Julian Assange on Wikileaks, Bradley Manning and the Emerging Surveillance State
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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, may testify today at a pretrial proceeding for the first time since he was arrested in May 2010. Manning could face life in prison if convicted of the most serious of 22 counts against him. His trial is expected to begin in February.
Meanwhile, the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, remains holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he sought refuge nearly six months ago to avoid being extradited to Sweden to be questioned over sexual assault claims. Earlier this week, Assange vowed WikiLeaks would persevere despite attacks against it. On Tuesday, the European Commission announced that the credit card company Visa did not break the European Union’s antitrust rules by blocking donations to WikiLeaks. Shortly after the ruling, Assange addressed reporters in Brussels via video stream from inside the Ecuadorean embassy.
JULIAN ASSANGE: The strength of popular and private support means that we continue. There is no danger that WikiLeaks will cease to exist as an organization. Rather, its natural and rightful growth has been compromised, and that is wrong and must change. It would set a very bad precedent—it was not only wrong for WikiLeaks; it sets an extremely bad precedent for all other European organizations and all media organizations worldwide that monopolies can simply exercise financial death penalties over organizations and companies as a result of political controversy.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Julian Assange speaking on Tuesday. He now joins us in a rare interview from inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London. He has been granted political asylum in Ecuador but can’t leave the embassy because the British government promises to arrest him if he steps foot on British soil. He has just co-authored a new book called Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet. The book examines how the internet can be used as both an instrument of freedom and oppression.
We want to welcome you, Julian Assange, back to Democracy Now! and first get your reaction to the European Commission’s decision around the issue of Visa, saying it wasn’t breaking antitrust laws when it blocked donations to you. The significance of the credit card company’s blockade of donations to WikiLeaks, what it’s meant for your website?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, it’s good to be with you, Amy and Juan. The decision is disgraceful, but it is only a preliminary decision. We have another submission that the commission has asked for, so hopefully they will turn around before the end of the year or the beginning of next year. Commission had been investigating our complaint for 16 months. The normal turnaround time is four months. The European Parliament last week voted, through an Article 32 section, on how banks should be reformed and credit card companies should be reformed in order to stop arbitrary, extrajudicial financial blockades such as the one that is being applied to WikiLeaks. This year, we—the Council of Europe, all 47 foreign ministers last year passed a resolution saying that these sorts of arbitrary financial blockades on WikiLeaks should not continue, so that it’s interesting to see the playoff in the political wills in Europe between, on the one hand, the Council of Europe and the Parliament and, on the other hand, the commission. But it’s been known for a long time that the commission is closer to big business, and it is often successfully lobbied. Hopefully the commission will do the right thing and turn around in this case.
AMY GOODMAN: And how devastating has it been for WikiLeaks?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Since the blockade was erected in December 2010, WikiLeaks has lost 95 percent of the donations that were attempted to be transferred to us over that period. So, that is over $50 million. Now, fortunately, our 5 percent of $50 million is still not nothing, and so the organization can continue. But as I said in that press conference, our rightful and natural growth, our ability to publish as much as we would like, our ability to defend ourselves and our sources, has been diminished by that blockade.
Now, the United States government has looked into the blockade in January of 2011 and formally found that there is no lawful reason to erect a U.S. financial embargo against WikiLeaks. So what has happened here is that—and this came out in the commission documents that we published yesterday—is that Senator Lieberman and Congressman Peter T. King pressured at the very least MasterCard and Amazon, but perhaps others, including Visa, as well, pressured those organizations to erect an extrajudicial blockade that they were not able to successfully erect through the legislature or through a formal administrative process.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Julian, turning to your new book, Cypherpunks, those in the—around the world who have been amazed at your ability to advocate transparency in government and in the corporate world through the internet might be surprised that in your book you now say the internet is a danger to human civilization. Could you explain why?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Human civilization has merged with the internet. Every society has gone onto the internet, with communications between all of us as individuals but also communications between businesses, economic transfers, and even the internal communications and external communications of states. So there is no barrier anymore between the internet and global civilization. That means that when the internet develops a sickness, global civilization also runs the risk of suffering the same sickness.
