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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.

Larsson died six years ago. But could the Swedish crime writer and Assange have met?

Assange first visited Sweden in the 1990s - and Wikileaks is hosted on a main server in Sweden, where the identities of confidential sources are protected by law.

This doesn't prove anything, of course - and Wikileaks only moved its main server to Sweden two years ago, after the Julius Baer Bank tried to close down the website. Even so, I email Eva Gabrielsson, Larsson's widow, to ask if the two of them ever met Assange - explaining that he helped research a remarkable 1997 book, Underground, about the exploits of an extraordinary group of young Melbourne hackers, written by the Melbourne academic Suelette Dreyfus. The hackers all had monikers in the book: Assange is said to be the character Mendax. Assange convinced Dreyfus to release the book online, and according to one source I spoke to, there was great interest in the book in Sweden - and in China.

''About Julian Assange - well, why don't you ask him?'' Gabrielsson emails back.

It isn't the most urgent question I have for Assange, who I meet in early May, the day after he slips back into Melbourne, his home town. He arrived on a flight from Europe, via the US. Or so I understand from the person acting as our inbetween.

The same contact provides a Melbourne address, and instructions. ''Don't call a cab, find one on the street; turn off your mobile phone before you catch the cab and preferably, remove the batteries.''

And here he is - a tall, thin, pale figure with that remarkable white hair, looking very tired, and wearing creased, student-style dark clothes and boots, and backpack.

As we shake hands, he inclines his head slightly in a courtly, old world manner, at odds with his youthful, student-traveller looks. When I remark that there's a lot to ask him, he replies, ''That's all right - I'm not going to answer half of it.''

Is Assange his real name? Yes, he replies, then says it's the name in his passport. ''What's in a name?'' he then adds mysteriously, casting doubt on his first answer.

At the time of writing, his passport status was apparently back to normal after immigration officials at Melbourne Airport said that his passport was going to be cancelled on the grounds that it was too tatty.

It has been in a couple of rivers, Assange allows of the state of his passport. The first time, as he recalls, in December 2006, when he was crossing a swollen river during heavy rain in southern Tasmania, and was swept out to sea. He swam back in. ''My conclusion from that experience is that the universe doesn't give a damn about you, so it's a good thing you do.''


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