Assange Biography: Best Bits
WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange has derided the unauthorized release of his autobiography by his estranged publishers as “profiteering,” calling it “old-fashioned opportunism and duplicity—screwing people over to make a buck.” The hardcover, weighing in at nearly 250 pages, hit shelves today in London (at a W.H. Smith near Oxford Circus, it was marked down to half-price). The media frenzy over the release was such that The Guardian devoted a liveblog to the occasion, while The Independent led with an exclusive extract of what it called the “explosive confessions” of the controversial hacker.
Assange, who is in Britain fighting extradition on rape charges to Sweden, tried to suppress the memoir—which is based on a draft written by a ghost writer and encompasses some 50 hours of interviews with Assange—and became embroiled in a contract fight with Canongate, the Edinburgh-based publishers. Assange claims not to know the book’s exact contents, saying in a statement posted on WikiLeaks last night, “Tomorrow, I will have to buy ‘my autobiography’ in order to learn the extent of the errors and inaccuracies of the content of the book.”
So what do the alleged confessions reveal? Here are six of the most eye-catching bits.
Last summer, Assange was accused by two Swedish women (both WikiLeaks volunteers) of forced sexual encounters. The resulting investigation, and his legal fight against extradition, have cast a shadow on his credibility and demolished his bank account (leading, according to his statement last night, to both his initial decision to write the memoir, and his later inability to legally contest its unauthorized publication). In the book, Assange describes the incidents in a casual tone, and paints the allegations as merely the fictitious tales of scorned pseudo-girlfriends—or perhaps something more sinister. He describes his night with the first woman, whom he calls “A—,” as “unremarkable. We had sex several times and the next day everything seemed fine between us.” His night with the other girl, “W—,” was “a perfectly nice time." Post-coitus, the woman apparently even gave him a ride to the train station on her bicycle, and paid for his ticket. “[S]he kissed me goodbye and asked me her to call her from the train. I didn’t do that, and it has already turned out to be the most expensive call I didn’t make.” Assange then offers two theories on the motivations behind the rape allegations. “So I wasn’t a reliable boyfriend, or even a very courteous sleeping partner, and this began to figure,” he writes. “Unless, of course, the agenda had been rigged from the start.”
During WikiLeaks’ dump of diplomatic cables on Afghanistan last summer, Assange collaborated with The Guardian and The New York Times—partnerships that eventually soured. In the book, Assange rips into the papers’ journalists. It’s not the first time he’s slammed the publications, but it’s clearly a favorite theme. “[S]enior journalists from the English-speaking world have serially loved WikiLeaks and then mugged us, almost without missing a beat, and then justified their actions with articles and books that must make them ridiculous in their own eyes.” Assange claims he first became suspicious of his arrangement with the papers after he was approached by The Guardian’s “special investigations reporter” (widely known to be Nick Davies, the man now famous for breaking the News of the World phone hacking scandal). The reporter, Assange says, told him that it wasn’t clear the cables made for a viable story and insisted the two publications would need WikiLeaks’ Iraq War logs in addition to the cables on Afghanistan as a “sweetener.” “I should have withdrawn at that point, seeing what was obvious: that these people were not gentlemen and did not know how to value significant data and human complexity for what it was. I should have spotted the self-serving glint in the news reporter’s eye and walked away.”
Assange later had a massive falling out with both publications; he accused The Guardian of caring more about having exclusive access to the cables than about the actual content of the documents. (The Guardian claims relations became strained after Assange shared some cables with a television rival, and that Assange tried to require The New York Times to agree to never publish anything negative about him in exchange for access to the cables). Assange’s relationship with the Times—never rosy to begin with, allegedly due to the hacker’s fury over an unflattering front-page profile of him—turned positively nasty by the time their collaboration was through. Assange complains that New York Times editor Bill Keller wrote that “he smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in days” and painted him as someone who used “sex as both recreation and violation.” Assange blasts the latter statement as “a malicious libel, and one intended—bizarrely—to inflict maximum damage to a person then facing, as I was, allegations of sexual misconduct.”
His Messiah Complex
Assange gets so worked up into a lather about Keller that he ends up painting the man a traitor of Biblical proportions: when the Times allegedly held off on printing a sensitive cable on Afghanistan until other publications had run it first, Assange describes it as “a piece of strategic cowardice.” “The cock crowed three times, and Bill Keller shamelessly denied us.” If Keller’s Simon Peter … does that make Assange Jesus?
Assange has only one acknowledged child, Daniel, now a 20-something software developer based in Melbourne, Australia. The boy, reportedly born to one of Julian’s former girlfriends when Julian was just 18, defended his father in public when the latter was arrested in Britain in connection with the Sweden case. But in the book, Assange admits to fathering “other children born to people I cared about.” He declines to elaborate much—it remains unknown whether he has a few more children or a whole brood of little Julians scattered about the globe—and uses his reticence on the subject as a springboard into discussing his views on privacy. “[I]t was never my position that all privacy is bad,” he writes. “What I opposed, and continue to oppose, is the use of secrecy by institutions to protect themselves against the truth of the evil they have done. This is a clear distinction. … Disclosure is my business, but we don’t deal in gossip.”
Assange paints the founding of WikiLeaks in idealistic terms, describing his band of hackers in terms straight out of a caper flick: “We had the activist experience and the will to disempower. We had the gumption. We had the philosophy. Game on. I registered WikiLeaks.org on 4 October 2006. Our philosophy was, from the beginning, fundamentally anti-bastard, and, coarse as that seems, it’s also got a certain honesty. I guess I knew that my ordinary life, if I’d ever had one, would never be the same again.”
Assange still lives under partial house arrest, and while his lawyers fight the extradition attempt, his fate remains uncertain. The breathtaking rise of WikiLeaks—which peaked with the release of highly sensitive diplomatic cables in November—and the equally quick reversal of fortunes is a situation that clearly weighs on Assange. “[I]n our new kind of business, you soon get over the old guard kicking you when you’re down,” he writes. “We had a month to get the cables in good order, and doing so would be the most exhilarating month of my life. The cables would show the modern world what it really thought of itself, and we worked through the nights in an English country house to meet the deadline. …There was no way to know back then that the house was soon to become my prison for the foreseeable future.”