Julian Assange: How the WikiLeaks founder fell from grace

Pale-faced and sporting an unkempt white beard, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cut a very different figure to the one who took refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy almost seven years ago as he was forcibly removed on Thursday.

The Australian, now considered a threat to national security by critics, started out hacking into networks of the powerful elite during his late teens when he was part of the “computer underground”.

The 47-year-old rocketed into the public eye after he founded pro-transparency website WikiLeaks in 2006 as an online library of otherwise secret documents from governments, intelligence agencies, political parties and multinational corporations.

WikiLeaks servers are dotted all over the world, but the central server is known to be located in an underground nuclear bunker in Stockholm, Sweden.

As the site’s editor, Assange has overseen the publication of more than 10 million documents and has attracted high-profile supporters including Pamela Anderson, novelist Tariq Ali, filmmaker Ken Loach, and Jemima Goldsmith.

He has been quoted as saying: “It is the role of good journalism to take on powerful abusers.”

Among some of the site’s major leaks were battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, diplomatic communications, and a military video showing a US helicopter attack that killed at least 11 men.

Former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison for her part in the leaks, but served only seven after former US president Barack Obama commuted her sentence.

Assange has also been forced to deny Russian intelligence sources provided tens of thousands of emails from senior figures within the Democratic National Congress (DNC) during the US election campaign.

He published these alongside thousands of emails from the private server of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, originating from her time as secretary of state, which the site obtained through freedom of information laws.

The website boasts: “Although no organisation can hope to have a perfect record forever, thus far WikiLeaks has a perfect in document authentication and resistance to all censorship attempts.”

Little detail is known about the personal life of Assange, who stood down as editor of WikiLeaks in September 2018.

His parents reportedly met at a demonstration against the Vietnam War and he was born in Townsville, Australia, in 1971.

He passed through 37 different schools while he was on the road with his mother’s travelling theatre company.

Later, while studying at the University of Melbourne between 2003 and 2005, he was vice president of the mathematics and statistics society.

He left university without graduating after becoming disillusioned with academia, according to the society’s magazine Paradox.

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Assange took refuge inside the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge, London, in June 2012 after being bailed during extradition court hearings.

A short time later he was granted political asylum by the South American country.

He was questioned in November 2016 by a Swedish prosecutor over an allegation of rape, which he has always denied.

For more than a year, doctors have warned of the Australian’s declining health because of the “prolonged uncertainty of indefinite detention”.

Another blow came in March last year when it was reported that the embassy had cut off his internet and communications access.

A legal defence fund was set up in January amid fears the WikiLeaks founder was under “increasingly serious threat”.

Visitors during his nearly seven years in residence have included Pamela Anderson and former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

Assange was arrested and removed from the Ecuadorian embassy by British police on Thursday after the Ecuadorian government withdrew his asylum because of his “discourteous and aggressive behaviour”.

Police were acting on an extradition warrant by the US, where he is charged with computer-related offences, and he was also arrested for skipping bail.

Press Association

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