Julian Assange was chosen by the readers of the weekly Time as person of the year now a decade ago. And he did it ahead of figures like Lady Gaga and Barack Obama.
The Australian editor, hacker and activist, founder of the leaks portal Wikileaks, was the man of the moment after turning hundreds of thousands of state secrets upside down with several leaks, among which the more than 250,000 cables of US diplomacy stood out .
This Monday, a British judge decides whether Assange, 49, imprisoned in London, is extradited to the United States, where he is accused of 18 crimes of espionage and computer intrusion.
It was at the end of August of that year 2010, in which Wikileaks was shaking over and over again the public opinion of half the world, when Assange sent this journalist a brief message: “Having time now is simply impossible.”
The Australian was working, who would know, together with his partner in the project, the German Daniel Domscheit-Berg – then known as Daniel Smith – on a massive leak of diplomatic cables, messages received or sent to North American legations that uncovered the secrets of Washington’s foreign policy. Assange’s approach to the press was timid and distrustful – Domscheit-Berg was always closer. But he knew he needed her to get into the world.
Those revelations by Wikileaks, known as Cablegate , were published on November 28, 2010 by five international newspapers: The Guardian , The New York Times , Le Monde , Der Spiegel and EL PAÍS.
It was the straw that would fill the patience of the United States, which already had the Australian in its sights, a tremendously creative entrepreneur, experienced hacker , information transparency activist, who in a few months had become a mass idol. At least for a while.
What Assange and Domscheit-Berg achieved was simple, but complex at the same time: Wikileaks tries to mediate between people with relevant information that they want to publish under anonymity, the whistleblowers, as they are known in English, and the rest of the world.
And it does so with a convoluted system that protects the identity of the sources. The Australian publisher has stated that even he does not know who is leaking information.
The fame of Wikileaks had been built since 2006 simmering to Cablegate . The movie The Fifth Power , released in 2013, portrays Assange’s inevitable rise and metamorphosis as the tyrant of his project.
In one of the sequences, Assange works alongside Domscheit-Berg and Icelandic activist and politician Birgitta Jónsdóttir on Collateral Murder, the publication of a secret video recorded in July 2007 by American soldiers, authors of a bombing in Baghdad that took their lives. a dozen civilians.
The movie is largely based on the book My Time with Julian Assange on the World’s Most Dangerous Web . It was written by Domscheit-Berg in 2011, shortly after breaking with Assange over his dictatorial outbursts, as he himself has expressed publicly.
Assange had, in effect, reached an agreement with those five Cablegate newspapers : the cables would be published – filtered by former American analyst Chelsea Manning , as it turned out – provided they were edited to protect the identities of those who appeared there.
In September 2011, unilaterally, the Australian activist skipped the agreement and published all the raw material. It was a turning point in his rare relationship with the press – even Reporters Without Borders, which supported the Wikileaks project, criticized the move.
But Assange and his website had already exposed some of the abusive practices of the US in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the secret archives of Guantánamo; extrajudicial executions by the Kenyan police; the fraudulent practices of the Kaupthing bank, tip of the iceberg of the political crisis in Iceland …
By then also, in August 2010, two women had reported sex crimes allegedly committed by the Australian publisher to the Swedish police. Assange spent some time in Sweden, a country that was more guaranteeing in the protection of leaks and where he took the Wikileaks servers.
When the judge ordered, in November of that year, his arrest for possible sexual abuse, Assange was residing in the United Kingdom. The Swedish justice proceeded to request the extradition – it closed the case in November 2019 – and it was granted, but the Australian found a nook not to be sent to Stockholm, from where, he believed, they would send him to Washington: he applied for and obtained asylum at the Embassy of Ecuador in London.
The permit was in effect from June 2012 to April 12, 2019, the date on which Assange was arrested by Scotland Yard agents. During his long stay, Wikileaks continued to make friends in Washington, especially in the Democratic Party.
Throughout 2016, the leaks portal published thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee, which revealed certain antics against Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton. Also that year, the project piloted by Assange uncovered correspondence from John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager.
The Australian has rejected in several appearances that the source was a hackRussian – he has also insisted that he cannot reveal the identity of the leakers. Whether that is the case or not, Donald Trump has opened the door to Assange’s pardon as long as he reveals the origin of the leaks about the Democratic Party. But that has not happened.
Since his arrest in London at the gates of the Ecuadorian mission, the Australian has been imprisoned in Belmarsh prison, in south-east London. The British justice has required it to avoid a possible escape in the face of the extradition request made by the US justice and evaluated last year in the Old Bailey court in London.
Washington accuses him of 17 crimes of espionage and one of computer intrusion, with penalties that could accumulate 175 years in prison. The psychiatrists consulted during the judicial process at Old Bailey have stated that Assange suffers from “an autism spectrum disorder” and, in the event that he ends up on a flight to the United States, there is a clear risk of suicide.