Julian Assange, the man who wants to play God
Swedes charge Assange with rape – but then drop it. The latest episode of this story is pure Larsson
The latest twists and turns in the story of Julian Assange, responsible for dumping 76,000 classified US military documents on the public through his website Wikileaks, read like a plot from the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. In this episode he seems to be playing the role of the genius-hacker Lisbeth Salander and her journalistic mentor, Kalle 'Bastard' Blomkvist.
And the latest drama in this tale of the boy who played with fire is indeed set in Sweden.
For some time it had been suggested that the secretive and itinerant Assange, who is Australian by birth and citizenship, was considering setting up base in Sweden. He is known to spend time there and he was recently offered a column on a national newspaper, Aftonbladet, allowing him to be covered by powerful Swedish laws that protect journalists' rights to freedom of speech.
Then, last week, Sweden's public prosecutor said it would be bringing a charge of rape against Assange, plus a possible additional charge of molesting a minor. But within a matter of hours, the Swedish authorities announced they would not be bringing the rape prosecution, though it's possible they are holding the molestation charge in abeyance, and could still use it.
The timing of all this raises suspicions that there are American influences - the hand of the CIA - behind the scenes. The prosecution story appeared just as Assange was making it clear that Wikileaks was about to release a further 15,000 classified US documents, primarily about operations in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration has blown hot and cold about the Wikileaks disclosures. At first they tried to dismiss them, then they asked for them to be withdrawn and said they endangered the lives of agents and informants in the fight against the Taliban.
Private First Class Bradley Manning, widely believed to have fed the documents to Assange, has been arrested pending trial for espionage and breaching military security, a modern equivalent of treason.
Yet while playing tough cop with Bradley Manning, the US authorities have attempted a soft cop routine with Assange, seeking to bargain with him to turn over the records he still holds.
But the US federal posse against Assange and Wikileaks seems destined to fail. The CIA has opened and closed newspapers and broadcast stations across the world – and even had its finger in the pie with Al-Jazeera, it seems - but they cannot hope to be dominating lords of cyberspace. No one can be, and that is one of the axioms of the new information age.
The hot pursuit of Assange appears likely to follow the same path as Mrs Thatcher's attempts in the mid-1980s to nail the renegade MI5 agent Peter Wright for spilling the beans in Spycatcher. Attempts to gag Wright through British and Australian courts ended in farce and humiliation for the government – and Wright himself died a millionaire from his royalties.
The real power of the Wikileaks revelations lies not in the minutiae of military secrets, but the sheer quantitative impact of the story of the US-UK wars of intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. They reveal the scale of effort by the military, and the scale of destruction in lives, homes and hopes of the civilian population in both countries. That is something that all the spookery and finagling by the CIA cannot redress.
The audit of the files on Afghanistan from 2006 to the end of last year (when they stop) is that very little at all has been achieved in winning the confidence of civilian communities across Afghanistan. This will be tested to breaking-point by next month's assembly elections across the country – if they can be held at all in a meaningful way.
In many respects Julian Assange has already succeeded in his revelations about Afghanistan. This raises a wider point.
Today, governments are obsessed with dealing with threats from cyberspace and the menace of hackers getting into the information architecture on which any advanced society depends.
But however hard governments try to prevent it, the determined hacker is always likely to get through. Assange believes it is his right to disclose what he hacks, and our right to know. Not so much a boy who plays with fire, he is a man who wants to play God. ·
Comments are now closed on this article