Julian Assange is a polarizing figure. Beginning when he was a young man in his 20s, the Founder and CEO of WikiLeaks has held the attention of governments around the world, who have had a hard time keeping tabs on him. Is Assange a hacker who wants to take everyone down, or a fighter for freedom of the press who wants to use his power for good?
He was last seen in April 2019, handcuffed and being escorted out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, resisting. What’s going to happen next?
He’s The Son Of An Artist And An Anti-War Activist
Assange was born and raised in Australia and has activism running through his blood. His mother was a visual artist and his father was an anti-war activist. His parents split up before he was born, and his mother took Assange along with her while she moved from town to town.
By the time he was a teenager, Assange had lived in over thirty different towns, bouncing from school to school. Perhaps it made him feel like an outsider, never getting the chance to put down roots and build lasting relationships with his peers.
He Talks Of Two Kinds Of People
Assange is extremely passionate about journalism, freedom of the press, and the never-ending search for the truth. In his life’s work, he identifies the haves from the have-nots; those with power and those who are being taken advantage of.
He believes that knowledge and freedom of information is the key to a more equal and fair society. Assange said, “Knowledge has always flowed upwards to bishops and kings, not down to serfs and slaves.” It became his mission to shake up the dissemination of information.
Protecting The Identities Of His Children
Although truth and transparency are cornerstones of Assange’s mission, he attempts to keep his children’s identities hidden from the press. Assange said that his family has faced death threats because of his company, WikiLeaks, and he fears for their safety.
His first son, Daniel Assange, is a software designer, and he’s mentioned that his youngest child lives in France. But his other children remain a mystery. Assange has even said that he’s changed their identities to protect them.
He Was First Charged With Hacking In 1994
Assange first began hacking in 1987 with two others and was first charged with a crime for hacking in 1994. After Australian Federal Police tapped his phone line, they raided his home and arrested Assange.
He was charged with 31 counts of hacking and related crimes, pleading guilty to 25 of them. At 20 years old, those were his first criminal charges. The court fined him and released him on good behavior. They believed that young Assange had learned his lesson and would not be seen in a courtroom again.
He Was A Leader Of Internet Technology In The 90s
While in his 20s, Assange was a leader in internet technologies in Australia. He founded one of the first Internet service providers in Australia, as well as software, an encryption system, and a search engine.
Oddly enough, he also worked as a consultant to government services, helping them take down child predators and other criminals who were using the internet as their tool. He managed a website offering advice to people and business on computer security and seemed to be working for the greater good.
He Accused National Security Of Spying On Citizens
By the time he was in his late 20s, it appeared that Assange was a nerdy bad-boy-turned-good-guy. He had been caught hacking, paid his dues, and went on to found several successful companies using intelligence technology that he had created. But then, he blew the whistle.
In August 1999, Assange caught onto the fact that the National Security Agency had obtained a patent for voice-data harvesting technology. This ignited a fire in Assange and he was compelled to raise awareness. “This patent should worry people,” he said. “Everyone’s overseas phone calls are or may soon be tapped, transcribed, and archived in the bowels of an unaccountable foreign spy agency.”
What About His Cat?
While Assange’s arrest in April 2019 ignited conversations about freedom of the press, many people were also concerned about what will happen with his cat. Ever since he was granted political asylum by Ecuador, Assange had been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, England. Being secluded in a building for seven years could be pretty lonely and boring so Assange got a kitten for a companion.
“Embassy cat” kept Assange company and even had its own Instagram account with over 6,000 followers. As of his arrest, no one knows where the cat is — only that it had been removed from the embassy. The New York Times reported: “The Ecuadorean Embassy in London did not return an email seeking information on what happened to the cat.”
Assange Is Obsessed With Secrets
One theme that carries throughout Assange’s life is learning and revealing secrets. Company secrets, government secrets, politicians’ secrets — whatever he finds that people in power are hiding from those below them are what makes him tick.
Those secrets get under his skin and Assange keeps hacking until he can find what he believes is the truth to the matter. The man who nearly invented the internet and its abilities in Australia knows exactly what to do to tap into the vaults of the internet and release the classified information he finds to the masses.
“A Giant Library Of the World’s Most Persecuted Documents”
So what was he going to do with all of these secrets? How could he best distribute his findings to the public arena? In 1999 Assange quietly registered the domain leaks.org, but didn’t launch a website on it. It wasn’t until 2006 that he founded WikiLeaks.
Once he launched the WikiLeaks site, Assange didn’t waste any time. Within 10 years, the website had published more than 10 million documents containing secret information and news leaks.
