Some call him a hero. A New York Times headline called him “A Divisive Prophet of the Public’s Right to Know.” Supporters have even gone so far as to call WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a “journalist” who sacrificed his freedom to defend First Amendment rights.
Don’t be fooled. Assange is a computer hacker who got caught organizing the theft and unfiltered distribution of classified government documents. Instead of reading them, sifting the newsworthy items from the other chaff, and conducting actual reporting on any gleaned information the way real journalists do, Assange simply dumped it all online for the public to sort out.
And unlike journalists, who stand up for their reporting and are willing to go to jail to protect their sources, Assange, 47, ran from the truth and consistently evaded responsibility for his own role in WikiLeaks’ data dumps that exposed foreign intelligence informants, dissidents and human rights activists to jailing, torture or death for collaborating with the U.S. government. Assange took refuge in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, where he lived for nearly seven years.
His undoing was his own obnoxiousness. He so annoyed his Ecuadoran hosts that they ultimately yanked his asylum status so British police could drag him out. According to The New York Times, Juan Falconi Puig, then Ecuador’s ambassador to Britain, outlined in a 2014 letter the multiple annoyances — insulting staffers and destroying facilities — that ultimately pushed embassy staffers’ patience to the breaking point. Assange engaged in political activity that violated the embassy’s diplomatic status. When his internet access was severed, he hired a lawyer and sued the Ecuadoran government.
Assange’s offenses date back to 2010, when he conspired with then-Army Pvt. Bradley Manning to steal hundreds of thousands of classified government files and post them online. Manning was arrested and, while in prison, requested gender-reassignment surgery and changed her name to Chelsea. President Barack Obama commuted her sentence, allowing her to be released in May 2017.
Manning faced justice and took responsibility for her actions. Assange did the opposite. Some of the unfiltered information they colluded to post on WikiLeaks was useful in exposing U.S. military practices in Iraq that led to the negligent deaths of non-combatants. The wrongful deaths of two Reuters news agency staffers, deserved to be exposed, particularly because the U.S. military gave what appeared to be misleading accounts of how they died.
But that doesn’t make up for the scores of lives the two put in danger by exposing human rights activists and others who shared confidential information with U.S. diplomats on the promise that they would be protected from being exposed as informants.
“Julian Assange is no hero, and no one is above the law,” said Britain’s foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt. “He has hidden from the truth for years.”