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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Julian Assange Vies For TIME Magazine's Person Of The Year

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks Founder, Up For Time's "Person Of The Year" With Obama, Palin & More

Could the man on Interpol's most wanted list also be Time's Person of the Year?

If it were up to the magazine's readers, Julian Assange, founder of the controversial whistleblower website WikiLeaks, would certainly have a shot.

More than 90,000 readers have voted for the 39-year-old Australian, placing him in third place, alongside comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Strangely, leading the pack is Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey. And in second place is pop singer Lady Gaga.

"For better or for worse, Julian Assange has changed the accessibility to knowledge of the two wars that involve the U.S., within a matter of months," Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, told Time. "He has also put journalistic integrity on a knife-blade edge: What is the responsibility of the journalist to make public or keep private?"

Assange's whereabouts are unknown since WikiLeaks' latest release of more than 250,000 top-secret U.S. documents on Sunday. Interpol has put him on their wanted list in a separate issue involving Assange, who allegedly sexually assaulted at least one woman in Sweden. He has vehemently denied the charge.

The WikiLeaks founder is beating several candidates -- including news personalities, politicians, athletes and entertainers -- for the magazine's prestigious prize. On the list are Fox News' Glenn Beck (fifth place), former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (10th place), the Chilean miners (ninth place), basketball player LeBron James (22nd place), President Obama (sixth place) and the unemployed American (eighth place).

Time's editors will make the final decision, but if Assange wins, he won't be the first whistleblower to receive the award. In 2002, “The Whisteblowers,” made up of Cynthia Cooper of World Com, Sherron Watkins of Enron and Coleen Rowley of the FBI all won the prize after they blew the lid on their respective employers.

Of course, if he wins, Assange would also join some of the world's most hated figures including Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Ayatollah Khomeini.

Who Will Be TIME's 2010 Person of the Year?

He is a new kind of whistle-blower: one made for the digital age. Those before him (like Daniel Ellsberg) were limited in the ways they could go public with their information.

But in founding, Julian Assange gave himself the freedom to publish virtually anything he wants, whether it's the true nature of Iraqi prisoner abuse, the double role Pakistan plays in Afghanistan or the personal e-mails of Sarah Palin. Assange's site, which he started four years ago, has made public a trove of secret and classified documents — close to 500,000 pages on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone.

But in the process, governments he has targeted (like the U.S.'s) claim he has put the lives of informants and soldiers in jeopardy. Warranted or not, Assange is convinced that the governments and intelligence agencies he is unmasking are watching his every move, and as a result, he finds himself in virtual exile in Europe.

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Tells TIME: Hillary Clinton "Should Resign"

Hillary Clinton, Julian Assange said, "should resign." Speaking over Skype from an undisclosed location on Tuesday, the WikiLeaks founder was replying to a question by TIME managing editor Richard Stengel over the diplomatic-cable dump that Assange's organization loosed on the world this past weekend. Stengel had said the U.S. Secretary of State was looking like "the fall guy" in the ensuing controversy, and had asked whether her firing or resignation was an outcome that Assange wanted. "I don't think it would make much of a difference either way," Assange said. "But she should resign if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations, in violation of the international covenants to which the U.S. has signed up. Yes, she should resign over that."

Assange spoke about the latest tranche of documents from WikiLeaks in a 36-minute interview with TIME (the full audio will be available soon on He said there would be more: "We're doing about 80 a day, presently, and that will gradually step up as the other media partners step in." Indeed, every region of the world appears to be bracing for its turn in the WikiLeaks mill. Pakistani officials are almost certain that more revealing documents focusing on their country will come out soon. And the Russian media are anxious to see if future leaks will detail any behind-the-scenes dealings over the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war.

Assange said that all the documents were redacted "carefully." "They are all reviewed, and they're all redacted either by us or by the newspapers concerned," he said. He added that WikiLeaks "formally asked the State Department for assistance with that. That request was formally rejected."

Asked what his "moral calculus" was to justify publishing the leaks and whether he considered what he was doing to be "civil disobedience," Assange said, "Not at all. This organization practices civil obedience, that is, we are an organization that tries to make the world more civil and act against abusive organizations that are pushing it in the opposite direction." As for whether WikiLeaks was breaking the law, he said, "We have now in our four-year history, and over 100 legal attacks of various kinds, been victorious in all of those matters." He added, "It's very important to remember the law is not what, not simply what, powerful people would want others to believe it is. The law is not what a general says it is. The law is not what Hillary Clinton says it is."

And the source or sources of all the diplomatic cables? Stengel asked Assange if U.S. Army PFC Bradley Manning, now detained in Quantico, Va., was the sole source of the megaleak. "We're a source-protection organization," Assange said, "so the last thing we would do is discuss possible sources. However, we do know that ... the FBI, State Department and U.S. Army CID [Criminal Investigation Command] has been going around Boston visiting a number of people there." He referred to "people who have been detained coming back into the United States" with connections to Manning. The U.S. soldier's "mother's home in Wales, in the U.K.," he said, was "visited, or raided, depending on how you want to describe it," by the FBI.

Stengel asked what was coming next from WikiLeaks. "We don't have targets," said Assange, "other than organizations that use secrecy to conceal unjust behavior ... That's created a general target." A story in Forbes magazine, which interviewed Assange before the latest leak, said that WikiLeaks has a large U.S. financial corporation in its sights. Assange confirmed that. "Yes, the banks are in there. Many different multinational organizations are in the upcoming weeks, but that is a continuation of what we have been doing for the past four years" since WikiLeaks was founded. He added that the volume of material has increased. "The upcoming bank material is 10,000 documents, as opposed to hundreds, which we have gotten in the other cases."

TIME and will continue to report stories based on Stengel's Assange interview and on the continuing fallout from the release of the diplomatic cables.

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Sources: NY Daily News, The Guardian, TIME, Google Maps

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