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Julian Assange
Founder of WikiLeaks

Julian Paul Assange (né Hawkins) (3 July 1971) is an Australian journalist, publisher, cyberpunk activist and founder of news-leaking website WikiLeaks [1][2]. He was convicted for hacking in Australia in 1996 and founded WikiLeaks 10 years later in 2006. WikiLeaks came to international attention in 2010 after publishing several leaks provided by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, after which the US Government launched a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks [1].

Assange was born on 3 July 1971 in Townsville (Queensland, Australia) and was educated at many schools and at home. He attended the uni­versities of Queensland (1994) and Melbourne (2003-2006) but did not complete a degree [1].

By 1987, aged 16, Assange had become a skilled hacker under the name Mendax. According to WikiLeaks and various news organisations, he was Australia's most accomplished ethical com­puter hacker, exposing thousands of systems, including those of the Pentagon. He might also have been involved in the WANK hack at NASA in 1989, although this has never been proven [1].

In 1993, Assange provided technical advice and support to help the Victoria Police Child Exploi­tation Unit to presecute individuals responsible for publishing & distributing child pornography. This helped him to stay out of prison when he was arrested in 1996 for large scale hacking.
Julian Assange as photographed by David G. Silvers (Cancillería del Ecuador) on 18 August 2014. Obtained via Wikipedia Creative Commons.

In December 1996, Assange struck a plea bargin by pleading guilty to 24 hacking charges whilst the others were dropped. He was ordered to pay a fine of A$ 2,100 and was released on a good behaviour bond. Ten years later, in 2006, Assange and a few others established WikiLeaks with its legal seat in Iceland. He became editor-in-chief and member of the advisory board. In the years that followed, WikiLeaks published on a variety of subjects including internet censorship lists, classified media from anonymous sources and other leaks, like the 'Petrogate' oil scandal in Peru.

In 2008, WikiLeaks rose to international fame after publishing bank records of the Swiss Julius Baer Bank, which the bank unsucessfully tried to block. Assange received extensive legal support from free-speech and civil rights groups and commented that financial institutions operate outside the rule of law. Similar news leaks continued to be published in the following years.

 Julian Assange on Wikipedia

Chelsea Manning
In 2010, WikiLeaks published nearly 750,0000 classified documents that had been leaked by Chelsea Manning, a US Army intelligence analyst [12]. The leaks included information and detainee assessment briefs (DABs) on people that were held at Guantanamo Bay, an inter­nationally disputed American prison system on the coast of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba [13].

Manning was arrested for the leaks and was convicted by court-martial in July 2013 for violating the Espionage Act and other offences, and sentenced to 35 years. She was in prison from 2010 until 2017 after which her sentence was commuted by US President Barack Obama.

 Chelsea Manning on Wikipedia

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Iraq War
On 5 April 2010, WikiLeaks released the so-called Collateral Murder video in which US soldiers fatally shoot 18 civilians from a Helicopter in a suburb of New Bagdad (Iraq), including Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Two children were seriously wounded. Reuters had previously requested the video under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) but had been denied. It took Assange and others a week to break the US military's encryption of the video.

 See the video

In October 2010, WikiLeaks published 391,832 US Army field reports from the Iraq War covering 2004 to 2009, followed in November 2010 by around 250,000 US redacted diplomatic cables — an event that became known as the 'Cablegate' files — revealing [US] espionage against the United Nations and other world leaders, tension between the US and its allies, and corruption in countries throughout the world, some of which is believed to have sparked the Arab Spring. The unredacted Cablegate files were released in 2011 by both the Cryptome website and WikiLeaks. 1

  1. The unredacted files were released after a series of security incidents involving The Guardian, followed by a series of cyber-attacks on WikiLeaks. Assange then decided to release the unredacted files. They were first published by Cryptome, followed a day later by WikiLeaks.

