Assange’s Cryptic Behavior


Image via Wikipedia

WikiLeaks is a new concept to the global stage, though hardly new to people who have been involved in computer security for a while. This article does a very good job of boiling down the essence of the site.

The question keeps arising, why do people do this? The answers are varied, but money is among the least-likely reasons. Pfc. Manning was a classic “disgruntled employee” case. Others may be traditional whistle-blowers. Still others may be working for competing companies or foreign governments. In all cases, there is reason to release the information only if it is more valuable to the leaker if the information is public than if it is privately held by the leaker.

But there’s more to the equation than this. Why does Julian Assange do this? To get a sense of the answer, one needs to look at his past. He was born in 1971, and so was among the first generation of people who could have used a computer in the home. WarGames was written about people like him, who had the normal curiosity of a teenager, coupled with a knack for cryptography.

This interest in cryptography is important. It appears that there is a high concentration of people within the cryptography community that have Asperger Syndrome. Such people tend to be intelligent, in part because one of the symptoms is an intense focus on things that they can study alone; but they also have an inability to empathize. It also tends to breed unrealistic hubris, as a side effect of years of experience in outsmarting others, coupled with the inability to see social warning signs because of the lack of empathy. This could help to explain why he seems to be unable to understand the degree to which his actions are putting himself at risk.

Furthermore, there is a substantial “freedom” subcommunity within the broader computer technology world. The fundamental tenets of this subcommunity are that software and information should be freely available, without profit motive. It was this group that produced Linux and other open-source software. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a more formal and refined manifestation of an aspect of this philosophy. In a less formal and more raw fashion, so is Hacktivismo.

When you put these pieces together, it becomes much easier to understand Assange’s motivations. It’s not that he wants to bring the United States down. Rather the free-information philosophy is more important to him. A lack of empathy and ability to see the bigger picture leads to this behavior. It should be easy to understand this if you look at it through the lens of an individual’s personal political ideology. We see this sort of behavior on this very site all the time.

It’s hard to say what will happen if he loses his life over this. Perhaps someone else will fill the void; there is certainly no shortage of people who share his philosophy and mental state. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine one who would consider Assange a martyr, and would take up the mantle in his honor.

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37 Responses to Assange’s Cryptic Behavior

  1. Mr. Universe says:

    Shall we play a game, Professor Faulken?

  2. Bart DePalma says:

    It’s not that he wants to bring the United States down. Rather the free-information philosophy is more important to him.

    Assange is an anarchist who looks at leaks as information warfare against the government:

    Assange wrote that illegitimate governance was by definition conspiratorial—the product of functionaries in “collaborative secrecy, working to the detriment of a population.” He argued that, when a regime’s lines of internal communication are disrupted, the information flow among conspirators must dwindle, and that, as the flow approaches zero, the conspiracy dissolves. Leaks were an instrument of information warfare.

    However, Assange’s targets are generally the freer western countries and not the various dictatorships and rogue nations across the world.

    When he releases classified information from the Obama Administration, Assange is launching an attack against this government because he has deemed it illegitimate, not because of a love of transparency.

  3. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Like Bart has never launched and attack against the Obama government.

    But he does so with conflicting ideology and lies.

    Ideological chickenshit, lying, unAmerican ass of a failure.

  4. filistro says:

    I’m interested in the “freedom subcommunity.” I remember in the early days of the internet when we were all just learning how it worked, and you could get “shareware” from so many outlets and download or install it for free. We are so imbued with the profit motive that it was really hard back then to fathom why anybody would do it.

    (I guess this blog is my answer, since it’s a fair amount of work and nobody is making any money from it, but we’re all having a lot of fun.)

    Still, it’s counter-intuitive to our innate entrepreneurial sensibilities that anybody would do what Assange is doing without expecting to profit from it.

    (Although as I recall, that shareware stuff was riddled with ugly nasty viruses, and we soon learned to avoid it. So I guess there really is no free lunch.)

  5. fopplssiegeparty says:

    Someone on another blog pointed out that Mr. Assange was pretty much free to roam about until it was leaked that the next round would expose a large bank. All of a sudden he’s a wanted man.

  6. filistro says:

    An interesting further detail… TPM posted this little feature about the home of the Wikileaks server.

    The movie script just practically writes itself, doesn’t it?

  7. dcpetterson says:


    On “shareware” — there still is a very large and very active community producing free software. It is primarily called the “Open Source” community (though there are others). It is very loosely organized and self-monitoring. The software it produces is free, and is really the most dependable and powerful software available today, everything from games to entire operating systems. And virus-free. (In fact, there are excellent Open Source anti-virus packages, much better than the big commercial packages — and FREE.)

    It is, in a way, the perfect libertarian community, operating outside governmental or corporate restrictions. But it confounds the modern right-wing idea of “libertarians”, because it operates primarily without profit motive. Oh, there certainly are ways to make a profit there. But that’s not the central driving feature of Open Source.

  8. filistro says:

    @DC… But that’s not the central driving feature of Open Source.

