Julian Assange, a Man Without a Country

Assange often describes himself in simple terms—as a fearless activist—but his character is complicated, and hard to reconcile with his considerable power. He is not merely the kind of person who will wear socks with holes; he is the kind of person who will wear socks with holes and rain fury upon anyone who mentions the holes in public. He can be mistrustful to the point of paranoia, but he can be recklessly frank. He tends to view human behavior as self-interested, driven by a Nietzschean will to power, but he runs an organization founded on the idea that individuals can be selflessly courageous. He is a seeker of hard, objective truths who often appears to be unable to see past his own realities. He can be quick in the moment, an impressive tactician, and he is often fairly blind to the long arcs of strategy.
The Justice Department, it turns out, held the same misgivings about the Espionage Act that journalists did. “The biggest problem was what some of us called ‘the New York Times problem,’ ” Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department official, told me. “How do you prosecute Julian Assange for publishing classified information and not the New York Times? I think it went on for a long time because prosecutors were hoping they would find some obvious criminal act that could support a charge, but it was evident pretty early that, absent that, there was no clear way to bring this case.” Within months, the department had quietly allowed the case to stall.

More from the long profile in the New Yorker here