitimate and there are threats that he could face political persecution,” Mr Patino told reporters in Quito.

“The Ecuador government, loyal to its tradition to protect those who seek refuge with us at our diplomatic missions, has decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr Assange.

“This is a sovereign decision protected by international law. It makes no sense to surmise that this implies a breaking of relations (with Britain).”

Shortly after the announcement, Mr Assange addressed staff at the embassy in London.

“It is a significant victory for myself, and my people,” he said.

“Things will probably get more stressful now.”

For a comprehensive round up of the Assange story, read Monica Attard…
 

He’s never out of the news cycle for long, our Julian.

To some, a noble hacker activist, to others a cyber terrorist guilty of espionage who should be hanged or more generously, jailed, the Wikileaks founder’s troubles seem to have worsened in recent days – and all by his own hand.

But Julian Assange obviously knows how to fight the good fight and to date, it’s usually been very public and with a significant amount of sympathy on his side.

His latest attempt to escape what he says is the United States’ desire to try him for espionage over his infamous leaking of some 250,000 confidential US diplomatic cables has him holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, seeking political asylum.

British police are perched outside waiting to arrest him for breaching the conditions of the bail granted him by the UK Supreme Court whilst he waits to be extradited to Sweden to face questions over alleged sexual assault.

Who in their right mind would have advised him to take such a step?

It’s a complex story – and getting more complex by the minute. So here’s a cheat sheet on the life and troubled times of Julian Paul Assange – political activist, publisher, journalist and seemingly spurned Australian.

