In November 2010, a request was made for Assange's extradition to Sweden, where he had been questioned months earlier over allegations of sexual assault and rape. Assange continued to deny the allegations, and expressed concern that he would be extradited from Sweden to the United States because of his perceived role in publishing secret American documents. Assange surrendered himself to UK police on 7 December 2010, and was held for ten days before being released on bail. Having been unsuccessful in his challenge to the extradition proceedings, he breached his bail and absconded. He was granted asylum by Ecuador in August 2012 and has remained in the Embassy of Ecuador in London since then. On 19 May 2017, the Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation into the rape accusation against Assange and applied to revoke the European arrest warrant. Although free to leave the Embassy, it is likely that he would then be arrested for the criminal offence of breaching his bail conditions. The Metropolitan Police have indicated that an arrest warrant is still in force for Assange's failure to surrender himself to his bail.
Assange was born in Townsville, Queensland, to Christine Ann Hawkins (b. 1951), a visual artist, and John Shipton, an anti-war activist and builder. The couple had separated before Assange was born.
When he was a year old, his mother married Richard Brett Assange, an actor, with whom she ran a small theatre company. They divorced around 1979. Christine Assange then became involved with Leif Meynell, also known as Leif Hamilton, a member of Australian cult The Family, with whom she had a son before the couple broke up in 1982. Assange had a nomadic childhood, and had lived in over thirty Australian towns by the time he reached his mid-teens, when he settled with his mother and half-brother in Melbourne, Victoria.
While in his teens, Assange married a woman named Teresa, and in 1989 they had a son, Daniel Assange, now a software designer. The couple separated and initially disputed custody of their child. Assange was Daniel's primary caregiver for much of his childhood. In an open letter to French President François Hollande, Assange stated his youngest child lives in France with their mother. He also said that his family had faced death threats and harassment because of his work, forcing them to change identities and reduce contact with him.
In September 1991, Assange was discovered hacking into the Melbourne master terminal of Nortel, a Canadian multinationaltelecommunications corporation. The Australian Federal Police tapped Assange's phone line (he was using a modem), raided his home at the end of October, and eventually charged him in 1994 with thirty-one counts of hacking and related crimes. In December 1996, he pleaded guilty to twenty-five charges (the other six were dropped), was ordered to pay reparations of A$2,100 and released on a good behaviour bond, avoiding a heavier penalty resulting from the perceived absence of malicious or mercenary intent and his disrupted childhood.
Assange, c. 2006
In 1993, Assange gave technical advice to the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit and assisted with prosecutions. In the same year, he was involved in starting one of the first public Internet service providers in Australia, Suburbia Public Access Network. He began programming in 1994, authoring or co-authoring the Transmission Control Protocol port scanner strobe.c (1995); patches to the open-source database PostgreSQL (1996); the Usenet caching software NNTPCache (1996); the Rubberhosedeniable encryption system (1997), which reflected his growing interest in cryptography; and Surfraw, a command-line interface for web-based search engines (2000). During this period, he also moderated the AUCRYPTO forum; ran Best of Security, a website "giving advice on computer security" that had 5,000 subscribers in 1996; and contributed research to Suelette Dreyfus's Underground (1997), a book about Australian hackers, including the International Subversives. In 1998, he co-founded the company Earthmen Technology.
Assange stated that he registered the domain leaks.org in 1999, but "didn't do anything with it." He did, however, publicise a patent granted to the National Security Agency in August 1999, for voice-data harvesting technology: "This patent should worry people. Everyone's overseas phone calls are or may soon be tapped, transcribed and archived in the bowels of an unaccountable foreign spy agency." Systematic abuse of technology by governments against fundamental freedoms of world citizens remained an abiding concern — more than a decade later, in the introduction to Cypherpunks (2012), Assange summarised: "the Internet, our greatest tool for emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen".
After his period of study at the University of Melbourne, Assange and others established WikiLeaks in 2006. Assange is a member of the organisation's advisory board and describes himself as the editor-in-chief. From 2007 to 2010, Assange travelled continuously on WikiLeaks business, visiting Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.
