To his friend and admirer Jemima Khan he is "the new Jason Bourne", but it was a more venerable secret agent whom Julian Assange brought to mind after being bailed last week.
Standing outside the Frontline, the club owned by his other new friend Vaughan Smith, at whose grand Suffolk residence he must pass Christmas under "mansion arrest", Assange seemed entirely unshaken by his spell in jail, the prospect of a jaunt to Stockholm to answer those rape charges, or even the spectre of eventual extradition to the US on espionage charges.
As if he needed reminding of the dangers, a previous patron of the Frontline club was Alexander Litvinenko. Yet Assange's sangfroid under intense fire would impress Bourne and Bond.
He may have been paranoid since his childhood in Australia, when he spent years on the run with a mother fearful of losing him in a custody battle. But the Americans, and others, are out to get him, and judging by the air of portentous tranquillity, he could not be more content about that.
Whether this fearlessness nods towards derangement or heroism is hard to be sure, but it's probably a little of both. Assange's self-regard and intolerance of being challenged hint at narcissism, while a psychiatrist would note that he has replicated that childhood precisely, by first engaging in a custody battle over a son of his own; and then going on the run himself. If Assange is a touch crazy, that quality often travels hand in hand with outlandish bravery. Tempting as it may be to dismiss him as no more than a glorified weirdo hacker (a kind of Asperger's-free Gary McKinnon), it would also be dishonest.
Journalism at its noblest is about discovering and disseminating information the powerful wish to keep to themselves. From publishing the ‘Climategate' e-mails, to editing footage of US fighter pilots filling Iraqi civilians with bullets into a film he called Collateral Murder, Assange has appalled both Left and Right. He is unimpeachably democratic when it comes to outraging either end, and the middle, of the political spectrum.
Missing a trick
Preposterous though it is for Sarah Palin and others to call him a "terrorist", American enmity has done for him what it did for Osama Bin Laden. It has transformed him into a mystical and important global figure.
If Khan has a crush on him, as her incessant Tweeting suggests, who can blame her? His looks, calm in the eye of the storm, haughty froideur and saint-or-sinner ambiguity make Assange an enticing package.
But without for a moment doubting anyone's sincerity, I wonder if he should be more cautious in his choice of friends.
Having such wealthy human cashpoints in the entourage as Khan, Smith and the eccentric publisher Felix Dennis compromises the eternal outsider brand. If the Americans had any sense, they would try to crush Assange not via the courts or a CIA hit squad, but by persuading a bunch of seriously peculiar hangers-on to jump aboard the Assange bandwagon.
Jonathan King, Nadine Dorries MP, cricket umpire Billy Bowden, Hi-de-Hi! star Su Pollard, David Hasselhoff, Dr Gillian McKeith, Louis Walsh, Lady Gaga, David Icke — bribe that lot to carpet-bomb Facebook, Twitter and the airwaves with their adoration, and Assange would be destroyed by association within 48 hours.
Instead, the US is walking into the giant trap of inflating his importance with all the hysterical claims of "terrorism" and brazen demands that someone shoot the messenger. So it is that his outlaw-martyr status — the very thing we might imagine this hero-narcissist cherishing above all else — is almost set in stone.
Assange is being raised to the personification of an idea — and that, as every political cliche-monger knows, is the one thing you cannot kill. It will be lonely in Suffolk this Christmas for Assange, lonely and cold, which seems exactly how he likes it. However, it will warm up in the new year and, soon enough, Britain will find him too hot to handle.
But even if 2011 is his last as a free man, or indeed as a living man, there can be only one ultimate winner in this branch of asymmetric warfare. Did you ever see a movie that ended in defeat for Bourne or Bond?