WikiLeaks' Assange: enigma leading the leakers

7th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Julian Assange, who was fighting extradition to Sweden in a British court Monday, has found it hard to keep his own private life shrouded in mystery as WikiLeaks spills the beans on US diplomacy.

The 39-year-old Australian, the founder and frontman of the whistleblowing website, has risen to global prominence within a few months.

But for a man whose organisation likes to be in control of the information it leaks, it must make painful reading to be faced with lurid allegations about his behaviour made by two Swedish women.

One of the women claims he raped her and another accuses him of sexual molestation, but Assange denies both claims and his lawyers sought to demolish the allegations in an extradition hearing in a London court on Monday.

Assange insists the allegations are politically motivated because the US diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has leaked have enraged and embarrassed Washington.

But while he has been confined to the mansion of a supporter under bail conditions imposed following his arrest in December, WikiLeaks has not found its 'media partners' are always happy to play the game according to its rules.

A book by The Guardian newspaper in Britain has lifted the lid on its work with the organisation to publish the cables.

It reveals that Assange inked a deal to release the 250,000 US cables by scribbling on a napkin.

Further passages from "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy" claim he disguised himself as an old woman in order to evade US intelligence officers who he believed were following him.

Assange's claims about WikiLeaks are clear -- it is doing nothing less than changing the face of journalism and forcing governments into a new approach to sharing and releasing information.

"We are creating a new standard for free press," Assange told AFP in August, adding that "by doing so, we are hoping to liberalise the press across the world."

Yet while Assange projects himself as a champion of transparency, he keeps his own life tightly under wraps, divulging little about himself.

He even managed to keep his date of birth secret until Interpol divulged it was July 3, 1971, when issuing the international arrest warrant at the request of Sweden.

Born in Townsville, northeastern Australia, Assange says he spent his early childhood living on and off on the nearby Magnetic Island with his mother.

Assange has described a nomadic childhood, attending 37 different schools.

Living in Melbourne in the 1990s, the teenage Assange discovered a new talent: computer hacking.

But his new interest did not go undetected and he was charged with 30 counts of computer crime, including hacking police and US military computers.

He admitted most of the charges and walked away with a fine.

After his brush with the law, Assange says he worked in a number of different fields before founding WikiLeaks in 2006 with around 10 others from the human rights, media and technology fields, although no other co-founder is publicly known.

The site began leaking secret documents in 2007 but it first came to global prominence when it released a video of a US military Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad in 2007 which killed two employees of the Reuters news agency.

That was followed by the release of some 77,000 secret US files on Afghanistan, enraging Washington which accused WikiLeaks of endangering lives.

That first mega-leak was followed in October by the release of some 400,000 so-called "Iraq war logs" and since late November by the slow release of around 250,000 diplomatic cables.

Assange is thin and lanky, his boyish face topped by a short crop of platinum hair.

While he speaks cautiously in a calm, controlled tone, he has a temper, storming out of a CNN interview when asked about the rape claim.

© 2011 AFP

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