Julian Assange -- champion of truth or reckless attention seeker?
Published 08/12/2010 | 05:00
To his fans, Julian Assange is revered as a champion of truth. To his expanding army of enemies , he is a reckless attention junkie putting lives in danger by publishing classified files.
Mr Assange is described by those who have worked with him as intense, driven and intelligent .
He is often on the move, running Wikileaks from temporary, shifting locations. He can go long stretches without eating, and focus on work with very little sleep, according to Raffi Khatchadourian, a 'New Yorker' reporter who spent several weeks with him.
"He creates this atmosphere around him where the people who are close to him want to care for him to help keep him going.
"I would say that probably has something to do with his charisma," Ms Khatchadourian said.
Mr Assange has been reluctant to talk about his background, but media interest since the emergence of Wikileaks has given some insight .
He was born in Townsville in northern Australia in 1971, and led a nomadic childhood while his parents ran a touring theatre.
The development of the internet gave him a chance to use his early promise at maths, though this, too, led to difficulties. In 1995 he was accused with a friend of dozens of hacking activities. Mr Assange was eventually caught and pleaded guilty.
He was fined several thousand Australian dollars -- only escaping prison on the condition that he did not re-offend.
He then spent three years working with an academic, Suelette Dreyfus, writing a book with her, 'Underground', that became a bestseller in the computing fraternity.
This was followed by a course in physics and maths at Melbourne University, where he became a prominent member of a mathematics society.
He began Wikileaks in 2006 with a group of like-minded people , creating a web-based "dead-letterbox" for would-be leakers.
"[To] keep our sources safe, we have had to spread assets, encrypt everything, and move telecommunications and people around the world to activate protective laws in different national jurisdictions," Mr Assange said earlier this year.
"We've become good at it, and never lost a case, or a source, but we can't expect everyone to go through the extraordinary efforts that we do."
Daniel Schmitt, a co-founder, describes Mr Assange as "one of the few people who really cares about positive reform in this world to a level where you're willing to do something radical to risk making a mistake, just for the sake of working on something they believe in".