Assange Conspiracy Essay About Myself

I.

The Ecuadorian Embassy in London is situated at the end of a wide brick lane, next to the Harrods department store, in Knightsbridge. Sometimes plainclothes police officers, or vans with tinted windows, can be found outside the building. Sometimes there are throngs of people around it. Sometimes there is virtually no one, which was the case in June, 2012, when Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks, arrived, disguised as a motorcycle courier, to seek political asylum. In the five years since then, he has not set foot beyond the Embassy. Nonetheless, he has become a global influence, proving that with simple digital tools a single person can craft a new kind of power—a distributed, transnational power, which functions outside norms of state sovereignty that have held for centuries. Encouraged by millions of supporters, Assange has interfered with the world’s largest institutions. His releases have helped fuel democratic uprisings—notably in Tunisia, where a revolution sparked the Arab Spring—and they have been submitted as evidence in human-rights cases around the world. At the same time, Assange’s methodology and his motivations have increasingly come under suspicion. During the Presidential election last year, he published tens of thousands of hacked e-mails written by Democratic operatives, releasing them at pivotal moments in the campaign. They provoked strikingly disparate receptions. “I love WikiLeaks,” Donald Trump declared, in exultant gratitude. After the election, Hillary Clinton argued that the releases had been instrumental in keeping her from the Oval Office.

Shortly after Trump’s Inauguration, I flew to London, to visit Assange—the first of several trips, and many hours of interviews, to better understand how he runs WikiLeaks, how he has been living, how his political views have changed, and what role Russia has had in his operation. Even as a new inquiry opened into possible collusion between Trump-campaign operatives and Russia, “the WikiLeaks connection,” as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, put it last year, remained obscure.

Assange is not an easy man to get on the phone, let alone to see in person. He is protected by a group of loyal staffers and a shroud of organizational secrecy. One friend compared him to the central figure in Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle”—a recluse trying to reset the course of history. In many ways, the Embassy has become a surreal redoubt: a place of extreme seclusion in the center of a bustling world capital; a protective stronghold that few can enter, even though it is the target of millions of dollars’ worth of covert surveillance.

The easiest route to the Embassy, if you are using the London Underground, is through the Knightsbridge station, next to Harrods. The building, at 3 Hans Crescent, is a block away. Although Assange has remained in his sanctum for years, he is attuned to his immediate surroundings: real-estate ownership, the Lamborghinis parked nearby, the habits of Arab sheikhs descending on local night spots. The lane between the station and the Embassy is packed with tourists. Assange knows the street artists and buskers there (for years, one has been playing the theme song to “Knots Landing” over and over). At the end of the block, the brick façade of the Embassy is visible—its tricolor flag hanging from the white Juliet balcony where, from time to time, Assange issues proclamations.

Arriving at the building’s front entrance, I rang the buzzer, and a heavyset doorman came out, wearing the look of a bouncer accustomed to turning people away.

“I’m here to see Mr. Assange.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“I do.”

“Ah,” he said, brightening. “Then come in.” A guard inside the Embassy had me empty my pockets and my bag onto a coffee table, then scanned my body with a security wand. Assange rarely allows visitors to carry electronics, so I was instructed to turn over my phone. The guard then directed me into a small conference room, closing the door behind me without giving any indication how long I could expect to wait.

Most visitors—even celebrity friends, like PJ Harvey and Brian Eno—meet Assange only here. Like the rest of the Embassy, the room is small, and the windows are cloaked with drapes. There is a poster, published by the Ecuadorian ministry of foreign relations, of a tubby, grinning pre-Columbian figurine. There are cabinets filled with books, including dusty rows of a red-bound series, “Biblioteca Ecuatoriana Mínima” (1960). Near the ceiling, there is a surveillance camera. Hanging above the conference table from thin rods are two curious white orbs, each about the size of a volleyball.

When I first met Assange, seven years ago, he was living out of a backpack. Now he is a man with aides-de-camp. One of them—I will call him Mr. Picabia—entered the conference room. “I’ll rouse Julian,” he said, smiling. On the way out, he flipped some switches on a tiny black box, and the orbs above filled the room with white noise. “He’ll probably want them on,” he said.

