Future Tense

Private WikiLeaks Messages Compare Julian Assange’s Life in the Ecuadorian Embassy to Biosphere 2

The Biosphere 2 research facility sits nestled in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains north of Tuscon, Arizona, Sept. 25, 1993.
The Biosphere 2 research facility sits nestled in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, Sept. 25, 1993. TIM ROBERTS/Getty Images

Earlier this week, an activist named Emma Best published more than 11,000 Twitter direct messages between Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and 10 of his supporters. The document dump comes after long-standing accusations that the organization, whose mission is to hold the powerful accountable, is itself quite secretive about its own finances and political motivations.

When a large leak like this happens, it’s only right that we hear about the most pertinent and most telling tidbits first. In this case, the messages provided us a window into how Assange and his supporters talk about journalists and other people they don’t like. (There is one passing mention of a Slate article.) We also learn about their baseless conspiracy theories, like that the Peace Corps is just front for the CIA, and their feelings about Hillary Clinton, who they described as a “sadistic sociopath.”

But what can also be illuminating, and even more entertaining, is the more mundane. I mean, who didn’t get a kick out of learning Hillary Clinton doesn’t know how to use a fax machine (as we learned from a frantic email exchange between her and her aide, Huma Abedin) from one of the many probes of her emails.

In that spirit, we found one exchange particularly funny. Since 2012, Assange has lived under asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. In the past six years, he hasn’t been able to leave the embassy at all, and barring a few exceptions, we don’t really know what life has been like for him. But Slate’s Daniel Engber found an interesting tidbit after he did a CTRL-F search for the word “science”: an exchange between who we believe is Assange and some his supporters, in which they liken his life in the embassy to living in Biosphere 2. (The transcript is a little confusing, we admit. We’ve cut some non-Biosphere 2 chatter.)


[2015-09-02 15:35:28] [noll] re report & media’s either sympathetic or sensationalist take on life w/i embassy, worth mentioning ‘Biosphere 2’ project & Jane Poynter’s honest documenting of the challenges: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Human-Experiment-Minutes-Biosphere/dp/156025775Xhttp://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6929010

[2015-09-02 17:25:29] [M] I’ve been out to Biosphere 2 – it is quite extraordinary.

[2015-09-02 19:15:29] [noll] M, would do just about anything to see that place, followed by: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristotle%27s_Lagoon

[2015-09-02 19:16:12] [noll] not great quality: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QesWw3Zz0Ms

[2015-09-03 00:13:04] [voidiss] Wow! Never heard of ‘Biosphere 2’, it’s an amazing project, really fascinating from a scientific point of view to see how they manage to keep alive six different biomes in a restricted place like that. Science is so interesting.

[2015-09-03 00:13:17] [voidiss] And the experiment is quite representative… “sealed into a closed environment”. It’s so sad if compared with the Embassy, that crew was there voluntarily, not detained inside. It’s so bad. I’ll read the book, anyway.

[2015-09-03 07:07:11] [LibertarianLibrarian] The Biosphere is really neat. I toured it once, several years ago, with my father. It was fascinating. Tucson’s well worth a visit, not just for the Biosphere. The Desert Museum is amazing and you can go up into the Canyons and hike – unbelievably gorgeous.

If you aren’t familiar, Biosphere 2 is a closed ecological system or vivarium (filled with various plants and animals) that was built in Arizona in 1991, with the intention to test if an entirely artificially controlled environment could sustain life, with the intention to be able to replicate it in say, in outer space. It’s only been tested twice, unfortunately, both times failing, which may serve as a metaphor what life is like for Assange. But LibertarianLibrarian’s suggestion that “Tucson’s well worth a visit” isn’t a great idea. If Assange ever were to step foot in the U.S., it’s likely he would be arrested immediately.