The Robin Hood of the information age, Julian Assange is the public face of WikiLeaks and has become a celebrity in his own right. From the 2010 Collateral Murder video to the Swedish allegations of non-consensual behaviour within a consensual sexual encounter he often graces the pages of the international press, both broadsheet and tabloid.
He has appeared in numerous documentaries (two of which, Wikileaks: Secrets and Lies and s well as having two bio pics, The Fifth Estate and Underground – The Julian Assange Story, made about him. Love him or hate him, the second of these titles, Underground revels a lot about what makes him what he is.
Based loosely on Suelette Dreyfus’ 1997 book Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier, Underground follows the exploits of the teenage Assange as he refines his computer hacking skills. Known as Mendax, Assange along with another two teen hackers, Prime Suspect and Trax hack their way into International corporations’ computer systems around the world including the US Military. Calling themselves the International Subversives Assange prides himself on them being white hat hackers devoid of any malicious or mercenary intent.
During these adolescent years Assange was also developing his social awareness. After attending an anti nuclear protest rally with his mother he was dismayed by the small turn out. He walks away mumbling that there must be a better way to disseminate the message.
Hacking into the Pentagon attracted the attention of the US Authorities and whilst not knowing who, the FBI was sure the where was Australia and requested the Australian police to investigate. The Australian Federal Police set up Operation Weather. During the four years it took the police to track down the International Subversives, Assange would play cat and mouse with them. He would chat online with the police at Operation Weather’s control center and when the call was traced it would be found to be the policeman’s home address.
The first Iraq war was underway when Assange was finally captured. In a closing scene he requests more time from the arresting officer so he can find out the truth about the war’s bombings. His request is denied on the grounds of protecting the soldiers who are fighting over there.
That the adolescent prankster with a social conscience should become an international fugitive thumbing his nose at authority seems inevitable; perhaps even the stuff of legends.