After a few minutes, Assange walked in. “Mr. Khatchadourian,” he said, seriously, as he opened the door. I extended my right hand to shake his, and he responded by giving me his left hand, palm up, redefining the exchange on his terms. He was once rail thin, but, at forty-six, he is softening in the middle. He looked pale—one close friend described his skin as “translucent.” His hand trembled a little. His hair was short, white, messy.

Assange was wearing a red shirt, tucked into black trousers without a belt, and he seemed groggy. He was fighting battles around the world; he told me that he has had a hundred and fifty lawyers work on his behalf. Ecuador’s Presidential elections were just weeks away, and a key candidate was vowing to evict him from the Embassy. In Sweden, a criminal investigation into whether he had committed rape in Stockholm, in 2010, was dragging on. In the United States, the possibility loomed of a secret grand-jury indictment, related to documents that he had leaked years earlier. Although WikiLeaks has always been a magnet for criticism, the reaction to his election publications was unusually severe, with Assange gaining a reputation in Washington as a Russian intelligence asset. “Wonderful, isn’t it!” he told me. “These motherfuckers have taken on board a rhetorical device, and the rhetorical device is the ‘fallen man’ or the ‘fallen angel.’ It used to be great, and now it’s bad.”

Often, the lulls between major publications are difficult for him. With the 2016 campaign behind him, he was focussing on a new project—a mysterious archive that he called Vault 7. The work was invigorating, but his prolonged isolation was clearly taking a toll. Assange has a fractured tooth, and a shoulder injury that requires an MRI, but if he leaves the Embassy for treatment he will face certain arrest. “At one point, he was looking for an orthopedic doctor, and doctors were basically refusing to go in there,” Ben Griffin, a former British Special Forces soldier who volunteers as his personal trainer, told me. As a precaution, Ecuador tried to negotiate a “safe passage” by which Assange could be admitted to a hospital without compromising his diplomatic protections, but the negotiations fell through. In the Embassy, a whiteboard lists the complex procedures involved should he face a medical emergency.

Assange’s physical universe for the past five years has been roughly three hundred and thirty square feet, comprising his private quarters and a few rooms that he shares with Ecuadorian staff. “It’s like living in a space shuttle,” a friend of his told me. Out of concerns about security, and also perhaps because paparazzi occasionally wait for him on the street, he rarely parts the drapes in the daytime, or stands at the balcony. He lives in a continuous state of hypervigilance, believing that the Embassy could be stormed at any moment. Shortly after he arrived, British authorities threatened to strip the Embassy of its diplomatic protections and apprehend him by force. Ecuador’s foreign minister responded, “We want to be very clear, we’re not a British colony.” Assange told me that, preparing for imminent arrest, he readied a pair of handcuffs so that he could physically secure himself to the Ecuadorian consul. After that, British officers stationed outside taunted him by banging on the walls at four in the morning, and for a time Assange slept in a different room each night.

The uniformed men were removed in 2015. In their place, Scotland Yard initiated more intensive covert monitoring. Anyone familiar with Assange’s world view knows that this was far more psychologically stressful for him. He does not like to admit vulnerability, but in 2015 a specialist on isolation and trauma visited him and was struck by the way he was changing. Pointing out clutter accumulating in his bedroom, the doctor asked if Assange registered the mess. Never known for tidiness, Assange explained that his landscape was becoming a blur. “The walls of the Embassy are as familiar as the interior of my eyelids,” he said. “I see them, but I do not see them.” With reluctance, he admitted that he has suffered bouts of depression, and that his sleep was disrupted by anxiety. He often stays awake for eighteen, or twenty, or twenty-two hours, until he collapses from exhaustion. Increasingly, the passage of time is difficult for him to gauge. “Nothing is before or after,” he told the doctor. “There are diminishing reference points.” Yet Assange has developed an acute sensitivity to his environment. One evening, he told me, “I have a sixth sense of the dynamics of the Embassy.” He raised a hand in an operatic gesture, as if holding a wand. “Just based on environmental—the flow of the air, the little rumbles, people walking, typing.”

