25 November 2010, 13:20

Iraq (WikiLeaks), part 3. Who’s behind the project?

Iraq (WikiLeaks), part 3. Who’s behind the project?

What’s Julian Assange, the creator of one of the most famous websites in the world, hiding? What forces are behind his “propaganda machine”?

Non-trivial personality

There’s not a lot known about Assange. We know that he was born in northeastern Australia, in the city of Townsville. He was home-schooled. His family, comprising two people – him and his mother – moved around a lot.

By the age of 14, he had moved 37 times. What’s more, at 11 he literally had to run away from home – it turned out that his mother’s friend was a member of a cult innocuously titled “The Family”. He was intending to give Assange up to its leader. This couldn’t not have made an impact on the child.

His culpability for alleged rapes in Sweden has yet to be proven in Stockholm’s courts, but most psychologists interviewed by Western media say that he could’ve done this, given his troubled childhood.

A telling detail: last week, Assange was a guest on the Larry King Show and the host couldn’t not ask about the allegations. Assange’s reaction was that “this is a relatively trivial matter”. After a slight pause, he sharply added that the host should be “ashamed” of bringing up this topic. Yet Larry King didn’t mince his words and retorted: “Rape is not trivial… [is] your answer – that they’re [the accusations] are false?” “These are false claims,” responded Assange. “That’s fine, that’s all we wanted to hear,” – King said.

At 16, Assange starts to grow interested in computers, or more exactly in hacking into them. Nick “Mendax”, his Internet alias, was meaningful; like to Horatio’s oxymoron splendide mendax – nobly untruthful. However, we don’t know a lot about his nobleness in his hacking heyday, whereas there is plenty to learn about his court forays.

In 1991, Assange, then 20, is arrested with his accomplices for infiltrating the central server of the Canadian telecom company Nortel. After several rounds of questioning, he admitted his guilt on all 25 charges.

He was facing 10 years in jail, yet Assange managed to get off with just a fine. That is, he managed to escape even a suspended sentence, which is odd – Australian hackers were given prison terms of up to two years for similar misdemeanors. Assange started studying physics and mathematics at Melbourne University, but quit studying. It seemed to him that the military sponsored and thus regulated the education process.

In 2006, he starts up the WikiLeaks website. Understanding that he’ll need to deal with very “sensitive” materials, he decides that Sweden, known for its loyalty towards journalists, will be the “home” of the main server.

In December of the same year, WikiLeaks published its first report about a decision of the Somali Islamic Court to execute government officials. The portal emphasized that the document may not be real, but that is was received from a “reputable source in the US intelligence”.

Journalistic privilege

Assange naturally never revealed his informers. In turn, they can consider themselves to be safe. Before finding its way onto WikiLeaks, information is replicated on every server of the portal, so it is impossible to trace it.

Nuances of domestic legislation come into play here – in Sweden, Internet anonymity is guaranteed, while in Belgium, phone tapping is prohibited, so information is conveyed verbally. Yet it’s obvious that the most important information is delivered to Assange in person. The sources of this secret and resonant information are far from obvious.

Yet it isn’t just the actual information that’s stunning, but also the diversity of the topics. Copying confidential information onto a USB drive will be immediately picked up by any system administrator in a large organization. What’s more, it’s unlikely that the actual system will allow this to happen in the first place.

It’s easier with paper documents. However, only a very limited number of people have access to them and considering how easy it would be to track where, how, and most importantly, who printed the materials, it is unlikely that the reports seep out in this way. What’s also noteworthy is that despite a large number of dissenters, not a single claim has been filed against WikiLeaks.

On the one hand, a court trial is fraught with unpleasantness for the claimant. They’ll either need to officially admit that the document is real and hence deal with the adverse consequences. Alternatively, they can insist that it’s a fake, which looks to be an even less successful tactic. In any case, people like Somali rebel leader Hassan Dahir Aweys probably needn’t worry too much about their public image, but judicial proceedings might prompt a chain of investigations, up to an international manhunt.

In this context, pronouncements by American officials are also pretty interesting – oh yes, we want to get him, but he’s in Sweden and that’s an independent state. Yet in the situation with Viktor Bout and Thailand, this didn’t get in the way of American justice. In trying to figure out why he’s allowed to roam the world freely, one might suppose that his publications are beneficial to someone.

For example, to politicians – mainstream heroes generally refuse to have anything to do with the documents (unless we’re talking here of their own blunder), preferring to use the leaks as a foundation for the erection of a long-term PR strategy. Unlike players of a lesser order, or those altogether outside the limelight, like lobbyists. Because some WikiLeaks publications include revelations about major companies that represent whole industries.

One such case is Microsoft. Assange brought forward the details of a British government request addressed to the company. According to the documents, MI5 requested “confidential” information that the computer giant could have furnished. This case is also interesting because the name of one Daniel Schmitt surfaced a little down the track, a Microsoft lobbyist who allegedly passed on the UK requests to Assange. Sort of covert promotion of the business’s powers. Incidentally, there was an exposé on Schmitt himself a little later – it seems that the real surname of the lobbyist is Domscheit-Berg.

Assange could never get such “resonant” information from ordinary employees. Scholars of the WikiLeaks phenomenon insist that he works for the Australian intelligence service. Assange admitted this at one stage – when the Swedish court first charged him, the journalist declared that members of his home intelligence service got in touch with him beforehand and warned of such a possible turn of events.

Some experts go even further, saying that in actual fact, Assange is closely affiliated with the Israeli Mossad. The “Iraqi diaries” are pointed to in support of this theory – as far as foreigners’ access to US secret materials on the Middle East goes, only Israeli agents enjoy such privileges. And that’s without mentioning that round-the-world flights several times a week cost a pretty penny. The site does not provide sufficient financially compensation.

Generosity as a business plan

The site consistently states that it exists thanks to contributions from independent donors. Allegedly, its upkeep costs 200 thousand dollars a year. Meanwhile, Assange himself has declared, on several occasions, that financial woes may “force” him to introduce paid subscription to the site – not the whole archive, just the latest materials. And to promote this possible novelty, Assange showed that he knows exactly when his information bomb would make the biggest impact. The infamous video of the shooting of Reuter’s correspondents was published on April 5. The day after Easter was celebrated in the US – usually, not a big news day.

 

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