    What is their “central driving feature”, DC?

    If we could come to an understanding of this, maybe we could also begin to understand Assange and develop a more intelligent approach to dealing with him (and his fellow travelers) than the right wing’s screams for him to be executed.

  9. dcpetterson says:

    What is their “central driving feature”, DC?

    That’s hard to say. They’re geeks. They do what they do, and they love doing it. It is love of creating something, the love of building something that people use and enjoy. And the idea of doing it better than anyone else. It’s the same urge that drives a sculptor or a novelist or a musician. Or a scientist. Yes, you can make money off it, but that’s incidental. It’s about doing what your heart leads you to do.

  10. shortchain says:

    I’ve contributed (in a small way) to open source. What drives me is a motivation that I’m pretty sure you’ll understand: the desire to create something. So you write your code and you put up for the world to use, with a GNU license on it so, if some corporation wants to appropriate it and make a bazillion bucks off your effort, you can get recognition, at least.

    But it’s the knowledge that you’ve done something that is useful to the world that drives you.

  11. filistro says:

    @shortchain (and DC)

    But it’s the knowledge that you’ve done something that is useful to the world that drives you.

    What? Not motivated by profit?

    No wonder the conservatives can’t understand this guy. (Wasn’t GROG suggesting just a couple of days ago that huge amounts of cash must have changed hands in order for Assange to acquire this stuff?) This may well be one case where you can’t “follow teh money” to get to the perps. It appears there IS no money… just some kind of pure (if misguided) principle.

    Perhaps Assange really means it when he claims his goal is a world that is more “just?”

    Ron Paul… Bart’s fellow libertarian… says “the world needs more wikileaks.”

    “In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth,” Paul wrote this Friday, in response to calls from some Republicans that Assange be tried for treason. “In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble.”

  12. shortchain says:

    I should add, for the record, that some companies also support open-source, because it’s to their financial advantage to — they make use of open-source, and they make improvements on it, which, because of the way the licenses work, become part of open-source.

    Just as in all areas, the motivations vary. I don’t know what motivates Assange. Perhaps he’s altruistic and naive. Perhaps he’s not, but has convinced himself he is doing this for such motives. I’ve read interviews with him, and there’s a lot there I can agree with.

    But you are absolutely correct, filistro — a lot of conservatives just cannot understand the entire mind-set, and are completely in the dark. Mostly, like Bart when this type of things come up, they bluster a bit and ignore it, pretending it doesn’t exist.

    — open-sourcing since 1990.

  13. dcpetterson says:

    Yes, filistro. It’s got nothing to do with monetary profit. I know this is confusing for conservatives, who are all about the self-centered greed.

  14. shiloh says:

    Like to thank Bram Cohen for creating BitTorrent and whomever created ICQ chat. And all the different programs which were created back in the day for capping streaming video continuously were quite helpful also. 🙂

    Currently Download Helper 4.8.1 a Firefox extension is indispensable for downloading flash files from YouTube, Dailymotion, Metacafe etc.

    carry on

  15. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    The problem with the current crop of “people who call themselves conservatives” is that, while they can talk a good game, when it comes to actually governing, VERY REGRETFULLY, they don’t have the intellectual knowhow. Since they can’t actually provide sound intellectual argument in which to base decision-making, they take the path of least resistance. Bart is just a good example of the breed. When called upon to put forth rationale, we get rationalizing. When asked for SPECIFIC examples of answers to a SPECIFIC problem, we get generalizations without addressing the specifics at issue.

    Palin and Bachmann and Rand Paul , and their anti-intellectual brethren and sisters are compounding and extending this problem.

    This is why you have the gross duplicity in the rhetoric and the results, particularly as it comes to deficits and debt, when the Reagan’s and W’s actually HAVE power.

    No help there in actually SOLVING the Great Issues this country faces.

  16. Mr. Universe says:

    So here’s a hypothetical:

    If you had secret information from a source that you had a fundamental moral objection to, what would you do with it?

  17. shortchain says:

    Mr. U,

    Too open a question for replies to be valid. Let’s say, rather, that you had secret information from a source and that, if that information remained secret, people would be hurt. If you get that information to the right people, those people wouldn’t be hurt. Of course, the people who wanted it kept secret would be hurt in that case…but maybe you don’t like them anyway…

    Oh, and by the way, are you contractually or by oath proscribed from divulging this secret? Because, if you are, you are going to have to break an oath or risk penalties if you divulge…

    My answer to your question: depends.

  18. robert verdi says:

    Assuming its Manning:

    Manning told his correspondent Adrian Lamo, who subsequently denounced him to the authorities: “Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public … Everywhere there’s a US post, there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed. Worldwide anarchy in CSV format … It’s beautiful, and horrifying.”

    Viewing anarchy and chaos an beautiful tell me this was more then a disgruntled employee.

  19. dcpetterson says:

    @robert verdi

    Viewing anarchy and chaos as beautiful tell me this was more then a disgruntled employee.

