I keep hearing about how Julian Assange is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which leads to visions of him sleeping under a diplomat’s desk* and living on tea and milk coffee biscuits (what’s the deal with those? – they are the beige of the biscuit world, give me a Kingston any day or at least a Nice so I can lick the sugar off). Come to think of it, in London it’s likely there’d be Bonox as well which is good because Julian’d be getting his protein – oh but wait it’s South American territory isn’t it so maybe he’ll be getting protein from guinea pig, a popular dish in Ecuador. He looks like he needs protein – he’s sort of pale and wet looking, and the talk of hacking and sexual assault haven’t helped my instinctive opinion of him, but that’s very unfair given that I know very little about him. So before I frame up my opinion and hang it on the wall for everyone to see, I need to get me some factoids…
What’s the latest?
So the last bit of news I heard on this is that the UK has decided NOT to storm on into the Ecuadorian embassy to drag Assange out and haul his arse back to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault. A day ago it was reported that a photograph taken of one of the alleged victims (beaming beside Assange) 48 hours after the alleged assault might help to clear his name. And there I have to stop because I have questions already, all the way back to the very basics.
Who is Julian Assange anyway?
He is a 41 year old Australian activist, journalist, editor and publisher. He was born in Townsville but moved around a lot while his mother hid from her estranged husband (Julian’s step father). He attended about 37 different schools and became an activist hacker at age 16 and by age 21 had been raided by Federal Police, investigated and charged with 31 counts of hacking and related crimes. He was released on bond for good conduct (possibly assisting police in a technical way with cases of child exploitation). Despite all this swashbuckling mischief, he is best known for being the founder of WikiLeaks.
What is WikiLeaks?
Well it’s an international portal (a secure electronic drop box) for sources or whistle-blowers to leak stuff anonymously (now I have visuals of nervously whistling men weeing into a small box and getting zapped in the willy. I don’t know why there aren’t any women, maybe because I can’t bear the vision of them being zapped in the jacksie. Zapped in the Jacksie is a good name for a band). Hmm, perhaps it would be more helpful if I quote WikiLeaks directly. In their own words (from their website):
“WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organisation. Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists (our electronic drop box). One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth. We are a young organisation that has grown very quickly, relying on a network of dedicated volunteers around the globe. Since 2007, when the organisation was officially launched, WikiLeaks has worked to report on and publish important information. We also develop and adapt technologies to support these activities.”
It is funded by volunteers and private donors. WikiLeaks claims it had around 1.2 million documents dropped into their box within a year of its launch in 2006.
Oooh, was any cool stuff leaked?
Well I don’t think there’s been anything proving that Tom is gay and Nicole is an hermaphrodite. But they did publish the secret ‘bibles’ of Scientology, revealing some creepy practices such as counting large female bodies in a crowd. WTF?
- Footage of a US helicopter shooting people in Iraq, including 2 Reuters journos. The US claimed they couldn’t tell whether they were holding cameras or weapons.
- The standard operating procedures for Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, which showed that inmates can be denied access to Red Cross, and be rewarded for good behaviour with poo tickets (except I doubt it said poo tickets, maybe dunny paper).
- 1,000 or so emails sent by staff over 10 years at the University of East Anglia’s climate research institute, which appeared to show evidence of number fiddling to exaggerate global temperature rises. That one had the sceptics run amok, but was later further investigated and the university was cleared of dishonesty.
- A list of internet sites blacklisted by the Australian Government, which was going to lead to a great big firewall created by the Government to make ‘unsuitable’ websites inaccessible to the public.
- Other WikiLeak reveals include: corruption in Kenya, Sarah Palin’s emails, US election campaign sponsors, shady Swiss bank dealings and Iraq war logs (which has been called the biggest classified document leak in history).
