SO it comes to this. Julian Assange, the charismatic info-thorn in the side of secretive regimes, is dragged out squirming and shouting from his London sanctuary, looking like a middle-aged hippie squatter gone to seed.

We might apply the kind of media scepticism to this footage that the age of WikiLeaks has generally encouraged. Who captured it and distributed it? In whose interest is it for us to see the great revealer of the war crimes of imperial states, bundled out into the streets like a bearded crazy?

READ MORE: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange arrested by British police

Assange’s diplomatic protection in the Ecuadorean embassy may have evaporated with a change in that country’s leadership. But one might imagine Equador’s requested

$10 billion investment deal with the IMF – an organisation dominated by the US, seeking a vengeful redress over his leaking of their secrets – also has a little to do with the end of their patience.

The early chatter around this arrest – which begins the US government’s attempt to get Assange extradited – is that the charge against him is strangely narrow, particularly given the lurid accounts of WikiLeaks being involved in the public dump of Hillary Clinton’s emails, which hardly hurt Trump’s 2016 election victory.

The National:

The US is accusing Assange, essentially, of computer crime: that he agreed to assist the ex-Army private Chelsea Manning to hack the password into a classified government computer system, which itself had classified information.

This is far from an espionage charge – and if they don’t bring extra charges, this could be Assange’s best defence, as Jack Shafer, of Politico, writes: “Assange will surely argue in extradition proceedings that the United States is attempting to deceive British authorities about their true motives, charging for crime A (computer hacking) when their real intention is to punish him for an unindicted crime B (helping to steal classified documents).”

READ MORE: Julian Assange: WikiLeaks founder faces up to five years in US prison

In any case, this could go on for months, maybe years, with Assange potentially taking this all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. Removal from the embassy will also allow the reopening of one of the legal complaints of sex harassment from Sweden, which Assange denies (and says was a pretext for his extradition to the US – the reason for him taking up Ecuador’s immunity offer).

Like any other case involving substantial political figures and allegations of sexual harassment against them, I expect due process to be followed to the letter. As for the measure of Assange’s character, I’d recommend the long London Review of Books essay Ghosting, written in 2014 by Andrew O’Hagan (free and easily findable online). This describes O’Hagan’s abortive attempt to ghost Assange’s autobiography.

O’Hagan describes the Wiki-leader holed up in a country house. Assange is brilliant but undisciplined; he plays and deploys his entourage like a guru with his acolytes. He is as much concerned with the betrayals of his allies as the crimes of his enemies. He is witty and grandiose, but also a slob who eats everything with his fingers.

READ MORE: Arrest of Julian Assange is an affront to decency

Of course, this is only one man’s account. But O’Hagan does capture some fragments of dialogue which, to me, seem to get to the core of why Assange would put himself into such dangerous, liminal situations.

“He objected to the idea that WikiLeaks ‘stole’ secrets,” writes O’Hagan. “According to him they simply understood, at a deeply sophisticated level, how the flow of information in society could be altered.”

The National:

O’Hagan continues: “Far from being a slave to machines, he doubted their morality, feeling that computers were already being used all over the world to control us, and that only the moral and the wise and the fleet of finger, such as those at WikiLeaks, had the requisite understanding.”

He quotes Assange: “We could undermine corruption from its dead centre. Justice will always in the end be about human beings, but there is a new vanguard of experts, criminalised as we are, who have fastened on to the cancer of modern power, and seen how it spreads in ways that are still hidden from ordinary human experience.”

READ MORE: WATCH: The moment Julian Assange is carried out of Ecuadorian Embassy

As we think of Assange being chucked into a van like a bag of laundry, let’s also think of the five years since these quotes, a period when homely information brands like Facebook and Google turn out to have been colluding with political operatives to manipulate mass sentiment in elections.

Compared with this creepy control of voter psychology, Assange’s vast unredacted data dumps seem almost naive. He assumes that citizens – many addictively clicking their candy-coloured apps – will even be able to make best use of the raw information.

One of Assange’s great flaws turned out to have been his eventual rejection of the existing fourth estate, who tried – and ultimately failed – to help him prioritise and focus his targets in the secretive regimes of the world. Indeed, the last few days’ press reaction have been mostly derisive (“Whiffyleaks”, etc). It’s far away from the glory days of Benedict Cumberbatch doing his full mercurial performance of Assange in the biopic Fifth Estate.

Yet in my own brief encounters with this “new vanguard of experts, criminalised as we are”, I can’t help but admire their personal bravery. Appropriately enough, you tend to encounter them at the other end of a terminal, whether as video or as scrolling text: communicating from wherever their latest emergencies have landed them.

Over 2014-2015, I spent 12 months liaising with the CIA’s digital whistle-blower Edward Snowden and his team, to speak at an event I was curating called FutureFest in London. I got to him as a fellow Glasgow University rector, and then we spent months in theoretical disquisition about technology, democracy and freedom. All of this explained the reasoning behind his decision to reveal the degree of mass surveillance perpetrated by the security agencies of the US and UK.

By the time he appeared at the event – down a Google Video line from an unknown location in Moscow – Snowden was as lucid about his condition, and his mission, as a founding father. “We, the people, must use cryptography to defend ourselves against unaccountable digital surveillance, from corporate or state interests,” he stated, a 20-foot head on a screen.

Yet it was hard not to imagine his environs: a nondescript apartment, in a state grudgingly accepting his presence, in a culture far from the country that he’d felt he was defending, against itself.

I spent 2017 in dialogue with Chelsea Manning and her people, to speak at another FutureFest event. We nearly made it – until we got the news, a fortnight before the date, that Manning had been picturing herself on a ledge in Berlin, threatening suicide, overwhelmed by her circumstances.

We had hoped to talk to her about her run for political office, her support for LGBTI rights, her interests in AI and the future of the web. But we mutually agreed that a period of rest would be advisable.

Now Manning is back in jail, after refusing to testify before a US federal grand jury on her disclosure of info to WikiLeaks. Criminalised, as she is (although Obama did enact a pardon of Manning, as one of his last acts in office).

These characters are so easily rendered as arrogant, semi-autistic geeks – obsessed with transparency; assuming that they know better than the actions of elected governments; blithely assuming that technology will liberate us.

I couldn’t do what they do, but I ultimately defend their practice – and their vision. We need to run our societies on the truths of our collective condition, no matter how difficult or shaming they are. Assange, Manning and Snowden are made of the crooked timber of humanity, to be sure. But we need them, and their like.