  •  Having spent most of his childhood on the move with his mother Christine, the family settled in Melbourne in the 1980s. Christine rented a house across the road from an electronics shop where Julian’s interest in computers was ignited. He attended a school for gifted children, discovered hacking and later studied mathematics and physics at the University of Melbourne, though he didn’t graduate.
  • When he was 18, Assange married and fathered a baby boy, Daniel. But as police closed in on his hacking activities, his wife fled with their son. Depressed, Assange was hospitalised after which he spent time living on the streets.
  • Assange found refuge from life’s turmoil in computer-land. He told the New Yorker that he enjoyed computers: “It is like chess. Chess is very austere in that you don’t have many rules, there is no randomness and the problem is very hard.”
  • In the hacking underground of Melbourne, Assange assumed the pseudonym Mendax and delved into computer encryption and security.
  • Though his involvement has never been proven, it’s believed Mendax and his cohorts, in 1989, pulled off the extraordinary feat of hacking into NASA’s website using a computer worm. The message they left for startled NASA employees when they turned on their computers was: “You have been officially WANKed”. WANK stood for Worms Against Nuclear Killers.
  • Sounds like a high point in the career of a hacker? Nope. Better was to come. Assange hacked into the master terminal of Nortel, manufacturer of telecommunications equipment and he wormed his way into the Pentagon as well as Lockeed Martin’s Technical Aircraft Systems plant.  And all from Melbourne.
  • With the Australian Federal Police on his trail, Assange was charged with 24 counts of hacking. He pleaded guilty, was fined and warned that next time, he’d go to jail.
  • Unemployed and after a battle, with sole custody of Daniel, Assange found himself living on a single parent pension. He set about creating a career writing software programs committed to the noble, but let’s face it, fanciful idea of free information and overthrowing injustice wherever he found it. Thus Wikileaks was born.
  • Wikileaks is a site that encourages whistle-blowers to leak information for publication. It has published some 1 million documents, which have embarrassed governments, diplomats and businesses. Its computers have military level, so in the event they are seized, information stored is meaningless.
  •  Sweden, with its strong laws on protecting journalists, became his safe haven.
  • It was the July 2007 video titled “Collateral Murder” showing US army helicopter pilots firing at a van in a Bagdad suburb, carrying two employees of the Reuters newsagency and 10 others including children, which alerted the US to the problems Wikileaks could present.
  • The video, released in April 2010, also heightened interest from Iceland. Having already published leaked secret documents naming and shaming the Icelandic banks, which had lent to their cronies, Iceland beckoned as a new haven.
  • Wikileaks’ escapades in the meantime had earned it a venerable place on the hacker’s speakers and conference circuit, further angering the US, which wanted to “speak” with Assange. Street wise and wily, he was never where they thought he would be.
  • In June 2010, US intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was arrested in Iraq. Manning was charged with suspicion of having passed on to Wikileaks the Apache video and 250,000 US diplomatic cables which Wikileaks subsequently published, with several major newspapers, between July and November 2010. Manning’s trial begins in September this year and he faces life imprisonment if convicted.
  • In August 2010, after Manning’s arrest, the Swedish Police began investigating allegations concerning sexual encounters, described by Assange as consensual, with two women. After a European Arrest Warrant was issued for his extradition to Sweden, Assange, then in the UK, voluntarily attended police questioning and was arrested. He was jailed but released after 10 days on bail, fitted with an electronic tag and ordered to report daily to the police. Assange and his supporters believe the sexual assault investigation is a ruse to bring him to Sweden from where the US will extradite him to face espionage charges. Why not from the UK is still anyone’s guess.
  • The extradition warrant was upheld in February 2011 and Assange appealed to the High Court. This appeal was dismissed but he was later granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court on a technicality, which was also dismissed.
  • With two weeks to open a challenge to this finding in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, Assange breached his bail conditions and sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.  He claims he is not prepared to go to Sweden because it has pronounced he would be arrested and kept in custody throughout the investigation, Australia has abandoned him and there is evidence the US will try to extradite him.
  • But why Ecuador? For starters, it will not hear extradition claims on crimes against a state, particularly if they carry the death penalty. And it seems, Assange struck up a cosy relationship with the Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa during an interview he conducted with him for Russia Today, a Kremlin mouthpiece that has given the Wikileaks founder another public voice. “Cheer up! Cheer up! Welcome to the club of the persecuted!” Mr Correa, himself under international scrutiny, told Assange.
  • Assange has spoken out saying he is convinced the US is preparing to extradite him from Sweden, despite the fact that Sweden – like Ecuador – does not permit political extradition and that he could as easily be extradited to the US from the UK. He told the ABC : “We have received subpoenas – the subpoenas mention my name. In the past month, two people have been detained at the US airport by US officials, interrogated by the FBI. They ask questions about me and my organization, ask [them] to become informers. This is a hot, ongoing, active investigation – and as of two weeks ago.”
  • Ecuador is considering Assange’s case. Critical will be whether it believes Assange could face the death penalty if he is extradited, forced to face espionage charges and convicted.
  • London Metropolitan police and Scotland Yard are camped outside the embassy, ready to arrest Assange whether he is granted asylum or not. How he thought the Ecuadorians might spirit him out of the embassy is obviously an issue the silver-haired Assange didn’t turn his mind to. The Ecuadorians may believe the task is a hopeless one that will land them in the UK’s bad books, with diplomatic expulsions an obvious response.
  • So does Assange have reason to fear the US? Put all the pieces together – you’d have to surmise that Assange has a lot to fear. I wouldn’t feel assured by the utterances of the US executive that it has no interest in him.  The Justice Department works independently and Assange’s barrackers say a former Justice Department officials asserts there is a sealed indictment on Assange. And who knows whether being a journalist (or claiming he is a journalist) will be enough to protect Assange from prosecution.

 And what does this all mean for Australia?  

Though Australia says it has no information indicating the US is interested in Assange, it looks like it has abandoned him and is acquiescing to US sensitivities.

And after the David Hicks debacle, that’s not a good look not too far off an election.

 

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*Monica Attard OAM, is a five-time Walkley award-winning Australian journalist – including the Gold Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism 1991. She was the host of the ABC’s PM, the World Today and Media Watch.She spent 28 years at the ABC, leaving to start up The Global Mail where she was, until recently, the Managing Editor. In 1997, Monica published a book entitled Russia: Which Way Paradise? documenting her time there as a foreign correspondent. 

 

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53 Comments

  • Reply June 22, 2012

    denese

    Hi monica. Much admired you during in your abc days.

