This is the blog of British investigative journalist Jason Lewis.
It features articles from my time as Investigations Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Whitehall and Security Editor of the Mail on Sunday.
I specialise in writing on intelligence and security matters, human and civil rights and the activities of the British State.
Sunday, 1 August 2010
Hacker’s first net campaign – his mum’s Great Bikini March
By JASON LEWIS
Leak master: Julian Assange, the editor of the WikiLeaks website
He is the secretive computer hacker behind the leak on to the internet of thousands of intelligence documents relating to the Afghan war.
Julian Assange, the editor of the WikiLeaks website, has shrouded his private life in mystery, claiming a rootless existence on the run, first from an unpleasant stepfather and then from the police.
But new details about Mr Assange provide a fresh insight into his activities and show how his radical agenda was inherited from his mother.
Despite claiming to have no political or financial motivation, Mr Assange – who was last week believed to be staying with a journalist friend in London – spent years discussing plans to use leaks of confidential material to undermine Western governments, and even compared then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to Hitler.
The Mail on Sunday tracked down Mr Assange’s mother Christine in the beach resort of Mentone, near Melbourne, where she runs a puppet theatre and children’s face-painting business.
She initially denied that Julian Assange was her son, but later admitted she feared what the US Government would do to him.
She said last night: ‘Of course I’m worried to hear that the US Government have now asked the FBI to investigate.
‘What mother wouldn’t fear for her son against the US authorities? I am very concerned. I don’t trust the FBI.
‘My son is a good person who is doing good for others. He wants people to know the truth. People have a right to know what is going on, especially if a war is being fought in their name. The people who have committed atrocities should be the ones called to account, not my son.
‘He’s a hero to some people, a villain to others. Which one do you think I believe?’
Before launching WikiLeaks in 2006, Mr Assange had a successful career writing computer programs.
He also helped his mother’s disastrous attempt to launch a so-called ‘bikini’ protest against Islamic radicals in Australia in 2006.
In interviews at the time, Mrs Assange said that bikinis were an essential part of Australian culture, adding: ‘We’re not going to cover up to avoid rape.’
But the Great Australian Bikini March was cancelled after it was hijacked by neo-Nazi groups.
Friends say she rarely mentions her son, but her name is on the list of acknowledgements for a 1997 book he helped research, Underground: Tales Of Hacking, Madness And Obsession On The Electronic Frontier, which detailed his early life as a computer hacker.
The book was published after his arrest and conviction in 1991 for 30 hacking offences, including obtaining access to information and erasing and altering data using a technique known as ‘phreaking’ – tapping into pre-internet computer systems using the phone network.
In 2006, Mr Assange, calling himself ‘Proff’, posted a blog to set out the philosophy behind WikiLeaks.
He wrote: ‘To radically shift regime behaviour, we must think clearly and boldly.
‘We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not.’
No cover-up: But Christine Assange's bikini march had to be cancelled
At the time, he was working from the University of Melbourne, although it is unclear what his role was. Last week, ironically, the university said it could not discuss Mr Assange because of data protection laws.
Elsewhere on his blog, Mr Assange compared Jack Straw to ‘the Fuhrer’, talked about engaging in ‘Pentagon poker’ and said that leaks could change the world.
He wrote: ‘The more secretive or unjust an organisation is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie.
‘Hence, in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are . . . nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature, induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.’
WikiLeaks is also facing questions about where all its money goes, with critics likening him to a ‘snake-oil salesman’. Some donors have refused to help without seeing full details of the website’s accounts.
Mr Assange brags that WikiLeaks, which he launched in 2006, has no official headquarters and no offices. However, the site says it is now based in Sweden. The country’s freedom of expression laws and neutral political stance protect it from US-based law enforcement agencies.
Last year, WikiLeaks said it needed £450,000 to operate effectively. But in his secret blog, now removed from the internet, its editor discussed raising money and moving it offshore.
Mr Assange, who claims to be unpaid, wrote: ‘There is a foundation (herein called “the Institute”) which holds some of my copyrights and which I have used from time to time as a front, gently concealing my freedom from the social covenant.
'There are activities that the Institute should engage in that require substantial cash reserves.
‘Normally NGOs [non-governmental organisations] beg, but I’m no good at that sort of thing, so the Institute has created an offshore startup company (thing2thing.com) to fund it.’
The blog also reveals that Mr Assange had a baby daughter in 2006 and a son, Daniel, from a relationship in his teens. A recent genetics graduate from Melbourne University, Daniel works for a software company.
Assange's deleted blog is available here: http://web.archive.org/web/20070903025028/http://iq.org/