Accessibility links


WikiLeaks' Assange Is Hero to Some, Villain to Others

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, some wearing masks depicting him and holding placards, participate at a demonstration outside the Swedish Embassy in London, Dec 13, 2010

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, some wearing masks depicting him and holding placards, participate at a demonstration outside the Swedish Embassy in London, Dec 13, 2010

WikiLeaks' release of classified U.S. government cables has angered politicians, emboldened free speech supporters and unleashed hackers onto websites of companies and individuals they believe oppose the site's founder Julian Assange. Assange himself has been shrouded in mystery. He is currently in a London jail in connection with allegations of rape and sexual molestation made by two women in Sweden.

The very public disclosure of classified government information has polarized opinion and sparked a debate over what the public needs to know. WikiLeaks continues to publish online even though Assange is in a British jail on allegations of rape in Sweden.

In public Assange has appeared cold and aloof. George Washington University Psychology professor Jerrold Post said, "In general, that façade of arrogant superiority is under laid by great insecurity. This is a man who moved 37 times before he was 14 years old."

Post said he can not make a diagnosis of Assange because he has never met him. He said that Assange's behavior, however, appears clinically narcissistic.

"There is suggestion that he leads a rather lonely life, even though he has a number of admirers," said Post. "And that he has become more and more imperious, almost like an autocratic dictator in what he decides to do""

Jo Glanville is with the free speech organization "Index on Censorship." She has met Assange. "He's quite a charismatic figure I think. He's somewhat enigmatic," she said.

"I think he's somebody who's clearly hugely dedicated to what he's doing, whose whole life revolves around WikiLeaks," said Glanville. "He wanders from place to place, he's nomadic and he is entirely dedicated to the cause."

For the past few months, Assange has been in Britain, staying at The Frontline Club, a private facility used mainly by journalists. Vaughn Smith owns the club, and said 96 percent of his membership supported having Assange at the club. Smith was with Assange when he turned himself in to British Police.

"I don't think that's he's a man of steel, I think he's a man of resolve, but a man but just like you or I would be very frightened going to jail," said Smith.

Smith said the issues are not black and white, but that WikiLeaks has called into question the conduct of journalists and governments. "I'm not saying that I feel happy necessarily or comfortable with all these releases, I just think it requires a very large perspective to understand what's going on."

Assange has divided world opinion. Australia's prime minister Julia Gillard called the foundation of WikiLeaks illegal. "It would not happen, information would not be on WikiLeaks, if there had not been an illegal act undertaken."

The Australian foreign minister blamed the United States for the leaks because so many people had access to the cables. But American officials have condemned WikiLeaks. They say there's an investigation into whether Assange broke any U.S. laws.

Companies that have abandoned WikiLeaks, such as PayPal, Visa and MasterCard, are finding themselves under attack by hackers.

The web retailer Amazon kicked WikiLeaks off its servers for violating its terms of service - but online at Amazon, you can actually buy an analysis of the leaked cables.

Meanwhile the leaks continue, even with Assange in jail. In his native Australia, there has been a demonstration of support.

Proponents and detractors say no matter what happens to Assange, what he has started could be unstoppable.