When the US diplomatic cables were published in 2010, Julina Assange emerged as something of a figurehead and was represented positivity in the left-wing press. Naively, I saw him as something of a hero, a man whose fame was derived from his intellect, technical ability and principles.
After reading Andrew O’Hagen’s account of the months he spent attempting to ghost-write an autobiography for Assange, which exceed 25,000 words, I cannot deny that his personality is flawed. He displays a lack of empathy, manners and a sense of responsibility. He treats those he collaborates with with a general disregard and rails against them furiously when they turn against him. He favours large scale simultaneous dumping of hundred of thousands of documents, each one with its own complex set of circumstances. According to O’Hagen, he was partly motivated by the shock and awe of such an explosive leak of information, the spectacle of it. He is reported to have voiced conflicting opinions on the importance of redacting people’s names from these documents in the interest of their safety; his attitude seems ambivalent. It was up to The Guardian, The New York Time, Le Monde and Der Spiegel to ethically edit the information. The former two organization, Assange has come to view as enemies.
This is not the first time his personality and private life have been dissected, especially after his relationship with the organisation who published the cables broke down. There have been many allegation in the press and I’ve heard different opinions on his character voiced since. One friend compared him to Hitler, in his single-minded and uncaring pursuit of his goals. Others have focussed on the arguably positive aspects: The blows struck to the authority of powerful institutions as their private data was leaked. However, It’s worth noting that Assange is not necessarily an essential actor in these events. One wonders whether they would have occurred without him…
Although Assange rather arbitrarily dubs himself the 3rd best hacker in the world (and Edward Snowden as the 9th) I question whether someone with more self-doubt and empathy would have served just as well as a figurehead and founder of Wikileaks. There are many people with an extensive knowledge of networks, cryptology and cryptanalysis, some of whom might have possessed the integrity to apply the same principals of transparency to their own organization as those whose secure information they were publishing. They may not have vehemently insisted that recordings and manuscript were kept private. They may not have exhibited such a profound paranoia about spying and betrayal.
This is pure speculation, of course. Perhaps the grandness of Assange’s vision and his skill set are a very rare combination indeed, with some rather unfortunate side effects. Perhaps he is the only one whose idealism egoism and telecommunications/computing nous would have spawned Wikileaks, or similar.
Regrettably, I suppose this post only serves to add to the enormous amount of attention this man has garnered. Most of the credit goes to the whistle-blowers themselves and the people who sifted through all of the leaked information, attempting to make it meaningful to the general public.