Who is Julian Assange? For the government of the United States he is a dangerous hacker, a spy and a terrorist who used his skills to steal sensitive information that harmed the US and it’s operatives. For his supporters he is a news publisher, a freedom of speech hero who was the victim of an unprecedented attempt by the system to silence a journalist. His only crime, they claim, is to have brought to light US war crimes and the shady affairs of the Western elite that governs much of the world.
But what’s the truth? I invite you all to follow me in a story of military secrets, computer hacking and political power that gives John le Carré a run for his money and coincidentally also happens to be one of the most important stories of our time.
Julian Paul Assange was born on the 3rd of July 1971 in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. His mother, Christine Ann Hawkins is a visual artist and is father, John Shipton, an anti-war activist and builder.
The family is financially poor but intellectually rich; art and politics are often the subject of conversation at the family’s table. Young Julian is a smart and witty young boy nicknamed “the wizard” by friends and family for his ability to find unexpected and left-field solutions to problems.
After his parents divorce Julian has a nomadic childhood, living in over 30 Australian towns and cities by the time he reaches his mid-teens,when he settles with his mother and half-brother in Melbourne.
Melbourne in the mid 80’s is home to underground communities of hackers and social revolutionaries; it is a place of ideas, political ideals and experimentation. There young Julian develops a passion for computers. He and his friends foresee the coming digital revolution, want to understand it and not only be part of it but be at it’s forefront. He’s a little nerd spending most of his days in front of a computer.
In 1987, aged 16, Assange begins hacking under the nickname Mendax. A security hacker is someone who explores methods for breaching defenses in a computer system or network. They may be motivated by a multitude of reasons, such as profit, political protest, information gathering… To young Julian Assange it is first and foremost an intellectual challenge.
Imagine being a teenager in front of a computer in your room in Melbourne and hacking into NASA computers. I mean these are the people who put a man on the moon… how smart would you feel? And how exciting!
Allegedly (this was never proven) Assange may have been involved in the WANK (Worms Against Nuclear Killers-but also slang for masturbation) hack at NASA in 1989. The worm (a computer malware capable of self-replicating) is believed to have been created by Melbourne-based hackers but no-one was ever charged. The WANK worm was one of the first worms ever and was of a playful and political nature. The worm was programmed to trick users into believing that files were being deleted, by displaying a file deletion dialogue that could not be aborted, though no files were actually erased. The worm contained over sixty randomised messages that would be displayed to users. These included “Vote anarchist” and “The FBI is watching YOU”. The slogan of the worm, “You talk of times of peace for all, and then prepare for war”, was drawn from the lyrics of the song “Blossom and Blood” from the Midnight Oil an Australian rock band known for their political activism.
In September 1991, Assange was discovered hacking into the Melbourne master terminal of Nortel, a Canadian multinational telecommunications corporation. He was arrested, pleaded guilty to 24 charges, was ordered to pay reparations of A$2,100 and released on a good behaviour bond.
In 1993, Assange provided expert technical advice and support to assist Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit to prosecute people suspected of involvement in child pornography offences on the internet.
After that Assange studied programming, mathematics and physics at Central Queensland University and later at the University of Melbourne. He never finished his degree.
BIRTH OF WIKILEAKS
Now there’s a thing that’s common to most hackers: they see the world from a different perspective. Their ability to understand and enter the workings of complex informatics systems allows them to see the structure that hides behind the surface. Just like an architect understand the physical structure of the building hiding under a beautiful cathedral, a hacker understands the wiring of digital systems. This allows them to have access to the actual information that structures the reality of our digitalised world. They get to see what’s behind the curtain, they see the difference between the information that is presented to the public and what is really under the hood of the machine, so to speak. In other words they see the lies.
Many things can be said about Julian Assange but in 2006, when he co-founded WikiLeaks, no one can deny he was driven by a noble and just cause: that of exposing to the public the lies that governments and powerful figures around the world were trying to hide.
WikiLeaks was set up as an anti-secrecy group with the said intention of making a platform that would enable leaked paperwork to be revealed safely on-line. Technically WikiLeaks was nothing more than an anonymous digital dropbox that allowed whistle blowers to anonymously upload information. Spiritually it was a news organisation that would use this information to blow the whistle on the injustices of this world. This had never been done before and it’s fair to say that everything that happened next was an exploration, an experiment, on freedom of speech by a guerrilla organisation.
In the first years of it’s existence nobody paid much attention to WikiLeaks. After all they were only publishing informationfrom far away countries including revelations about drone strikes in Yemen, corruption across the Arab world, extrajudicial executions by Kenyan police, Tibetan unrest in China, and the “Petrogate” oil scandal in Peru.
