July 20, 2010
There are not many journalists who, when you ask them if they are being followed by the CIA, say “We have surveillance events from time to time.” Actually it’s not a question I’ve ever asked before, and Julian Assange does not call himself a journalist.
But the answer is typical of this 41-year-old former computer-hacker: cryptic, dispassionate, and faintly self-important.
As the founder of Wikileaks – a website that publishes millions of documents, from military intelligence to internal company memos and has, in four years, exposed more secrets than many newspapers have in a century – Assange has become the pin-up of web-age investigative journalists. The US has wanted him for questioning since March, after he posed a video showing an American helicopter attack that left several Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists dead.
Understandably, he now avoids the US, and keeps his movements secret, though it’s thought he operates out of Sweden and is spending time in Iceland, where a change in the law is creating a libel-free haven for journalists. But if the CIA spooks wanted him that badly, couldn’t they have turned up, as a hundred adoring student journalists did, to hear him talk at the Centre for Investigative Journalism 10 days ago?
Perhaps it’s just as well they didn’t, as Assange is not a natural public speaker. He is more at home trawling data or decrypting the codes that mask it. His philosophy is that the more a government wants to keep something secret, the more reason to expose it. No journalist could argue with his essential belief in shining a light on malpractice, but shouldn’t governments be entitled to keep some secrets? “Sure,” he says when we speak after his talk, “That doesn’t mean we and other press organisations should suffer under coercion.”
This article was posted: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 at 1:36 am