Then there is the leak you have when you’ve been drinking diet coke all day and holding on in an effort to flush out a bladder infection (oh, am I the only one who does this?). The biggest of the megaleaks, the one in which WikiLeaks published 251,287 confidential cables from US embassies, 15,652 of which were classified secret. These cables detail discussions about such issues as climate change, nuclear weapons, war on terror and the demeanor of countries hosting US embassies.
The WikiLeaks site has a cable viewer which guides you through the material but I have to say it looks a little daunting to this little dumbo fish so I’ll just stick to the precis, which says stuff about the US spying on their allies as well as ignoring human rights abuses.
They were released in redacted (which is when multiple cables were combined to form a single document) stages from February 2010 but then it was made public that the full, encrypted files were accessible and decryptable to those in the know. WikiLeaks blamed the Guardian newspaper for the error, the Guardian blamed WikiLeaks, but whoever was to blame, there was fear that the leaked documents could compromise international diplomacy and endanger innocent lives. The leaks are credited with inciting the 2010-2011 revolution in Tunisia. Aside from this, there were/are quite a few offended countries and one big grumpy America. There is evidence that the US is seeking to extradite Julian Assange on cablegate related charges.
So the fallout over cablegate for WikiLeaks has been huge and potentially destroying…
So is WikiLeaks still in operation?
In theory, yes. But for one thing its chief, Julian Assange is in hiding (but he still has internet and a whole lot of time on his hands folks). Secondly, its operations have been severely compromised by a banking blockade, instigated in 2010 shortly after cablegate. The banking blockade is essentially the blocking of funds coming through to WikiLeaks via the usual donation sources such as paypal, VISA, Mastercard, Western Union and Bank of America. The result is and alleged 95% cut to WikiLeaks revenue. WikiLeaks has claimed that the blockade has come complete with US based political attacks, death threats and a set of steak knives. So the result is that WikiLeaks resources have been poured into fighting the blockade and the liberation of Assange.
That said, WikiLeaks says it has a host of juicy leaks on hand and poised for release once their volunteers can re-focus. These allegedy include a civilian massacre by US troops in Afghanistan, Russian Kremlin corruption (no surprises there, that Putin is a creep and I feel sure his wily ways will be exposed with ‘how can this happen in this day and age’ outrage but of course that’s just a feeling in my bones, I love the word wily). And lo and behold, another ‘megaleak’ is apparently in the pipeline, one that will expose an ‘ecosystem of corruption’ within that otherworld of US banking.
I don’t suppose WikiLeaks takes requests, but I would be interested in whether there is evidence of aliens, whether there’s anything to the rumor that Neil Armstrong (bless his soul) never walked on the moon and of course there’s the pesky question of Tom Cruise’s sexuality and mental health.
What’s this about sexual assault?
Well Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange over allegations of rape and sexual assault made by 2 former WikiLeaks volunteers. Assange was arrested for these charges in Dec 2010 and has been fighting extradition ever since. He took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy on June 19 2012.
A photograph has just been published which shows ‘Woman A’, one of the alleged victims, in a group of 4 including Assange. She is smiling broadly. The photo was taken in Stockholm 2 days after Woman A claims Assange pinned her down and assaulted her. Further claims reveal that she and Assange attended a conference and 2 dinner parties after the alleged assault, that she agreed to become his volunteer press secretary and that the pair were inseparable.
Shortly after the alleged attack on Woman A, she and Assange went to a Social Democratic Party Conference where he met ‘Woman B’, who would accuse him of rape. Both women claimed that they had consensual sex with him but that they were half asleep when he initiated further sex without a condom and brandishing a gerbil. I made up the gerbil part.
It is worth noting, but not very important to the context, that the Times of India identifies the 2 women as “31-year-old Anna Ardin” and “26-year-old Sofia Wilen.”
Assange faced one preliminary extradition hearing in London before ducking into Ecuadorian territory. He was then granted his requested asylum by Ecuador a couple of weeks ago.
