Talks with the founder of WikiLeaks in his refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy
HAVANA TIMES – In a Democracy Now! exclusive, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange joins us from Ecuador’s Embassy in London. It is the first time a U.S. news program has gone inside Assange’s place of refuge, where he has entered his third year in political asylum while he faces investigations in both Sweden and the United States.
In the United States, a secret grand jury is investigating WikiLeaks for its role in publishing a trove of leaked documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as classified State Department cables. In Sweden, Assange is wanted for questioning on allegations of sexual misconduct, though no charges have been filed.
Late last week, there was the first break in the latter case in two years, when a Swedish court announced it would hold a hearing on July 16 about a request by his lawyers for prosecutors to hand over new evidence and withdraw the arrest warrant. In the first of a two-part interview, Assange discusses his new legal bid in Sweden, the ongoing grand jury probe in the United States, and WikiLeaks’ efforts to assist National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a Democracy Now! exclusive. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has just entered his third year inside Ecuador’s Embassy in London where he has political asylum. Assange faces investigations in both Sweden and the United States. Here in the U.S., a secret grand jury is investigating WikiLeaks for its role in publishing a trove of leaked documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as State Department cables. In Sweden, he’s wanted for questioning on allegations of sexual misconduct, though no charges have been filed. Late last week, there was the first break in the Swedish case in two years. A Swedish court announced it would hold a hearing July 16th over a request by his lawyers for prosecutors to hand over new evidence and withdraw the arrest warrant.
Well, late last night, we flew back to New York after interviewing Julian Assange inside the embassy.
AMY GOODMAN: The Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where Julian Assange is holed up—he has been here for just over two years, just celebrated his 43rd birthday inside the embassy. Here you can see the British police, and right in front of me is the balcony where Julian Assange has come out and addressed his supporters and addressed the media. The Ecuadorean flag hangs from that balcony. As to when Julian Assange will come out, well, he is concerned, if he steps foot outside, he will be arrested by the British police. So, for now, he’s inside, this nomad of the digital age.
We’re in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where Julian Assange took refuge two years ago. He’s been detained in Britain for close now to four years.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Julian.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: How are you doing here? It’s been over two years that you have really not seen daylight for any extended period of time.
JULIAN ASSANGE: There’s been nearly four years that I’ve been detained without charge, in one form or another, here in the United Kingdom, first in prison, the solitary confinement, then under house arrest for about 18 months, and now two years here in the embassy. The Ecuadorean government gave me political asylum in relation to the ongoing national security investigation by the DOJ, the Department of Justice, in the United States into our publications and also into sourcing efforts. So, did I enter into a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced last year to 35 years in prison?
So, the question as to how I’m doing, of course, personally, it’s a difficult situation, in a variety of ways. I would say that when someone’s in this position, what you are most concerned about is the interruption in your family relationships. So, because of the security situation, that’s made it very hard for my children and my parents.
But if we look at the bigger picture, WikiLeaks, as an organization, has survived that attack by the U.S. government, and we’ve gone on to do further work and some quite significant work. Unlike many media organizations during that period, we have not gone bankrupt, despite a worldwide, extrajudicial banking blockade by Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and so on, and none of our members of staff have been fired. So, I think if you went back and said to yourself, “What are the chances that a small investigative publisher could publish this information about the Iraq War and the State Department and the Afghanistan War and many other documents about Guantánamo, and enter into conflict with the United States government in a very serious way, would they still be publishing? Would their people be in prison?” and you would think, probably, yes. But actually, we have managed to mostly overcome, apart from my situation here, the barriers that have been put up against us.
AMY GOODMAN: So, July 16th is a significant date. You are wanted in two investigations, or you’re being investigated by the U.S. government because, as you said, of WikiLeaks, of exposing many documents—tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? How many would you say? Around the Iraq War—
JULIAN ASSANGE: Eight million so far.
AMY GOODMAN: Eight million—around the Iraq War, around the Afghanistan War, and cables of the State Department that go back for decades. You’re also wanted by Sweden for questioning, often misstated as “because you’ve been charged”—
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —for questioning around sexual misconduct. And July 16th is a big date in that case. Why?