Criminal investigation in the US
United States authorities began investigating WikiLeaks and Assange soon after WikiLeaks had published the Chelsea Manning leaks in 2010. Although it was denied by the FBI, it is known that FBI, NSA and probably other agencies were actively investigating WikiLeaks and Assange. The NSA even put Assange on their Manhunting Timeline, an annual account of efforts to capture or kill terrorists and others, whilst discussing categorising WikiLeaks as a milicious foreign actor [1].

During the tenure of President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice did not indict Assange as it was unable to find evidence that his actions were different from those of a journalist. This changed however when President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, after which CIA director Mike Pompeo and Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepped up the persuit of Assange.

Sexual assault charges
On 20 August 2010, two women who volunteered with WikiLeaks accused Assange of sexual assault that alledgedly had occured earlier that month. On 30 August, whilst being questioned by the Stockholm police, Assange denied the allegations. The preliminary investigation was dis­con­tinued on 1 September 2010, but was later resumed. Assange subsequently left Sweden on 27 September 2010 after which Sweden issued an international warrant for his arrest. At the time, it was speculated that the allegations had been orchestrated by the US in order to get Assange.

On 8 December 2010, Assange gave himself up to British police. On 16 December 2010 he was released on bail after his supporters had paid GBP 200,000 in cash and GBP 40,000 in sureties. Although the court ruled that Assange could be extradited to Sweden, this was later upheld by the High Court (on 2 November 2010) and later also by the Supreme Court (on 30 May 2011).

Ecuadorian embassy
Fearing extradition to the United States after he had been extradited to Sweden, Assange applied for political asylum at the Embassy of Ecuador, located just behind the famous department store Harrods in Central London. On 19 June 2012, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño said that his request was being considered and that Assange was currently staying at the embassy.

On 16 August 2012, Patiño announced that Ecuador had granted Assange political asylum because of the threat represented by the US secret investigation against him. On 18 August 2012, Ecuadorian President Rafeal Correa con­firmed that Assange was allowed to stay at the embassy indefinitely. An office converted into a studio appartment, complete with threadmill and sun lamp, became his home until 11 April 2019.

From this location, Assange held regular press meetings and continued his work for WikiLeaks. He even made a statement from the balcony.
The Ecuadorian Embassy at 3 Hans Cres in Central London. Photograph by Paasikivi, obtained via Wikipedia Creative Commons.

During the course of 2012, Assange offered to come to Sweden voluntarily to face the sexual assault allegations, on the precondition that he would not be extradited to the United States, which the Swedes refused. To Assange this was a prove that the allegations were orchestrated and were a pretext for extradition to the US. He subsequently breached his bail by not appearing in court, as a result of which he faced arrest when he would leave the embassy.

From that moment on, officers of the Metropolitan Police Service were stationed outside the embassy from June 2012 to October 2015 1 to arrest Assange if he left the building. The police later confirmed that the total cost of the operation for the period was GBP 12.6 million. Ecuador spent at least an additional USD 5 million (GBP 3.7M) on the protection of Assange, hiring an external company and undercover agents to monitor visitors, embassy staff and the British police.

  1. The police officers were withdrawn in October 2015 on the grounds of cost, whilst overt and covert measured remained in force.

The Snowden Revelations
On 23 June 2013, Sarah Harisson of WikiLeaks and former CIA/NSA contractor Edward Snowden took flight SU213 from Hong Kong to Moscow, after Snowden had leaked between 9,000 and 10,000 files to the press, disclosing details about the US' mass surveillance program PRISM, which potentially targets every US citizen.

The disclosures prompted the US to charge Snowden with three criminal complaints for theft of government property and violation of the Espionage Act.

Although it was Snowden's intention to travel on from Moscow to a South American country, he got stuck in Moscow as the US has meanwhile revoked his passport. On 1 August 2013 he was granted a temporary asylum by Russia, which was extended in 2014.

 More about Edward Snowden
Photograph copyright Laura Poitras, Praxis Films. Obtained via Wikipedia.