He insists that the sexual assault charges are all set up for him to be extradited to the grumpy US to face other charges related to cablegate (espionage and conspiracy etc). The Age reported last week that “Australian diplomats have no doubt the United States is still gunning for Julian Assange, according to Foreign Affairs Department documents”.
Julian Assange approached Ecuador for asylum, initially entering their embassy in London and being sheltered there while the Ecuadorian powers that be thought about it (and waited for the Olympics to finish). Why he chose Ecuador is open to discussion, but there is speculation that he may have been swayed by the fact that Ecuador was the only country to dismiss their US ambassador following the cablegate scandal. It is also reported that Assange’s decision to walk into that embassy was the result of a long dialogue between him and the Ecuadorian Government.
Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, stated that, “Our decision was made in accordance with international law and was based on Ecuador’s traditions of humanism, as well as the grounds that Mr. Assange presented to support his request for political asylum.”
Ecuador’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ricardo Patino elaborated, saying that Ecuador granted asylum because of the indications of retaliations from countries affected by WikiLeaks, retaliations that could include capital punishment.
Other reports claim that Ecuador seeks to enhance its international image and combat claims that the country inhibits the freedom of speech of its people.
What do I think?
I keep thinking that Julian will just one day vanish, that the Ecuadorian people will go to give him his guinea pig and there’ll just be a pillow with a dint where his head was, because in Lisbeth Salander style he’s been assisted by his genius hacking friends into evading and befuddling the British police that are swarming about every exit. And if this happens, I will be pleased.
Yep, I am swayed. I think he is a Very Naughty Boy, but in a courageous Ned Kelly, Robin Hood kind of way. I think Freedom of Speech is everything (clearly)
and I do love a bit of espionage (tainted by Hollywood though it may be, and despite the fact the cablegate files look positively boring to me). I don’t think – based on the small amount of evidence I have read – that he’s a sexual predator. I hope not (and if he is, my apologies to Women A and B). I think his motivations are genuinely noble (albeit perhaps deeply rooted in bitterness). I do think he is a terrible nuisance to a great many people and possibly can be a bit of a prick (can’t we all?) but to the general public he is doing us a service. I think his mum is nice. I’m on the hero wagon.
That said, I do think that there we are only seeing the tip of the ice berg here. Under the chilly waters is a world of conspiracy, hidden agendas and who knows what else.
What will happen from here?
There is speculation that the standoff between the Ecuadorian embassy and Assange V London police, US and Sweden could go on for years. That’s a lot of milk coffee biscuits.
On 19th August, Assange made a statement from a balcony. He thanked his supporters, the Government of Ecuador and the Latin American countries who defended the right to asylum. He thanked his children and said sorry for his absence saying they will soon be reunited. He heralded the importance of freedom of speech and appealed to Barrack Obama to call off the witch hunt and called for the release of Bradley Manning, the US soldier who was arrested for handing classified Iraq war material to WikiLeaks. And he pronounced ‘escape’, ‘exscape’. Hope his nice mum picked up on that.
The Brits have decided against placing further strain on diplomatic relations with Ecuador by storming the embassy. Lucky for Assange that Scotland Yard don’t have Spiderman on their side, who would be able to snatch him from a balcony and swing him into British-owned air space. So now the negotiations between the UK and Ecuador continue – who knows what will come of that. In the meantime, A 24-hour police guard remains around the Ecuador embassy, so if he pops out for a leak he’ll be arrested on the spot.
* further reading reveals that he is not sleeping under a desk, nor is he in a hole, but he might as well be. He’s in a stuffy room with a blow-up bed, a sun lamp, a treadmill, an internet connection and police swarming outside ready to nick ‘im.
Tags: activist hacker, Bradley Manning, Cablegate, Christine Assange, Ecuador, Ecuador Embassy, Freedom of Speech, hacking, Julian Assange, Leaks, Rafael Correa, Ricardo Patino, Sexual assault charges, WikiLeaks