Julian Assange: Everything you need to know about the man behind WikiLeaks

Details on who the WikiLeaks founder is, what he's done and why he's been arrested.

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Julian Assange Appears At Westminster Magistrates Court

Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates court on Thursday in London.

Jack Taylor / Getty Images

Julian Assange is in British custody after losing asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Thursday. The 47-year-old founder of WikiLeaks made a name for himself by releasing secret government documents from the US and around the world. Those included diplomatic cables, official records, campaign emails and documents detailing government hacking tools.

Styling himself as an anti-secrecy activist, Assange created WikiLeaks, an online portal, to share documents he said would hold powerful governments accountable. In some cases, news outlets re-promoted documents obtained by Wikileaks, such as when The New York Times created an archive of US diplomatic cables in 2010.

After being accused of rape in 2010, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy where he stayed from 2012 until his arrest Thursday. During that time, Assange continued running WikiLeaks and defending his work and methods.

Current Wikileaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson condemned the arrest of Assange on Thursday. "This, of course, is a gross violation of international treaties and an outrageous behavior in all respects," Hrafnsson told NPR. "A country simply shouldn't revoke the status of [asylum] when it has been granted in the first place."

Here's everything you need to know about the outspoken and enigmatic founder of WikiLeaks:

Who is Julian Assange?

Assange is from Australia. He has said that before WikiLeaks, he worked as a computer programmer and as an activist. He avoids the label "hacker."

In 2006, Assange helped found WikiLeaks. During its early years, he toured the world giving lectures and interviews, fashioning himself as the face of the organization. His story was turned into the 2013 film The Fifth Estate, with Benedict Cumberbatch portraying Assange.

Assange founded WikiLeaks with the goal of vetting and publishing primary source, restricted documents. By 2016, WikiLeaks said it had released more than 10 million documents. It's possible the organization has still more documents in its possession.

What is WikiLeaks known for?

Wikileaks captured worldwide attention in 2010, when it released a video of a US military helicopter gunning down Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh, along with other civilians, in Iraq in 2007. An outside source revealed that the leak came from former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

In 2016, WikiLeaks published emails that purportedly came from campaign staffers for US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as well as the text of paid speeches she made to employees of Goldman Sachs. US intelligence officials later said the information was stolen by Russian hackers. Assange and WikiLeaks have declined to identify the source of their documents.

In 2017, WikiLeaks published thousands of documents it said detailed CIA hacking techniques for targeting internet-connected devices, such as certain televisions, as well as phones and computers.

What crimes has Assange been accused of?

Seven years ago, Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was accused of rape. Assange wasn't formally charged and he's denied the allegation. The investigation against him has since been dropped, as the of statute of limitations ran out on some of the allegations. He'd been holed up in the embassy since June 19, 2012.

However, Assange is still charged with violating the conditions of his bail in the UK. The country is involved because a British court agreed to honor Sweden's request for Assange's extradition in 2011. When Assange fled to the Ecuadorian embassy, the UK charged him with jumping bail.

In November, a federal prosecutor in the US mentioned unspecified charges against Assange in an unrelated court filing. On Thursday, it was revealed that the US government had filed a single charge against Assange for conspiracy to hack a government computer. It was based on conversations with Manning on hacking a password for a government system.

Why was Assange in the embassy for 7 years?

The UK has referred to Assange's confinement at the embassy as a self-imposed exile. During his stay in the embassy, Assange claimed repeatedly that if he was arrested in the UK or extradited to Sweden, he would then immediately be extradited to the US. Until recently, there were no public charges filed against Assange in the US, but it was possible there were charges filed under seal.

In a tweet posted to the WikiLeaks Twitter account on Jan. 12, 2017, Assange offered to agree to extradition to the US if President Barack Obama released Manning, who was serving a 35-year sentence for leaking thousands of US Army classified documents.

Five days later, Obama commuted Manning's sentence. Shortly after, in a press conference streamed on Periscope on Jan. 19, Assange said he was willing to hold up his end of the bargain but said he'd like to know what charges the US planned to file against him or have a guarantee the the US would drop any charges before he did so. The US made no public statements regarding specific charges against Assange until Thursday.

I heard something about the Trump campaign working with Assange. What's that about?

Various members of the Donald Trump campaign are reported to have been in contact with Assange during the 2016 US presidential election. Trump campaign staffer Paul Manafort reportedly visited Assange multiple times at the Ecuadorian embassy in London before the election. According to The Guardian, Manafort's last visit occurred in March 2016, around the time he assumed the title of campaign chairman. WikiLeaks has disputed the report.

In September 2016, Assange reportedly reached out to Donald Trump Jr. in a series of private Twitter messages, according to the Atlantic. Trump Jr. responded sparingly, according to the report, but did act on some of the messages by telling other members of the campaign about their contents.

Lastly, campaign advisor Roger Stone acknowledged communication with WikiLeaks and another website that released hacked emails from political organizations in 2016. Special counsel Robert Mueller also said he had evidence of those exchanges. Stone says he never had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks' plans to publish hacked documents. A report from CBS News said Stone received a warning of the data dumps from his associate Jerome Corsi.

The US charge against Assange has nothing to do with WikiLeaks publishing information that US intelligence officials say was stolen by Russian hackers. The crime he's charged with is specific to the documents stolen by Manning.

Will President Trump will get involved?

The US president appears to be distancing himself from Assange's case. Despite praising WikiLeaks multiple times on the campaign trail, at a press conference on Thursday, Trump told reporters that he knew nothing about the organization. He also noted that he would be leaving the case up to the Justice Department to handle.

"I know the attorney general will be involved in it, and he'll make a decision," Trump said.

CNET's Alfred Ng contributed to this report.