JULIAN ASSANGE: While most of our resources have been concerned with the ongoing U.S. investigation and pending prosecution, which the U.S.—which the DOJ admits to in its court filing of the 25th of April this year, continues, the Swedish investigation has obstructed my asylum. So, United Kingdom says, “Look, there’s this questioning warrant that Sweden has put out for you. They may have dropped the case,” which they did and re-raised it, “but nonetheless there’s this questioning warrant, and therefore we say you cannot go to Ecuador to accept asylum until we’ve extradited you to Sweden.” Now, that is actually a violation of international law. The international law is quite clear: Asylum trumps extradition, because of the nature of the relationships with the U.N. and the 1951 asylum convention. So, every time we try and we get some traction publicly and politically in the U.S. case, people say, “Oh, no, no, the whole thing is really about the Swedish case.” So it’s quite important to deal with the Swedish matter and kind of show it for what it is and that it should be dropped.
There has been no movement. Although the Swedish government is obligated to somehow progress the situation, they’ve been very happy to keep it a complete stasis. They’ve refused to come here to speak to me here or pick up a telephone or to accept an affidavit. They have also refused to provide a guarantee that I will not be extradited to the United States if I offer to go to Sweden. So, that situation means we have to tackle the Swedish matter, it seems, in Sweden. The only other alternative is perhaps going to the International Court of Justice in relation to the asylum.
Anyway, so it will be the first date in nearly four—in four years that the matter has been heard about in Sweden. And my lawyers are confident that either in the lower court, and more likely the appeal court, we will be able to dismiss the case, because the law is reasonably clear. You’re meant to proceed with—the Swedish government has an obligation under its own law to proceed with maximum speed, with minimum cost, and also with bringing the minimum suspicion on the person who’s being investigated. And it is in clear violation of all those points of law.
AMY GOODMAN: This hearing that will take place on July 16th is a result of an appeal by your Swedish lawyers. Why didn’t they appeal before?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, several things have happened in the interim. Because of the abuses in this case and some other cases, new European law was introduced and pulled in—and enacted in Sweden. And it was meant to be enacted by June the 1st this year; it wasn’t. But by July the 1st it should have come on board, so just recently. So that new legislation permits people who are suspects, who had their liberty deprived in some way, to be able to access evidence that shows that they’re innocent. And so, we understand that there’s significant evidence that was collected by the police that show that I am innocent, and they have thus far refused to hand it over. But this new European law means that they have to hand it over.
AMY GOODMAN: In affidavits that I have read, your lawyers were allowed to see text messages of the women who have accused you.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, what’s hard to—you have to be careful in saying that they have accused me, because actually when you read their correspondence and their early statements, they don’t say that at all. In fact, they say that they didn’t accuse me and that the police took the matter and the state accused me, that they didn’t want any charges, that they weren’t filing a formal complaint. That’s what they say in those text messages.
AMY GOODMAN: Your lawyers weren’t able to get copies of them at this point, but they were allowed to look at them.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: One of them saying something like, “I did not want to put any charges on Julian Assange, but that the police were keen on getting a grip on him”?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, and that she was railroaded into things and really did not—she did not want what occurred to occur.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you were questioned in Sweden originally, and the chief prosecutor actually—is it the prosecutor who dropped the case against you?
JULIAN ASSANGE: The chief prosecutor of Stockholm reviewed the material very early on in the case and dropped the rape complaint, dropped it, said there’s no—said, “It’s not that I don’t believe what the women say, but there’s just no evidence that any crime has been committed.” And so, the matter was dropped. Then, subsequently, a senior Swedish politician, Claes Borgström, who was running for election, then took it to Gothenburg, a city which has nothing to do with the case, and resurrected it under another prosecutor.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what could happen on July 16th?
JULIAN ASSANGE: The options for them, they can simply—they can dismiss it; they can say that the law is unclear and ask maybe European Court of Justice to give clarity on this new European law and how it is to be implemented.
AMY GOODMAN: There’s also a law here that was just passed in Britain that seems to have come about as a result of your case. Unfortunately, you’re not protected under it.