WikiLeaks published secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources. By 2015, WikiLeaks had published more than 10 million documents and associated analyses, and was described by Assange as "a giant library of the world's most persecuted documents". The published material between 2006 and 2009 attracted various degrees of publicity, but it was only after it began publishing documents supplied by Chelsea Manning, that WikiLeaks became a household name. The Manning material included the Collateral Murder video (April 2010) which showed United States soldiers fatally shooting 18 people from a helicopter in Iraq, the Afghanistan war logs (July 2010), the Iraq war logs (October 2010), a quarter of a million diplomatic cables (November 2010), and the Guantánamo files (April 2011).
The year 2010 culminated with the Sam Adams Award, which Assange accepted in October, and a string of distinctions in December—the Le Monde readers' choice award for person of the year, the Time readers' choice award for person of the year (he was also a runner-up in Time's overall person of the year award), a deal for his autobiography worth at least US$1.3 million, and selection by the Italian edition of Rolling Stone as "rockstar of the year".
After WikiLeaks released the Manning material, US authorities began investigating WikiLeaks and Assange personally with a view to prosecuting them under the Espionage Act of 1917. In November 2010 US Attorney-GeneralEric Holder said there was "an active, ongoing criminal investigation" into WikiLeaks. It emerged from legal documents leaked over the ensuing months that Assange and others were being investigated by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia. An email from an employee of intelligence consultancy Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor) leaked in 2012 said, "We have a sealed indictment on Assange." The US government denies the existence of such an indictment.
In December 2011 prosecutors in the Chelsea Manning case revealed the existence of chat logs between Manning and an alleged WikiLeaks interlocutor they claimed to be Assange; he denied this, dismissing the alleged connection as "absolute nonsense". The logs were presented as evidence during Manning's court-martial in June–July 2013. The prosecution argued that they showed WikiLeaks helping Manning reverse-engineer a password, but evidence that the interlocutor was Assange was circumstantial, and Manning insisted she acted alone.
Assange was being examined separately by "several government agencies" in addition to the grand jury, most notably the FBI. Court documents published in May 2014 suggest that Assange was still under "active and ongoing" investigation at that time.
Moreover, some Snowden documents published in 2014 show that the United States government put Assange on the "2010 Manhunting Timeline", and in the same period they urged their allies to open criminal investigations into the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks. In the same documents there was a proposal by the NSA to designate WikiLeaks as a "malicious foreign actor", thus increasing the surveillance against it.
On 26 January 2015, WikiLeaks reported that three members of the organisation had received notice from Google that Google had complied with a federal warrant by a U.S. District Court to turn over their emails and metadata on 5 April 2012. At the time, Google had been prohibited by the court's order from disclosing the existence of the warrant, but a subsequent order by the court gave Google permission to notify Wikileaks regarding the warrant's existence and that Google had complied with the order. The warrants cited 18 USC 371, 641, 793(d), 793(g), and 1030, which include espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, theft or conversion of property belonging to the United States government, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and general conspiracy. According to the statement by Wikileaks, the alleged offenses could add up to a total of 45 years of imprisonment each for Assange and other WikiLeaks staff.
In a 15 December 2015 court submission, the United States confirmed its "sensitive, ongoing law enforcement proceeding into the Wikileaks matter."
On 20 April 2017, U.S. officials told CNN that they were preparing to file formal charges against Assange.
Swedish sexual assault allegations
Demonstration in support of Assange in front of Sydney Town Hall, 10 December 2010
Assange visited Sweden in August 2010, During his visit, he became the subject of sexual assault allegations from two women with whom he had sex. He was questioned, the case was initially closed, and he was told he could leave the country. In November 2010, however, the case was re-opened by a special prosecutor who said that she wanted to question Assange over two counts of sexual molestation, one count of unlawful coercion and one count of "lesser-degree rape" (mindre grov våldtäkt). Assange denied the allegations and said he was happy to face questions in Britain.
In 2010, the prosecutor said Swedish law prevented her from questioning anyone by video link or in the London embassy. In March 2015, after public criticism from other Swedish law practitioners, she changed her mind and agreed to interrogate Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, with interviews finally beginning on 14 November 2016. These interviews involved police, Swedish prosecutors and Ecuadorian officials and were eventually published online. By this time, the statute of limitations had expired on all three of the less serious allegations. Since the Swedish prosecutor had not interviewed Assange by 18 August 2015, the questioning pertained only to the open investigation of "lesser degree rape", whose statute of limitations is due to expire in 2020.