Before Assange gained notoriety, he lived a reclusive, rootless life. While he was growing up, in Australia, his mother moved the family dozens of times, and the habit of motion seems to have persisted; he once wrote software on the Trans-Siberian Express. When I first got to know him, in 2010, he was traversing Europe, in possession of what he claimed was a roster of modest international leaks: documents about the BBC, Canadian detainees, Hungarian finance, Romanian police, Israeli diplomacy, and “some Russian and Chinese stuff that I can’t read.” None of it compared, though, to the trove of classified documents that a young Army private, Chelsea Manning, had just provided him: half a million military records from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a quarter of a million diplomatic cables from the State Department, among other things. Suddenly, he was walking around with gigabytes of secrets belonging to a superpower, and his worry about being surveilled had grown extreme. “There’s all sorts of aggressive intelligence action happening,” he told me. “Lots of spying.” He was trying to fly to Iceland, to connect with activists there, and he suggested that I come immediately to meet him.

A few days later, I stepped off an airport shuttle bus at Reykjavík’s station a little after dawn, uncertain whether I would find him, but there he was, dressed in a silver full-body snowsuit. (He had been out all night with friends to see a volcano that had recently erupted.) “You didn’t call,” he chided me, in a way that mixed humor and irritation. We climbed a hill from the bus station into town, and on the way to his base, in a rented clapboard house, we got lost; Assange has a terrible sense of direction. That morning, he showed me an Army video that Manning had given him, and we went through it moment by moment. He had known me for only a few hours, but back then he trusted journalists readily. A few months later, I wrote about the footage, which he released as “Collateral Murder,” and about his personal history, in a piece for this magazine titled “No Secrets.” I did not imagine that there would be so many secrets to come.

Since then, in addition to Manning’s releases, he has published millions of documents, including hacked e-mails from corporations and public figures, international trade agreements, and foreign government records. Some of these publications have brought real harm to the documents’ owners, some have altered public perceptions about war and state power, and some have been damaging to individual privacy, with no public benefit. In his confinement, Assange has become a quixotic cultural icon, helping to give the solitary act of whistle-blowing the contours of a movement. Dr. Martens has issued boots in his name, sculptors have cast him in alloy, and lyricists have memorialized him in song. He has inspired a Bond villain, and the fiction of Jonathan Franzen; he has mixed with A-list musicians, like Lady Gaga, and A-list dissenters, like Noam Chomsky. At the same time, he has had to navigate myriad legal and managerial complications: multiple F.B.I. investigations, crippling staff mutinies, venomous fights with journalists.

Whether you see Assange as a “fallen man” depends on how you viewed him to begin with. He has detractors who believe that he is a criminal, or a maniac, or both, and supporters who consider him an immaculate revolutionary. There have been calls for his assassination, and for him to be given a Nobel Peace Prize. Assange often describes himself in simple terms—as a fearless activist—but his character is complicated, and hard to reconcile with his considerable power. He is not merely the kind of person who will wear socks with holes; he is the kind of person who will wear socks with holes and rain fury upon anyone who mentions the holes in public. He can be mistrustful to the point of paranoia, but he can be recklessly frank. He tends to view human behavior as self-interested, driven by a Nietzschean will to power, but he runs an organization founded on the idea that individuals can be selflessly courageous. He is a seeker of hard, objective truths who often appears to be unable to see past his own realities. He can be quick in the moment, an impressive tactician, and he is often fairly blind to the long arcs of strategy.

Assange is a difficult person, and he knows it. The people who care for him see a driven, obstinate man who has constructed around himself a maze of deflections, but they see this behavior as evidence of vulnerability, rather than of malice or narcissism. They recognize that his urge to resist conformity is often greater than his urge to be understood. Beyond the noise of his persona, they see the chief custodian of a technology that can be used for transformative good; whatever the hostility that he provokes, they maintain that there is no way his work could proceed without angering people.

