The Julian Assange before WikiLeaks

Melbourne, Dec 11 : He has been labelled as 'the most dangerous man alive' by his increasing army of enemies and an 'apostle of free speech' by his followers.

Now in a rare interview, a friend of Julian Assange has described what he was like in the years before WikiLeaks.

He was apparently a brilliant, socially awkward crusader, a 'hard-core geek' who would rather interact with a machine than a person but who was also determined to change the world, reports

Assange was described as a humanist, a man who serves no masters, a Renaissance man with 21st-century tools at his disposal, who 'decided early on that the world is not as fair a place as it could be, but that Internet provides a way of creating a more level playing field in terms of justice'.

When asked about Assange's political beliefs, the friend said he flirted with the Left but became disillusioned.

Rather than belonging to the Left, Assange 'sees flaws in both Left and Right' but he is 'more closely aligned to the libertarian values of the Right'.

Today, Assange is the most famous man in the world. In four years, he has gone from obscurity to a potential Nobel laureate and Time magazine person of the year.

At the same time, he is jailed in Britain facing extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault.

Though his lawyers refute the claim that he is a hacker, he indeed was one.

Assange had been hacking from 1987 under the moniker 'Mendax'. He and two other hackers formed a group named the 'International Subversives'.

He was first arrested in October 1991 and charged with more than 30 counts of computer crime.

Assange, who was born in 1971 in Townsville, northeastern Australia, had spent some of his childhood on Magnetic Island, just off the coast of the north Queensland city.

He and his 'reclusive' mother Christine lived on Magnetic Island three times between 1971 and 1982.

He was mostly home-schooled as a child and by the time he was 14, he and his mother had reportedly moved 37 times.

In the early 1980s, Assange attended a tiny school in the nearby village of Goolmangar, Lismore, where he struggled to fit in with his fellow students.

"Jules wasn't a ratbag or anything. He just kept to himself," recalled classmate Sharon Graham.

Another classmate Peter Graham remembered Assange mostly for his compassion.

"He was the sort of kid who moved a spider and let it free when the others wanted to kill it. He was always a nurturing sort of fellow," he said.

In 1989, when Assange was 18, he started living with his girlfriend and they had a son, Daniel. After his arrest in 1991, she left him, taking Daniel with her.

He was then hospitalised for several days with depression.

According to author and journalist Suelette Dreyfus, Assange was 'a very impressive person', with a restless, deep intelligence.

"He's a very minimalist human being. He's like a religious aesthete, two robes and a pair of sandals. Aesthetes live a very sombre existence in terms of material goods and that's what he's like," recalled Dreyfus.

In 1998, Assange co-founded his first company Earthmen Technology, with the aim of developing "network intrusion detection technologies".

According to a book 'Google Hackers', the company developed 'Linux kernal hacking' and algorithms before it was deregistered in 2002.

"I've always found Julian a warm and pleasant person, witty, knowledgeable and intelligent. He has a very wide range of interests and he is passionately committed to justice and creating a better world," said Daniel Mathews, another maths prodigy who studied with Assange at the Melbourne University and who has done some research and writing for WikiLeaks.

Assange registered the domain in 1999 and then WikiLeaks in 2006. He left Australia and travelled in Europe, Africa and Asia, sometimes working as a computer programmer.

Copyright Asian News International/