But in 2007 they became of interest to the US authorities after they published the “Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures”, a military manual detailing the day-to-day operations of the U.S. military’s Guantánamo Bay detention facility. The manual showed continuous abuse and indicated that some prisoners were hidden from Red Cross representatives.
The material WikiLeaks published between 2006 and 2009 attracted various degrees of international attention, but it’s only after they began publishing documents supplied by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea (born Bradley) Manning, a young soldier shocked by what she saw happening around her, that WikiLeaks became a household name.
The first of the classified documents provided by Chelsea Manning that WikiLeaks released was the infamous Collateral Murder video,which showed United States soldiers killing 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq. Amongst these civilians were Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and his assistant Saeed Chmagh.
Upon receiving the video Assange and others worked for a week to break the US military’s encryption of the video; and when they succeeded what they saw shocked the world.
The video, recorded on the 12th of July 2007, showed the crew of two US AH-64 Apache helicopters firing a 30 mm cannon on a group of civilians in Baghdad, Iraq.
On the video we can see a group of men walking down a street, this group is mistakenly considered, by the US soldiers, to be a group of rebels. Part of the mistake is due to the cameras the two Reuters journalists are holding which the soldiers believe to be guns.
In the tape’s audio we can hear the order to engage being given and the helicopter’s cannon firing. We can also hear the US soldiers cheering and laughing and making fun of the victims with tremendous viciousness and coldness of heart; as if playing a videogame.
When the massacre is finished and the shooting stops a civilian van, driven by Saleh Matasher Tomal, drives by. Mr. Tomal parks the van and exits to help and assist the wounded. It is at this point that the US helicopters begin to fire again, aiming at the van and killing Mr. Tomal.
When the aerial attack is finally over US ground troops arrive on the scene. They look into the van and find two wounded children, the son and the daughter of Mr. Tomal. The little girl couldn’t blink because her eyes were full of glass. One of the soldiers wants to take her to a hospital nearby but his superiors tell him to “stop being a pussy”.
When the news of the wounded children is relayed to the helicopter’s crew we can clearly hear the commander state: “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into battle”.
In the end the helicopter attack provoked 18 dead, 2 wounded children and no one from US military has ever been held accountable.
For Assange it was a moral and civil duty to publish the video. He needed to show the public the war crimes the US military was committing in Iraq. This is what WikiLeaks was created for in the first place: to expose the wrongdoings governments commit in our name. He was fearless and on April 5th 2010 he released the video.
This became front page news all over the world and helped considerably in changing the public perspective on the Iraqi war. Assange became a public figure, a rockstar a symbol for protesters all over the world. And the US government never forgave him.
Here is a link to the video. I can’t show it here but follow the “Watch on Youtube” link below. WARNING: it contains graphic images and will shock and sicken any soulful human being.
IRAQ AND AFGHAN WAR LOGS
Throughout the rest of the year Chelsea Manning continues her whistle blowing activity and provides WikiLeaks with huge amounts of information.
WikiLeaks proceeds with very difficult job of redacting and organising the information and in October 2010, they publish the Iraq War logs, a collection of 391,832 United States Army field classified reports from the Iraq War covering the period from 2004 to 2009.
This marks the first time Wikileaks works in collaboration with mainstream media. The logs were also published by newspapers such as the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel.
These logs were written by military men while in service in Iraq. They were reports of things they’ve seen or experienced during their military duties. They were a sort of very detailed war diary. In fact they were and still are the most accurate description of a war ever released to the public. And the story they told was a story of unspeakable horror.
First it became evident that the US and their allies were under reporting civilian casualties. The files recorded 66,081 civilian deaths out of 109,000 recorded deaths. This is 15,000 civilian deaths more than previously admitted by the US government.
Then it became clear that prisoners of war were subjected to violent torture.
Furthermore the logs confirmed previous allegations that the US military handed over many prisoners to the Iraqi Wolf Brigade (an Iraqi special commando police) which was accused of beating prisoners, torturing them with electric drills and executing suspects.
The Guardian stated that the logs show “US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers” for they had a formal policy of ignoring such allegations.
The logs also proved that the US military cleared an Apache helicopter gunship to open fire on Iraqi insurgents who were trying to surrender and that Us military personnel were reported to have been involved in child prostitution.
When you start publishing these kind of secrets governments start losing control of the narrative. Up to that point the US government had sold the US population the story of a just war fought to get rid of a brutal and inhumane dictator and that only few civilians were being killed. WikiLeaks exposed their lies and public opinion began to change. That is the power of WikiLeaks.
Of course such revelations are bound to enrage many people within the US military complex and they did. Julian Assange suddenly became enemy number one.
The US government accused WikiLeaks of putting lives at danger by providing sensitive information to the enemy. It is true that the documents could have been redacted better but it is worth noting that this was a first: never before in the history of humanity such a quantity of sensitive military material ended up on the desk of a news agency. It is also worth noting that WikiLeaks contacted the White House before publishing the papers and asked for their helped to redact the information. The White House refused.
