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The secret life of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

Nikki Barrowclough | June 14, 2010
Julian Assange Julian Assange, the man behind the world's biggest leaks, believes in total openness and transparency - except when it comes to himself. Nikki Barrowclough tracked him down.

Julian Assange has never publicly admitted that he's the brains behind Wikileaks, the website that has so radically rewritten the rules in the information era. He did, however, register a website, Leaks.org, in 1999. ''But then I didn't do anything with it.''

Wikileaks appeared on the internet three years ago. It acts as an electronic dead drop for highly sensitive or secret information: the pure stuff, in other words, published straight from the secret files to the world. No filters, no rewriting, no spin. Created by an online network of dissidents, journalists, academics, technology experts and mathematicians from various countries, the website also uses technology that makes the original sources of the leaks untraceable.

In April the website released graphic, classified video footage of an American helicopter gunship firing on and killing Iraqis in a Baghdad street in 2007, apparently in cold blood. The de-encrypted video, which Wikileaks released on its own sites as well as on YouTube, caused an international uproar.

The Baghdad video has been Wikileaks' biggest coup to date, although an extraordinary number of unauthorised documents - more than a million - have found their way to the website. These include a previously secret, 110-page draft report by the international investigators Kroll, revealing allegations of huge corruption in Kenya involving the family of the former president Daniel arap Moi; the US government's classified manual of standard operating procedures for Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay, which revealed that it was policy to hide some prisoners from the International Committee of the Red Cross; a classified US intelligence report on how to marginalise Wikileaks; secret Church of Scientology manuals; an internal report by the global oil trader, Trafigura, about dumping toxic waste in the Ivory Coast; a classified US profile of the former Icelandic ambassador to the US in which the ambassador is praised for helping quell publicity about the CIA's activities involving rendition flights; and the emails leaked from the embattled Climate Research Unit at East Anglia in Britain, last November, which triggered the so-called ''climategate'' scandal.

That's one leak which might have bemused those conservatives convinced that Wikileaks was run by ultra-lefties. In the blogosphere, meanwhile, conspiracy theories abound that Wikileaks is a CIA cyber-ops plot.

Two years ago a Swiss bank in Zurich, Julius Baer, succeeded in temporarily closing down the website with a US District Court injunction after Wikileaks published documents detailing how the bankers hid their wealthy clients' funds in offshore trusts (the banned documents reappeared on Wikileaks ''mirror'' sites in places such as Belgium and Britain).

 

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