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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.

The Australian government, too, has made noises about going after the website, after the Australian Communications and Media Authority's list of websites it may ban if the Rudd government goes ahead with its proposed internet censorship plan turned up on Wikileaks last year.

To say that the list of rattled people in high places around the world is growing because of Wikileaks is an understatement. The fact that the website has no headquarters also means the conventional retaliatory measures - phones tapped, a raid by the authorities - are impossible. Intense interest in Julian Assange began well before the Baghdad video was released, and viewed 4.8 million times by the end of its first week. The former teenage hacker from Melbourne, whose mystique as an internet subversive, a resourceful loner with no fixed address, travelling constantly between countries with laptop and backpack, constitutes what you might call Assange's romantic appeal.

But then there's the flip side: a man who believes in extreme transparency, but evades and obfuscates when it comes to talking about himself in the rare interviews that he gives. In the past, at least, these have hardly ever been face to face.

The secretiveness extends to those close to him. One woman who speaks to me on the condition of total anonymity lived in the same share house in Melbourne as Assange for a few months in early 2007, when Wikileaks was in its incubation period. The house was the hub, and it was inhabited by computer geeks.

There were beds everywhere, she says. There was even a bed in the kitchen. This woman slept on a mattress in Assange's room, and says she would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to find him still glued to his computer. He frequently forget to eat or sleep, wrote mathematical formulas all over the walls and the doors, and used only red light bulbs in his room - on the basis that early man, if waking suddenly, would see only the gentle light of the campfire, and fall asleep again. He also went through a period of frustration that the human body has to be fed several times a day and experimented with eating just one meal every two days, in order to be more efficient. ''He was always extremely focused,'' she says.

Well before meeting Assange, I'd thought how much he seemed like a character from Stieg Larsson's trilogy of blockbuster novels. One of Larsson's brilliant computer geniuses, taking on the world's wicked and powerful. Or a more youthful Mikael Blomkvist, with an Australian accent.


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