WikiLeaks Founder On The Run, Chased By Turmoil

(NYTIMES)

Julian Assange moves like a hunted man. In a noisy Ethiopian restaurant in London’s rundown Paddington district, he pitches his voice barely above a whisper to foil the Western intelligence agencies he fears.

He demands that his dwindling number of loyalists use expensive encrypted cellphones and swaps his own as other men change shirts. He checks into hotels under false names, dyes his hair, sleeps on sofas and floors, and uses cash instead of credit cards, often borrowed from friends.

“By being determined to be on this path, and not to compromise, I’ve wound up in an extraordinary situation,” Mr. Assange said over lunch last Sunday, when he arrived sporting a woolen beanie and a wispy stubble and trailing a youthful entourage that included a filmmaker assigned to document any unpleasant surprises.

In his remarkable journey to notoriety, Mr. Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks whistle-blowers’ Web site, sees the next few weeks as his most hazardous. Now he is making his most brazen disclosure yet: 391,832 secret documents on the Iraq war. He held a news conference in London on Saturday, saying that the release “constituted the most comprehensive and detailed account of any war ever to have entered the public record.”

Twelve weeks ago, he posted on his organization’s Web site some 77,000 classified Pentagon documents on the Afghan conflict.

Much has changed since 2006, when Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, used years of computer hacking and what friends call a near genius I.Q. to establish WikiLeaks, redefining whistle-blowing by gathering secrets in bulk, storing them beyond the reach of governments and others determined to retrieve them, then releasing them instantly, and globally.