He said he wouldn’t mind prison. Julian Assange sort of looked forward to it, even. He’d read a nice, long book in peace. And he’d get to sleep in the same bed for the first time in years.
Assange got his wish when he surrendered to British authorities Tuesday. He is charged with allegedly sexually assaulting two women during a lecture stop in Stockholm this August. The first court appearance was predictably messy. He refused to be photographed, finger-printed, or DNA swabbed. And that was before the judge asked Assange for his current address. He gave some post office at first. Then some place in Australia he hadn’t visited in four years.
To be fair, you can’t really ask Julian Assange where he lives. He moved 34 times by the age of 14. A quarter century later, he is even more nomadic. The most connected man in the world lives a rootless existence. He says he resides in airports and has virtually no material possessions, save for his Australian passport and a laptop.
He doesn’t have a red button but an all-powerful Touchpad. Since 2006, Assange has orbited the globe with the power to sink politicians, companies or wars with a key-stroke. He has released more confidential documents than the rest of the world press combined. He is an information “terrorist” who deals in government memos and cables, setting their own words back on them for all the world to see. Even behind bars now, Assange warns he has a “poison pill” that is impossible to stop. It’s filled not with cyanide but venomous cables about Guantanamo Bay and the BP oil leak.
Julian Assange is the purported founder of WikiLeaks.org, the website that released more than 250,000 State Department cables. He gave us the seedy underbelly of American foreign policy. We saw beyond the glossy press releases and photo-ops and peered into how the American Empire works behind closed doors. The cables exposed our diplomats’ raw, unfiltered feelings about the rest of the world.
A few of the revelations are disturbing: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered the State Department to spy on the UN; Washington tried to bargain off Guantanamo Bay prisoners to Belgium like poker chips; Saudi Arabia wanted the U.S. to bomb Iran.
But nothing is veritable Abu Ghraib bomb-shell material. The cables are more embarrassing then they are enlightening. They are the juicy tidbits of diplomats’ water cooler talk: Qaddahafi always travels with a “voluptuous blonde” nurse; German chancellor Angela Merkel is boring and “rarely creative”; and, unsurprisingly, Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is “vain” and should not be Italy’s Prime Minister.
Russia’s blustery Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is steamed our diplomats see him as the “Batman” to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s “Robin”. But Putin is an exception, not an example. Most foreign leaders and diplomats have brushed aside the cables. We knew already why they shrugged: we’ve called each other worse.
Hillary Clinton has stoically maintained the State Department will “get through this”. But deep down she knows it will never be the same. She will never be able to look French President Nicholas Sarkozy in the eye the same way again after he knows the State Department thinks he’s thin-skinned.
Sarah Palin wants Assange hunted down like Osama Bin Laden. And to many, Assange is a terrorist. He deals not in car bombs but information dumps. Assange similarly hopes to open Western governments. But he seeks to implode them from within. As they tell it, WikiLeaks will force governments to clamp down and centralize to keep their secrets within. But the governments will ultimately topple under their own Orwellian Big Brother weight and “more open forms of governance” will emerge
The debate about Julian Assange is a debate about have we reached a point of too much information? Yes, WikiLeaks will clean up American embassies. Heads will roll. His alleged “terrorism”? Truth. He’s simply releasing the real story of tales the government doesn’t want you to know. He’s the savior for the X-Files Truth is Out There information hounds.
But there’s the other side. The peril of a world with no secrets. Assange admits a Kenyan memo he leaked “flipped the [nation’s 2007] election” that triggered a massacre that killed over 1300. Hillary Clinton argues he put American soldiers’ lives at stake by releasing the cables. The Pentagon points out Afghan families are mentioned in the cables. The Taliban knows who and where they are, and they will hunt them down. The cables will inevitably serve as an anti-American recruiting tool for al Qaeda and splinter cells across the globe.
WikiLeaks has next set its sights on a major U.S. bank in early 2011 (probably Bank of America). Assange has already warned the event will unleash an investigation of Enron-esque proportions.
Governments and companies have never had to reckon with a force like Julian Assange before. He is a rogue committed to truth and transparency who can reach billions with a click of a button. And even if Assange never sees the light of day again, he’s already won. Julian Assange will not be the end. The next wave of younger and better hackers will take his place. Nations and corporations must accept a new, more transparent world order. A world order where anything they say can and will be used against them.
For striking fear into the heart of every crooked politician and banker and for showing us the gift—and the curse—of too much information, Julian Assange is 2010’s Person of the Year.
See Also: Cyber War Over Wikileaks, Julian Assange May Have The Files For Every Single Prisoner In Guantanamo, Governments learning about the internet, Assange Could Face Espionage Trial in US, United States wants to put Wikileaks back in the bottle – Good luck with that, Fox News guests agree that murder is best option for WikiLeaks, We Live In An Open-Source World, Silencing Wikileaks is silencing the press, and WikiLeaks and Journalism’s Future.