Assange said that he hoped the publication would “correct some of the attack on the truth that occurred before the war, during the war, and which has continued after the war”.
This was the biggest leak ever and shed light on the long list of war crimes committed by US and their allies.
No one in the US military has ever been held accountable for any of it.
One month later, on the 28th of November 2010, Assange and his WikiLeaks team were at it again publishing a quarter of a million U.S. diplomatic cables from 1966 to 2010. This came to be known as the “Cablegate”.
These Cables were a set of documents consisting in reports and analysis written by US diplomats all over the world and delivered back to the State Department. 100.000 of these documents were marked as confidential and 15.000 as secret.
WikiLeaks initially worked with established Western media organisations while also publishing the cables upon which their reporting was based.
The files showed United States espionage against United Nations and other world leaders, revealed tensions between the U.S. and its allies, and exposed corruption in countries throughout the world as documented by US diplomats, helping to spark the Arab Spring.
From the revelations of these documents it came to light that all the Western chancelleries, the UN secretaries, the secretary general in the role of Ban Ki Moon were spied on by the United States government.
Furthermore the cables exposed the kind of political pressure US diplomats exercise on their international counterparts. Why? In the words of Julian Assange himself: “Nearly every war started in the past 50 years has been the result of media lies. Populations don’t like wars. They have to be fooled into wars.”
A typical tactic that the documents revealed worked something like this: a US diplomat would write to a local politician of any allied country. He would say something along the lines of: “We have a problem with your country’s public opinion: they don’t seem to support our wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. I need you to do something about it. I want you to organise for your main TV channel to interview, say, an Afghan woman during primetime. She will tell your audience a story of how helpful the US military intervention has been for the Afghan people. Don’t worry… we will provide the woman in question. If you don’t do this there will be consequences.”
In short the Cablegate showed the world the extent to which the US government was willing to go to maintain it’s hegemony on the world.
It is at this point that the US government launched an investigation into WikiLeaks and Julian Assange on charges of espionage.
After releasing the Collateral Murder video Julian Assange became a rockstar; he was at the height of his popularity and had become a cultural icon for many people around the world. He was young, good looking, on the front page of all international newspapers and considered a noble warrior ambitiously fighting against the system. He was admired and desired just as he was hated and despised.
In August 2010 he is invited to Stockholm, Sweden, to deliver a speech. The woman who organises the event offers him to stay in her one bedroom studio apartment. She tells him she will be away during his stay and he can have the flat for himself. Julian accepts.
But when he arrives in Sweden the woman, aged 31, changes her plans, tells Assange she won’t be leaving anymore and invites Assange to stay at her place anyway. Julian accepts the offer. One thing leads to another and they have a consensual sexual encounter.
Some days later Assange meets a second woman, aged 26. By all accounts she’s a fan of Assange. One thing leads to another and they have a consensual sexual encounter.
Now what Assange doesn’t know is that the two women know each other. When the two women discover that he slept with both of them they report him to the police on the 20th of August 2010. They report that Assange had engaged in unprotected sexual activity with them that allegedly violated the scope of their consent (they allegedly wanted him to use a condom and he didn’t). One of the women also accuses Assange of having unprotected sex with her (after their first sexual encounter) while she was asleep. It is important to understand that all they want is for the police to force Assange to take an STD/HIV test. The police tells them that they cannot simply tell Assange to take an STD test, but that their statements would be passed to a prosecutor. NO rape allegations were ever made. Julian is questioned, the case is closed, he is told he can leave the country and he does, returning to the UK.
In November 2010, however, the case is reopened by a special prosecutor who says that she wants to question Assange over two counts of sexual molestation, one count of unlawful coercion and one count of “lesser-degree rape”. This is the beginning of the legal battle Assange has been fighting ever since.
In is interesting to point out that in 2019 UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer investigated the rape accusations against Assange and said he had not seen a comparable case where a person was subjected to nine years of a preliminary investigation for rape without charges being filed. He said Assange’s lawyers made over 30 offers to arrange for Assange to visit Sweden in exchange for a guarantee that he would not be extradited to the US and described such diplomatic assurances as routine international practice. Melzer criticised the Swedish prosecutors for, among other things, allegedly changing one of the women’s statements without her involvement in order to make it sound like a possible rape. Melzer describes the Swedish rape investigation as “abuse of judicial processes aimed at pushing a person into a position where he is unable to defend himself”.
On the 19th of November 2019 prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson closes the Swedish criminal case against Julian Assange without pressing formal charges. She announces that she had discontinued her investigation, saying that the evidence was not strong enough.
END OF PART ONE