Assange’s harshest critics know him personally, too. They see that, beneath his maze of deflections, there is a man with no core beliefs except in augmenting his own power. They see someone with a romantic view of himself in the world—he once wrote, “The surest escape from the mundane is to teleport into the tragic realm”—who is also titanically self-absorbed, and desperate never to appear reactive. Assange told me in 2010, “When you are much brighter than the people you are hanging around with, which I was as a teen-ager, two things happen. First of all, you develop an enormous ego. Secondly, you start to think that everything can be solved with just a bit of thinking—but ideology is too simple to address how things work.”

At the start of this year, as the allegations grew that Assange had facilitated an act of Russian information warfare, his closest friends strove to offer a protective circle of support. “This wholesale campaign to portray Julian as a supporter of Trump has done a great deal of damage,” Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, told me. His defenders have had to withstand blistering attacks from critics. “I don’t let them win,” another friend assured Assange.

One afternoon, while I was at the Embassy, Pamela Anderson, the former “Baywatch” star and a vegan activist, walked in, dressed in a demure tweed overcoat, and took a seat in the lobby. Since last October, Anderson has been stopping by the Embassy regularly. Assange led her to the conference room, and they spoke for about an hour—their conversation disguised by white noise, though Assange’s voice dominated, in long soliloquies. (“I’m being persecuted!” he declared at one point, loud enough to be audible through the walls.) After their meeting, the two emerged. Anderson held a notebook and a pen. “Hours go by, and I take a lot of notes,” she later told me.

Anderson and Assange have been dropping hints to fuel speculation of a romance; certainly, a juicy tabloid story would make for a convenient diversion from a run of withering press. But, as a close Assange supporter explained, “The Ecuadorians are trying to run their Embassy. They are quite a Catholic nation, and so the idea of him having his girlfriends come in is quite a difficult one. I don’t think it really happens.” In the conference room, Assange and Anderson had met under the unblinking gaze of the surveillance camera.

Anderson told me that she was a “bridge” between Assange’s cloistered world and life beyond it. But it was a bridge that primarily went one way. “I was in the rain forest in Brunei, and I was at home in Canada and it was snowing, and I made these videos and sent them to him, and it devastated him,” she said. “Seeing the great outdoors is very difficult for him. So that’s something that I did wrong.” She defended him as a visionary, a David casting stones at Goliaths. “He’s a political prisoner,” she said. “He is the hard line—and I always say that there has to be an extreme for there to be a middle ground.” She shared some adoring odes that she had been writing:

As for Romance

How impossible it is to

have feelings for

Someone completely

Unavailable

Not because of his heart

But his circumstances.

Constantly under threat

Threatened to be killed.

As Anderson left, Assange asked me, “Have you met my cat?” It darted past us.

“Is this the one with the Twitter account?” I said.

“It is,” he said. “It’s Michi, which is Ecuadorian for ‘cat.’ ” The animal’s name was in flux, he explained. “When Castro died, we started calling it Cat-stro.” Assange had told the tabloids that the cat was a gift from his children. (He has several, some of whom live in France, under assumed names.) But someone who knows him well told me a different story: “Julian stared at the cat for about half an hour, trying to figure out how it could be useful, and then came up with this: Yeah, let’s say it’s from my children. For a time, he said it didn’t have a name because there was a competition in Ecuador, with schoolchildren, on what to name him. Everything is P.R.—everything.”

An hour into my first visit, Mr. Picabia interrupted to tell Assange that guests had arrived: George Gittoes, an Australian artist, and his wife, Hellen Rose. The plan was for Assange to set aside his work and allow Gittoes, an old family friend, to paint his portrait. Gittoes has spent his life in war-torn countries—Rwanda, Somalia, Cambodia, Nicaragua—and currently lives in Afghanistan. “He is way more interesting than me—way more,” Assange said.

Gittoes was dressed in black. With a graying, neatly groomed beard and long hair draping over his shoulders, he looked like an elderly member of the Allman Brothers Band. Rose has dark hair and an easy smile. The two greeted Assange with hugs, and Gittoes handed him a book: “Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein,” by John Nixon, a former C.I.A. agent who interviewed the Iraqi leader and came to believe that he had been misunderstood. “I know you’ll love it,” Gittoes said. For the next three hours, he photographed Assange, making studies for an oversized diptych: two canvases, each seven feet tall and about as wide. They spent a good deal of time trying to figure out where his hands should go, to avoid any unwanted symbolism.

