With still no funds by December, the BMSN did go public, resulting in unflattering headlines, like The Washington Post's "WikiLeaks hasn't fulfilled financial-aid pledge for suspect in leaks." (Eventually, the group gave $15,000.)
But by the end of 2010, Assange had sought refuge from the Swedish case by retreating to Ellingham Hall, a country mansion in England owned by dilettante investigative journalist Vaughan Smith. Assange deployed the now-18-year-old Siggi as one of his few trusted couriers for WikiLeaks' most prized and explosive leaks of all – the quarter-million diplomatic cables from Manning – which they were delivering to news outlets around the world. "Do you have an EU passport?" Assange messaged Siggi one night.
"Just thinking about various meetings."
When I met with WikiLeaks spokesman Hrafnsson, he insisted that apart from a trip to Ellingham Hall Siggi "was never traveling on behalf of WikiLeaks anywhere." But several European journalists I spoke with confirmed their meetings with Siggi, and some insisted that both Assange and Hrafnsson were well aware. "Kristinn told me Siggi was the one to deal with," says Leonie van Nierop, a reporter for a Netherlands daily paper, NRC Handelsblad, who met with Siggi in Amsterdam. "Siggi was constantly on the phone with Assange," says Dan Sommer, the former head of security for the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik and a local pastor, who traveled as Siggi's bodyguard. "It was clear that Assange knew what Siggi was doing."
Assange had potential publishers vetted in person before giving them the files, and Siggi was among those tasked with the job, arriving in each city with an encrypted thumb drive containing excerpts from the cables. The twisted humor of the transactions – that the biggest leak in U.S. history was being delivered by a baby-faced 18-year-old – wasn't lost on the reporters and editors with whom Siggi met. Dutch journalist Eelco Bosch van Rosenthal found him to be "an insecure guy who wanted to be something in the world."
After spending several days with Siggi, van Nierop took a liking to the boy. She had acted as a tour guide for a day, leading Siggi through the famed red-light district in Amsterdam, where she noticed that he didn't seem very intrigued by the women offering themselves in windows. "He was more interested in the trains in the station than the hookers," she recalls. She could tell, while listening to her colleague speak with Assange about Siggi after the trip, that the two were geeky pals. She says Assange teasingly said that since she "took Siggi to the red-light district, couldn't you have bought a girl for him?" Van Nierop thought Siggi's relationship with Assange also explained why the boy seemed isolated. "If Julian Assange is your best friend," she says, "you must be a little lonely."
With media outlets often paying his way, Siggi says he was "having the time of my life." When he told his parents he was traveling on missions for WikiLeaks, they balked; but as his father told me, "He was 18. There was nothing we could do." In January 2011, he arrived in Honduras to meet with editors from the newspaper El Heraldo and was greeted by a team of armed bodyguards. When Siggi asked why he needed such heavy security, one of the goons told him, "because you're white, and you could get stabbed or kidnapped."
But Sommer, his personal bodyguard on many of the trips, couldn't get the boy to leave behind his childhood. At every city, Siggi insisted on taking time out to visit the local waterpark and eating McDonald's. In Budapest, Siggi had Sommer take him to his first strip club. In New York, Siggi wanted to try out a pepper-spray pen his bodyguard bought at a local spy shop. Back at the hotel, a half hour before a meeting, he persuaded his bodyguard to shoot him with it to see how it felt – but vastly underestimated the burn. "It was horrible," says Siggi, who had to douse himself with milk to relieve the pain. He showed up at his next meeting with bloodshot eyes and a rash. "We had to explain that I wasn't stoned," Siggi says.
While in Washington, D.C., he had one mishap that was too close for comfort. His bodyguard was driving a Jeep the wrong way down a street by the Pentagon, when he saw a police car pull out nearby. With the diplomatic cables in the back seat, Siggi freaked. "Fuck me!" he said. "Oh, my God, we could get pulled over. We're gonna go to Guantánamo Bay!" But as luck would have it, the police car passed him – missing the chance for the bust of a lifetime.
During the half dozen times Siggi arrived at Ellingham Hall to visit Assange, he says he knew what to bring with him: a suitcase full of Malt Extrakt, Assange's favorite Icelandic soda. "I saw it in his face," Siggi says, "somebody actually thought about him. He was happy that I remembered."
Despite his circumstances, Assange was enjoying the comforts of mansion life and the companionship of his close-knit circle of supporters, including Siggi. They went swimming in the nearby lake, had long dinners in the regal dining hall. At Assange's blowout 40th-birthday party, Siggi got drunk for the first time, on licorice schnapps, and drove his car into a ditch during a midnight junk-food run. "It was hilarious!" Siggi recalls.
But in private moments, Assange told Siggi that the political and personal battles were wearing on him. "He said that he was really tired," Siggi says. "I'd just like to give up," Assange told him.
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