    I think you’re right, which is why I think he’s motivated by something more important, something he views as idealism. Only something akin to idealism can drive someone to these lengths.

  20. Bart DePalma says:

    Among the wikileaks disclosures to our enemies was the State Department list of critical facilities around the world whose destruction would harm the United States and its allies.

    Currently, Assange is taunting the United States in a Wikileaks twitter:

    Meanwhile, our government sits around helplessly debating whether or not to even charge Assange when it should be telling internet providers to take down wikileaks and its mirror sites if they want to avoid prosecution and hunt down the assholes who run the sites.

    Obama = James Earl Carter the Second.

  21. shiloh says:

    Obama = James Earl Carter the Second.

    Bartles, please feel free to stop being 24/7 obsessed w/Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America !!! at any time …

    Or not.

  22. rovert verdi,

    Viewing anarchy and chaos an beautiful tell me this was more then a disgruntled employee.

    Maybe, and maybe not. The anarchy and chaos can also be viewed as the outcome of successful revenge against his employer, which would certainly make him happy if he’s a disgruntled employee. It’s pretty unusual, though not unprecedented, for an anarchist to go to the trouble he went through to get into the job he had.

    His statement regarding free information sounds a little too scripted, too. He may well have been coached by Assange. Then again, he might have already been a free information advocate before he got there. It’s just that the information available doesn’t add up to that, from what I see.

  23. shortchain says:


    How very Chinese of you.

  24. Bart DePalma says:


    The Chinese would have whacked Assange in a very public manner years ago.

    All Obama has mustered is a stern letter from his attorney Harold Koh.

    This is why Assange maliciously attacks the United States and why these anarchists do not mess with China.

  25. filistro says:

    Bart, dear… I really fear you’re losing it. Now you are waxing nostalgic for the good old days when we were more like China, and could just whack people at will when they displeased us. I think you need to take a deep breath or two… and ponder what the whole struggle has been about these past couple of centuries. You’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    Assange is an Australian citizen with a Eupropen residency. What are you cowboys going to charge him with… taunting? Thats’ only a penalty in football. (At least it’s a penalty in Canada. We tend not to approve of taunting.)

    That said.. I think the west deserves taunting for not getting bin Laden by now. I mean, really. We should have had him years ago.

  26. Bart DePalma says:


    I have proposed indicting, arresting and trying Assange for roughly 250,000 counts of felony disclosure of classified materials. However, if Assange flees justice to someplace like Venezuela where we cannot arrest him, I personally do not have any qualms about terminating him to protect American lives. This hero of yours is disclosing terrorist target lists to a wartime enemy. Time to stop playing.

  27. filistro says:

    Bart… Assange is not a “hero of mine.” By all indications he’s a slimy little creep.

    But I AM inordinately fond of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms… and not just when it suits my inclinations, as seems to be the case with you.

  28. Bart DePalma says:


    As a foreign person in a foreign land, Assange has no rights under our Constitution unless we bring him into our court system. While he remains at large, he is fair game. If Assange wants to play in the big boy leagues of what he himself calls warfare, he better be prepared to pay big boy dues.

  29. filistro says:

    Bart… it’s easy to talk big and pop off about “whacking somebody” for what you consider “espionage.” But if you do that, you put Americans at risk around the world.

    Iran is holding two American kids who wandered into Iranian territory while hiking. Iran suspects them of “spying.” If you summarily execute Assange, what protection is there for those two kids? What prevents Iran from hauling them into the public square and shooting or hanging them?

    It’s like you Republicans are so fond of hearing yourselves “talk tough”, you don’t even think about what you’re saying.

  30. shortchain says:

    Bart’s little fan dance where he pretends to be anything but the most disgusting kind of authoritarian toady seems a bit off today.

    Perhaps it’s his personal embarrassment at defending government secrets when they seem to largely be about protecting those in government from embarrassment.

    It’s most telling that Bart advocates taking these sites off the web in the West. That indicates that it’s the embarrassment, rather than any real danger that’s at stake here.

    Just like the Chinese don’t care if people outside their country see criticism of their leaders — it’s the people inside who can’t be allowed to see it.

    What a pathetic display.

  31. shrinkers says:

    As a foreign person in a foreign land, Assange has no rights under our Constitution

    Oooo! Does that mean I can go murder any furriner I want? Rape, steal, torture? It’s all fair game? After all, Bart says they don’t got no rights! How cool is that?

  32. Monotreme says:

    From the BBCBreaking twitter account:

    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrested at London police station on suspicion of committing sex crimes in Sweden #leaks

  33. filistro says:

    The “sex crime” was not wearing a condom during consensual sex.

    Guys be warned. This is an extraditable offense. If you don’t wear a condom, Republicans will have you executed.

    Wait… I thought Republicans didn’t LIKE birth control? It’s all so confusing….

  34. Monotreme says:

    And he turned himself in once a valid arrest warrant was produced.

  35. shortchain says:


    What’s the statute of limitations on that one?

  36. Pingback: When Hackers Attack | 538 Refugees

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