Julian Assange, the founder and chief of WikiLeaks, the information-leaking site that released nearly 30,000 private Democratic National Committee emails last week on the eve of that party's national convention, has been at the center of controversy for years. But this time, the 45-year-old Australian has found himself attempting to deflect allegations that his "freedom of information" group WikiLeaks is acting as a front for Vladimir Putin and Russia, which has thrown its weight behind Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
For background on the alleged link between Russia, Donald Trump, and WikiLeaks, see the links in the "Previous Coverage" box toward the bottom of this page.
But who is Julian Assange, the shadowy figure running WikiLeaks from inside the embassy of Ecuador in London, England — a building from which he has not ventured forth in four years?
A video interview with Assange from last week by the American site Democracy Now can be viewed below. Scroll down past the video for five important facts that voters should know about the mysterious WikiLeaks founder and chief Julian Assange.
Assange Has Previous Ties To RussiaNational security expert and former United States counterintelligence officer John Schindler states flatly that "WikiLeaks is a front for Russian intelligence," and Assange does indeed appear to have a cozy relationship with the Russian government.
In addition to briefly hosting his own talk show in 2012 on the Russian government-operated English-language cable and online news network RT — a network that according to a Politico Magazine report has taken an editorial stance supporting Donald Trump — it was Julian Assange himself who in 2013 led leaker Edward Snowden to seek asylum in Russia, rather than in Latin America, according to Assange's own statements to the British press.
WikiLeaks has also taken controversial positions that align with those taken by Russia. Assange founded a political party in his native Australia, the WikiLeaks Party, that according to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation report in December of 2013 sent a delegation headed by Assange's own father to Syria, where the WikiLeaks Party members met with Syria's brutal dictator, Bashar al-Assad — who is opposed by the United States and most Western countries, but supported by Vladimir Putin and Russia.
As he has been seeking refuge from a rape charge (see below) in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Assange, according to Schindler, requested that his private security detail be provided by Russia's secret police agency the FSB, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB. Prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin was a KGB official.
Julian Assange Is A Fugitive From A Rape ChargeDuring a 2010 visit to Sweden, shortly after WikiLeaks made global headlines by releasing classified United States documents from the Afghanistan war, an arrest warrant for Julian Assange was issued by prosecutors there, charging Assange with rape, as well as "sexual molestation." Assange denied the charges and said the encounters in question were consensual. He was arrested in London and freed on bail.
But after a British court ruled that Assange should be extradited to Sweden, the WikiLeaks founder took refuge in the Ecuador embassy there, and was granted asylum by that country's government.
But Assange also has a history of expressing questionable attitudes toward women, once stating that, "Western culture seems to forge women that are valueless and inane." According to The Guardian newspaper, in 2006, giving his age as 36, he posted a profile on the dating site OKCupid in which a personality test rated him "87% slut" and his profile read, "WARNING: Want a regular, down to earth guy? Keep moving... I am DANGER, ACHTUNG!"
Assange Has Also Been Criticized For Antisemitism
This latest WikiLeaks garbage not 1st time Assange has spread his anti-Semitism: https://t.co/7ElOkXBDdg (via @ladyhaja)On Sunday, July 24, amidst a flurry of news coverage around the DNC email leaks, Assange posted a flurry of messages on the WikiLeaks official Twitter account‚ including one in which he accused WikiLeaks critics of having "3 (((brackets around their names))) & have black-rimmed glasses."
— Marlow Stern (@MarlowNYC) July 24, 2016
The "three brackets" symbol is widely used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis to single out Jewish names online, but has also been adopted by many Jewish Twitter users themselves as a symbol of defiance against antisemitism.
Slate Magazine writer Jeremy Stahl attempted to explain the antisemitic meaning of the WikiLeaks tweet, which also used the word "tribalism," thought to be another reference to the "tribe" of Jewish people.
"One possible meaning,' Stahl wrote. "Jews are climbers among an elite and powerful group who use a symbol that indicates strong loyalty to other Jews. These types of people (Jews) also often wear black-rim glasses and are WikiLeaks' biggest critics."
Assange — or whoever was posting to the WikiLeaks account — soon deleted the tweet, but his followers appeared to get its meaning.
But Sunday's Twitter controversy was not the first time Julian Assange has invoked antisemitic themes to attack his critics. In a 2011 interview in the British media, he accused his critics of being all Jewish or in the case one individual, "sort of Jewish."
Assange is also close friends with controversial Russian writer Israel Shamir, who describes himself as a Christian though he says he was born Jewish. The Guardian described Shamir as "notorious for Holocaust denial and publishing a string of anti-Semitic articles. He caused controversy in the U.K. in 2005, at a parliamentary book launch hosted by Lord Ahmed, by claiming: 'Jews … own, control and edit a big share of mass media.'"
Julian Assange Was A Notorious Teenage HackerAssange, a native of Townsville, Australia, is believed to have been born in 1971 and raised largely by his mother who moved him frequently. By the age of 14, Assange had attended 37 different schools. At 16, he took up computer hacking, using the online alias "Mendax" to allegedly break into computer systems at the Pentagon and other United States military facilities.
But at the age of 20, in 1991, Assange and a group of fellow hackers infiltrated the Canadian telecom company Nortel — and this time, Assange got caught. He pleaded guilty to 25 charges of computer crimes, while six more charges were dropped. Nonetheless, an Australian court let him off with a light fine, citing the young hacker's "intelligent inquisitiveness."
Assange Denies Backing Donald Trump, Less Clear On The Russian Connection
Julian Assange: 'No Proof Whatsoever' Russians Are Behind DNC Hack https://t.co/oVnXfhY0KV pic.twitter.com/I83rUO4y8zAmid the controversy over whether WikiLeaks had been used as a front for Russia to tilt the United States election in favor of Vladimir Putin's favored candidate, Donald Trump, Assange denied supporting either Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton — though he has reserved the bulk of his attacks for Clinton, calling her "corrupt" and even claiming that future WikiLeaks releases will lead to her arrest.
— Mediaite (@Mediaite) July 26, 2016
Assange was cagier when asked whether the DNC emails came to WikiLeaks as a result of the hack by agents of Russia into the DNC servers, saying only that "there is no proof whatsoever" to link the two, but nonetheless refusing to reveal where or how he obtained the emails.
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Assange also claimed the the DNC emails in the WikiLeaks release were "different sets of documents to the documents of those [that] people have analyzed," he told NBC News this week.
"I have seen Hillary Clinton apologists talk — or some experts talk — about other material, and not the material that we have released," Assange said.
But the DNC emails that have caused a furor at the Democratic National Convention — and also set off revelations of a connection between Russia and Donald Trump — were indeed contained in the WikiLeaks release, so it remained unclear to what "other material" Julian Assange was referring.
[Photos By Sara D. Davis/Carl Court/Getty Images]