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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.

In another life, Assange might have been a mathematician. He spent four years studying maths, mostly at Melbourne University - with stints at the Australian National University in Canberra - but never graduated, disenchanted, he says, with how many of his fellow students were conducting research for the US defence system.

''There are key cases which are just really f---ing obnoxious,'' he says.

According to Assange, the US Defence Advance Research Project Agency was funding research which involved optimising the efficiency of a military bulldozer called the Grizzly Plough, which was used in the Iraqi desert during Operation Desert Storm during the 1991 Gulf War.

''It has a problem in that it gets damaged [from] the sand rolling up in front. The application of this bulldozer is to move at 60 kilometres an hour, sweeping barbed wire and so on before it, and get the sand and put it in the trenches where the [Iraqi] troops are, and bury them all alive and then roll over the top. So that's what Melbourne University's applied maths department was doing - studying how to improve the efficiency of the Grizzly Plough.''

Assange says he did a lot of soul-searching before he finally quit his studies in 2007. He had already started working with other people on a model of Wikileaks by early 2006.

There were people at the physics conference, he goes on, who were career physicists, ''and there was just something about their attire, and the way they moved their bodies, and of course the bags on their backs didn't help much either. I couldn't respect them as men''.

His university experience didn't define his cynicism, though. Assange says that he's extremely cynical anyway. ''I painted every corner, floor, wall and ceiling in the 'room' I was in, black, until there was only one corner left. I mean intellectually,'' he adds. ''To me, it was the forced move [in chess], when you have to do something or you'll lose the game.''

So Wikileaks was his forced move?

''That's the way it feels to me, yes. There were no other options left to me on the table.''

Wikileaks, he says, has released more classified documents than the rest of the world press combined.

''That's not something I say as a way of saying how successful we are - rather, that shows you the parlous state of the rest of the media. How is it that a team of five people has managed to release to the public more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined? It's disgraceful.''

 

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