    Good to see hoopla expanding to current affairs

  • Reply June 22, 2012

    Ann-Maree from Taree

    Thanks Monica for a succinct article..it is refreshing to read something on this subject from a respected journalist at a reputable website…….

  • Reply June 22, 2012

    The Huntress

    It’s good to see that Assange’s case is still making news and opinion websites. We must not forget him and his cause and as individual Australians we should continue to support him where our government has failed. Gillard is at risk of making Assange her Hicks. I would ask why more is not being done by our government, but it’s all fairly self explanatory, I suppose.

    Support transparency and the truth. Support democracy. Support Assange.

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Gail Wilkie

    Brilliant, well written, easy to understand and logical piece. Thanks Monica Attard for a wonderful article. Let there be more current affairs on The Hoopla.

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    kim at allconsuming

    Just what I needed. You know how you pay attention when these things first come to light and then forget bits and pieces as it goes along? Yes, that.

    But now I want to know just why the UK hasn’t extradited him to the US if that is his over-arching concern (it would be mine I must say). And why is he so reticent to go to Sweden if they have the same extradition laws as Ecuador when it comes to issues of State?

    And meanwhile, what of these sexual assault claims in Sweden…

    Fascinating. All of it.

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Jenny Mal

    Appreciate your insights Monica and agree entirely. Looking forward to reading more from you – love your work!

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Carolyn

    I can only concur with what’s already been written. Have long been an admirer of Monica’s work.
    Great to see her writing here.
    Assange and his lawyers must know something we don’t in regards to the U.S and their plans (and I would put nothing past them).
    It agree with The Huntress, our govt should stand up and fight for it’s citizens but once again it is not.

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Elaine

    thanks for such a clear history of Assange. I didn’t know about his early years. Please could you do one on the European financial crisis, GFC etc!!

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Lisa

    Think there is a bit of truth in all the ‘sides’ but that assange is an attention seeker worthy of Hollywood.

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Tracey

    Would be keen to hear what the options are for the Australian government – there’s lots of accusations that it’s not doing anything, or not doing enough but would be great to read as succinct an article about what it could/should do.

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Kerri

    Thanks Monica for a no holds barred concise piece on Assange….love your work…..Hoopla needs more of this!..

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Cate Perry

    I’m extremely disappointed in the one-sided, negative tone of this article. I expected more from The Hoopla.

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    shelley

    I’m not sure what @Cate Perry means, a one-sided negative tone….. This article lists the facts which are informative and clear considering the discombobulation of the whole scenario. I would like to know why Assange does not want to go to Sweden. Does he have anything to hide? Thanks Hoopla and Monica Attard, any clarification on this item is worthwhile. x

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Jenny E.

    Have been watching with interest about Julian Assange.
    It is more a test for our times re: internet security and sharing of information – who has the right to share what? He is paying a heavy price for his rebel approach. Will have to wait and see what unfolds.

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Susan

    Thank you Monica for this clear and concise review. I hope to see regular Hoopla articles from you.

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Julie

    If I was in Assange’s shoes I would have done the same thing. He reminds me a lot of some of the kids with ‘mild’ aspergers I’m currently working with – brilliant, particularly with computers and very clear about the baser instincts of humans – especially rampant republicans. Please send this to the President of Ecuador. He is in clear and present danger for all thinking Australian’s to see.

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    kid

    I’m not sure what people expect the Australian Government to do. He is facing criminal charges and nothing else at the moment. I don’t expect the Government to bail him out. Consular support doesn’t extend to helping people worm their way out of facing trial.

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    RobynMarie

    Thank God for the Hoopla is all I can say. Informative unbiassed information is what we need, not the drivel you see in the papers. Bravo Monica, glad to have you

  • Reply June 23, 2012

    Glenn

    Not quite the same but in the same vein as David Hicks Julian Assange is driven to rage against the machine . This article clearly shows a needy all be it clever repeat offender that has danced with the devil one to many times .

    It never sieses to amaze me that descent people that quite clearly live their lives following laws of the land throw so much support behind one bloke that loves the sound of his own voice .