One half of the diptych was based on a conversation that Assange had with Gittoes and Rose, one evening in 2015. They sat around a toolbox that Assange was using for a table in his bedroom, and ate takeout sushi and drank sake, and after the sake was finished Assange produced an armful of half-consumed bottles of liquor—gifts from other visitors. Late in the evening, with everyone sprawled on a rug, he spoke about Edgewalkers. “It’s a Julian thing,” Gittoes explained to me. “He reckons that many people think they walk on the edge, living a risky life, but an Edgewalker really walks on the edge, and that he is a real Edgewalker.” Gittoes had worked out a painting that would depict this by having Assange gaze over a precipice that was crafted from smashed bits of mirror.

The other half of the diptych was intended to capture a curious existential quality of Assange’s confinement: on the one hand, he was estranged from the hundred and ninety-seven million square miles of the planet outside the Embassy; on the other, his likeness and his words were continuously circling the globe in digital form, refracted through the biases of supporters and detractors. Last October, just before the U.S. election, the degree to which the two realities were intertwined became evident when the Embassy cut off Assange’s access to the Internet. With Assange’s digital self gone, conspiracy theories spread that he had been kidnapped or killed. (The Daily Starreported, “SHOCK CLAIMS: Julian Assange ‘murdered by CIA who have hijacked WikiLeaks.’ ”) Assange at first regarded the theories as silly, but then he became concerned that they were discouraging supporters from donating, or whistle-blowers from submitting material. He considered distributing a video of himself reading sports scores, but videos could be faked. Supporters requested that he stand at the balcony, but that didn’t really solve the problem, since the “proof” for most people would be a photo, and this could be doctored. His two selves could not be reconciled.

“I can see the painting,” Gittoes wrote in his diary. He imagined Assange surrounded by images of himself on television screens. “It will have a mystical quality with the screens seeming both like ghosts and a personal nightmare.” For several days, he lugged the canvases across London—to the Frontline Club, where he painted in a private dining salon until he was asked to pack up, and then to a studio on the city’s outskirts. Eventually, he lugged them to the Embassy, to paint Assange’s eyes from life.

“Wow,” Assange said, pointing to the half of the diptych featuring the many versions of himself. Each was painted to represent a different emotion. “The angry Julian looks a bit like terrified Julian. I don’t know if it could be made to look less frightened.”

“I was kind of in a state of shock when I saw you,” Gittoes said. “You’ve got a much deeper face right now. You’ve changed a bit because you are under so much pressure—the furrows.”

“I don’t mind looking old,” Assange said. “That’s not where my value is. My value is looking tough.”

“You want to look tough?” Gittoes asked. He set up tins of acrylic on newspapers, while Rose went to get takeout from a local chef who wanted to support Assange by making them all crab linguine. When she returned, she asked if she could film Gittoes painting Assange for a documentary about the project which was in development. “I’d like to have a moment where you say to George, ‘Oh, that’s a great painting,’ ” she said. “And George just says—”

“I would never aspire to have a great painting,” Assange said. “That’s vain.”

“O.K.,” Rose said, and suggested that the two men merely greet each other.

“It can’t be public,” Assange said, his tone sharpening. “There cannot be an image of Julian Assange looking at himself in a painting. That’s madness—absolute madness. That image is much worse for me than the painting is positive. Understand?” After much discussion, someone suggested that the two men be photographed together, with the canvas turned toward a wall, and Assange assented. “I think it’s not too bad,” he said. “And it’s O.K. that my character is broader a bit, as someone who appreciates art.”

“I’m going to get some forks for the linguine,” Rose said.

