This is how I like to think of Assange and the work of Wikileaks and I'm hoping this New Zealand reporter is right on! Thanks, Mark Jensen
Some of the early news coverage of the cables made them sound mainly like titillating and embarrassing diplomatic gossip. But it is a treasure trove of information about superpower politics and the inner workings of governments around the world. Journalists, researchers, film-makers, academics, students and many others will be using this information source for years to come.
I WAS LUCKY enough to be present when the embassy cable release was launched. Months of work was ready. The first bundle of documents went live at 6pm British time and immediately there was a massive denial of service attack. Unknown people somewhere in the world were bombarding the WikiLeaks' websites, trying to close them down.
Everything was focused on a computer specialist who had arrived at the house to donate his time to overseeing the launch. He was obviously at the top of his profession. Everyone seemed in awe of his skills. He had prepared for the launch, typing computer code faster than most journalists can write words, apparently working straight through the night. Now he was engrossed in fending off the cyber attack: monitoring the waves of incoming traffic and identifying and blocking the attackers. The mood was tense until, after a long 30 minutes, he looked up with a little smile and said the attack seemed to be over.
I had a feeling of being present as history was being made.
The day before I left, I went for a long walk across the wide, snowy landscape with Julian Assange, the Australian who first had the idea of WikiLeaks. I had wondered what he would be like in person. I had gratefully used his and WikiLeaks' work from a distance, but what about the man?
The first thing that usually happens when someone challenges powerful interests is that they get attacked personally, their character and motives smeared. It is most often unfair, but still seems inevitable. Assange has helped challenge very powerful interests. He is being called reckless and dangerous by the White House, a criminal and even a terrorist by the US right, and also dictatorial and an egomaniac by disaffected ex-colleagues. And then there are the Swedish sex charges.
I can tell you only what I saw. Working in that crowded room, he was very focused, but also good humoured and thoughtful of others. For someone at the centre of international news attention, and an international man-hunt, he seemed calm and considered, and not to be taking himself too seriously. He is clearly the central force in the organisation, but there were gutsy people working around him as well. Sometimes they sought his decisions on things and other times they bossed him around.
He is a likeable person who, in my opinion, is simply using his considerable skills and strengths, and the opportunity provided by WikiLeaks' successes, to try to do some good in the world. Whatever went on in Sweden – a confused controversy with elements reminiscent of the Swedish Millennium trilogy – my instincts told me that he is, fundamentally, a good person.
Fortunately, he is also self-contained. While we were walking along the frozen farm tracks, our conversation was about things like longer-term academic uses for the embassy cables. The subject of Swedish and US legal threats did not come up. A few days later he was in Wandsworth Prison, with the threat of many more troubles to come. But, whatever happens along the way, Assange is going to be all right. So too WikiLeaks. At a time when western governments are less open and democratic, history has thrown up new ways of providing openness. This is the era of the geeks. History is on their side.