International Man of Mystery
How Julian Assange was captured by his own persona.
WikiLeaks, War, and American Diplomacy
by New York Times Staff
$16.95 List Price
Julian Assange, the white-haired founder of WikiLeaks, has been variously described as a Bond villain, a freedom fighter, and a ghostly info warrior sprung from the pages of a William Gibson novel. And at first blush, his tale seems to have all the elements of a gripping thriller: vast caches of classified documents, international intrigue, violent sex, operatives, and assassination threats. Indeed, according to the recent rash of books about the man and his crusade against government secrecy, Assange assiduously cultivates a sense of his own dashing presence, inventing CIA spies lurking around every corner and insisting on employing counterintelligence-style tradecraft to throw off tails during lunchtime strolls in Berlin. If you work for him, putting your real name next to the buzzer in your apartment building is an infraction.
Assange's background adds to the sense of comic-book mystery. He spent much of his childhood in Australia at a place called Magnetic Island. His mother helped run a puppet theater. He spent his early teens underground, on the run from her abusive husband, who was a member of a cult that persuaded parents to surrender their children. By age seventeen, he was hacking into Defense Department computers under the name Mendax, which he took from a line in Horace's Odes praising the "splendidly deceiving" (splendide mendax) Hypermnestra.
In other words, The Strange Adventures of Julian Assange, the Man Who Killed the Secrets has all the earmarks of the greatest journalism story since Watergate, one that ought to make for a few good books and a film