Assange's Arrest
Assange's nearly seven year stay at the Embassy of Ecuador was not without incidents. His work for WikiLeaks and his communications on social network Twitter, prompted the Ecuadorian authorities to cut his internet access. In addition, they hired the Spanish security firm UC Global to conduct surveillance on Assange and on any of his visitors. It was even suggested that he had fathered two children during his stay at the embassy, something that later appeared to be true.

The CEO of the security firm was later arrested on suspicion of violating Assange's basic rights, and sharing the surveillance data (video, audio and scanned documents) with the CIA. This operation, internally known as Operation HOTEL, was later confirmed by a former employee.

On 11 April 2019, following a series of incidents at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Assange's asylum was revoked by the new Ecuadorian President Morena, after which British police was invited to enter the building and arrest Assange. The video on the right shows the moment that Assange is carried away from the embassy [14].

Although the Swedish sexual assault charges had meanwhile been dropped, the British authorities insisted on persecuting him for violating his bail conditions, despite the fact that the grounds for the initial arrest in Sweden no longer existed.

After a short hearing, Assange was found guilty of breaching bail and was sentenced on 1 May 2019 to 50 weeks imprisonment at Belmarsh Prison. The judge said he would be released after serving half his sentence, subject to other proceedings, if no further offences were committed.

On the day of Assange's arrest – 11 April 2019 – the US indictment against him was unsealed. 1 In the following month, on 23 May 2019, Assange was indicted on 17 new charges relating to the Espionage Act. These charges alone carry a maximum sentence of 170 years in prison.

During the course of 2021, the extradition to the United States was challenged several times, until finally the High Court ruled in favour of the United States on 10 December 2021. On 20 April 2022, the extradition was approved and referred to Home Secretary Priti Patel, who on 17 June also aprroved the extradition. On 22 August 2022, Assange's legal team lodged a Perfected Grounds of Appeal before the High Court, challenging an earlier decision of 4 January 2021 with new evidence. He is currently awaiting extradition to the United States.

  1. On 6 March 2018, a federal grand jury for the Eastern District of Virginia (USA) had issued a sealed indictment against Assange. In November 2018, US prosecutors accidantally revealed the indictment.

Surveillance incidents
Wall socket bug   2013
In mid-June 2013, during routine work on the wiring at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (UK), Ecuadorian technicians discovered a covert listening device (bug) that was hidden inside one of the mains wall sockets in the office of the ambassador, Mrs. Ana Alban. It was able to pick up any conversation in the room and could be controlled remotely by means of a GSM cell phone [3].

The bug consists of a GSM module with a SIM card, a digital recorder and a power supply unit (PSU) that was connected directly to the mains. An outside party could call the bug on its GSM number and listen directly to any conversation in the room. Apparently it could also be used to playback any previously recorded conversations.

The discovery of the bug was shared with the international press by Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño at a press conference in Quito (Ecuador). According to Patiño, the bug had been planted at their London embassy by the British company The Surveillance Group Ltd.
Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño showing a photograph of the bug [3]

The company, based in Worchester and Hereford (UK) denied the allegations and Patiño did not make it clear why the Ecuadorians thought that this company was responsible for placing the bug [3]. Surveillance experts told The Guardian later that day, that it was not a professional bug and that it was unlikely that it was the work of a western security service like GCHQ or the CIA.

According to them, security services would have used much more sophisticated devices — most likely purpose built — that would be far more difficult to discover during a routine check [4]. At the press conference, Patiño held up a photo­graph of the bug, a close-up of which was shared on Twitter later that day by WikiLeaks [5].

The discoverd bug is an off-the-shelf product that anyone could have purchased from a local spy shop or from an international vending site such as eBay or AliExpress. Bugs like this are commonly offered, for example, for spying on disloyal employees or unfaithful husbands.
The bug found inside a wall socket and shown to the press [5]

Whilst it is true that security services — in particular the ones from the UK and US — use far more sophisticated bugs, it is also true that such services sometimes hide multiple cheap off-the-shelf easily-discoverable bugs in the same room as a bait, in the hope that it will satisfy a sweep team.

