By the time you read this, it’s more than likely the founder, chief architect, fundraiser and evangelist of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, will have spent 18 months cloistered away in the Ecuadorian embassy.
His future uncertain and Wikleaks no longer what it once was, he will still be evading Swedish sex crime allegations and a US espionage investigation into what has become the biggest, most damning whistle-blowing exercise the world has ever seen.
Like most people I was familiar with his back-story but it was only recently that I stumbled upon the book that in a compelling and considered way, chronicles his rise and fall.
Updated with new information and published again last year, Andrew Fowler’s The Most Dangerous Man in the World: The Explosive True Story of Julian Assange and the Lies, Cover-ups and Conspiracies He Exposed, is a sterling account of the man many see as either a trailblazer or traitor.
In addition, it details the lead-up to the massive global news events Wikileaks prompted that have irrevocably changed the face of journalism, media and international politics.
His mother (like Assange) was a creative, free-spirited rebel who moved him from home to home nearly 40 times before he turned 14. Home-schooled, he developed an early obsession with computers and technology and as the internet unfolded, he became a pioneering hacker.
Stigmatised with a criminal record by the time he was 20 (for breaking into the system of a Canadian telco), Fowler also chronicles the disintegration of Assange’s marriage and the custody battle that left him with disdain for state power.
Fast forward to 2007 when WikiLeaks, was quietly thrust on to the world stage. From there, Fowler covers his early stoush with the cult of Scientology in Australia through to the release of more than half a million intercepts of pager messages sent on the day of the September 11 attacks.
It then paints the background behind the visual bombshell of the Collateral Murder video showing American soldiers firing on civilians and Reuters reporters, along with the media power plays that unfolded to access, edit or compromise the content.
What the book doesn’t cover, of course, is the fact that Chelsea (previously Bradley) Manning, the US army private who leaked many of the documents to Assange’s organisation, was sentenced to 35 years in prison by a US military court on 21 August, 2013.
A gripping read from start to finish, it’s like an international thriller that perfectly complements the new film about Assange, The Fifth Estate, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and uses David Fincher’s look at the creation of Facebook, The Social Network, as its prototype. Watching the movie, says director Bill Condon, “is the experience of being impressed and turned off by Assange every five minutes”.
Strangely, this is exactly how I now feel about him: in awe of his vision, talent and moral compass and yet turned off by his narcissism and megalomania. For anyone with a passing interest in media or journalism, this book will help form your own point of view.