JULIAN ASSANGE: That’s a very important development. So, as a result of the abuses in my case, which were seen by the Supreme Court—there was a split in the Supreme Court.
AMY GOODMAN: Here in Britain.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Here in Britain. And subsequently, the Cambridge Journal of Comparative Law wrote two papers about what had happened. And there’s a lot of concern about this idea that you could extradite someone without even charging them. So, political pressure—there was a backbench revolt in the British Parliament, principally amongst the conservative backbench, that this was—you know, that any police officer in Europe could just ask for someone in the U.K. to be extradited without it going before a court and without them being charged. And so new legislation was introduced to prevent that happening. So, no more extradition without charge from the U.K. But there was then debate that, “Well, will this in fact protect Assange?” And so, a specific clause was entered into it that it will not be retrospective for those people where the court has decided that they will be extradited, but they haven’t been extradited yet—which just applies to me.
AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder and editor Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has been holed up for more than two years. When we come back, in this sitdown interview, I talk to Assange about my interview with the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, about Assange’s case. And I get Assange’s response to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments calling for Edward Snowden to come back to the United States to face a trial. We also learn how Assange helped facilitate Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong. All that and more, coming up. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, just back from London. We return now to my interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from inside Ecuador’s Embassy in London this weekend, where he has political asylum and has been living for over two years.
AMY GOODMAN: I just came from Sweden, from Almedalen, where 25,000 people gather to talk about politics, and all the parties there and the leaders are there, among them the foreign minister, Carl Bildt, and I asked him about this challenge that was just introduced to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Let’s go to a clip of that.
AMY GOODMAN: Could I ask you—we’re looking at the case of Julian Assange, and 59 legal and human rights groups have made a submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council challenging the pre-charge detention, which makes it a foreign policy issue. As foreign minister, what are your thoughts on this?
FOREIGN MINISTER CARL BILDT: None, because it’s a question for the legal authorities and not a question for me.
AMY GOODMAN: But because it’s in the U.N. Human Rights commission—
FOREIGN MINISTER CARL BILDT: Well, that doesn’t make—
AMY GOODMAN: —the Council.
FOREIGN MINISTER CARL BILDT: That doesn’t make any difference whatever, because it’s still a legal issue within the legal system. And as you have in the U.S., I guess, you have the separation between the executive and judicial branch. And the executive—that’s sort of the nature of democracy or constitutional democracy. If you’re a representative of the executive branch, you have no say—and shouldn’t have any say—in what the judicial branch is doing. And that applies here, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden, saying this is a judicial issue, an issue of the judiciary, and he won’t intervene. Your comment on that?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, I only wish that was the case. But, in fact, Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, a hawkish trans-Atlanticist who was hired by the Liberation of Iraq Committee, for cash, to provoke the invasion of Iraq here in Europe, and has done many similar things—this year was his 14th Bilderberger, he’s an old friend of Henry Kissinger, etc. Carl Bildt has, in fact, continually, publicly interfered and denounced WikiLeaks and me, or statements that my lawyers have made, in various ways over the past four years—not only Carl Bildt, but the rest of the Swedish Cabinet, as well. So, it’s one of these situations where when someone doesn’t want to answer a question, they rely on principles—which are good principles, of not interfering in judiciary—but on the other hand, when they want to interfere, then they do just that.
AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the U.S. government being involved with Sweden to a level we haven’t seen before? You have the secretary of state at the time, Hillary Clinton, coming to Sweden; the attorney general, Eric Holder, coming to Sweden; President Obama coming to Sweden. That’s never happened in U.S. history when it comes to Sweden.
JULIAN ASSANGE: And John Kerry, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: And John Kerry, the current secretary of state.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, yeah. The last secretary of state visit was Kissinger in 1976.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe this has to do with you?
JULIAN ASSANGE: I don’t think it’s just to do with me. There may be an element. For example, the Holder visit was unscheduled and was sudden and occurred at the time when there was a significant debate in Sweden about dropping the matter in relation to me. That’s possibly related to me. And the Hillary visit, yes, it was just a week before I was meant to be extradited to Sweden.
