- sourceJulian Assange dreamt that one day the internet would streamline the leaking of state secrets.
Believed to be a 37-year-old Australian, with boltholes in Sweden, east Africa and Iceland, Assange is the founder of Wikileaks, a website that cheekily dubs itself the “uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis”. Designed as a digital drop box, the site is a place where anyone can anonymously post sensitive information.
The one secret Wikileaks has failed to divulge is Assange’s early background. He is reported to have said that his parents ran a touring theatre company in Australia and that he went to more than 30 schools. However, The Australian newspaper has unravelled striking parallels between Assange and a character named Mendax in a book called Underground, which details the exploits of teenage Melbourne computer hackers. Assange, who collaborated with Suelette Dreyfus, the author, has not denied that he was Mendax.
According to Underground, Mendax was a prodigiously intelligent child who never knew his father and spent much of his youth travelling across Australia. As a teenager, Mendax invented a computer program that enabled a group of hackers called the International Subversives to invade computers at the Pentagon, Nasa and other top-secret organisations.
Mendax/Assange supposedly left home at 17 after being alerted to a police raid, fathered a child at 18, and had a breakdown after he was charged by police. “Briefly hospitalised, he lived rough in the hills outside Melbourne for a period,” the publication summarised.
What is known is that in October 1989, just as the Atlantis space shuttle was about to be launched, Nasa’s computer monitors suddenly showed one giant word — “Wank”, the acronym for a hacker group calling itself Worms Against Nuclear Killers. Assange was one of six Melbourne teenagers arrested by police; although never implicated in the Nasa attack, he was charged with more than 30 counts of computer crime. Admitting 24 of them, he was placed on a “good behaviour bond” and ordered to pay A,100 (about £1,275 at today’s rates).
“He was opposed to Big Brother, to the restriction of freedom of communication,” recalled Ken Day, who led the federal investigation. “His moral sense about breaking into computer systems was, ‘I’m not going to do any harm, so what’s wrong with it?’ ”
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