Moral Outrage
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Julian Assange the man and the sound of suffering

Though Julian Assange is a household name now, little was known about him before July 2010, when he dominated breaking international headlines when his site WikiLeaks published a trove of classified U.S. documents about the Afghanistan war.

What kind of man is Assange, who founded WikiLeaks in 2006, and in 2010, was voted Person of the Year by Time’s readers?

The media flashes pictures of his snow-white hair, skinny ties and sardonic smile. In interviews, Assange speaks in baritone. His pace is measured, and he seems to choose words carefully. He can be charming yet cagey about his private life and is rarely shaken by discussions of even the most controversial revelations on WikiLeaks.

When he talks, he displays an astonishing breadth of interests: from computers to literature to his travels in Africa.

Assange married and had a child when he was 18, but the relationship fell apart and his wife left him with their infant son.

He’s the kind of person who, he says, can hack into the most sophisticated computer system. But he can forget to show up for an interview or cancel at the last minute.

Assange’s fascination with hacking grew when he was a teen. He taught himself computer encryption and security. He says he once set up an encryption puzzle based on the manipulation of prime numbers. The young hacker eventually turned away from network flaws and focused on what he perceived as wrongdoings of governments.

This statement appeared in 2007 on the blog IQ.org, which Assange is believed to have created. “The whole universe or the structure that perceives it is a worthy opponent, but try as I may I can not escape the sound of suffering. Perhaps as an old man I will take great comfort in pottering around in a lab and gently talking to students in the summer evening and will accept suffering with insouciance. But not now; men in their prime, if they have convictions are tasked to act on them.”

Among the myriad topics addressed on the blog, Assange discusses mathematics versus philosophy, the death of author Kurt Vonnegut, censorship in Iran and the corporation as a nation state.

Driven by the conviction of an activist and the curiosity of a journalist, Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006. He slept little and sometimes forgot to eat. He hired staff and enlisted the help of volunteers.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a longtime volunteer and spokesman for WikiLeaks, was considered to be Assange’s closest collaborator. Domscheit-Berg went on to publish a tell-all book about the inner workings of WikiLeaks. He wrote that Assange is a “paranoid, power-hungry, megalomaniac.”

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