But I think it more likely reflects a very strong alliance between Sweden and the United States, which has developed since the end of the Cold War, and rapidly since 2006, when the center-right party, the moderates, entered into government. And that alliance we can see, for example, in that Swedish troops are under U.S. command in Afghanistan; that Sweden was the fifth into Libya; that Sweden was the number one seller of arms to the United States during the Iraq War, in absolute terms; that the National Security Agency and Sweden have an agreement, which is even stronger than the agreement between—that in aspects is even stronger than the agreement between GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, and National Security Agency to conduct bulk surveillance of traffic passing through Sweden.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, if the case dissolved in Sweden, if the allegations were dropped, could you walk outside of this embassy here on British soil?
JULIAN ASSANGE: No, but that case would stop obstructing part of the asylum. So we still have the issue as to whether the British would then activate a U.S. extradition request. The British are also conducting their own counterterrorism investigation in relation to our involvement and The Guardian‘s involvement in Edward Snowden’s documents. And there’s also questions about the Snowden grand jury that we’re not sure about. But the most clear aspect is the WikiLeaks grand jury in the U.S., which has been the largest investigation and pending prosecution of a publisher in U.S. history, more than a dozen different agencies involved. It’s very well documented, not just by us, but by other journalists and New York Times. And, in fact, the DOJ admits it in court filings. So, that’s an issue.
Now, in 2012, when the conflict was at its height, and this embassy was completely surrounded by British police—it is still surrounded by British police. There is still a siege underway with about eight to 16 uniformed and undercover police officers around the embassy at any time. But going back to 2012, there was a siege involving, at various times of the day, over a hundred police officers. At that time, the British police were ordered to smash—ordered to smash into a diplomatic car, if I was in a diplomatic car; if I had diplomatic immunity, to arrest me. So, that’s quite extraordinary that there would be a direct instruction to violate the most tested part of international law, which is the Vienna Convention, which is the protection of embassies and diplomatic cars. It’s not like there’s any debate on whether it might be illegal and might be legal to do that under some circumstances. It’s completely illegal. And yet the British police were ordered to do it.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you sense a shift here? I mean, you have Baroness Jenny Jones, for example, who’s in charge of a police committee in the London House, saying, “Why are we spending this money?” In fact, hasn’t there been a breakdown of how much money has been spent? In U.S. dollars, something like $11 million.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, it’s come out under a Freedom of Information Act request just about two—about two weeks ago, that the U.K. had reached 6.5 million pounds, or about eleven-and-a-half million dollars. It’s now up to 6.7 million pounds. Interestingly, when there’s a request of the breakdown, because that only—that should be about 16 people full-time. When there’s a request of the breakdown, they refuse to reveal the breakdown under national security—for national security reasons. So the U.K. government—there’s something that they’re doing with that police surveillance that they say is a matter of national security.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask you about this latest letter that was written to Attorney General Eric Holder, signed by many organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Anthony Romero of the ACLU, Reporters Without Borders, World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters and many others, calling on the Justice Department to officially close all criminal investigations against WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief, you, Julian Assange, and to stop harassment and other persecution of WikiLeaks for publishing in the public interest. Talk about what this means and whether you think this will happen in the United States right now, whether this investigation against you, which has come up in everything from the Manning trial—
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —to other places, will stop.
JULIAN ASSANGE: I think it’s a sign of a developing mood in the United States, to see conservative organizations like Human Rights Watch, which, as you well know, has a lot of former State Department people in it, to come out with that position, that this prosecution, or this pending prosecution of WikiLeaks by the DOJ, National Security Division, is a dangerous precedent to set and would be a significant stain on the record of the Democrats. And so, I think there is a view that that should be stopped, and a number of different organizations are pushing for it. Now, of course, that always should have been the view. You can ask the question: Why wasn’t Human Rights Watch in there two years ago saying these things? Well, I think people were scared. I think they really were scared and that they thought that perhaps they could isolate us and, “OK, let the U.S. government go after WikiLeaks, just as long as we can keep our media organizations and our human rights groups, and we can stay out of the fight.”