On 19 May 2017, the Swedish authorities dropped their investigation against Assange, claiming they could not expect the Ecuadorian Embassy to communicate reliably with Assange with respect to the case. Chief prosecutor Marianne Ny officially revoked his arrest warrant, but said the investigation could still be resumed if Assange visited Sweden before August 2020. "We are not making any pronouncement about guilt", she said.
Political asylum and life at the Ecuadorian embassy
Assange and his supporters state he is concerned not about any proceedings in Sweden as such, but believe that his deportation to Sweden could lead to politically motivated deportation to the United States, where he could face severe penalties, up to the death sentence, for his activities related to WikiLeaks.
Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño met with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy on 16 June 2013.
On 16 August 2012, Foreign Minister Patiño announced that Ecuador was granting Assange political asylum because of the threat represented by the United States secret investigation against him and several calls for assassination from many American politicians. In its formal statement, Ecuador reasoned that "as a consequence of [Assange's] determined defense to freedom of expression and freedom of press… in any given moment, a situation may come where his life, safety or personal integrity will be in danger". Latin American states expressed support for Ecuador. Ecuadorian PresidentRafael Correa confirmed on 18 August that Assange could stay at the embassy indefinitely, and the following day Assange gave his first speech from the balcony. Assange's supporters forfeited £293,500 in bail and sureties. His home since then has been an office converted into a studio apartment, equipped with a bed, telephone, sun lamp, computer, shower, treadmill, and kitchenette.
Just before Assange was granted asylum, the UK Government wrote to Foreign Minister Patiño stating that the police were entitled to enter the embassy and arrest Assange under UK law. Patiño criticised what he said was an implied threat, stating that "such actions would be a blatant disregard of the Vienna Convention". Officers of the Metropolitan Police Service were stationed outside the building from June 2012 to October 2015 in order to arrest Assange for extradition and for breach of bail, should he leave the embassy. The police guard was withdrawn on grounds of cost in October 2015, but the police said they would still deploy "a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest him". The cost of the policing for the period was reported to have been £12.6 million.
In April 2015, during a video conference to promote the documentary Terminal F about Edward Snowden, Bolivia's ambassador to Russia, María Luisa Ramos Urzagaste, accused Assange of putting the life of Bolivian president Evo Morales at risk by intentionally providing the United States with false rumours that Snowden was on the president's plane when it was forced to land in Vienna in July 2013. "It is possible that in this wide-ranging game that you began my president did not play a crucial role, but what you did was not important to my president, but it was to me and the citizens of our country. And I have faith that when you planned this game you took into consideration the consequences", the ambassador told Assange. Assange stated that the plan "was not completely honest, but we did consider that the final result would have justified our actions. We weren't expecting this outcome. The result was caused by the United States' intervention. We can only regret what happened." Later, in an interview with Democracy Now!, Assange explained the story of the grounding of Morales' plane, saying that after the United States cancelled Snowden's passport, WikiLeaks thought about other strategies to take him to Latin America, and they considered private presidential jets of those countries which offered support. The appointed jet was that of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, but Assange stated that "our code language that we used deliberately swapped the presidential jet that we were considering for the Bolivian jet [...] and in some of our communications, we deliberately spoke about that on open lines to lawyers in the United States. And we didn’t think much more of it. [...] We didn’t think this was anything more than just distracting." Eventually, the plan was not pursued and, under Assange's advice, Snowden sought asylum in Russia.
Paris newspaper Le Monde, in its edition of 3 July 2015, published an open letter from Assange to French President François Hollande in which Assange urged the French government to grant him refugee status. Assange wrote that "only France now has the ability to offer me the necessary protection against, and exclusively against, the political persecution that I am currently the object of." In the letter Assange wrote, "By welcoming me, France would fulfill a humanitarian but also probably symbolic gesture, sending an encouragement to all journalists and whistleblowers ... Only France is now able to offer me the necessary protection ... France can, if it wishes, act."