Two Of WikiLeaks’ Lawyers Died Within Four Months
In May of 2016, one of WikiLeaks’ lawyers, Michael Ratner, passed away from cancer at the age of 72. Just four months later, another one of WikiLeaks’ lawyers died. John Jones committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. He had been suffering from mental health issues and had been admitted into a private psychiatric hospital months before.
The close timing of the two WikiLeaks lawyer deaths ignited conspiracy theories, including assassination. From inside the embassy walls, Assange dismissed the theories.
He Met The Person Who Would Put Him On The Map
WikiLeaks was growing and getting noticed, but it wasn’t until Assange heard of Chelsea Manning that the website that leaked secret information hit major headlines. Manning is a former U.S. Army soldier who had access to classified databases through her position as a military intelligence analyst.
She leaked 750,000 classified and sensitive U.S. military documents that made their way to Assange. The most newsworthy included the Collateral Murder video, the Guantanamo files, and the war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2010, Manning went to jail for illegally releasing the documents.
Rockstar Or Terrorist?
While Manning was sent to prison, Assange collected awards for publishing the classified documents. He was named Time Reader’s Choice Person of the Year, recipient of the Sam Adams Award, and even Rockstar of the Year by Italian Rolling Stone.
Assange appeared on and hosted television shows and even announced that he was running for the Australian Senate. While many applauded Assange and assimilated him to a modern-day sleuth, others like former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden deemed him a “terrorist.”
Pamela Anderson Got Involved
From all corners of the world, people were paying close attention to how Assange’s future played out. Several celebrities spoke in support of Assange, including Pamela Anderson. She regularly visited Assange at the embassy, and believed that Australia should protect him.
In a statement directed at Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Anderson said, “defend your friend, and get Julian his passport back, and take him back to Australia and be proud of him.” Morrison dismissed Anderson’s request.
Trouble In Sweden
While visiting Sweden in August 2010, Assange was accused of assault by two women he was involved with on his trip. Years went by as prosecutors attempted to get their case in order and eventually they dropped the case against him.
However, Assange’s name was all over the news for the case, his character questioned, and his ties to his home country of Australia were weakened in the process. Waiting for everything to blow over, Assange hunkered down at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Seeking Political Asylum In Ecuador
In 2012, the Australian Attorney-General informed Assange’s lawyer that his home country would not make an effort to help him if he ran into legal trouble abroad. He took the letter as a “declaration of abandonment” and decided it wouldn’t be an option for him to return.
While he was cleared of his case in Sweden, the U.S. was still investigating WikiLeaks. With serious charges hanging over his head should he get deported to the U.S., Assange decided to apply for political asylum in Ecuador.
Living At the Ecuadorian Embassy For Seven Years
While his home country of Australia abandoned him, Ecuador was empathetic to Assange’s situation and agreed to grant him asylum in August 2012. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa even agreed to house Assange at the embassy indefinitely.
The Ecuadorian embassy in London became Assange’s home for the next six-and-a-half years. They converted an office into a studio apartment for him, where he had a bed, kitchenette, shower, and a computer. He also had a sun lamp and a treadmill, since he would never leave the embassy for fear of being arrested.
Assange Offered To Go To Prison In A Tweet
In September 2016, while still holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange sent out a tweet directed at then President Barack Obama. He said that he would surrender himself to a U.S. prison in exchange for Obama granting clemency to Chelsea Manning.
When asked about it, Obama replied, “I don’t pay a lot of attention to Mr. Assange’s tweets, so that wasn’t a consideration in this instance.” Manning ended up fulfilling around four years of her 35-year sentence and was released from prison on May 17, 2017.
Ecuador Spent Over $5 Million Protecting Assange
While other nations didn’t want to offer Assange any protection while he dodged criminal charges in the U.S., Ecuador extended a hand. But it came at a hefty price. UK Police often parked outside the Ecuadorian embassy as a constant reminder that Assange would be quickly arrested if he set foot outside.
Meanwhile, protesters surrounded the embassy and some even tried to scale the walls to get inside. All this added security for Assange cost Ecuador government over $5 million in five years.
The Embassy Was Irritated With Assange (And His Cat)
Much like having a friend crashing on your couch for too long, authorities at the Ecuadorian embassy were getting fed up with housing Assange. Part of the agreement for allowing him to stay there with asylum was paying his own internet bill and cleaning up after his cat. Assange had trouble doing both of these things.
President Lenin Moreno admitted that he wanted Assange out of the embassy, while Assange argued that Ecuador was violating his “fundamental rights and freedoms” by doing so. Strangely enough, it’s possible that Assange’s arrest could have been avoided had he cleaned his cat’s litter box.
Holing Up In The Embassy Took A Toll On Him
While living at the embassy, the mental strain was wearing down Assange. He lived in constant fear of the embassy being stormed by British authorities who would arrest him and take him away. The New York Times reported that British officers pounded on the embassy walls at 4 AM to taunt him.