But if you look at how the Espionage Act prosecutions have developed, there is now more investigations and prosecutions by the Obama administration of people under the Espionage Act—principally, whistleblowers and journalists—than all previous presidents combined, going back to 1917—in fact, more than double. And people understand that it’s not just us. In fact, the precedent has been set that you can perhaps do this to almost anyone. And that should be checked.
AMY GOODMAN: In this letter, they go on to quote Eric Holder, the attorney general, saying, “you promised that [quote] ‘as long as I am attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.'”
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: He recently said this.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, unfortunately, you can see the conditional, which is doing his job. And we’re being—interestingly, this public statement by Holder reflects a development of thought in the State Department over the past two years that we have been following quite closely. And it is to somehow say that there are certain types of reportage which are legitimate and other types of reportage which are not legitimate. And the State Department has refused to recognize us as a media organization. And it’s done that in a number of different ways, not just in its public statements by its officials over a wide variety of time, but, for example, when the Bradley Manning trial was on and Kristinn Hrafnsson, our spokesperson—the top award-winning journalist of Iceland, has won journalist of the year three times—applied for a visa to go to the trial, to the U.S. State Department, a journalist visa, it was refused. And the grounds for refusal were not specified; they refused to specify them. But they are obviously that the State Department has a policy position that it will refuse to recognize WikiLeaks as a media organization, because then this would activate their other position that they’re not going to prosecute journalists for doing their jobs.
AMY GOODMAN: Here you are, Julian Assange, in the Ecuadorean Embassy, under siege by a number of governments, under surveillance by many. And yet you manage to work with Edward Snowden, perhaps the most famous whistleblower today in the world, to help him, once he gave over his documents in Hong Kong, the former NSA contractor, to the journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, make his way to Russia, where he got political asylum. Can you explain how you did this?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, I think it’s—first of all, will explain why WikiLeaks, as an organization, took on that case. Well, personally, I’ve been through a very similar—I could see the experience Edward Snowden was about to go through. I have been through a similar experience. And I’ve also watched Chelsea Manning go through an even worse experience, now sentenced to 35 years in prison and, at one stage, kept in cages in Kuwait and so on, and treated very, very badly. So, I have personal sympathy for what he was about to go through—and not just from the legal side, but also from the press side. But as a result of us having gone through it, we developed certain understandings about diplomacy, secure communications, which had long been our specialty, and we have a good kind of diplomatic network as a result of specializing in diplomatic publications. So we thought there was a chance that we could help him, and he reached out and asked for help, and we thought it was important to assist.
The other thing is about the sort of signal it sends. The U.S. government decided to smash Chelsea Manning—absolutely smash him—to send a signal to everyone: Don’t you ever think about telling people what’s really going on inside the U.S. military and its abuses. And they tried to smash also the next most visible person and visible organization, which was WikiLeaks, to get both ends—the source end and the publishing end. Now, we have mostly defended ourselves. I’m in a difficult position here, but WikiLeaks has never censored any of its publications in response to that attack. So we wanted to try and set a counterexample with Edward Snowden, that in fact you can blow the whistle, you can reveal this information to the public, which is of tremendous historical importance. It’s of importance to the ongoing development of civilization. Are we going to end up into a mass surveillance system with a very aggressive and strong military-industrial complex, or do we have an attempt to steer away from that? But if we could erect Edward Snowden as someone who blew the whistle and survived, and not even survived, but thrived and spoke about it and kept informing people of what was going on, then we wanted to do it, because that incentivized other sources coming forward.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did you do it?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, you know, you have to understand I need to speak carefully, because there is an ongoing Edward Snowden grand jury, which is looking at the matters of those people who assisted Edward Snowden, as well as Edward Snowden himself. But there’s a lot of surveillance of this embassy; on the other hand, we had developed certain techniques in defeating surveillance. And they’re not easy. They are hard techniques, and they do take diligence. But the reality is, the National Security Agency, for all its surveillance power, and the DOJ, for all their coercive power, in the end, they are bureaucracies. They are perfectly nasty, boring bureaucracies. And bureaucracies are inefficient, and they move slowly. And we knew this from our dealing with the State Department and the Pentagon previously.