In a statement issued by the Élysée Palace on 3 July 2015 in response to this letter, the French President said: "France cannot act on his request. The situation of Mr Assange does not present an immediate danger."
On 4 July 2015, in response to the denial of asylum by France, a spokesman for Assange denied that Assange had actually "filed" a request for asylum in France. Speaking on behalf of Assange, Baltasar Garzón, head of his legal team, said that Assange had sent the open letter to French president François Hollande; but Assange had only expressed his willingness "to be hosted in France if and only if an initiative was taken by the competent authorities".
On 16 August 2016, Assange's lawyer in the UK, John Jones, was found dead, according to the first reports after being hit by a train in an apparent suicide. An inquest into his death found that the lawyer was accepted since March to a private psychiatric hospital with several issues of mental health, including bipolar disorder, and closed-circuit television cameras showed no-one was near him when he jumped before the train. Coupled with the death of WikiLeaks lawyer Michael Ratner from cancer in May, the death of both lawyers in such a short time span sparked conspiracy theories, and a tweet by WikiLeaks on 21 August said that an inquest ruled it was not suicide. Some Twitter users took this to imply assassination, but the linked article explained that the inquest found culpability on the part of the hospital for letting Jones outside since suicide requires mental competence.
The next day, on 22 August, a man scaled the embassy's walls, but was caught by the embassy's security.
In September 2016, Assange said he would agree to US prison in exchange for President Obama granting Chelsea Manningclemency. Obama commuted Manning's sentence on 17 January 2017. The next day, at his final presidential news conference, Obama stated, "I don't pay a lot of attention to Mr. Assange's tweets, so that wasn't a consideration in this instance." The same day, Assange's U.S.-based attorney Barry Pollack asserted (without saying when or where) that Assange "had called for Chelsea Manning to receive clemency and be released immediately." Accordingly, Pollack maintained, the commutation—which specified Manning would be freed four months hence—did not meet Assange's conditions. On 17 May 2017, Manning was released from prison. Two days later, Assange emerged on the embassy's balcony and told a crowd that, despite no longer facing a Swedish sex investigation, he would remain inside the embassy in order to avoid extradition to the United States.
On 17 October 2016, WikiLeaks announced that a "state party" had severed Assange's internet connection at the Ecuadorian embassy. The Ecuadorian government stated that it had "temporarily" severed Assange's internet connection because of WikiLeaks' release of documents "impacting on the U.S. election campaign". In an interview published on 29 December, Assange said, "The internet has been returned".
In the run-up to 2017 Ecuador's general elections, conservative candidate Guillermo Lasso promised that he "will cordially ask Senor Assange to leave" within 30 days of assuming office, should he be elected. The pro-business candidate said the country's London embassy "isn't a hotel" and that Ecuador is in no position to finance the Australian's stay there. After preliminary results in the second round of Ecuador's presidential election showed that Lasso is poised to lose – the WikiLeaks founder responded using the same language."I cordially invite Lasso to leave Ecuador within 30 days (with or without his tax haven millions)," Assange tweeted, referring to the revelations made shortly before the vote.
On 6 June 2017, Assange tweeted his support for NSA leaker Reality Winner, offering a $10,000 reward for information about a reporter for The Intercept who had allegedly helped the U.S. government to identify Winner as the leaker. Assange posted on Twitter: "Reality Leight Winner is no Clapper or Petraeus with 'elite immunity'. She's a young woman against the wall for talking to the press."
On 5 February 2016, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Assange had been subject to arbitrary detention by the UK and Swedish Governments since 7 December 2010, including his time in prison, on conditional bail and in the Ecuadorian embassy. According to the group, Assange should be allowed to walk free and be given compensation.
Assange wrote on WikiLeaks in February 2016: "I have had years of experience in dealing with Hillary Clinton and have read thousands of her cables. Hillary lacks judgement and will push the United States into endless, stupid wars which spread terrorism. ... she certainly should not become president of the United States." On 25 July, following the Republican National Convention (RNC), during an interview by Amy Goodman, Assange said that choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is like choosing between cholera or gonorrhea. "Personally, I would prefer neither." WikiLeaks editor, Sarah Harrison, has stated that the site is not choosing which damaging publications to release, rather releasing information that is available to them.
