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Julian Assange

December 1, 2010

The website WikiLeaks has hit the headlines again for revealing diplomatic cables from US embassies around the world, and Interpol has issued an arrest warrant for its founder. But who is the man behind WikiLeaks?

Julian Assange
Assange is always on the move and keeps his location secretImage: picture-alliance/dpa

For a man whose pioneering website claims to campaign for transparency, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is notoriously secretive.

Most recently, Assange's elusiveness has triggered an Interpol arrest warrant. The France-based international police agency on Tuesday placed him on their most-wanted list and alerted member states to arrest him if he is seen.

This follows an arrest warrant issued by Sweden two weeks ago in connection with rape allegations. Assange has denied any wrongdoing and has appealed the Swedish detention order.

Meanwhile, US officials are considering charging him with espionage over the sensitive leaks.

'The people's intelligence agency'

The WikiLeaks logo
Assange says WikiLeaks is about truth, justice and transparency

Born in Australia, 39-year-old (according to Interpol - he doesn't tell reporters his real date of birth) Assange has become one of the most talked about figures in global news.

He has dubbed his website "the people's intelligence agency" and is a thorn in the side of most national governments. He has been called "reckless," "a criminal" and "a terrorist."

Assange has told reporters that he had an unconventional childhood. He attended 37 different schools as he moved around Australia with his mother.

During his teenage years Assange developed an interest and skill in computer hacking. What started as a hobby saw him charged and convicted of 25 charges of hacking and related crimes in 1995. The judge ruled that his hacking was out of inquisitiveness rather than malice and Assange only had to pay a small fine.

After his brush with crime, Assange turned his talents in computer programming and cryptography to jobs in IT and as a security consultant.

He spent three years working for an academic, Suelette Dreyfus, who was researching the emerging subversive side of the Internet. She described Assange as a "very skilled researcher."

He then founded WikiLeaks in 2006 with around 10 others from the human rights, media and technology fields.

Wikileaks veröffentlicht Dokumente US Außenpolitik
US officials have said WikiLeaks puts innocent lives in dangerImage: AP

Constantly on the move

WikiLeaks has no fixed office and no full-time members of staff. Volunteers said Assange likes to keep their temporary locations secret so that they cannot be targeted by those who may want to shut their operation down.

Understandably for a former hacker, Assange is keen to keep security tight and make sure that the WikiLeaks files and websites are impenetrable to outside interference. Those working for the site correspond with each other using secure online encrypted chat services, and Assange himself reportedly regularly changes his email address and cell phone number.

The WikiLeaks sites run on more than 20 servers around the world and on hundreds of domain names.

The WikiLeaks founder fiercely defends his actions as being in the interest of truth, justice and transparency. His supporters hold him up as a crusader for free speech.

Assange claims the US State Department is leading a conspiracy against him. "It understands that we are a responsible organization," he told journalists in Jordan, "so it's trying to make it as hard as possible for us to publish in the hope that it can get us not to publish anything at all."

Author: Catherine Bolsover
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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