And so, we were able to move quickly and fast and assess the situation, from a legal and political perspective, in Hong Kong and the mechanisms that would be needed to get him out, get him asylum, and the flight path that would be needed so he had protection at each step of the way and that none of the intermediary countries would grab him, due to us making pre-arrangements and also due to just the sort of where they stood geopolitically. So that’s what we did. And it’s not like it was guaranteed to work. In fact, there were certain stages where there were quite some risks. But the risks of inaction were even greater.
AMY GOODMAN: So you not only helped him from here, but Sarah Harrison, who we just recently interviewed in Germany, who is British, but concerned, if she comes back to Britain, she, too, will be arrested, actually accompanied him on that trip from Hong Kong to Russia, stayed with him at the—both at the airport for five weeks and then for months after that.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes, that’s right. Yeah, so, Sarah Harrison, one of our people, who went to Hong Kong to deal with the situation both from a legal perspective and a journalistic perspective, she was acting as a secure conduit to our lawyers, who were trying to understand the asylum situation and advise him. And from a journalistic perspective, of course, it’s a very interesting story. Accompanied him to Hong Kong—sorry, accompanied him out of Hong Kong to Moscow and dealt with a very difficult situation there of gaining him asylum, and, importantly, making sure—once it became clear that it would be difficult for him to go to Latin America, making sure that the situation into which he entered into asylum in Russia was a well-negotiated one, was not one of weakness. And so she stayed there for some three or four months to make sure that he had freedom in Russia and was well respected there. And to their credit, the Russian authorities did the right thing: They gave him asylum, and they didn’t interfere or coerce with his conditions there.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the most significant revelation that’s come out of the Snowden-leaked documents? I mean, you who know so much from the documents that you’ve released.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, because it is our specialty to understand surveillance systems of various kind, and it was my profession beforehand, the broad—many of the broad parameters, we already knew about. But the confirmation of each one of those parameters was extremely important for others to realize it. I think what is most surprising is not any one thing. It’s the scale, the incredible scale, and that at any point where you could guess, “Are they doing this, or are they not doing it?” they are doing it. So, for example, intercepting packages that are sent out in the post and backdooring them, backdooring chips. So we see the corporation list between National Security Agency and U.S. hardware manufacturers, so Intel, Qualcomm, that makes the chips for telephones and so on. That’s quite surprising. That had been rumored and speculated on, but that the actual physical hardware is backdoored before you even get it, that, I think, is—that is a bit surprising. And then the absolute numbers, the billions of interceptions that are occurring per day. Actually, people who were studying this knew that, but to see a map of the world and the different countries with how many millions or billions of intercepts per day were coming in, I think that is probably the most consequential.
AMY GOODMAN: And the latest news that’s just come out of Berlin, the arrest of a German intelligence officer for spying for the United States on the inquiry that’s been opened—
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —into the whole NSA scandal?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, very interesting. No surprise at all that intelligence officers are being bribed by the United States. We have had volunteers being paid by the FBI and so on, being bribed by the United States. That’s no surprise at all. What is very interesting is that Germany has decided to make it public, that they have found someone and that they’re going to prosecute him, not just dismiss him. That’s a decision by the German government to cater to the popular will of the German population.
AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder and editor Julian Assange. In our next segment, we ask him about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments calling for Edward Snowden to come back to the United States to face a trial. And Julian Assange describes his surroundings. He’s been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for over two years without any direct sunlight. He describes it as a kind of space station. He has been granted political asylum in Ecuador, but he’s concerned if he steps foot outside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, he’ll be arrested by British authorities. We continue our conversation with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re just back from London for our Democracy Now! exclusive, the first time a U.S. TV/radio broadcast has had a sitdown interview inside the Ecuadorean Embassy with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. We go back to that interview right now. He has been granted political asylum in Ecuador but has been living in the embassy for over two years.
AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton has been doing a number of interviews on her book-slash-pre-presidential tour, and she was interviewed by The Guardian, where she talks about Edward Snowden.
