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Sarah Starrenburg

Julian Assange and Deka-Mega-Murderers

They call them Deka-Mega-Murderers

In the last 40 years, tens of thousands of people have been killed by terrorists.[1]

In the same period, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by their own governments.

Extend the window to include the glut of totalitarian regimes of the mid-twentieth century, and the figures balloon out to hundreds of millions.

Democide has taken more lives than war, and many times more than terrorism.

Let’s just sit with that reality for a minute.

And now let’s look at Julian Assange.

A Townsville Boy

Julian Paul Assange was born on the 3rd of July, 1971, in Townsville. For five years of his childhood he was in hiding from his father with his mother and brother.

As a teenager, he formed a hacking group with the self-imposed rules:

  • Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them)
  • Don’t change the information in the systems
  • Share information

After he was tracked down and prosecuted, the judge said, “there is just no evidence that there was anything other than sort of intelligent inquisitiveness and the pleasure of being able to – what’s the expression – surf through these various computers.” 20 year old Julian pleaded guilty and was fined $2100.

Soon after, prompted by his parent’s custody battle during his childhood, and his own with a girlfriend over their son, he formed ‘Parent Inquiry into Child Protection’, an central database for otherwise inaccessible legal records related to child custody issues in Australia.

Going Open Source

In 1993, Assange was involved in starting one of the first internet service providers in Australia. Over the next four years, he worked as a programmer, developed free software, wrote ‘Strobe’, the first free and open source port scanner, and invented an encryption software package for linux intended to be used as a tool for human rights workers who needed to protect sensitive data in the field.

Wikileaks

Wikileaks (which cannot currently be reached at it’s original site of wikileaks.org, but is being mirrored at around 50 other internet sites to keep from being completely blocked by governments – including the Australian government) describes it’s system of information verification and publication as follows:

“WikiLeaks has combined high-end security technologies with journalism and ethical principles. Like other media outlets conducting investigative journalism, we accept (but do not solicit) anonymous sources of information. Unlike other outlets, we provide a high security anonymous drop box fortified by cutting-edge cryptographic information technologies. This provides maximum protection to our sources. We are fearless in our efforts to get the unvarnished truth out to the public. When information comes in, our journalists analyse the material, verify it and write a news piece about it describing its significance to society. We then publish both the news story and the original material in order to enable readers to analyse the story in the context of the original source material themselves.

We assess all news stories and test their veracity. We send a submitted document through a very detailed examination a procedure. Is it real? What elements prove it is real? Who would have the motive to fake such a document and why? We use traditional investigative journalism techniques as well as more modern rtechnology-based methods. Typically we will do a forensic analysis of the document, determine the cost of forgery, means, motive, opportunity, the claims of the apparent authoring organisation, and answer a set of other detailed questions about the document. We may also seek external verification of the document For example, for our release of the Collateral Murder video, we sent a team of journalists to Iraq to interview the victims and observers of the helicopter attack. The team obtained copies of hospital records, death certificates, eye witness statements and other corroborating evidence supporting the truth of the story. Our verification process does not mean we will never make a mistake, but so far our method has meant that WikiLeaks has correctly identified the veracity of every document it has published.

Publishing the original source material behind each of our stories is the way in which we show the public that our story is authentic. Readers don’t have to take our word for it; they can see for themselves. In this way, we also support the work of other journalism organisations, for they can view and use the original documents freely as well. Other journalists may well see an angle or detail in the document that we were not aware of in the first instance. By making the documents freely available, we hope to expand analysis and comment by all the media. Most of all, we want readers know the truth so they can make up their own minds.”[2]

Providing primary sources – my high school modern history teacher would be very happy.

And what good has all this done?

Applauded then Arrested

Wikileaks, had, up until very recently (or perhaps even more so very recently, depending on who you are), been establishing a very respectable and ethical reputation. In 2008 it won the Economist magazine New Media Award. In 2009 Wikileaks and Assange won the Amnesty International’s UK Media Award for the 2008 publication of ‘Kenya: The Cry of Blood – Extra Judicial Killings and Disappearances’ about police killings in Kenya. In May this year, the New York Daily News listed Wikileaks first in a ranking of ‘websites that could totally change the news’.

Does this sound like a man and an organization out to just cause trouble and embaress people?

Or does this sounds like a man who has been on a lifelong quest to seek out the truth and use it to the aid of those with less power?

Now, I’m not saying it’s okay to flout privacy laws. But if that’s the issue, then charge him for breaking privacy laws, in so far as he has. Of course, it’s not entirely clear that is, in fact, what he’s done.

In reality, he’s done what journalists do every day all over the world to the best of their ability. They report on what they’re able to find out from the information given to them by sources. Assange just happened to find a really valuable source. The source is the one who seems to have broken the law. And you know what? The source is in jail for that crime.

Assange just seems to be a really well-connected journalist. An Australian journalist who did what all the journalist heroes in American movies do – publish the truth no matter what.

I’m not a foreign policy expert – I don’t know if what Assange did with some of those documents was wise, or just kind’ve dumb.

But you know what?

We don’t arrest people for dumb.

We don’t allow extradition of our citizens for dumb.

And no one can seriously think that the sex charges are really about sex charges, whether or not they have any basis whatsoever in reality.

The real threat isn’t what the terrorists will do now that this information is out. The real threat is what the politicians will do.


[1] Think tanks that track terror fatalities such as the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, a Centre of Excellence of the US Department of Homeland Security, and the Global Terrorism Database, an open-source database including information on terrorist events around the world.

2 Comments

  1. Hi I have to agree with all except the minimal reference to the “sex charges” or as they are in reality sexual assault charges….. I think even Mr Assange would agree that exposure of the truth is a vital point being overlooked in favour of profit that every nation is guilty of. I am all in favour of WikiLeaks but if Mr Assange is indeed not guilty of these offences the only place that can be judged is in a court of law. WikiLeaks in its day to day operation and information “leaking” does not judge but is merely a vessel of information. The true judge is our moral self. I say let them have their day in court, let the truth be exposed and let WikiLeaks continue to place people before profit….. Just my thought though….

  2. Hi Roger, thanks for your comment. You’re right, I perhaps sounded a bit too dismissive of the sexual assault charges. What’s being alleged are very serious crimes, and if true, my heart goes out to the women in question. Assange should absolutely face his time in court for them, and be judged according to the evidence.

    I suppose my minimalising of them was more in terms of the extraordinary coincidence that just when the most powerful people in the world want this man arrested for one thing (although what exactly isn’t yet clear), it emerges that he can be arrested for something else.

    My feeling is that what is driving the allegation and arrest may not be entirely above board, and it concerns me that politicians may be skirting around the very freedoms they are supposedly enraged have been put in danger by Assange’s actions. But that needs to be followed through by the relevant legal authorities, as you say. I hope that his guilt or innocence on these charges are judged based only on these charges and their evidence, and are not clouded by the wikileaks storm of controversy, nor used as a false pretence to get him extradited to the US. Nonetheless, you are quite right – he should be made to face court on the sexual assault charges in Sweden if the evidence demands that.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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