Have you seen the cartoon where the hero repeatedly avoids disaster by a whisker? Meet Julian Assange. He looks more like the evil nemesis to Austin Powers than a man who strikes fear into the hearts of world leaders. Tall, skinny and pasty white, he makes you want to rush him to the hospital for an infusion of Vitamin D. Whatever he is, Australian Julian Assange has captured the imagination of the world with his release of 250,000 diplomatic cables from the US Department of State.
Many wonder how he’s able to fly unimpeded in this day of increased airport security. He regularly travels internationally with the ease of a foreign dignitary, yet in April Wikileaks released a classified video of a US Apache helicopter firing indiscriminately on Iraqi civilians. Two Reuters News Service employees were shown killed in the attack.
The video was leaked to Assange by Pfc. Bradley Manning who now faces 52 years in prison under Articles 92 and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and awaits an Article 32 hearing. While Manning languishes in a Marine brig at Quantico, Virginia, Assange travels throughout the world unmolested.
That leak was followed by the release of 92,000 documents known as the Iraq and Afghan War Diaries in July. While Assange’s source in this leak has yet to be identified, no charges have been filed against him in this matter, either.
Only this week WikiLeaks released 250,000 classified US State Department cables, revealing some of the most sensitive and embarrassing material yet. A warrant for his arrest has finally been issued, but not by the United States — Sweden issued a warrant on a month old rape allegation. Despite the fact that he illegally possesses hundreds of thousands of classified US documents, it’s a sexual deviancy charge that’s landed him on Interpol’s most wanted list.
There are those who say it’s impossible to charge Assange with the crime of espionage because the laws governing it have become antiquated. The absurdity of that claim is laughable. Assange is in possession of classified US State Department and military documents in violation of several existing criminal codes, and could be arrested and tried for his actions. Possession is possession, whether it’s a piece of paper or bits and bytes.
He’s in violation of laws for which he can be arrested in the United States, and he’s visited countries with whom we have mutual extradition treaties, so why doesn’t America attempt to arrest him? He’s committed crimes against the United States, a country that openly practices extraordinary rendition and torture. How can he still be alive, let alone free? There are three possible scenarios.
The first, Assange is exactly as he appears, and that is one of the most providential men on the face of the earth. Despite living in a world filled with satellite technology, that he travels openly on his own passport, and has one of the most recognizable faces on the planet, somehow he’s just slippery enough that he manages to escape in the nick of time. Virtually every police agency in the world covets him, yet by sleeping on the couch at a friend’s apartment he confounds them all. Anyone who’s ever tried to avoid an ex-wife knows the fallibility of that strategy.
Second, maybe he has a benefactor greasing the skids for him. Is there any individual, George Soros or Rupert Murdoch maybe, that has the influence to protect Assange? How about a consortium of corporations? It appears, even though many of these things happened on George W. Bush’s watch, that the timing has been most inopportune for Barack Obama. Could it be a Republican assault on the president? Certainly, someone in Assange’s position that’s brazen enough to appear on TEDGlobal 2010 in front of a live audience in July has an unnatural sense of invulnerability, but is it being provided by a third party?
Third, and the one I’m pulling for, is that Assange possesses a digital weapon of mass destruction, rigged with a dead man’s switch, that makes him unassailable. Possibly he’s come into possession of information that, if revealed, would so completely disrupt the status quo that nobody knows what to do about him. If you watched Clinton as she denounced Assange and his document release, you could see that she was visibly shaken. Politicians live for face time in front of the camera: it’s how they spread their brand. However it was obvious Clinton wanted to be anywhere other than where she found herself.
Bolstering this possibility could be Assange’s connection with Peiter Zatko, who currently works at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), trying to find a way to stem the flow of leaks. When asked about their past relationship, Assange replied, “No comment.” You have to wonder if these two still talk, and if so, what about. Could Assange’s boldness have something to do with his relationship with Zatko? You can’t get much further inside than DARPA.
There was another possibility, and that was Assange was purely political theater, established to distract people and make them believe they had a real hero out there. Like the WWE has good guys and bad guys, he would give us all someone to root for while really doing little of consequence. However after watching Clinton’s performances, she appears too rattled for that to be the case. This isn’t theater.
Assange’s lifestyle should make his disappearance easy. If he went missing, a majority people would assume that he came to his senses and slipped into hiding. There would be conspiracy theories, but nothing could ever be proved unless they found a body.
In fairness, the United States has not been the sole target of Assange’s efforts. His revelations of the illegal activities of Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi shifted the polls by 10 points and cost Moi the election. He also revealed concerns about Iceland’s intelligence organization, and helped that country to establish an international media haven for whistleblowers:
Reykjavik, Iceland; 4:00 UTC, June 16th 2010: The WikiLeaks advised proposal to build an international “new media haven” in Iceland, with the world’s strongest press and whistleblower protection laws, and a “Nobel” prize for Freedom of Expression, has unanimously passed the Icelandic Parliament.
So Assange has not restricted his efforts to the United States, however recently it seems to have been his main focus. Wikileaks will soon release information on a “major American bank,” stating the information to be leaked is “like the Enron e-mails,” and much more voluminous than anything he’s released on a private company in the past. He claims it’s possible this leak will bring the bank down and have a profound change on worldwide banking in the future.
It’s hardly hyperbolic to say that the people at whom Assange so cavalierly thumbs his nose have no problem killing to protect what’s theirs. Medgar Evers, John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King: they were all eliminated for being obstacles. Assange has surely crossed over into the same territory as those icons, yet he lives, at least so far. He either has a guardian angel or he knows where all the bodies are buried in Washington, DC.
As if to drive home the point that he’s untouchable, Assange gave an interview to Time magazine via Skype on Tuesday regarding his recent document release, and suggesting that Hillary Clinton should resign as Secretary of State. He’s on Interpol’s most wanted list, yet he still gives interviews. This guy is holding trump cards, and a lot of them, and he acts like he knows he has a winning hand.
For all of our sakes, I hope he’s right.
Larry Wohlgemuth was raised during the tumultuous 60s in the midst of sometimes violent civil rights and antiwar protests. After a stint in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, he earned a BBA degree from Washburn University. Wohlgemuth leans so far to the left he prefers to be called “Comrade”, and his book, “Capitalism’s Final Solution” is planned to be released in the spring, 2011. Larry is a contributor to Prose Before Hos and runs his own blog, It Begs the Question.