As the bug was found in the office of the ambassador and not in one of the rooms that were used by Julian Assange, it is unclear whether it was planted there with the intent to spy on him. It is also unclear how long the bug had been present, how effective it had been and whether it had actually been used to gather intelligence. The Ecuadorian Government said they had called upon the UK authorities to help them with the investigation of the device [3].

Bugged CryptoPhone   2013-2018
Around the time of the Snowden Revelations in mid-2013, WikiLeaks members started using highly secure CryptoPhone IP-19 devices made by the company GSMK in Berlin (Germany), for confidential conversations between London and Berlin. The CryptoPhone at the London office of WikiLeaks was used until March 2018, when it was taken back to Germany to be repaired.

When it was opened, a sophisticated listening device (bug) was discovered, that is attributed by experts to the CIA or a similar agency.

 Detailed analysis of the bug

CryptoPhone IP-19 - right angle view - click for more information

Operation HOTEL   2019
During Julian Assange's stay at the Embassy of Ecuador in London (UK), the Ecuadorians hired the Spanish firm UC Global for securing the premises. Camera's (with microphones) were installed at stragic locations inside and outside of the embassy building at 3 Hans Cres in Central London.

In addition, the passports of Assangle's visitors were scanned and data on them was collected by the firm. Apart from sharing this information with the Ecuadorian authorities, the Spanish firm also shared their data with the American CIA, enabling the latter to get a good picture of the social network around the WikiLeaks founder [7].

The image on the right shows Asssange's friend Stephen Woo, walking into the embassy carrying a child on his chest. As Assangle was suspected to be the father of the child, the surveillance images were also used to support this claim [8].
Still from camera footage, showing Assange's friend Stephen Hoo walking into the Ecuadorian Embassy in London [8]

On 10 April 2019, WikiLeaks said it had uncovered an extensive surveillance operation against Assange, involving video, audio, copies of private legal documents and a medical report [9]. It had surfaced in Spain and had been used by individuals in Madrid in an extortion attempt [11]. A day later, on 11 April 2019, Assange was arrested by British Police and taken from the embassy.

David Moralis, CEO of the UC Global — the company that had been hired for surveillance of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London — was later arrested by the Spanish police. Accused of sharing the information with the CIA, he would be investigated for violating Assange's privacy, attorney-client privilege, misappropriation, bribery, money laundering and illegal possession of arms [7]. A former employee of UC Global confirmed that the company had indeed been spying on behalf of the CIA and that the surveillance operation was internally known as Operation HOTEL.

On 11 April 2020, the Daily Mail revealed that Assange had indeed fathered two children during his stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, with his 37 year old lawyer Stella Morris [10]. The couple confirmed this and said they were in a relationship since 2015 and were engaged since 2017. Their two children were born in 2017 and 2019 [1]. On 23 March 2022 the couple married in Belmarsh Prison, where Assange was held since being expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy.