It was a long time to be isolated indoors and those who visited Assange noticed that he was worn down psychologically over the time he spent there. When he was arrested in April 2019, viewers were shocked to see his long, grey beard and hair.
50 Weeks In Prison
Shortly after his arrest, Julian Assange was sentenced to spend 50 weeks in prison in the UK for breaching the Bail Act. The United States also charged Assange with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, a charge that was condemned by many journalists and news outlets.
As of early 2020, Assange is currently being held in HM Prison Belmarsh, London, and is said to be in very poor health while undergoing an extradition trial. A medical team comprised of professionals from around the world stated that he is in a “dire state of health” and that his neglect and mistreatment could very well lead to his death.
A Navy Commando Ran Weapons Through Greece And The Balkan Peninsula
Jack Taylor, often referred to as America’s first Navy SEAL, assisted in the Office of Strategic Services in the Balkan Peninsula. When this was his post, he and his troops managed to survey enemy troops and supply positions.
Taylor would resupply friendly forces and did night time raids thanks to the intel he reconnoitered. They almost caught him three times, but he escaped each occasion. Major William Donovan recommended that Taylor get a service cross for his efforts.
Virginia Hall, The Great Spy
Virginia Hall had hopes of working in the foreign service, but she lost her foot in an accident before WWII. She would become a spy instead. In her new career, her brightest moment came when she snuck into France and led sabotage and intelligence-gathering missions.
She also trained three battalions, and they would do some incredible things. Overall, they eliminated 150 Germans and secured 500 more. Hall and her team didn’t stop before dismantling four bridges.
Call Her Agent Fifi
Marie Chilver, code-named “Agent Fifi,” was an English-born woman raised all over Europe. She was jailed in an internment camp in 1940 but managed to flee to England in 1941.
Unable to secure a job as a spy in France, she became a temptress for British spy trainees. Agent Fifi would approach agents and try to get information from them. If anyone told, they were quickly dropped from the program.
George Blake Becomes A Double Agent
George Blake was a British MI6 agent during WWII. He was captured during the Korean War and had to serve three-year detention. In that time span, he became a communist and chose to betray his country.
He returned to Britain a hero in 1953, but quietly started his double agent work, betraying more than 40 MI6 agents and dismantling their operations. A Polish defector exposed Blake in 1961, leading to 42 years of prison. The bars didn’t hold him back as he escaped in 1966 and made his way to Moscow, where he received the Order of Friendship from Vladimir Putin.
CIA Turned Double Agent
Aldrich Ames was a CIA veteran before he decided to switch sides and become a double agent for the Soviet State Security Committee (KGB). The FBI arrested him and his wife in 1994 for spying for the Soviets.
During the investigation into his actions, news came out that he had spied for the KGB since 1985, given details about HUMINT sources, provided top-secret information via “dead drops,” and passed along classified operations against the USSR in exchange for millions.
Rescuing Jessica Lynch
Jessica Lynch was a supply clerk U.S. soldier. Iraqi forces captured her on March 23, 2003, after they ambushed her convoy when they took a wrong turn in Nassiriya. They couldn’t find her for nine days.
Finally, on April 1, a Special Operations Forces did a nighttime raid on her location. She was in a hospital with the bodies of eight other U.S. soldiers. The mission was a success, and they brought her back home.
It’s Agent 355
There weren’t many women who participated in espionage during the Revolutionary War. There was, however, the Culper Spy Ring, which featured an obscure agent known as 355. That was the groups’ code number for the word “woman.”
She used the secret name to protect herself and her family, but her contributions are remembered in history. Agent 355 played a part in many missions, including the operation that helped arrest Major John Andre, head of England’s intelligence operations in the Big Apple.
Rose Greenhow, The Confederate Spy
Rose Greenhow was a Confederate spy who established her network in Washington, D.C., at the start of the Civil War. She proved she was a prominent figure during this war with her skills that helped the South win the Battle of Bull Run thanks to her intelligence.
One of her most valuable feats was gaining vital information about the Union wanting to attack in Manassas, Virginia. She suffered death at sea transporting Confederate dispatches on a blockade-runner.
Oleg Gordievsky Shifted The Balance Of Power
Oleg Gordievsky spied for the MI6 for 11 years while he worked as a KGB officer in London. Not the easiest thing to pull off, but he did it. He wouldn’t join the MI6 until 1972 after a Czech spy referred him.
For a decade, he gave MI6 intel about KGB operations and their attempts to sway western elections. Gordievsky earned credit for shifting the balance of power in the Cold War. He became one of the highest-ranking KGB officers to lead western espionage.