HILLARY CLINTON: If he wishes to return home, knowing that he would be held accountable but also be able to present a defense, that is his decision to make. In any case that I’m aware of as a former lawyer, he has the right to mount a defense. And he certainly has the right to mount both a legal defense and a public defense, which of course can affect the legal defense. Whether he returns or not is up to him. He certainly can stay in Russia, apparently under Putin’s protection, for the rest of his life, if that’s what he chooses. But if he’s serious about engaging in the debate, then he could take the opportunity to come back and have that debate. But that’s his decision. I’m not making a judgment one way or the other.
AMY GOODMAN: Those are the words of Hillary Clinton, that Edward Snowden should come home and, as the current secretary of state says, “man up” and face a trial.
JULIAN ASSANGE: He has no possibility to conduct a meaningful defense in the United States. That’s just a sad reflection of how the federal court system has evolved in relation to national security cases. They will make sure, A, that the case is in Alexandria, Virginia. In fact, they already have. That’s where his grand jury is. It’s where the WikiLeaks grand jury is. It is the highest density of military intelligence contractors and government employees in all of the United States. That’s why it’s there, so they always get what they want.
The state secrets privilege is used in these espionage cases, where the government tries to work out a way to present evidence that it doesn’t allow to the defense under the basis that it’s classified. So, even at the sort of procedural level, he will not be able to conduct a meaningful defense.
Then, in relation to his obligations under law for classified access, it’s a strict liability. So he can’t conduct any whistleblower defense that it was in the public interest, etc. It’s strict liability.
And then we only need to—and you go, “Well, how does that all play out in practice?” Well, actually, we’ve seen the case of Bradley Manning: 35 years for speaking to the press, no allegation that there was any money involved, no allegation that he was dealing with any opponents of the United States government, and 35 years in prison. So, those are the actual conditions that people go through in cases like this.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, when Hillary Clinton talks about his public defense, that he could mount one, when it came to Chelsea Manning, then Bradley Manning, when Manning was being tried, we could not even hear Manning’s voice, except that, you know, a tape of his voice—
JULIAN ASSANGE: As a result of a leak. That’s right. That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: —was smuggled out of the courtroom, so we were able to play a very muffled tape. So how would Edward Snowden defend himself?
JULIAN ASSANGE: And in the Chelsea Manning case, it was even worse than that. We filed to get his—Center for Constitutional Rights, a number of cases, even to get any transcript out of that hearing. So, you’ll see a similar thing in the Snowden case, a lockdown under the basis that secrets are being discussed. And then the conditions that Snowden would be kept in in the United States would be SAMs, so special administrative measures, because it’s what they do in these national security cases. They say that there’s something in his head that’s valuable—it’s not just documents—and that by speaking, he could reveal this information. And so he’d basically be kept in incommunicado detention during the bail process, and the court case, I imagine, could go for five to seven years, even if in the end political constellations came together and he won in the Supreme Court.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, presumably, Julian Assange, this applies to you, as well. What do you think would happen if you’re extradited to the United States?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, just that. It’s not even what I think. WikiLeaks and I have a team of excellent lawyers—there’s about 30 of them now—that have been understanding the situation for several years. They include Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights and others in the United States. And their advice is that, yes, there’s a high chance that you would be subject to SAMs, special administrative measures, during the whole time that the court case went on. You obviously wouldn’t get bail as a foreigner. And yeah, so, the punishment is in the process. And the DOJ understands that. And if you look at other cases, like Thomas Drake, for example, former National Security Agency whistleblower, given 13 counts of espionage, and then, in the end, he beat it and beat them down to one count of mishandling classified information. So you see this attempt to punish people by drawing them into a long and extended, drawn-out process, and, OK, in the end maybe you’ll win it, but you don’t get all those years back again. And, you know, that I have responsibilities to the organization I’m running, to my family, and I’ve been advised to not go to the United States. And I think that’s good advice.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, where we are here, in the Ecuadorean embassy, you have described it as a kind of space station. Can you describe it for us, how you live here 24 hours a day?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, it’s a space station in the sense that I’m sealed from the outside world and natural light, and therefore have to create my own cycle of light, like you also do in space. But, you know, it’s—
AMY GOODMAN: So you have a light machine.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes. But being in a—and timers and so on. But being in an embassy is actually, in some ways, not in others, a national security reporter’s dream, because there’s no subpoenas to an embassy. You can’t subpoena. The British police can’t come in. The Ecuadorean police can’t come in. No police can come in. There can be no raids in the night or during the day. And that’s quite a comforting position for the publisher of WikiLeaks to work from. It’s not a position I would like to keep forever, obviously, but it does at least allow me to continue working—yes, with a lot of constraints about can my family safely visit, can sources safely visit, can our most sensitive staff safely visit the embassy. There’s a lot of surveillance of the embassy. Some of that has been publicly declared. There’s a lot of other surveillance of the embassy that we are aware of, in different forms, surrounding what faces onto the embassy in different ways, which I don’t want to go into what we know and what we don’t know, for obvious reasons.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re right across from Harrods, the famous department store.
