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The nearly 500,000 U.S. Army documents published by WikiLeaks this year didn’t mark the first time founder Julian Assange thumbed his nose at the Pentagon. A new documentary about the secret-spilling site captures Assange in a rare moment of reminiscence as he reflects on his hacking of a Defense Department network in the 1990s, where he evidently kept a backdoor in place for some two years.
The documentary WikiRebels, produced by Sveriges Television in Sweden, was recently posted on the web in four parts. It provides an overview of Assange and WikiLeaks from the time the site published a classified Army video last April showing an Apache gunship attack in Iraq, to the latest release of U.S. State Department cables. It also includes interviews with several current and former WikiLeaks activists, including former spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg and Icelandic volunteer Herbert Snorrason, who discuss the internal conflict at WikiLeaks that led them to resign.
Assange reflects on his work as a black hat hacker in the early 1990s, recalling wistfully how he and others hacked into the Pentagon’s Security Coordination Center. The SCC was a Chantilly, Virginia, office that handled computer security issues for MilNet — later NIPRNet — the U.S. military’s portion of the public internet. “We had a backdoor in the U.S. military Security Coordination Center –- this is the peak security for controlling the security of MilNet … U.S. military internet. We had total control over this for two years,” he tells the interviewer.
Assange, who used the handles “Proff” and “Mendax” during his black hat years, teamed up with two other hackers who called themselves the International Subversives. The group broke into networks in Europe and the U.S., including networks belonging to NASA, the Defense Department and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Assange continued the activity until he was 21, when he was charged with 31 counts of hacking and other related activities and ultimately pleaded guilty to 25 charges.