Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks website has unleashed a new storm by mass releasing US diplomatic cables, has uncovered some of the world's deepest secrets but keeps his own life shrouded in mystery.
The 39-year-old Australian, the founder and frontman of the whistleblowing site, was virtually unknown at the beginning of this year but is now one of the most talked about figures in global news.
"We are creating a new standard for free press," Assange told AFP during an interview in Stockholm in August, adding that "by doing so, we are hoping to liberalise the press across the world."
Yet while Assange may have transformed into a champion of transparency, he keeps his own life tightly under wraps, divulging little about himself to the point he refuses even to give his date of birth.
"We deal with organisations that do not follow the rules. We deal with intelligence agencies," he said, dubbing his website "the people's intelligence agency."
What is known is that Assange was born sometime in 1971 on Magnetic Island in northeastern Australia and spent his early years living there on and off with his mother.
In interviews with Australian media, Assange has described his childhood as nomadic, saying in all he attended 37 different schools.
Living in Melbourne in the 1990s, Assange says as a teenager he discovered a new talent: hacking.
But his new interest did not go undetected and he was charged with 30 counts of computer crime, including allegedly hacking police and US military computers.
He admitted most of the charges and walked away with a fine.
After his brush with crime, Assange says he worked in a number of different fields, as a security consultant, a researcher in journalism and started his own IT company.
He founded WikiLeaks in 2006 with around 10 others from the human rights, media and technology fields.
The site went online in 2007 and began leaking secret documents well before its master stroke on Afghanistan in July this year catapulted Assange into the global spotlight.
That first mega-leak was followed in October by the release of some 400,000 so-called "Iraq war logs" and since this weekend by the slow release of around 250,000 diplomatic cables from 274 US embassies.
At the head of WikiLeaks, Assange seems to lead a life out of a spy novel: constantly on the move, bouncing from capital to capital and staying with supporters and friends of friends, consistently switching his closely guarded phone number.
Assange is thin, almost lanky, his boyish face is topped by a short crop of platinum hair.
In his rare interviews, he speaks cautiously in a calm, controlled tone, his voice tinted with an Australian accent.
But Assange is also known to have a temper, storming out of a CNN interview when asked about allegations of rape and sexual molestation in Sweden.
The allegations, which stem from encounters with two women during a stay in Stockholm in August, eventually led to an international arrest warrant being issued for Assange earlier this month.
Assange is also facing trouble from inside WikiLeaks.
A German spokesman for the whistleblowing website, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, had a very public fallout with Assange at the end of September, criticising Assange's "authoritarian" ways.
The Australian has also lost the support of another longtime WikiLeaks advocate, Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir.
One former supporter in Iceland, Herbert Snorrason, told AFP he and other ex-members were preparing to launch an alternative to WikiLeaks, saying they "had been very unhappy with the way Assange was conducting things."
Yet his strongest critics are those who accused him of endangering life through the website's releases.
Assange has denied the allegations, saying WikiLeaks acts in interest of the truth, adding the organisation's aim was rather to protect the innocent.
Faced with the arrest warrant from Sweden, which has also turned down his request for a residence permit, and alluding to a US intelligence conspiracy against him, Assange was on Monday offered safe haven in Ecuador, which said he could settle there "with no problems and no conditions."
Last Updated (Tuesday, 30 November 2010 17:26)