From his transient upbringing to his hacking charges, what formed the mysterious man

By Alex Tresniowski
Updated December 07, 2010 04:00 PM
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AftonBladet/JPI

Julian Assange, controversial founder of WikiLeaks.org, is one of the world’s most polarizing figures, yet remains something of a mystery.

Here’s some interesting background on the 39-year-old, who is under arrest for sex assault in Sweden, and being held in custody in London.

• He was born in Queensland, Australia, to parents who ran a puppet theater. They divorced when he was still young, and his mother, Christine, bounced from home to home. By the time he was 14, Assange had moved 37 times.

• Assange’s mother did not allow him to watch TV until he learned how to read. She read him books about Greek mythology, an enduring influence in his life. “They were morality tales and they instilled a sense of what is right and wrong,” says a source who knows Assange. “They were about the importance of doing the right thing.”

• According to friends, Assange has an IQ of 170. Schooled mostly at home, he taught himself computer code and, as a teenager, formed a group of hackers called the International Subversives. Known as Mendax, he broke into the U.S. Department of Defense computer system; in 1995 he was charged with 31 counts of hacking and other crimes. He pleaded guilty to 25 charges and was released on bond.

• Aside from a few hobbies – second-hand bookstores, music – Assange has devoted his adult life mostly to two passions: technology and journalism. “He never smoked and he wasn’t a drinker,” says the source. “What he had was a penchant for intellectually stimulating things.” Assange found a way to combine his interests by creating WikiLeaks in 2006. “The aim of Wikileaks is to achieve just reform around the world,” he has said, “and do it through the mechanism of transparency.”

• One of the first people he reached out to for help with WikiLeaks was Daniel Assange, his then 16-year-old son by a former girlfriend. Daniel, now a software designer in Melbourne, turned his father down, and reportedly has had little contact with him for the past three years. Nevertheless, he has defended his father in public. “I have much respect for my father and his cause,” Daniel wrote recently on his Web site. “And these ridiculously ill-handled allegations of sexual abuse serve only to distract from the audacious awesomeness that he has actually done.”