    If he was a clever suburban con man we would all be up in arms , yet someone who obviously makes plenty of cash out of pure fear mongering we support . Common guys if this guy was in your home or work place you wouldn`t trust him as far as you could throw him .

    I`m sorry to say my empathy and Sympathy remains with people with real problems around the world and I support the government stance on no special or extra ordinary consular support for this repeat offender.

    Fantastic article all the same .

    • Reply August 17, 2012

      June

      I agree completely and I cannot understand why people choose to believe Mr Assange above everyone else. He should return to Sweden and face the charges against him instead of causing so much chaos in other countries. Mr Assange’s trouble is of his own making and the Australian government should not be expected to get him out of it. I don’t know if he is innocent or guilty and neither do all the people making comments yet lots automatically assume he’s innocent. Why?

  • Reply June 24, 2012

    Kate S.

    For some reason I feel reserved about Julian Assange, possibly because a while ago I read an article by some of his WikiLeaks colleagues about his style. He seems to seek personal notoriety. What has happened to the WikiLeaks organisation itself? Is he still involved?

    I don’t trust the US either. There have been too many lies and too much propaganda glossing over illegal and inhumane actions and unwritten policies. For example, I believe the US entry into Iraq was dishonest and wrong as were the supporting actions of the UK and Australia.

    In all this, I feel the most sympathy for Bradley Manning, the young gay US soldier who allegedly leaked the material to WikiLeaks in the first place. He has been cruelly treated.

    The reality is that we will probably never know the whole truth. I’ve always wondered why Sweden took so long to act on the sexual assault allegations which seem to be of a minor order (not wearing a condom?). This delay fed into the conspiracy theories.

    Australian Government PR around this has been abysmal. Given the context, I think they should have been more proactive in assuring the safety of Assange and allowing him to return to Australia. Their approach has also fed the conspiracy theories.

    Although Julian Assange may not come over as a likeable public figure he does seem to be caught up some kind of international scapegoating exercise when there are far bigger questions that need to be answered.

  • Reply June 24, 2012

    Kate S.

    I should have said in relation to the Swedish claims against Assange that I understood the charges relate to not wearing a condom in an otherwise consensual act.

    I read this in the press at the beginning of this saga. I think it may have come from Assange’s lawyers by way of explanation at the beginning of the saga.

    I don’t wish to trivialize sexual assault.

  • Reply June 24, 2012

    Daisy

    Many thanks Monica, such in depth and concise information is great to see. Hope to hear more from you here.

  • Reply June 24, 2012

    Kate S.

    This is the article I read about the sexual assault charges. It was in the UK Guardian.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/dec/17/julian-assange-sweden

    The whole thing seems to have been really badly handled by everyone. I should simply have referred to the article rather than elaborate on it, however.

  • Reply June 24, 2012

    Sally

    Monica, was very sad to hear of your departure at The Global Mail. So glad to see you here at The Hoopla. Hope this will be a regular thing for you.

    Great article. Thanks for the clearly laid out facts around this story.

    I hope one day soon Julian and his family can live their lives in freedom without having to look over their shoulders or look at everyone with suspicion.

  • Reply June 24, 2012

    Kate

    Useful article, except the last lines. After explaining all the facts, it then reverts to the kind of standard Government bashing through unexplained opinion that appears to be de rigeur for Australian journalists. A good look?? Of course it ‘looks’ bad, because all we ever hear are dark statements about the Government’s lack of support, without any explanation of what they could do but don’t.

  • Reply June 25, 2012

    Mary Longford

    I can’t believe as Australians we do not have more noisy outrage about his treatment. Great article!

  • Reply June 27, 2012

    amd

    He published the truth, whether we like him or not is irrelevant. the timing of the sexual allegations was damn strange, to say the least. Time for governments and individuals alike to accept that in this brave new world, if you are deceitful, there is a very good chance you are going to get caught out. The government does not have the right to keep secrets from the people, they are our public servants – the fact that they have been getting away with such things does not make it acceptable, or their right. It is NOT in our best interests that governments lie, obfuscate and take part in cover ups. So, instead of trying ever more desperate measures to stop him and others like him, just clean up your collective acts and you won’t have to be so afraid when the truth comes out.

