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Assange 'smelled like bag lady' claims new book

The New York Times describes Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as smelling like a 'filthy bag lady' in a damning new book, as the Australian repeats his threat in a major TV interview to unleash more secrets in an encrypted file downloaded by more than 100,000 people.

In a new publication from the former WikiLeaks partner, the New York Times lifts the lid on what it claims to be some of the 39-year-old's 'bizarre' behaviour.

Quoting one of the paper's journalists, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller says in the book: "'He was alert but dishevelled, like a bag lady walking in off the street, wearing a dingy, light-coloured sport coat and cargo pants, dirty white shirt, beat-up sneakers and filthy white socks that collapsed around his ankles."

"He smelled as if he hadn't bathed for days," Keller added.

Writing on micro-blogging site Twitter, Assange's son Daniel called the New York Times claims "possibly the most hilarious attempt at character assassination yet".

Unfortunately for Assange Sr., it looks like the spate of kiss-and-tell memoirs isn't over yet. On this side of the Atlantic, the UK's Guardian newspaper today released its own warts-and-all account of life with WikiLeaks, in which it claims Assange dressed as a woman to evade the CIA.

"You can't imagine how ridiculous it was," former WikiLeaker James Ball claims in the book, adding: "He'd stayed dressed up as an old woman for more than two hours."

Assange's ever-changing appearance was also the subject of discussion in Assange's most extensive TV interview to date, with Steve Kroft of CBS News's 60 Minutes.

During the Q&A, Assange claimed he was not carrying out a vendetta against the American Government. He told Kroft: "We don't go after a particular country... we just stick to our promise of publishing documents that are likely to have a significant impact."

When challenged by Kroft that he was "screwing with the forces of nature", Assange said that is was the US Government, not WikiLeaks, that had stepped outside the bounds of acceptability.

"We didn't play outside the rules," Assange claimed. "We operate just like any US publisher."

Assange claimed that there was "no precedent in the last 50 years" for a publisher to be charged with espionage in the US. If - as many are predicting - US officials plan to prosecute him and WikiLeaks, Assange said the country would have deserted its fundamental principle of free speech.

"The US has lost its way," he said. "It has abrogated its founding traditions. It has thrown the first amendment in the bin."

Turning to Bradley Manning, the US soldier currently detained amid reports of torture for allegedly passing military secrets to WikiLeaks, Assange called him "the foremost prisoner of conscience in the United States".

Assange refused to be drawn on rumours that the whistle-blowing site's next target may be US financial giant Bank of America, but said: "I think it's great to have all these banks squirming.

"When you see an abusive organisation suffer the consequences as a result of [its] abuse... that's a very pleasurable activity to be involved with," he added.

The WikiLeaks founder used the interview to repeat his warning that, in the event of the arrest or assassination of him or other WikiLeaks members, or an attempt to permanently disable the site, the organisation could unlock the contents of an encrypted 'insurance' file downloaded by users around the world.

"There are backups distributed amongst many, many people - 100,000 people," Assange warned. "All we need to do is give them an encrypted key and they will be able to continue on."

Assange is currently under virtual house arrest at the home of his friend and fellow journalist Vaughan Smith, awaiting a hearing on his extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct. Assange denies all accusations.

Mr Assange in a moment of relaxation.