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Who Is Julian Assange?

Julian Assange (file photo)
Julian Assange (file photo)
Julian Assange, the enigmatic founder of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, is a man with an obsession to reveal the inner workings of government to the man in the street.

He apparently regards the normally confidential activities of governments as subject to abuse of power, which can only be checked by casting daylight upon them. In an interview with RFE/RL, Assange explained his "vision" behind the website.

"In order to make any sensible decision you need to know what's really going on, and in order to make any just decision you need to know, understand what abuses or plans for abuses are occurring," Assange explained. "As technologists, we can see that big reforms come when public and decision-makers can see what's really going on."

Disclosure Mania

The scale of his latest leak, the posting on the Internet of the first of some quarter of a million confidential cables to the State Department from U.S. diplomats in the field, should satisfy what appears to be a growing mania for disclosure.

Previous leaks of U.S. government material include documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange, born in the tropical Australian city of Townsville, displayed an early interest in computer technology, and by the age of 16 he began hacking on the Internet, forming a group called the International Subversives.

Several years later, his activity came to the attention of the police and he was charged and sentenced to a bond of good behavior.

He has attended a number of Australian universities, studying physics and mathematics, in addition to philosophy and neuroscience.

His interest in new media grew, as did his obsessive hatred of government secrecy, resulting in the founding of WikiLeaks in 2006.

'Warranted' Praise

Since then he has won several prizes, including one from the human rights organization Amnesty International in 2009 for exposing extrajudicial killings in Kenya.

Assange's present whereabouts are unknown. The international police organization Interpol this week issued a "red notice" for him, based on an arrest warrant issued by a court in Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual assault on two women -- allegations he denies as part of a smear campaign against him.

A red notice is not an international arrest warrant, in that it leaves to individual states the decision whether or not to make an arrest.

U.S. officials, infuriated by the continuing release of confidential correspondence, are looking for ways to bring a criminal case against Assange, under the Espionage Act.

But experts say that would require evidence that Assange had been in contact with representatives of a foreign power, and intended to provide them with secrets.

There is no such evidence in the case of Assange. But the Associated Press reports that there may be other grounds available, such as charges relating to receipt of stolen government property.

written by Breffni O'Rourke, with agency reports