Julian Assange is an Australian computer programmer, investigative journalist, editor, and publisher, best known as the founder of the website ‘WikiLeaks.’ Due to the controversial nature of the website, he is as famous as he is notorious. While his supporters hail him as a fearless campaigner for truth, his detractors accuse him of being a publicity seeker. Assange also made the headlines when it was alleged that he raped a woman and sexually molested another. Born in Queensland, Julian Assange had an unusual childhood. His biological father had separated from his mother even before he was born and he was raised by his mother and step-father. He traveled a lot as a child and had lived at over 30 different locations by the time he was a teenager. He became fascinated with computers as a teenager and discovered that he had an uncanny ability to hack and break into computer systems. Bright and intelligent, he enrolled at the ‘University of Melbourne’ to study mathematics but dropped out without completing his degree. Eventually, he went on to pursue a career as a computer programmer and software developer and began working on the website ‘WikiLeaks’ which publishes secret information and news leaks. He has had several brushes with the law due to the controversial nature of his work.
Childhood & Early Life
Julian Paul Assange was born on 3 July 1971, in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. His parents, Christine Ann Hawkins, a visual artist, and John Shipton, an anti-war activist and builder, had separated before Julian was born.
His mother married Richard Brett Assange when Julian was a year old. Richard was an actor who ran a small theatre company. The couple ran theatrical productions together and traveled frequently, taking Julian with them. He had lived in over 30 different towns and attended as many schools by the time he was in his mid-teens.
He developed a passion for computers and discovered that he was really skilled at hacking and breaking into computer systems. He began hacking under the name ‘Mendax’ in 1987. Along with two of his friends, he formed an ethical hacking group.
During this time, he hacked into several U.S. Department of Defense facilities, the U.S. Navy, ‘NASA,’ and Australia's ‘Overseas Telecommunications Commission.’ He also hacked the websites of several prominent corporations and institutions like ‘Citibank,’ ‘Lockheed Martin,’ ‘Motorola,’ ‘Panasonic,’ ‘Xerox,’ ‘Australian National University,’ ‘La Trobe University,’ and ‘Stanford University.’
His hacking activities came to light in the early 1990s and he was eventually charged with 31 counts of hacking-related crimes in 1994. He pleaded guilty to 24 charges in 1996 and got away with a fine.
He studied programming, mathematics, and physics at ‘Central Queensland University’ and graduated in 1994.
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He embarked on a career as a programmer and software developer. In 1994, he started working on the Transmission Control Protocol scanner ‘strobe.c’ which was completed in 1995. During this time, he also worked on the open-source database ‘PostgreSQL,’ Usenet caching software ‘NNTPCache’ and the Rubberhose deniable encryption system.
He spent three years as a researcher working with the academic, Suelette Dreyfus, who was researching on the subversive side of the internet. Their intensive research culminated in the publication of ‘Underground’ (1997), a book about Australian hackers that became a bestseller.
Assange registered the domain ‘leaks.org’ in 1999. In August that year, he publicized a patent for voice-data harvesting technology, granted to the ‘National Security Agency.’ He felt that the common man should be concerned about the patent as the technology had the potential to tap one’s overseas phone calls.
In 2003, he enrolled at the ‘University of Melbourne’ to study mathematics but dropped out in 2006 without completing his degree.
In 2006, he began working on ‘WikiLeaks,’ a website intended to share secret information and news leaks on an international scale. The site was officially launched in 2007. Assange ran the site from Sweden, leveraging the country’s strong laws, which protects a person’s anonymity.
Over the next few years, Assange traveled extensively all over the world, visiting countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. During this time, ‘WikiLeaks’ released a U.S. military manual that provided detailed information on the Guantanamo detention center and shared emails from the vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.
Even though his initial reports generated some curiosity, he gained international attention in 2010 when ‘WikiLeaks’ started publishing documents sent by Chelsea Manning. The Manning material included the ‘Collateral Murder’ video (April 2010), the Afghanistan war logs (July 2010), the Iraq war logs (October 2010), and the Guantánamo files (April 2011).
After publishing the Manning material, U.S. authorities began investigating ‘WikiLeaks’ and Assange. During this time, the Swedish police were also interrogating him in connection with two sexual assault cases and ‘European Arrest Warrant’ was issued by Swedish authorities. Assange turned himself in to the London police.
He served several months of house arrest in London. In June 2012, he sought refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy in London and was granted political asylum by the Ecuadorian government.
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In July 2016, Assange released emails and documents from ‘Democratic National Committee’(DNC), leading to speculations of favoritism from the DNC chairwoman. A later investigation concluded that the Russian government carried out the hacks to interfere in the 2016 United States elections.
Assange’s asylum, provided by the Ecuadorian embassy, was withdrawn on 11 April 2019, following a series of disputes with the Ecuadorian authorities. Later that day, he was convicted of breaching the ‘Bail Act.’ On 1 May 2019, he was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison in the UK. The US requested Assange’s extradition on charges of conspiracy in connection with the files provided by Manning.
On 15 July 2019, an Ecuadorian intelligence official provided proof concerning the role played by Assange and Russians in the 2016 US Presidential election. The surveillance reports demonstrate how Assange turned the embassy into a command center for ‘WikiLeaks.’ The reports also showed how Assange used the embassy to meet with hackers from around the world.
Julian Assange is best known as the founder, editor-in-chief, and director of the website ‘WikiLeaks’ which publishes secret information. He gained international prominence after the site published controversial documents and footage from the War in Afghanistan which was not previously available to the public. He received widespread support from several prominent personalities, including the Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Awards & Achievements
He was presented with the ‘Sam Adams Award’ in October 2010.
In 2011, his company ‘WikiLeaks’ was awarded ‘Walkley Award’ for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Journalism.’ In the same year, he also won the ‘Voltaire Award of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties.’
He won the ‘Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal for Peace with Justice’ in February 2015. The same year, he also won the ‘Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.’
Personal Life & Legacy
He married a woman named Teresa while he was still in his teens. They had a son named Daniel in 1989. The couple later separated and was involved in a bitter custody battle over the child.
Details of his personal life are not known, though it was rumored that he was in a relationship with a journalist named Sarah Harrison.