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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange: What does he want?

The aims of Julian Assange seem to shift with each WikiLeaks release. Is he anticorruption? Antiwar? The inconsistency suggests that anti-secrecy may be his only guiding principle.

By Staff writer / November 30, 2010

A woman reads a confidential diplomat's dispatch on the WikiLeaks website in Schwerin, Germany, Tuesday, while a second screen shows the face of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

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Julian Assange has certainly grabbed the world’s attention. The WikiLeaks founder has masterminded publication of vast troves of secret US military and diplomatic material, infuriating and embarrassing governments around the globe. Now he’s vowing to go after private enterprise as well. A big US bank will be the target of his next megaleak, he told Forbes in a just-published interview.

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But do Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have a theory of operations for what they do? What is he hoping to accomplish? In the end, what does Julian Assange want?

“I’m not sure,” said Assange when a Forbes reporter asked him what he wanted to be the result of his promised forthcoming release of bank records.

Assange appears to be a very complicated person. The child of footloose Australian parents, he had little formal childhood education, living as a sort of new age Tom Sawyer, he told a New Yorker writer in a lengthy profile published earlier this year. According to Assange, he moved 37 times before the age of 14, in part to avoid an allegedly abusive stepfather. He was a teenage computer hacker with famous skills who narrowly escaped prison, and also a teenage father. He later had a scarring tour through Australian courts in an effort to gain custody of his child.

He remains so intense that he forgets whether he has purchased plane tickets, and asks to get his hair cut while he’s working on a computer, to save time.

He has said that today he is an adherent of no political or economic philosophy, but if anything he is close to libertarianism in an American sense. He appears to be obsessed with rooting out institutional corruption. For instance, he told Forbes that by exposing bad behavior among corporations he could help ethical corporations thrive.

WikiLeaks aims to create “a reputational tax on unethical companies,” he said.

On its website, WikiLeaks says that as an organization it exists to create transparency.

“This transparency creates a better society for all people,” says WikiLeaks in an online mission statement of sorts. “Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society’s institutions, including government, corporations and other organizations.”

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