While everyone ate pasta from Styrofoam containers, Assange explained the mechanics of his diet. Usually, someone he trusts brings him food. “It has to be brought in discreetly,” he said. “If it is all from the same place, it is a security risk.” He rolled some linguine around his fork. “I don’t want to sound paranoid. The Embassy has security staff, and they have concluded that it is too dangerous.” The worry is not that he will be fatally poisoned, he said; it is that he will become ill enough to require a trip to the hospital and thus lose his asylum status. He ate his forkful, and added, “It’s the best linguine in Ecuador in London.”

II.

For some time, Assange has adopted the media habits of the powerful, restricting his appearances to brief, high-profile television interviews, conversations with friendly interlocutors, managed press events, and Twitter. On November 5th, days before the election, in a TV interview with one of his fiercest defenders, he declared, “We can say that the Russian government is not the source” of the election e-mails—a denial that did nothing to quell a growing suspicion, even among close supporters, that he was not being honest. “He says they’re not Russians,” one of them told me. “Well, he can’t know that. It could be his source was a front for the Russians. I think the truth is important, however it’s acquired, but if he knew it was the Russians, and didn’t declare it, that would be a problem for me.”

The problem was obvious. WikiLeaks, like many journalistic organizations, has long insisted on keeping its sources secret. However, Assange was not merely maintaining silence; he was actively pushing a narrative about his sourcing, in which Russia was not involved. He once told me, “WikiLeaks is providing a reference set to undeniably true information about the world.” But what if, in the interest of source protection, he was advancing a falsehood that was more significant than the reference set itself? Arguably, his election publications only underscored what was known about the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton. His denials, meanwhile, potentially obfuscated an act of information warfare between two nuclear-armed powers.

That the stakes were so high was a potent indication of the immense power that WikiLeaks has acquired since it was founded, in 2006. Assange projects an image of his organization as small and embattled—as if it had not changed much since the days when he and a few friends were the only people involved. But today, he told me, the WikiLeaks annual budget runs in the millions of dollars, supplied partly by donations that are funnelled through N.G.O.s. In 2016 alone, WikiLeaks raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors in the United States. “He has money in tax havens,” one colleague told me. “They have so much money in bitcoin it’s ridiculous—meanwhile, there are all these poor people who are chipping in money who feel like he is not getting enough support to eat.” In Assange’s view, the donations provide a level of editorial independence that few mainstream competitors have.

Assange has increasingly used the money to offer rewards for information: fifty thousand dollars for footage of a hospital bombed in Afghanistan; a hundred and twenty thousand for documents about international trade negotiations. When Trump implied that he had taped his White House meetings with James Comey, Assange tweeted, “WikiLeaks offers US $100K for the Trump-Comey tapes.” At one stroke, he appeared to endorse Trump’s bogus claim about the tapes and also implied that WikiLeaks was politically agnostic by seeking them. More significantly, he used the occasion to encourage supporters to donate, so that he could purchase the tapes—which, unsurprisingly, proved not to exist.

The idea that WikiLeaks has problems with accountability sends Assange into angry fits. “Look at all the accountability that is thrown at us!” he told me in the Embassy one evening, nodding at the walls to indicate hidden surveillance devices. “Every second of every day!” He cited the government scrutiny, and relentless journalists, always ready to pounce when he makes a misstep. Raising his voice, he said, “WikiLeaks is probably the most held-to-account organization on earth!”

When WikiLeaks was small, Assange was less angry. His general view of American power was one of suspicion rather than contempt. His wry sense of humor was more readily apparent, as was his optimism. During my visit to Iceland, in 2010, we were seated side by side when a submission came into the anonymous WikiLeaks in-box. He giggled and, in a mock-sober tone, announced its importance: someone had submitted the Declaration of Independence.

A few weeks earlier, just as Chelsea Manning was uploading the last of her disclosures to him, he had assured her that they were remaking the world for the better.

“I’ll slip into darkness for a few years,” she said. “Let the heat die down.”

“Won’t take a few years at the present rate of change,” he assured her.

“True,” she said.

“Almost feels like the Singularity is coming, there’s such acceleration,” he said. Assange was once a member of a transhumanist discussion group; given the right software, he believed, a revolutionary reordering of human affairs could be possible. His vision for WikiLeaks resembled a Silicon Valley startup—a technological creation intended to disrupt the normal way of doing business.

