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Q&A With Julian Assange's Biographer

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JULIAN ASSANGE

The Most Dangerous Man in the World is a new unauthorized biography on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. It's written by award winning investigative journalist Andrew Fowler.

Andrew Fowler did a Q & A via email from Julian Assange's home country, Australia, where he is promoting the book.

What is Julian Assange like?
Assange is a mixed character -- brilliant with an IQ supposedly around 170, he's arrogant, humble, sour and humorous, all in the space of a few minutes. His politics are a cross between the anarchist left and the libertarian right; he believes in social justice but at the same time opposes the secrecy and the power of big government.

What was the most surprising reveal in the book?
Daniel Ellsberg's revelation that he contacted Assange about the Afghan War logs naming of informants and told him it was a mistake. (And) Ellsberg's fear that WikiLeaks might be counter-productive and produce a more secretive American state.

What was the single most surprising thing you learned about Julian Assange while you were researching the book?
His ability to draw people to his cause, but his inability to hold them.

Assange strikes many people as prone to under-graduate conspiracy theories. What's your take on this?
Assange tries to put frameworks around seemingly unexplained acts. They don't strike me as conspiracy theories, just an attempt to understand what's happening.

Does Julian Assange really know what he's talking about? Does he understand the high stakes?
Assange has a detailed understanding of world events, more than many other journalists I have met. He certainly understands the high stakes involved, but appears fearless.

There is often a sanctimonious self righteous air about Assange. Do you agree? Does he feel as if he is judge and jury?
Perhaps not often, but sometimes. Assange can be sanctimonious and self righteous, like a priest demanding unquestioning obedience from his flock.

How do you think history will judge Assange's and WikiLeaks impact on this century?
Bit of a big call got a few years to go! The impact of WikiLeaks is many fold -- the contemporary nature of its revelations. We are used to combing through the records 30 years after events to understand what went on. This time we got an insight into last year's news. (And now) the mass document drop is the new whistleblower weapon.

Many of the cables seem to reveal that US diplomatic staff are more sensitive and acutely aware of the fabric of particular country's politics, societies and personalities than they have been given credit for. Many people found this incredibly surprising and somewhat soothing. Do you think this is correct?
It should come as no surprise that the US State Department, which employs some of the best educated people to work at its overseas missions, should be able to faithfully report the local scene. What is surprising, particularly in North Africa, was the failure of US political will to more vigorously support a change to democracy.

Taking into account the above question, what do you think the real impact is on international relations, diplomacy and policy?
The evidence so far is that the impact of WikiLeaks has had a negligible negative impact on US overseas interests. The big test will be how the US responds domestically and whether, as Ellsberg fears, there may be a move to introduce an Official Secrets Act, with curbs on freedom of speech in the US.

As an investigative journalist yourself, does it trouble you that there appears to have been little sorting and consideration and context given to WikiLeaks files before their release?
WikiLeaks made major errors in releasing the Afghan War logs, naming informants and identifying regions and even towns where they lived. The identifying of facilities which the US believes are crucial strategic assets has also been criticized, particularly by Ellsberg in the book. It is important, however, to remember that of the 650,000 US State Department cables only about 4000 have actually been released and published. The work of the New York Times, the UK's Guardian newspaper and WikiLeaks has given context to these releases.

The Swedish allegations -- how will they play out?
It seems certain that Julian Assange will be extradited to Sweden to face the charges of rape and sexual molestation and that the US will try to extradite him. The treatment of alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning which is being investigated by the UN suggests the US military has been trying to force a confession out of him which implicates Assange. The fact that this tactic does not appear to have been successful does not mean that the US will not try to find a lesser charge by which Assange can be extradited.