  • 1971-07-03
    Born in Townsville, Queensland, Australia
  • 1987
    Arrested for hacking at age 16
  • 1996
    Guilty of hacking, fined A$ 2,100
  • 2006
    WikiLeaks founded in Iceland
  • 2008
    WikiLeaks published bank records of Swiss Julius Baer Bank
  • 2010
    Chelsea Manning leaks 750,000 documents about the Iraq War
  • 2010
    US starts criminal investigation of WikiLeaks and Assange
  • 2010-04
    WikiLeaks releases the Collateral Murder video
  • 2010-08-20
    Assange charged with sexual assault in Sweden
  • 2010-08-30
    Questioned by Stockholm police
  • 2010-09-01
    Preliminary investigation discontinued (later resumed)
  • 2010-09-27
    Assange leaves Stockholm
  • 2010-09-28
    Sweden issues international warrant for arrest of Assange
  • 2010-10
    WikiLeaks publishes 391,832 US Army field reports (2004-2009)
  • 2010-11
    WikiLeaks publishes 250,000 redacted diplomatic cables (Cablegate)
  • 2010-12-08
    Assange give himself up to British police
  • 2010-12-16
    Assange release on bail (GBP 240,000)
  • 2011
    Cryptome and WikiLeaks publish the unredacted Cablegate files
  • 2012-04
    Edward Snowden starts collecting information about PRISM
  • 2012-06-19
    Assange seeks asylum at Ecuadorian Embassy in London
  • 2012-08-16
    Assange granted political asylum by Ecuador
  • 2013
    Chelsea Manning convicted for violating US Espionage Act
  • 2013-05-20
    Edward Snowden escapes to Hong Kong
  • 2013-06
    Edward Snowden leaks information about NSA PRISM surveillance
  • 2013-06-05
    First article on PRISM by Gleen Greenwald (The Guardian)
  • 2013-06-09
    Edward Snowden's identity revealed
  • 2013-06-23
    Edward Snowden flies to Moscow with Sarah Harisson of WikiLeaks
  • 2013-06
    GSM bug found in the office of the Ecuadorian Ambassador in London
  • 2015
    Assange and lawyer Stella Morris involved in secret relationship
  • 2017
    Assange and Morris secretly engaged
  • 2017
    Chelsea Manning released from prison
  • 2019-04-10
    WikiLeaks reveals massive surveillance operation agains Assange
  • 2019-04-11
    Assange arrested by British police inside Ecuadorian Embassy
  • 2019-04-11
    Sealed US indictment of 6 March 2018 unsealed.
  • 2019-04-23
    17 new charges filed against Assange by United States
  • 2020-04-11
    Daily Mail reveals that Assangle father two children at the embassy
  • 2022-03-23
    Assange and Morris married in Belmarsh Prison
  • 2023
    Assange awaiting extradition to the United States
  1. Wikipedia, Julian Assange
    Visited 26 March 2023.

  2. Wikipedia, WikiLeaks
    Visited 26 March 2023.

  3. Ecuador says London embassy bug hidden in socket
    Haroon Siddique and agencies.
    The Guardian, 4 July 2013, 09:48 BST.

  4. Ecuador embassy bug unlikely to be work of security services, says experts
    Robert Booth, Vikram Dodd and Sam Jones.
    The Guardian, 4 July 2013, 14:07 BST.

  5. WikiLeaks, Here's the inside of the bug that Ecuador found at their London embassy
    Twitter, 4 July 2013.

  6. A visual guide to Ecuador's Julian Assange spy operation
    Luke Harding, Dan Collyns, Niko Kommenda, Josh Holder and Cath Levett.
    The Guardian, 16 May 2018.

  7. José María Irujo, The US trial of the man whose security firm spied on Julian Assange
    EL PAÍS. Madrid, 8 November 2019.

  8. José María Irujo, Spanish firm that spied in Julian Assange
    tried to find out if he fathered a child at the Ecuadorian embassy

    EL PAÍS. Madrid, 15 April 2020.

  9. Wikipedia, Surveillance of Julian Assange
    Visited 27 March 2023.

  10. WikiLeaks boss Julian Assange fathered two children inside the Ecuadorian embassy with lawyer, 37, who fell in love with him while helping his fight against extradition to the US
    Sarah Oliver, Daily Mail (Mail Online), 11 April 2020. Updated 16 September 2020.

  11. Ben Quinn, Spanish police 'recover Julian Assange surveillance footage
    The Guardian, 10 April 2020.

  12. Wikipedia, Chelsea Manning
    Visited 27 March 2023.

  13. Wikipedia, Guantanamo Bay detention camp
    Visited 27 March 2023.

  14. CBS Mornings, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, arrested in London
    Via YouTube. 11 April 2019.
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© Crypto Museum. Created: Sunday 26 March 2023. Last changed: Tuesday, 08 August 2023 - 11:23 CET.
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