Meet the Aussie behind Wikileaks
In the past year and a half, Australian-born Julian Assange and his band of online dissidents have helped swing the Kenyan Presidential election, embarrassed the US Government and sparked international scandal.
His site, Wikileaks, provides a safe haven for whistleblowers to anonymously upload confidential documents and, after 18 months of operation, Assange says no source has ever been exposed and no document - now over 1.2 million and counting - has ever been censored or removed.
Now, the site is expanding its focus from oppressive regimes and shady corporate dealings to religion and even the cult of celebrity.
Recently published documents include an early version of the movie script for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Wesley Snipes's tax bill and documents from the Church of Scientology and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
"In every negotiation, in every planning meeting and in every workplace dispute a perception is slowly building that the public interest may have a number of silent advocates in the room," Assange said in an email interview.
In August last year, The Guardian ran a front page report about widespread corruption by the family of the former Kenyan leader Daniel Arap Moi, including evidence Moi siphoned off billions in government money. The report stated it was based on a document obtained from Wikileaks.
Assange says the revelation changed the result of the Kenyan presidential election, swinging the vote by 10 per cent towards the opposition, which won the election by 1-3 per cent of the vote.
Other previously confidential documents published by Wikileaks include the US Rules of Engagement for Iraq and the primary operations manual for the running of the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, which revealed that it was US policy to hide some detainees from the International Red Cross and use dogs to intimidate inmates.
The documents were reported on in the world's most respected papers including The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Wikileaks has been referenced 662 times on nytimes.com, 207 times on guardian.co.uk, 86 times on washingtonpost.com and 54 times on speigel.de.
Assange, who grew up in Australia but moved to East Africa two years ago and now splits his time between Kenya and Tanzania, has worked as a security consultant, professional hacker, activist and researcher.
His parents ran a touring theatre company and Assange claims he attended 37 schools and six universities in Australia alone.
He would not reveal his age, saying only that he was born in the 1970s because he preferred to "keep the bastards guessing".
"We have catalysed in the order of 20,000 mainstream press reports or re-reports which have in turn gone on to change the lives of millions, through the electoral process, parliamentary inquiries, diplomatic warnings and invisibly, but, perhaps most importantly by giving genuine hope to those who believe in civic courage and the freedom of the press," Assange said.
In February this year, the Swiss bank Julius Baer obtained an injunction against Wikileaks after it published documents purportedly showing shady offshore activities - including money laundering and tax evasion - allegedly supported by the bank in the Cayman Islands.
The web address wikileaks.org was briefly knocked offline as a result of the court decision but after a major backlash from the media and civil liberties lobbyists, the judge reversed the ruling on the grounds it was unconstitutional.
Ironically, Julius Baer's court case, which it later dropped, only served to bring more attention to the embarrassing documents.
Assange claims there have also been censorship attempts by the Chinese Government, the Church of Scientology and Thailand's military junta.
Wikileaks's nine-member "advisory board" includes Assange and another Australian, Phillip Adams, who has worked here as a broadcaster, film producer and writer for 2UE, ABC Radio National, The Australian, The Age and The Bulletin.
Adams, who has received two Orders of Australia, is also chairman of the Film, Radio and Television Board, a foundation member of the Australia Council and has chaired the Australian Film Institute, the Australian Film Commission, Film Australia and the National Australia Day Council.
Assange said there were over 100 Australian PhD students, journalists and other volunteers working on Wikileaks.
"Australians seem to be unusually drawn to the project, perhaps as a result of an absolutely disgraceful preoccupation with abusing the Federal Police to hunt down journalist's sources - a backwardness that has not stopped with Rudd," he said.
So far, however, Wikileaks had received few documents exposing Australian governments and companies.
Assange said he did not make any money from Wikileaks, which was funded by online donations from "a mixture of private and institutional sources".
"Imagine a world where companies and government makes plans the public likes, opens up rather than covering up, and treats employees well," Assange said.
"Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?"
Sydney Morning Herald