A Former FBI Agent Goes Soviet
Robert Hanssen was an FBI agent who spied for the Soviet and Russian intelligence for more than two decades ending in 2001. His espionage still translates to doing some of the most damage in American history.
One of his missions included working with Moscow. He would deliver an incredible amount of classified information, revealing who the key players were in regards to America’s nuclear operations. Hanssen received millions in diamonds and cash for his traitor behavior. The FBI finally figured him out and indicted Hanssen on 21 counts of spying.
Christine Granville’s Rescue Mission
Christine Granville had built a reputation for exploits during WWII, but her most courageous one was a rescue mission. Her goal was to release three other spies who were slated for execution in prison, which is no easy task.
Even with wanted posters of her face all over the country, she convinced the guards she was a British spy and a niece to a British general. She gave them the bright idea of releasing the spies in return for future mercy and payment. The Germans agreed to the deal, and she made it out with her pals.
First American Citizens Convicted For Spying
When it comes to atomic bombs, they’re the last thing you want to be involved with; just ask the Rosenbergs. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg got caught up in 1950 thanks to Ethel’s younger brother, David Greenglass. He worked in an atomic bomb lab and confessed to giving intel to the Soviets.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Rosenbergs attempted “their best to give the Soviets top atomic secrets from the Manhattan Project, they succeed in handing over top military data on sonar and on radar that was used by [Moscow] to shoot down American planes in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.” The Rosenbergs got the electric chair in 1953.
Kitty’s Little Secret
A woman by the name of Kitty Schmidt operated the most luxurious brothel you could go to in Berlin when Hitler came into power. Schmidt wasn’t fond of the Nazi regime, so she transported her money to British banks through Jewish refugees she helped escape until she got caught for trying to flee.
Upon interrogation, they asked if she would like to go to a concentration camp or keep her brothel open for spy business. She went with the latter, and her venue would become the hot spot for debriefing foreign diplomats and military personnel. The building finally got damaged by bombings after four years of espionage.
While Scott O’Grady flew his fighter jet on June 2, 1995, he got a hit by a Serbian missile. The U.S. Air Force Captain was on a mission and flying over Bosnia when it happened, but he used his ejection seat successfully.
Unfortunately, he landed in Serb-held territory. O’Grady spent six nights hiding out until his radio signal finally guided U.S. Marines to his location. They found him and brought the captain back, and the movie Behind Enemy Lines supposedly stems from his story.
This Jazz Singer Smuggled Info In Her Undergarments
Josephine Baker was a dancer and a famous Jazz singer from America. In 1937, she became a French citizen, but after France fell to the Germans, the Axis believed her when she said she was on their side.
Over the next few years, she was a spy for the Allies. Her method of smuggling intelligence was genius. Baker would plan shows with neutral countries and give her sheet music with invisible ink to the Allies. If she needed photos, they would go in her undergarments.
Call Him The Spymaster
When you’re a spy, and you go by the name of Spymaster, then you’re probably one of the best to do it. Francis Walsingham served Queen Elizabeth I and was the Principal Secretary of State for the Tudors before becoming a master spy.
He’s the one responsible for finding out about the Babington Plot of 1586, which resulted in the execution-style death of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1587. Walsingham intercepted a return letter Mary wrote and copied the letter so he could forge a threatening message on the bottom to show to Elizabeth. That’s when he convinced the Queen to end Mary’s life.
Freeing Benito Mussolini
After the Allies successfully invaded Sicily, Italian government officials gave up Benito Mussolini. They transported him throughout Italy before placing him in an old hotel in the Apennine mountains. Hitler became worried, so he ordered Otto Skorzeny to apprehend Mussolini before the Italians joined the Allies.
The Italians moved the dictator around in hopes of keeping his location a secret, but Skorzeny intercepted a radio message about Mussolini’s trail. Only a few months after the initial capture, Skorzeny sent paratroopers tot he hotel Mussolini was at and secured him without firing a shot.
Fooling The Nazis
The Allies needed to invade a heavily protected Sicily in 1943. They obtained the dead body of a vagrant, put him in a uniform, attached a briefcase to his wrist filled with fake plans of invasion for Greece, and made him float in the ocean currents to “neutral” Spain.
After the Nazis found the body, they prepped for an invasion at the wrong location. As a result, thousands of Allies remained alive during the invasion of Sicily.
Harriet Tubman Joins The Union Army
The story of how Harriet Tubman led the slaves to freedom is well-known and very important in history, but she also did something else impactful. When the Civil War started, she helped once again by joining the Union Army.
She used her skills to build a ring of spies, map territory, and to gather human intelligence about Confederate movements. Tubman became the first and only woman to lead a military operation in the heat of the Civil War. She would free 700 local slaves in the process.