    • Reply June 28, 2012

      Anne

      Totally agree amd!

  • Reply June 30, 2012

    Suzanne S

    I also agree with amd. This whole shemozzle has come out of the ‘embarassment’ to the governments of the U.S., U.K. , Australia, et al. Hackers like Julian Assange, show the weaknesses in security, and the deceit of cover-ups.
    As for his possible extradition to the U.S. and charges of treason – how can a non-citizen be charged with treason?
    My confidence in the powers-that-be to protect Julian Assange, is nil. They would happily see him buried in an underground vault, if it saved them from one more moment of embarassment.
    Thank you, Monica, for putting the case so succinctly. Background is always useful to determine what motivates an individual.

  • Reply June 30, 2012

    JaneThomas

    After reading such a background, I like him even better now. From a life that has seen such diverse social landscapes, he is truly a man whose efforts should be supported. If his fears are realised it is possible that whistle blowers and hard-nosed investigators will be hard to find and then the transparncy of governments will fail. In my view, the powerless have a lot to lose if Mr Assange fails.

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  • Reply July 12, 2012

    Miranda Muer

    my belief is: if the USA should ever get their hands on Julian Assange they won’t be worrying about the Bradley Manning connection, instead they will be charging him under the 1917 Espionage Act for hacking into NASA, Nortel and the Pentagon all those years ago.

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  • Reply August 16, 2012

    John Gardner

    bullet point no. 9 should surely read : “Its computers have military level ENCRYPTION, so in the event they are seized, information stored is meaningless”

  • Reply August 16, 2012

    Monica

    John, yes it should.

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  • Reply August 18, 2012

    Maureens Sladdin

    Thank you for the reference article Monica. Have placed credence on your articles from back in abc days.

  • […] Julian Assange: Quick Facts  […]

  • Reply August 20, 2012

    sam

    “Why not from the UK is still anyone’s guess” – um, no.

    I’ve read numerous times that the reason is, the English won’t extradite for death penalty offences and the Swedes will.

    So if he was extradited from the UK the penalties would not be as harsh as possible by US standards.

    It’s been widely reported – whether you believe it or not.

  • Reply October 8, 2012

    ASSANGE'S CURIOUS DNA

    […] Quick Facts: Julian Assange […]

  • Reply October 17, 2012

    Lucille

    “Wikileaks is a site that encourages whistle-blowers to leak information for publication. It has published some 1 million documents, which have embarrassed governments, diplomats and businesses. Its computers have military level, so in the event they are seized, information stored is meaningless.”

    I still don’t understand why newspapers and journals which publish wikileaks leaks aren’t subject to the same charges of espionage by the U.S.A. From Manning to Wikileaks to The Age etc.

  • Reply October 19, 2012

    john

    If I were him I would go to Sweden, and face the music!
    What is he hiding for if he is innocent?

  • Reply October 29, 2012

    Michelle

    Juliian Assange has no charges to face in Sweden. The Swedish authorities want to extradite him so they can question him. Yeah right !

    Law enforcement in Europe regularly travel to the UK to question suspects/witnesses and visa versa. Assange and his lawyers have stated on numerous occassions that they are happy to answer any questions.Most recently the President of Equador has invited them to the embassy to ask their questions. So why are they insisting on extradition of a man who has yet to be charged with anything? Hidden agendas perhaps?

    As to the what the Australian Government should do, I would suggest that they ask the same questions that I have of the Swedish Government. Seeking extradition in these circumstances is not standard procedure. It would also be nice to think that they would stick up for an Australian citizen and offer him a safe haven at home until and if he is ever charged with anything. Instead Gillard grandstands on the world stage and cowtows to the US.

  • […] Julian Assange: Quick Facts by Monica Attard […]

  • Reply March 1, 2013

    Georgy

    The Australian Government should have to protect their citizens and not to compare them with the terrorists.

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