And the sickness that the internet has developed over the past 10 years is that nation states and their corporate powers have ganged up together to engage in strategic interception of all communications flowing over the internet across national borders and in many countries even within, within its national confines, such as the United States. We know that that has occurred in different places as a result of whistleblowing cases, such as Mark Klein’s case or William Binney’s, a former chief of research at the National Security Agency. So, we have gone from a position that dissidents face and activists face and individuals face 10, 20 years ago, where if we’re engaged in political activity, we could be individually targeted and our friends could be targeted, to a situation where everything, almost, that everyone does over the internet is recorded and intercepted all the time. And that shift is a shift, as it’s called in the internal documents of the hundreds of companies now who supply this national security sector, a shift between tactical interception on a few people and strategic interception, intercepting the entire nation.
We exposed documents earlier this year, the Spy Files—you can look them up—where, for example, the French company AMISYS, which is closely connected to French intelligence, supplied a nationwide—that’s its own words—interception system to Gaddafi’s Libya back in 2009. And in fact, lawyers connected to WikiLeaks and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism were in the manual thatAMISYS shipped to Gaddafi as an example of how the interception system worked.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of corporate surveillance, as well, you often find now in the media a huge push to get people to use social networks. The degree to which private surveillance or corporate surveillance is going on, as well as government surveillance?
JULIAN ASSANGE: There’s not a barrier anymore between corporate surveillance, on the one hand, and government surveillance, on the other. You know, Facebook is based—has its servers based in the United States. Gmail, as General Petraeus found out, has its servers based in the United States. And the interplay between U.S. intelligence agencies and other Western intelligence agencies and any intelligence agencies that can hack this is fluid. So, we’re in a—if we look back to what’s a earlier example of the worst penetration by an intelligence apparatus of a society, which is perhaps East Germany, where up to 10 percent of people over their lifetime had been an informer at one stage or another, in Iceland we have 88 percent penetration of Iceland by Facebook. Eighty-eight percent of people are there on Facebook informing on their friends and their movements and the nature of their relationships—and for free. They’re not even being paid money. They’re not even being directly coerced to do it. They’re doing it for social credits to avoid the feeling of exclusion. But people should understand what is really going on. I don’t believe people are doing this or would do it if they truly understood what was going on, that they are doing hundreds of billions of hours of free work for the Central Intelligence Agency, for the FBI, and for all allied agencies and all countries that can ask for favors to get hold of that information.
William Binney, the former chief of research, the National Security Agency’s signals intelligence division, describes this situation that we are in now as "turnkey totalitarianism," that the whole system of totalitarianism has been built—the car, the engine has been built—and it’s just a matter of turning the key. And actually, when we look to see some of the crackdowns on WikiLeaks and the grand jury process and targeted assassinations and so on, actually it’s arguable that key has already been partly turned. The assassinations that occur extrajudicially, the renditions that occur, they don’t occur in isolation. They occur as a result of the information that has been sucked in through this giant signals interception machinery.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, we can’t ignore the fact that we’re speaking to you inside the Ecuadorean embassy, where you’ve taken refuge, where you’re really there as a kind of refugee. You’ve gotten political asylum from Ecuador but can’t leave the embassy. What are your plans right now? Are you negotiating with the Swedish government, if you were to be extradited there, that they would not extradite you to the United States?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, Amy, Ecuador has really stepped up to the plate and must be congratulated. I have been found to be, through a formal process, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a political refugee and have been granted political asylum, in relation to what has been happening in the United States and allied countries and their behavior—Sweden and the United Kingdom. The situation for me now is that I have been here for five months in this embassy; prior to that, 18 months under house arrest; prior to that, being chased around the world for about six months by U.S. intelligence and its allies.
Now, I must correct an earlier statement that you made—this has become common in the press—saying that I was here in relation to Sweden. The reason I am here is essentially in relation to the United States. But the Swedish government said publicly that it would imprison me without charge. And in such a situation, I’d not be able to apply for asylum. Now, the Ecuadorean government has asked the Swedish government to give a guarantee that I would not be extradited to the United States. We have asked for a long time for such a guarantee. That has been refused. All the regular processes have been refused in this case. You know, it’s an extremely odd and bizarre case, and I encourage everyone to go and look at that aspect of the case at justice4assange.com. And you can see report after report. You can see all the material that the police claim to be true and all the things that have occurred, the Cambridge International & Comparative Law Journal condemning the decisions that were made here in the British courts.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying, Julian, that you would go to Sweden, if they assured you that you wouldn’t be extradited to the United States, to answer questions about these two women who have made charges on sex abuse on your count?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes, that has been our public position for quite a long time.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Julian, I’d like to get back to your book for a second and talk about, at this crossroads, as you see it, in terms of the future of the internet, the importance that you see of cryptography as a weapon of the people on the internet.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, the development of cryptography is absolutely fascinating. So, we’re not just talking anymore about people being able to write in a secret code that other people can’t read except their intended recipient. Crytography, as a science, in the last 30 years, has developed a basic—basic techniques that we would normally associate with democratic civilization and moved it into the digital realm. So that includes things like anonymous electronic cash and digital voting and signatures and proofs of agreements between people.
