WikiLeaks: The search for Julian Assange at Sydney Writers' Festival

WikiLeaks: The search for Julian Assange at Sydney Writers' Festival

Four think-tanks will ponder WikiLeaks' effect on the world's governments and media
Julian Assange
Julian Assange reaches out.

WikiLeaks -- from its humble, rural foundations to global information debate -- holds the major forums at this year's Sydney Writers' Festival.

One of the main speakers is Dr. Suelette Dreyfus, who investigated the hacking cults around Australia in the late 1980s and 1990s for her book “Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier,”  which she wrote in collaboration with Julian Assange.

It traces the steps that led to the global information storm of WikiLeaks -- thanks largely to US Army Intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, who released 250,000 documents to the organization.

Now, Assange is facing extradition charges in London to face trial in Sweden.

“Mendax”

The book profiled “Mendax”, one of the notorious “International Subversives” who included “Prime Suspect” and “Trax.”

“Mendax” lived in the rural Queensland town of Emerald, among other places. His mother was constantly on the run from a crazed partner. Dreyfus wrote: ''Sometimes Mendax went to school. Often he didn't. The school system didn't hold much interest for him. It didn't feed his mind … the computer system was a far more interesting place to muck around in.''

In 1991, a teenager who had moved to Melbourne, named Julian Assange, pleaded guilty to 24 hacking offences and was fined $2,100 and placed on a good behavior bond. His prey included the National University and Telecom.

The “International Subversives”  even monitored “Operation Weather,” the Australian Federal Police investigation into their activities.

“Undergound”

Dr. Suelette Dreyfus has never publicly confirmed the identity of anyone in her book. She refused to be interviewed for this story, but will take part in a panel discussion this week.

Assange “worked thousands of hours doing painstaking research” on the book, according to Dreyfus.

It sold 10,000 copies after its 1997 release, but when it was posted on the Internet for free in 2001, it went viral: 400,000 copies were accessed around the globe.

Assange is widely supported before his trial in London, but watched by police. (Picture/Peter Mcdiarmid/Getty Images)

Julian Assange

Dreyfuss told The Age: "[Assange] is not politically motivated. He is more concerned with truth and the quest for it. He is certainly not party political. I think he sees that there are good people on both sides of politics and definitely bad people."

Assange has become the demagogue of free speech. He launched WikiLeaks and –- according to opinion polls –- has the support of the Australian people, but not the government.

He was the fourth person to be awarded the gold medal of the Sydney Peace Prize for “peace with justice,” reports smh.com.au. Previous recipients were Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Japanese Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda.

"By challenging centuries-old practices of government secrecy and by championing people's right to know, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have created the potential for a new order in journalism and in the free flow of information," Peace Foundation director Professor Stuart Rees said in a statement.

WikiLeaks

The quietly spoken suburbanite, who enjoys the wilderness, told ABC: “The Australian Government’s purpose is to protect Australian citizens," and information about [Assange] should not have been released to the United States Government.

He’s criticized “decapitation attacks on the organization” and claims the United States' National Security has blown the leaks out of proportion.

He told the ABC: “No-one has come to physical harm from what we’ve done … certainly, some politicians have been embarrassed.”

But there is also a measured view taken by many for the release of information. “There has to be some information that should never be released,” said Robert Manne, professor of politics at La Trobe University, who will appear at the talk with Dreyfus on Friday night. “It could be very damaging. The case that there should be complete transparency is false.”

Assange himself has admitted a mistake in not deleting names of Afghan informants on one particular leak.

But, “Assange believes newspapers don’t report things they ought to,” Manne said.

This weekend, Sydney authors and academics will turn their attention to the effect this unassuming man's work has had on the world, and ask the question -- where is the balance between freedom of information and guarding information?

Perhaps it is fitting that Assange chose an Oscar Wilde quote for the epigraph in the online edition of “Underground," as both men have been adored and persecuted for their work.

''Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.''

Julian AssangeA masked protester outside Assange's trial.

Wikileaks at The Sydney Writers’ Festival 2011

Who’s Afraid of WikiLeaks? Barbara Gunnell, Guy Rundle, Robert Manne, Andrew Fowler and Suelette Dreyfus ask what we’ve got to be so afraid of. Chair: Paul Barratt, May 20, 6-7.30pm, Sydney Town Hall, $20/$15 Bookings 9250 1988 sydneytheatre.org.au

WikiLit, Janine Perrett asks Neil James, James Gleick and Richard Woolcott how information technology will shape communications in a post-Wiki era, May 21, 4-5pm, Wharf 2 STC, $15/$10 Bookings 9250 1988 sydneytheatre.org.au

WikiLeaks and the Challenge for Journalism, Andrew Fowler (ABC) and Cameron Stewart (The Australian) discuss the implications of WikiLeaks for journalism in a panel moderated by Media Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren, May 19, 4-5pm, Sydney Dance Company 1, Free, no bookings

Overland Event: WikiLeaks and the Left, Overland editor Jeff Sparrow and Guy Rundle (Down to the Crossroads) discuss what WikiLeaks means for the Left. Is ‘Assangism’ a new kind of activism? May 20, 1-2pm, Sydney Dance Company 2/3, Free, no bookings

www.swf.org.au