When the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was both a free man and at the height of his new-found fame and notoriety, in early 2011, he agreed to furnish a fascinated world with his autobiography.
One of the chapter titles he suggested to his ghost writer, the respected author Andrew O’Hagan, ought to be ‘Women’.
This did not go down well with Assange’s then-girlfriend and aide de camp, Sarah Harrison, a young Englishwoman who had joined WikiLeaks as a starry-eyed intern. For her, some of that stardust had clearly faded.
Society connections: Assange celebrates his 40th birthday with former friend Jemima Goldsmith, who stood him bail. She later withdrew her support for him
‘He’s got such appalling, sleazy stories about women, you wouldn’t believe it,’ she told O’Hagan in front of Assange. ‘I don’t want to hear all that.’
‘Hold on,’ Assange interjected.
‘No. Sorry,’ said Harrison. ‘I don’t think that’s what the book’s about, your stories of sleeping with women.’
But women — largely white, middle-class, intelligent and famous women — and his ability to dazzle, beguile and often seduce them with his ‘romantic’ idealism have long been central to the extraordinary drama that is the life of the hyper-narcissistic Assange.
His current legal troubles began in earnest with accusations of sexual assault.
His desire to escape prosecution for those allegations led him — via almost seven years of semi-feral asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy behind Harrods — to where he is today; behind bars at Belmarsh and in the middle of an extradition hearing which, if lost, could see him removed to the United States.
There, he faces prosecution on 18 counts of violating the Espionage Act and a jail term — his supporters claim — of up to 175 years. His defence team says the indictments are purely ‘political’ and argues he will not get a fair trial.
British lawyers and journalists have lined up to oppose Assange’s extradition on the grounds that he was a whistle-blower who had exposed the wrongdoing of the powerful.
They insist he has committed no crime: he was a journalist who came across classified U.S. Government files and published them, and under U.S. law, journalists should be protected by the First Amendment, which enshrines the freedom of the press.
They also point out the fact that the U.S. is far less willing to countenance the extradition of its own citizens to the UK, and suggest that Assange’s extradition could result in other investigative journalists being hounded in a similar manner.
Wherever you stand on these issues — and I believe extraditing Assange, 49, is wrong for it would set a terrible precedent — his despicable treatment of women, his egotism and above all his hypocrisy leave a very bitter taste, even among those who have admired his work.
Standing by her man: Lawyer Stella Moris with her two children by Assange
He is someone who champions transparency and argued for justice, yet scuttled into hiding for years to avoid the glare of the courtroom when accused of rape.
He, who claimed passionately to uphold the democratic process and free speech, but colluded with the Russians to undermine the U.S. election.
This is a man who leered over underage girls and, allegedly, set out to impregnate women without their consent.
Yet his defence team will now argue that, because he is a doting father engaged to be married to the mother of his two children, he should be allowed to stay in Britain.
It was while holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy — in between visits from a number of glamorous females including Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and singer Lady Gaga — that he secretly fathered the children by one of the junior members of his legal team. He and Stella Moris, a 37-year-old lawyer of Spanish-Swedish nationality, are now engaged to be married.
During his confinement in the embassy, the London Review of Books published a 25,000-word tour de force by Andrew O’Hagan about his time as Assange’s ghost.
The piece stripped bare the hacker who wanted to reveal every official secret yet supress every truth about himself ‘but his fame’. Not least his toxic attitude towards women (Assange’s own idea for the title of his autobiography was ‘From Swedish Whores to Pentagon Bores’).
In one passage, O’Hagan described Assange and his previous girlfriend poring over a newly published book about WikiLeaks.
‘It says here you carried abortion pills around with you that were really just sugar pills,’ Harrison said. ‘And that you set out to impregnate girls.
‘It says you said to one of them you would call their baby “Afghanistan”. Well, that does sound like you. I’ve heard you say that sort of thing, about naming babies after your campaigns. But you wouldn’t leave all these girls to have babies on their own, would you?’
Harrison: ‘I’m just asking. Have you been at the births of all your children?’
Assange: ‘All except one.’
It was unclear how many children he had fathered.
On another occasion, O’Hagan described sitting outside a Suffolk café with Assange who was ‘distracted by some young (14-year-olds, he guesses) girls walking past.
‘“Hold on,” he [Assange] said, and turned his gaze. “No,” he said. “It was fine until I saw the teeth.” One of the girls was wearing a brace.’
Harrison later confided to the author how Assange chased other women.
‘He openly chats girls up and has his hand on their arse,’ she said, ‘and goes nuts if I even talk to another guy.’
When Jemima Goldsmith — who stood him bail — has had her fill of his self-absorbed behaviour, Assange dismisses her with ‘a horribly sexist remark’.
Almost ten years ago, I found myself standing in the snow outside an apartment block in the small town of Enkoping which, until then, had been chiefly known in connection with the invention of the adjustable spanner.
But Enkoping had then become the focus of new international attention as the location of one of two separate sexual assignations with female WikiLeaks fans which Assange had engaged in during a visit to Sweden that summer.
Besides basking in the adulation of his many admirers in the country, he was also exploring the possibility of moving the WikiLeaks operation to Scandinavia.
But what was to have been a triumphant, rock star-style blast of booze, adulation and sex, turned very sour. Both women went to the police and accused Assange of rape — in that, against their wishes, he had deliberately not used a condom during what had started as consensual sexual encounters.