So, when we look at what happens when civilization moves onto the internet, how is it controlled? At the moment, a lot of the problems we face on the internet and the independence of the internet is guys with guns can simply turn up to any internet server and tell the people there to behave in a certain way, just like they do with oil wells or they do with customs. So, as an international new civilization, a forum where people are intellectually expressing themselves, where we deposit our history and our political ideals and ambitions, the internet is suffering, on one hand, from mass interception and, on the other hand, that it is still in many ways subservient to the physical force in the various states that its infrastructure is located in. Cryptography provides a way to abstract away from the physical world to create a sort of mathematical barrier between the physical world and the intellectual world, and in that way slowly declare independence from nation states. So our intellectual world cannot simply be censored or deleted or taxed in the manner which we have suffered from for so long in nation states.
Now, the internet—on the internet, there’s no direct physical force that needs to be policed in that manner, so we don’t need armies on the internet. We don’t need policemen on the internet, in a way that we may need them in our regular nation states. So, we do have this opportunity, with careful use of cryptography and a movement behind it, to achieve some forms of independence for the intellectual record and for our communications with one another. And those aspects of cryptography, we have used, with varying degrees of success, in WikiLeaks to publish material that no other publisher in the world was able to publish because they were constrained by physical threats within particular nation states.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, we are talking to you on the day that Bradley Manning is expected to testify, be heard publicly for the first time in over two years at Fort Meade. His lawyer has said he would plead guilty to certain charges, and that is releasing documents that he got in Iraq on the computer to your organization WikiLeaks, but refused to plead to others, like aiding the enemy. Talk about Bradley Manning, and then talk also—if you could weave that into why you’re so concerned about being extradited to the United States.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Amy, what is happening this week is not the trial of Bradley Manning; what is happening this week is the trial of the U.S. military. This is Bradley Manning’s abuse case. Bradley Manning was arrested in Baghdad, shipped over and held for two months in extremely adverse conditions in Kuwait, shipped over to Quantico, Virginia, which is near the center of the U.S. intelligence complex, and held there for nine months, longer than any other prisoner in Quantico’s modern history. And there, he was subject to conditions that the U.N. special rapporteur, Juan Méndez, special rapporteur for torture, formally found amounted to torture.
There’s a question about who authorized that treatment. Why was that treatment placed on him for so long, when so many people—independent psychiatrists, military psychiatrists—complained about what was going on in extremely strong terms? His lawyer and support team say that he was being treated in that manner, in part, in order to coerce some kind of statement or false confession from him that would implicate WikiLeaks as an organization and me personally. And so, this is a matter that I am—personally have been embroiled in, that this young man’s treatment, regardless of whether he was our source or not, is directly as a result of an attempt to attack this organization by the United States military, to coerce this young man into providing evidence that could be used to more effectively attack us, and also serve as some kind of terrible disincentive for other potential whistleblowers from stepping forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian, the Ecuadorean ambassador to the U.K., to Britain, Ana Alban, was quoted in The Independent saying that you’re suffering from a chronic lung infection from being in captivity for so long in London in the embassy. Can you talk about your health?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Amy, being in prison, house arrest, and now held captive in an embassy, with a bunch of cops outside, of course is a difficult circumstance, but it is not more difficult than the circumstance that is faced by Bradley Manning in Fort Leavenworth or by Jeremy Hammond, an alleged source related to the Stratfor files in New York, or by many other prisoners around the world. So, yes, circumstances is hard, but it could be much worse than it is, and people should direct their attention on these other cases.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about Jeremy Hammond, who is in prison here in New York City? Explain what Stratfor is; if you can, how you got the documents; or just explain what has taken place.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, Stratfor is a organization based in Texas. It has tried to model itself after some weird combination between doing private intelligence work, on the one hand, and covering that with an illusion of journalism by creating this thing called the Stratfor report, which has become very influential within—within the military and within government. It has a particular worldview, which is—which the head of Stratfor, Friedman, admits to being a Kissingeresque realpolitik. And through stealing, bribing, gathering information in various ways, they’re able to influence U.S. policy and, more broadly, Western policy. Now, it’s also—you know, it’s done all the usual nasty stuff, like working for Coca-Cola, making reports onPETA, making reports on Bhopal activists and so on. But its greatest importance is its private influence into the decision making of different people throughout government.