While reporters, pundits and politicians write and rail about the latest WikiLeaks revelations of secret documents and the activities of its founder, Julian Assange, an online scholarly assessment of the WikiLeaks philosophy developed from Assange’s 2006 essays has turned a spotlight on a University of California, Berkeley, graduate student in African literature.

Aaron Bady (Jeffery Kahn photo)

The online analysis by Aaron Bady, a Ph.D. student in UC Berkeley’s English Department, had been drawing a respectable 500 to 1,000 visitors a day to his Zunguzungu blog about literature, film, higher education and other topics. But after his Nov. 29 entry on “Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy,” the number skyrocketed to 60,000.

The post exploring Assange’s philosophy and mission for WikiLeaks was quickly cited, excerpted and republished around the world by leading news and social media critics, journalists, policy wonks and even WikiLeaks’ Twitter feed.

In The Atlantic, writer Alexis Madrigal observed that Bady’s “probing analysis of Julian Assange’s personal philosophy and possible motivations quickly became an oft-cited piece of the global conversation about what WikiLeaks might mean.” Madrigal added, “At a time when stunned traditional media outlets and bloggers were struggling to understand Assange’s motives, Bady’s essay delivered a clear and cogent view that was also fascinating.”

Bady said his interest in WikiLeaks-released cables regarding Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia made him curious to learn more about WikiLeaks and its collaboration with mainstream media. His online explorations took him to the Assange essays “State and Terrorist Conspiracies” and “Conspiracy as Governance,” both explored on the “Work Without Dread” blog site of another literary scholar, Rei Terada, a professor of comparative literature at UC Irvine.

“The journalistic world is now aware of these writings, but only because two serious literature scholars wrote about them,” Bady said in an interview.

“The prominence of Aaron’s blog and his post are a testimony to him and to the field and its training,” remarked Samuel Otter, chair of UC Berkeley’s English Department.

“I could write this (about Assange) because I spent years learning to write this. I kind of submerged myself and tried to let those essays speak,” Bady said. He also credited his mother, an activist and founder of an Appalachia-based environmental group that opposes mountaintop removal mining methods, for teaching him “that you find your own way to be a good citizen, and you can’t do that if you don’t put yourself out there.”

In his post on Assange’s early writings, Bady guides his Zunguzungu readers, a good number of them Web 2.0 types accustomed to reading short bits of text at a time, through the Assange essays by breaking the material into easily digestible pieces and accompanying them with insightful, intriguing and often entertaining exposition.

In his blog, Bady made connections between Assange’s expressed philosophy and theories to a wide spectrum of social, political and historical points ranging from the cable TV series “The Wire,” James Bond, “The Battle of Algiers” film about French counterterrorism, hacker theory, Facebook wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg and the mid-term elections, to Assange’s own self identification with Theodore Roosevelt, who applied the originally disparaging term “muckraker” to journalists.

“Most of the news media seems to be losing their minds over WikiLeaks without actually reading these essays, even though he (Assange) describes the function and aims of an organization like WikiLeaks in pretty straightforward terms,” wrote Bady.

In Zunguzungu, Bady quoted Assange: “The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie…Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of government.”

And Bady offered his own online assessment, saying that the leak “is only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction; WikiLeaks wants to provoke the conspiracy into turning off its own brain in response to the threat.”

He continued: “And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how WikiLeaks’ activities will ‘carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,’ a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets. The point of WikiLeaks – as Assange argues – is simply to make WikiLeaks unnecessary.”

Bady has since posted a video of Assange speaking last November at a UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism event, along with a transcription of the talk.

Now Bady is interested in monitoring the unfolding WikiLeaks controversies, an alternative offshoot of WikiLeaks that has sprouted, the effects of WikiLeaks on free speech and terrorism, how the news media at-large may be affected by WikiLeaks’ strategy of releasing entire, raw documents rather than select excerpts, and how Assange’s philosophy may change.

And, said Bady, this issue, like Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers back in the mid- 1970s, “is much bigger than Assange is.”

Topics: media, technology and engineering

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