samedi 5 mars 2011

The Cypherpunk Revolutionary Julian Assange

The Monthly, March 2011, pp. 17-35

The Cypherpunk Revolutionary Robert Manne on Julian Assange

[Robert Manne is a professor in the School of Social Sciences at La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia.]
FEWER THAN 20 YEARS AGO JULIAN ASSANGE WAS SLEEPING ROUGH. EVEN A YEAR AGO HARDLY ANYONE KNEW HIS NAME. TODAY HE IS ONE OF THE BEST-KNOWN AND MOST-RESPECTED HUMAN BEINGS ON EARTH. Assange was the overwhelming winner of the popular vote for Time magazine's "Person of the Year" and Le Monde's less politically correct "Man of the Year". If Rupert Murdoch, who turns 80 this month, is the most influential Australian of the postwar era, Julian Assange, who will soon turn 40, is undoubtedly the most consequential Australian of the present time.
Murdoch's importance rests in his responsibility for injecting, through Fox News, the poison of rabid populist conservatism into the political culture of the United States; Assange's in the revolutionary threat his idea of publishing damaging documentary information sent by anonymous insiders to WikiLeaks poses to governments and corporations across the globe.
Julian Assange has told the story of his childhood and adolescence twice, most recently to a journalist from the New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian, and some 15 years ago, secretly but in greater detail, to Suelette Dreyfus, the author of a fascinating book on the first generation of computer hacking, Underground, for which Assange was the primary researcher. In what is called the "Researcher's Introduction", Assange begins with a cryptic quote from Oscar Wilde; "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." Nothing about Assange has ever been straightforward. One of the main characters in Underground is the Melbourne hacker Mendax. Although there is no way readers at that time could have known it, Mendax is Julian Assange.
Putting Khatchadourian and Dreyfus together, and adding a little detail from a blog that Assange published on the internet in 2006-07 and checking it against common sense and some material that has emerged since his rise to fame, the story of Assange's childhood and adolescence can be told in some detail. There is, however, a problem. Journalists as senior as David Leigh of the Guardian or John F Burns of the New York Times in general accept on trust many of Assange's stories about himself. They do not understand that their subject is a fabulist. By contrast, when Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Assange's lieutenant at WikiLeaks between late 2007 and September 2010, heard that Assange was writing an autobiography he tells us in Inside WikiLeaks that his "first thought" was that it should be placed "in the fiction section".
According to Assange, his mother left her Queensland home for Sydney at the age of 17, around 1970, at the time of the anti-Vietnam War movement when the settled culture of the western world was breaking up. In Dreyfus, Assange's mother is not named; in Khatchadourian, she is called "Claire". In fact she was Christine Hawkins. Assange told Dreyfus that his mother's parents were both "academics". This seems a little grandiose. Christine's father, Warren Hawkins, was the principal of the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education. Christine fell in love with a man called John Shipton in Sydney. A year or so after Julian was born, in Townsville, they parted. Assange did not meet Shipton again till he was 25.
When Julian was about one, Christine met and married a roving theatrical producer and member of what was by now called the counterculture, Brett Assange. According to what Julian told Khatchadourian, Brett was the descendant of a Chinese immigrant who had settled on Thursday Island, Ah Sang or Mr Sang. Together Brett and Christine travelled around the country, performing. He painted a vivid portrait for Khatchadourian of an idyllic life after the family settled for a time on Magnetic Island. "Most of this time was pretty Tom Sawyer. I had my own horse. I built my own raft. I went fishing. I was down mine shafts and tunnels." To Dreyfus, Julian claimed his stepfather was a decent man but also an alcoholic. By the time he was addressing audiences worldwide, his father - he could only be referring to Brett Assange - had become idealised as a "good and generous man" who had taught him the most fundamental lesson in life: to nurture victims rather than to create them. Assange also told Dreyfus about a foundational political memory, an incident that had occurred while he was about four. His mother and a male friend had discovered evidence concerning the British atomic bomb tests that had taken place in Maralinga in greatest secrecy, which they intended to give to an Adelaide journalist. The male friend had been beaten by police to silence him. Christine had been warned that she was in danger of being charged with being "an unfit mother". She was advised to stay out of politics. For a four year old to grasp the political meaning of an encounter such as this seems a little improbable.
When Julian was eight or nine years old, Christine and Brett Assange separated and then divorced. His mother now formed a "tempestuous" relationship with an amateur musician, Keith Hamilton, with whom she had another child, a boy. To Dreyfus, Julian described Hamilton as a "manipulative and violent psychopath". A bitter battle for the custody of Julian's half-brother began. Christine's family was now once more on the move - this time not as before on a "happy-go-lucky odyssey", but hiding on both sides of the continent in permanent terror. To Khatchadourian but not Dreyfus, Julian claimed there was evidence that this man was a member of the Anne Hamilton-Byrne cult The Family and, rather fancifully, that he probably discovered their whereabouts from the "moles" that the cult had inside the government. Because of his itinerant life as a child, and also because his mother was suspicious of the authoritarian culture of formal schooling, Julian claimed that he was home-schooled or independently educated either by professors encountered on their travels or by following his curiosity in public libraries. He did, however, also claim to have attended "very many schools. According to Dreyfus, by the time Mendax was 15 he "had lived in a dozen different places" and had "enrolled in at least as many different schools". His lawyer in his trial of 1996, Paul Galbally, also told the court Assange had been enrolled in about 12 schools. By 2006, Assange claimed he had attended 37 different schools. Given that after his rise to fame the Northern Star reported that he had attended Lismore's Goolmangar Primary School between 1979 and [983, the story of 37 schools seems unlikely.
One of the schools Julian attended was in rural Victoria. In the blog he posted on 18 July 2006, there is an account of his and another outsider's experience at this school.

Cryptome supplements:
Cyperhpunks on Wikipedia
Assassinatin Politics by Jim Bell
wikileaks-gest.htm    Wikileaks in Gestation 2001                      December 25, 2010
Tim May               True Nyms and Crypto Anarchy                     December 23, 2010 (offsite)
wikileaks-lash.htm    Wikileaks CIA, Soros and Competitors Backlash    December 12, 2010
siss.htm              Sensitive Information Security Sources           September 4, 2010
wikileaks-soros.htm   George Soros OSI CIA Inquiry on Wikileaks        August 10, 2010
lamo-webster.htm      Adrian Lamo and Timothy Douglas Webster          August 2, 2010
ja-economics.htm      Julian Assange Essay on Participatory Economics  August 2, 2010
ja-conspiracies.pdf   Julian Assange Essays on Conspiracies            July 31, 2010
assange-cpunks.htm    Julian Assange Writes Online 1995-2002           May 22, 2010      Cypherpunks Mail List 1992-98                    May 20, 2010 (8.3MB)
wikileaks-leak2.htm   Wikileaks Leak 2                                 January 9, 2007
wikileaks-leak.htm    Wikileaks Leak                                   January 7, 2007

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