But we have found through the Stratfor files, which this young activist Jeremy Hammond is accused of hacking out of Stratfor and giving to us—we have found that actually the information or the sourcing for these reports is rather thin in many places or politically biased or is used to feed something that Stratfor set up called StratCap, which is a private capital investment company which takes the information that they’ve gained from bribery and uses it to make investments in, say, gold futures and so on. So, you know, you can see from the Stratfor material that this is a company that—where the boss, Friedman, has gone, "How can I be as evil as possible? How can I be some kind of stereotype cross between Kissinger and James Bond and tell everyone else to do it?" And, you know—and that’s what is done in that company. So, whoever the source is of the Stratfor material deserves enormous credit. Story after story has come out from all around the world of—about material that Stratfor collected and didn’t publish or gave to their private clients.
AMY GOODMAN: And Julian, one of the emails that WikiLeaks released of Stratfor of the vice president said that there was a secret indictment against you by the secret grand jury that we believe is convened in Alexandria, Virginia, that is going after you and other WikiLeaks volunteers. Do you know any more about this information or any confirmation that there is this sealed indictment against you?
JULIAN ASSANGE: There are some 3,000 emails in the Stratfor collection about me personally and many more thousands about WikiLeaks. The latest on the grand jury front is that the U.S. Department of Justice admits, as of about two weeks ago, that the investigation is ongoing. On September 28th this year, the Pentagon renewed its formal threats against us in relation to ongoing publishing but also, extremely seriously, in relation to ongoing, what they call, solicitation. So, that is asking sources publicly, you know, "Send us important material, and we will publish it." They say that that itself is a crime. So this is not simply a case about—that we received some information back in 2010 and have been publishing it and they say that that was the crime; the Pentagon is maintaining a line that WikiLeaks inherently, as an institution that tells military and government whistleblowers to step forward with information, is a crime, that we are—they allege we are criminal, moving forward.
Now, the new interpretation of the Espionage Act that the Pentagon is trying to hammer in to the legal system, and which the Department of Justice is complicit in, would mean the end of national security journalism in the United States, and not only the United States, because the Pentagon is trying to apply this extraterritorially. Why would it be the end of national security journalism? Because the interpretation is that if any document that the U.S. government claims to be classified is given to a journalist, who then makes any part of it public, that journalist has committed espionage, and the person who gave them the material has committed the crime, communicating with the enemy. And we released other material about a young Air Force woman who was suspected of communicating with us, and they went to internally prosecute her under 104-D, which is communications with the enemy. So, who’s the enemy? Well, the enemy is either WikiLeaks, formally an enemy of the United States, or the interpretation is that any time that there is a communication to the public—and we saw this in the Bradley Manning case—there is a chance for al-Qaeda or the Russians or Iran to read it; therefore, any communication to a journalist is communication to the public, is communication to al-Qaeda, which means that any communication to a journalist is communicating to the enemy. Now, it’s absurd overreach, but it is an overreach now which has been put into practice, not at the conviction level yet, but certainly at the investigative and prosecution level. Barack Obama brags publicly on his campaign website of having prosecuted more people under the Espionage Act than all previous presidents combined, in fact, more than twice that of all previous presidents combined.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Julian, on that particular note, I’d like to ask you to, if you can, talk about what you consider to be the long-term impact of WikiLeaks, that as governments continually centralize through the digital revolution their information, it makes it more possible for dissidents or whistleblowers within the structures of these governments to make that information available to broader sectors of the public. And if WikiLeaks—if the governments are able to squash WikiLeaks, how do you see that movement developing in terms of other organizations that are arising that continue the kind of work that you’ve been doing?