It was revealed in October 2017 that during the 2016 US Presidential election, Cambridge Analytica funder and substantial GOP donor Rebekah Mercer had proposed creating a searchable data base for Hillary Clinton emails in the public domain and then forwarded this suggestion to several people, including Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, who personally emailed a request to Julian Assange for Clinton's emails. Assange responded to the report by saying he denied Nix's request.
On 4 July 2016, during the Democratic Party presidential primaries, WikiLeaks hosted information and content of emails sent or received by candidate Hillary Clinton from her private email server when she was Secretary of State as originally released by the State Department in February 2016, based on a FOIA request.
On 26 August 2016, Assange spoke to Fox News and said that Clinton was causing "hysteria about Russia" after the Democratic Party, along with a number of cybersecurity experts and cybersecurity firms, claimed that Russian intelligence had hacked the e-mails and leaked them to Wikileaks. This statement was repeated in the Russian media outlet RT.
On 4 October 2016, in a WikiLeaks anniversary meeting in Berlin with Assange teleconferencing from his refuge in the Ecuador embassy in London, reporters spoke of a supposed promise to reveal further information against Hillary Clinton which would bring her candidacy down, calling this information "The October Surprise". On 7 October, Assange posted a press release on WikiLeaks exposing over 2,000 emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The emails, ranging from 2007–2016, revealed excerpts of Clinton's paid Goldman Sachs speech in 2013. In the emails, she explained her relationship to Wall Street and how she had previously represented the community: "even though I represented [people in finance] and did all I could to make sure they continued to prosper, I called for closing the carried interest loophole and addressing skyrocketing CEO pay. So when I raised early warnings about subprime mortgages and called for regulating derivatives and over complex financial products, I didn’t get some big arguments, because people sort of said, no, that makes sense."
According to Harvard political scientist Matthew Baum and College of the Canyons political scientist Phil Gussin, Wikileaks strategically released e-mails related to the Clinton campaign whenever Clinton's lead expanded in the polls. On the eve of the general presidential election, Assange wrote a press release addressing the criticism around publishing Clinton material on WikiLeaks."We publish material given to us if it is of political, diplomatic, historical or ethical importance and which has not been published elsewhere. When we have material that fulfills this criteria, we publish." He explains that the website received pertinent information related to the DNC leaks and Clinton political campaign, but never received any information on Trump, Jill Stein, or Gary Johnson's campaign, and therefore could not publish what they did not have.
Assange has consistently denied any connection to or cooperation with Russia in relation to the leaks damaging to Clinton and the Democratic Party.
Allegations of anti-Semitism
In 2011, the British magazine Private Eye reported that one of Assange's associates was a Holocaust denier, the Russian-born, Swedish journalist, Israel Shamir. Editor Ian Hislop stated that Assange "said that I and Private Eye should be ashamed of ourselves for joining in the international conspiracy to smear WikiLeaks" and their article "was an obvious attempt to deprive him and his organisation of Jewish support and donations". Assange responded that the magazine's allegations of anti-semitism are false and stem from "distortions" on the part of Ian Hislop. On 1 March 2011, Assange released a statement in which he said, "Hislop has distorted, invented or misremembered almost every significant claim and phrase. In particular, 'Jewish conspiracy' is completely false, in spirit and in word. It is serious and upsetting. We treasure our strong Jewish support and staff, just as we treasure the support from pan-Arab democracy activists and others who share our hope for a just world."
Assange's book, When Google Met WikiLeaks, was published by OR Books on 18 September 2014. The book recounts when Google CEO Eric Schmidt requested a meeting with Assange, while he was under house arrest in rural Norfolk, UK. Schmidt was accompanied by Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas; Lisa Shields, vice-president of the Council on Foreign Relations; and Scott Malcomson, the communications director for the International Crisis Group. Excerpts were published on the Newsweek website, while Assange participated in a Q&A event that was facilitated by the Reddit website and agreed to an interview with Vogue magazine.
^ abcdeRobert Manne (March 2011). "The cypherpunk revolutionary: Julian Assange". The Monthly. Retrieved 16 March 2014. 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
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