JULIAN ASSANGE: There is, under the Freedom of—under, actually, the Data Protection Act, we filed a act against Harrods and got information out showing how Harrods were in fact assisting the police surveillance operation.
AMY GOODMAN: How?
JULIAN ASSANGE: By permitting the police to use various buildings and facilities that Harrods has, not just the formal building, but they have a number of buildings which face onto the embassy. Additionally, it might be something of interest that Harrods was bought out by the Qatar sovereign fund a while ago, so it is ultimately Qatar that is supporting the surveillance operation of this embassy through its collaboration with the British government.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the outside security here? We just look beyond the curtains, and we see police vans.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Around the embassy, there are a number of uniformed police and plainclothes police operating and others. The publicly admitted expenditure is now 6.7 million pounds, $11.5 million. It’s about $15,000 per day. And so, there has been some analysis of that and what that means. There’s about eight visible people around the embassy. But the salaries cover 16 people, so there’s a number of others also involved in the processing and management of the information. That doesn’t include what MI5 is doing and what GCHQ is doing.
AMY GOODMAN: And you found—the embassy here found a bug in the ambassador’s office?
JULIAN ASSANGE: That’s right. The embassy security found, at the time of the visit of—shortly before the visit of Ricardo Patiño, the Ecuadorean foreign minister, in terms of the security—getting ready for the security of the minister’s visit, yes, they found a bug planted, a GSM bug planted in a hidden socket in the ambassador’s room.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you expect there are many others?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, some parts of the embassy. Fortunately, the embassy has a 24-hour security guard—me—who never leaves the building and is always watching or alarmed in one way or another. So not all places, but, yes, others.
AMY GOODMAN: What gives you hope? And what do you see as the greatest legacy of WikiLeaks?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, hopefully the greatest legacy is still to come. But WikiLeaks started in 2007, but it was really this very public confrontation that we had in 2010, 2011, which people saw watching. So it was not—a new generation saw history unfolding in real time, before their eyes, a history that they were part of. Young people see the Internet as their place, where they exchange ideas and culture and so on. And previously, they had been politically apathetic, because they didn’t feel that they could be a part of the power process. But seeing Hillary Clinton’s personal cables and equivalents for many different countries, and the fight that we were in, and being part of that in some way, by spreading this information or talking about it with others, educated a new generation. And the Internet went from being a politically apathetic space to being a political space. And that then spread into many different things. And so, I think this is actually the most significant thing that we have done.
We have also, in terms of the publishing industry, widened the envelope of what is acceptable to publish and so on. That’s been quite important and set off a cascade of examples, which—going through allegedly Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden and Jeremy Hammond and many others, to come forward and reveal abuses in government.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there another Edward Snowden in the pipeline?
JULIAN ASSANGE: I’m sure—I’m sure there will be. In fact, I’m sure there already is.
AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder and editor Julian Assange. We interviewed him inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London over the weekend. We just flew back. Julian Assange celebrated his 43rd birthday there on July 3rd, his third birthday inside the embassy. He’s been granted a political asylum by Ecuador, but concerned if he steps foot outside the embassy in order to get to Ecuador, he’ll be arrested by British authorities. On Wednesday, part two of our interview with Julian Assange. Special thanks to Mike Burke, John Hamilton and Denis Moynihan. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, go to our website at democracynow.org.