JULIAN ASSANGE: The attempts to squash WikiLeaks are there to set a general deterrent. I mean, there’s no doubt about this. Since 2008, that’s been the case. We released a classified U.S. intelligence report, in fact, showing in 2008 the concern that the U.S. military had about WikiLeaks and the ways in which it could be crushed. Other material came out showing that Bank of America had hired lawyers who had looked into hiring people to make all sorts of attacks and smears on us, massively funded millions of dollars per month. And you can look that up. It’s the HBGary report.
I think this tension between power and knowledge is extremely important. So, we’ve all heard the saying that knowledge is power. Well, it’s true. And the mass surveillance and mass interception that is occurring to all of us now who use the internet is also a mass transfer of power from individuals into extremely sophisticated state and private intelligence organizations and their cronies. Now, if that is to be resisted, we must have a transfer of information that is going the other way.
Fortunately, the system is in part eating itself. When it sets up these huge databases designed to be extremely efficient, brings in five million people, a state within a state in the United States, who have security clearances to work out how to best use it in order to maximize the power of that sector, it also leaves itself open to people extracting some of that information and reversing the flow and giving it back to the public, putting it into our common intellectual record. But it’s not, by any means, an easy battle. I would say that the transfer of power that has occurred as a result of the NSA’s admitted 1.6 billion interceptions per day is much greater than the transfer that has happened the other way. The successes of WikiLeaks, yes, to some degree, reflect our vigor and the vigor of activists on the internet, but I think they more fairly represent the vast treasure of global information that is being accumulated by these otherwise unaccountable intelligence organizations.
AMY GOODMAN: Your reaction—you mentioned Petraeus, General Petraeus, before and how he’s been taken down as his email was gone through. What do you think about that? The—here he was—
JULIAN ASSANGE: I think it’s fascinating, Amy. Now, we can look into—you know, if you’ve been involved in this business for a while, you can start to smell when there must be something more to the situation. So I assume, in those emails that the FBI got hold of, there’s additional information that would be embarrassing to Petraeus above and beyond an extramarital affair, which is why he’s resigned. But that someone in the position of being the ultimate—an ultimate insider, the head of the CIA, has fallen victim to the surveillance state really shows you how massively out of control the thing has become, where it is like a vicious dog that has suddenly spotted its own tail and has gone after it, is lashing out irrationally, and now it’s affected an insider. And people have started to take note, but of course it’s been doing that to activists and, in fact, most of—most of us, it has been doing that, although we can’t see the result, for years.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, as we wrap up, your final thoughts as you speak to us from political exile inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London? This is extremely rare. How long do you plan to be holed up there? Could you see yourself being there for years?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Possibly, Amy. I mean, it is possible. I mean, the Ecuadorean government said, "If it takes 200 years for Mr. Assange to be safe, then 200 years it is," to their credit. There’s an Ecuadorean national election in February next year. And it seems to be that there’s a bit of a diplomatic waiting game on, as far as the U.S. and the U.K. are concerned, to look to see how that election goes. President Correa is the most popular political leader in Latin America, so by rights it should be fine. But there have been reports that the United States has increased its sort of anti-Correa funding by three times, so that’s a potential problem. But the people of Ecuador have been very supportive, so I suspect, even if there is a switch to another leader, it’s now a matter of sort of national pride for Ecuador, so they’ll stick the course.
AMY GOODMAN: And as to, you feel, the—how people should use the internet today and protect themselves, as we wrap up with your book, Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, first, first, they have to—it is not always possible to protect oneself. You know, if you walk over the edge of a cliff, it’s not really that possible to protect yourself. But it’s important to know the cliff is there, so you can simply avoid doing certain things that would put you at risk. Now, the first thing they should do is go out and buy the book. It’s not easy to protect yourself. That is part of the problem. It really is not easy. It is, in fact, with some exceptions, something that is presently only open to extremely knowledgeable people. So, we must push forward to empower the greater development of this technology, the—preventing moves to outlaw it, which have been done—we fought a big war in the 1990s to prevent the outlawing of cryptography—and additionally, preventing the back-dooring of cryptographic technology. There are moves afoot to try and do that.
I’m sorry—sorry, Amy, I’m getting the cut-off signal for some reason.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Julian. Julian Assange spread that 10 minutes to about 40, and we thank you so much for being there. Julian Assange is the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, now under political asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy, happens to have co-authored this new book, Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, which can make it outside of the embassy, which he can’t do right now. Thanks so much for being with us. And folks, if you want a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. But we’ll be back in a minute.