Back in the UK, where he was based, Assange denied any wrongdoing. He suggested the allegations were part of a CIA operation to drag him in chains to the States.
Only months previously, WikiLeaks and its media partners had begun to publish a devastating tranche of U.S. diplomatic and military cables, which had been handed to the organisation by a disaffected U.S. Army intelligence analyst called Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning.
Some of the material showed what appeared to be war crimes. Others peeled away the veneer of American power to reveal the machinations beneath.
Many in Sweden, and beyond, shared a scepticism about the timing and nature of the sex allegations against the anti-Establishment WikiLeaks founder.
The Swedes had a word for it — sexfalla — which loosely translates to ‘honey trap’.
One of the alleged victims hit back: ‘The accusations were not set up by the Pentagon or anybody else. The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man with a twisted view of women, who has a problem accepting the word “no”.’
An Interpol arrest warrant for ‘sex crimes’ was issued.
He is someone who champions transparency and argued for justice, yet scuttled into hiding for years to avoid the glare of the courtroom when accused of rape. He, who claimed passionately to uphold the democratic process and free speech, but colluded with the Russians to undermine the U.S. election
At the time, I expressed my own doubts but wrote wondering if Enkoping would prove to be where Assange made his ‘catastrophic error’. But few, if any, could have imagined just how catastrophic — or the sequence of unlikely events which lay ahead.
That September, while fighting extradition to Sweden, Assange dumped WikiLeaks’ entire library of 250,000 secret U.S. cables on to the internet. These communiques reportedly contained the identities of informants, sources and agents who had been assisting the U.S. in its ‘War on Terror’ and in other fields.
The release was a potential death warrant many times over. Assange had done it before, in previous, less extensive leaks.
The alleged callousness of his responses to accusations he had been reckless with the lives of others gave a new and disturbing insight into his mind.
One book reported that he had told his media partners: ‘Well, they’re informants so, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.’
In another interview, Assange argued that any risk to informants’ lives was outweighed by the importance of publishing the information.
Arguably, this approach has been replicated in his attitude towards women. The situation was always about Julian Assange and what he wanted. Everyone else was peripheral. Perhaps even expendable. His ego is monstrous.
In May 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that he should be extradited to Sweden. And so he jumped bail — losing for his friends and backers a total of £93,000 they had put up for surety — and fled to the Ecuadorian embassy. A costly police surveillance operation was instigated.
That summer, he overlooked Ecuador’s sketchy human rights record as it granted him asylum. An increasingly fractious diplomatic stand-off began.
In 2015, Sweden dropped two allegations — one of sexual molestation and another of unlawful coercion — against Assange because they had run out of time to question him. In 2017, the rape investigation was ended, only to be reopened and closed again in 2019.
The prosecutor’s office in Stockholm told the Mail this week the investigation cannot be reopened again as the limitation period expired in August, after ten years.
Yet the country remains fascinated by its part in the Assange story. Jenny Rönngren, managing editor at the magazine Feministiskt Perspektiv told the Mail:
‘I am for transparency in general and think the whole idea of keeping things secret enables both war crimes and sexual crimes.
‘In the WikiLeaks case, it has benefited Assange to be open, but, in the rape case, he couldn’t live up to his own standard of transparency.’
Investigative journalist Axel Gordh Humlesjö, who produced a 2016 documentary on Assange for Swedish television, says that Assange had a lot of support to begin with and many felt he was a victim of the CIA or ‘radical feminism which went too far’.
But the national perspective has changed. A watershed was the role played by WikiLeaks in the U.S. presidential election victory of Donald Trump.
Assange’s organisation leaked a tranche of emails hacked from the Democratic Party which were damaging to Hillary Clinton. The original hack was carried out by Russians.
Trump told an election rally in Pennsylvania: ‘I love WikiLeaks!’ He was to repeat the public endorsement at least four more times — ‘WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove!’ — before polling day.
A recent Senate Intelligence Committee report on the affair said this: ‘The Committee found that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian effort to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak information damaging to Hillary Clinton and her campaign for presidency.
‘WikiLeaks actively sought, and played, a key role in the Russian influence campaign and very likely knew it was assisting a Russian intelligence influence effort.’
Scales dropped from many liberal Swedish eyes. WikiLeaks wasn’t a vehicle for the oppressed: it was first and foremost a vehicle for the ego of Julian Assange.
His egocentric approach has burned so many bridges, not least with his Ecuadorian hosts, who finally allowed British police into the embassy in April 2019.
Assange was arrested, charged with jumping bail and served a short prison term for the offence before he was rearrested for the U.S. extradition warrant.
What then of Assange and Stella Moris? This month, Ms Moris gave an exclusive — and legally well-timed — first interview about her relationship with Assange and their sons Gabriel, three, and Max, 19 months.
It’s not her real name. Having inherited, or understood, her partner’s ripe paranoia, she ceased to be Sara Gonzalez Devant. Their clandestine courtship sounded deeply unlovely, not least because Assange is famously unhygienic.
If extradited, Assange might kill himself, Ms Moris suggested, and ‘I will lose the man I love for ever. Even now I don’t know whether my children will ever be held in their father’s arms again.’
This week, she told the BBC that their pregnancies were planned.
Stella Moris might yet turn out to be the woman who saves the unsavoury whistleblower from a U.S. jail term that would be a living death.
Additional reporting by Alexander Dominici in Stockholm and Simon Trump.