HAVANA TIMES – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy last year to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sex assault and rape allegations. He fears that Sweden will agree to extradite him to the United States.
On Tuesday, Ecuador’s foreign minister accused the British government of trampling on Assange’s rights by refusing to allow him to travel to Ecuador, which granted him political asylum almost a year ago.
Joining us from the embassy, Assange addresses what he calls “attacks on all fronts against WikiLeaks,” from a monetary embargo involving some of the world’s largest financial firms to a new Hollywood documentary on WikiLeaks, “We Steal Secrets.” Assange also discusses a little-known meeting he held in June 2011 with Google CEO Eric Schmidt. We air an excerpt of audio recording from that meeting.
AMY GOODMAN: We are speaking today with Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, granted political asylum by Ecuador last year, sought refuge almost a year ago at the Ecuadorean embassy in London, because the British government promises to arrest him if he steps foot outside. Julian Assange is also author of Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet. I wanted to ask you quickly, Julian, about the Icelandic Supreme Court decision around Visa and the—and the whole issue of how the money supply to WikiLeaks has been cut off online, if you can explain this latest development.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, Amy, first let me contextualize it. There’s attacks on all fronts against WikiLeaks—criminal, reputational, financial, in many different countries. There’s also counterattacks that we have been making. And in relation to this Visa blockade, back in—back in late 2010, U.S. right-wing politicians, like Senator Lieberman, contacted a number of different financial institutions in the United States and encouraged them to cut off WikiLeaks as a recipient of Visa donations, our donations but by Visa. Now, as a result, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Moneybookers, Western Union, Diners Club, Discover, JCB and the Bank of America and Swiss Post Finance—that’s 10 different financial organizations—as a result of that pressure, engaged in extrajudicial financial blockade against us and our donors, much the same as they do to Cuba, but without any legislative backing, without any administrative backing. Even the U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner investigated whether we should be formally added to a U.S. blacklist, and found that there was no legal basis to do so.
In response, WikiLeaks, for the past year and a half or so, has been engaged in litigating some of these giant financial services companies that are influenced by Washington power brokers. And we won in the lower courts in Iceland, and we have won in the Supreme Court in Iceland just a few weeks ago. Now, that victory in the Supreme Court stated that Visa must open up the gateway and its subcontractor Valitor in Iceland must open up the gateway. Visa has relented and has opened up the gateway. However, it has also activated what it says is another clause in the contract to shut it back down again on midnight June 30. So, between now and midnight June 30, people can donate directly to WikiLeaks; otherwise, they have to—come midnight June 30, they will have to engage in indirect mechanisms. But they are there. For example, Daniel Ellsberg, John Cusack, John Perry Barlow and some others set up the Free Press Foundation in the United States precisely to deal with some of these economic blockades. But if you go to WikiLeaks.org/donate, you will see that there’s different ways that we have constructed to work around this economic blockade. Unfortunately, they’re all a little bit indirect, so it’s a little bit of an extra burden for donors and a reputational burden, because you don’t see that you are donating directly to WikiLeaks; you see that you’re donating to the Free Press Foundation or the Wau Holland Foundation in Germany or a number of others. But donations now to WikiLeaks via the Free Press Foundation in the United States are tax-deductible. We’ve also had a major victory in Europe in relation to the German tax authorities, which also were politically pressured, and that has come out and been admitted, to remove our tax deductibility in Europe. That’s now back. We’ve won against that. So, the position of my asylum here is such that we’ve been able to concentrate more of our resources on counterattack and have been successfully engaged in that battle.
AMY GOODMAN: We wanted to turn—switch gears right now. The CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, has come out with a new book called The New Digital Age. And we wanted to ask you about a meeting you had. On June 23rd, 2011, Julian Assange, you had a secret five-hour meeting with the Google CEO Eric Schmidt. At the time, you were under house arrest in rural England. Also in attendance Jared Cohen, former adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Scott Malcomson, director of speech writing for Ambassador Susan Rice at the State Department and current communications director of the International Crisis Group; and Lisa Shields, vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Schmidt and Cohen requested the meeting to discuss their ideas for this book that has just come out, The New Digital World. We want to go to a part of your conversation with Schmidt and Malcomson. This is a recording you made of that meeting, first time being played in a national broadcast, where you talk about the PATRIOT Act.
JULIAN ASSANGE: We wouldn’t mind a leak from Google, which would be, I think, probably all the PATRIOT Act requests.
ERIC SCHMIDT: Yeah, which would be illegal.
JULIAN ASSANGE: There’s no jurisdiction, da-da-da-da-da.
ERIC SCHMIDT: We are a U.S.—
JULIAN ASSANGE: There’s higher laws. There’s higher laws, First Amendment, you know.
ERIC SCHMIDT: No, no. I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time on this question, because I am—I am in great trouble because I have given a series of criticisms about PATRIOT I and PATRIOT II, because—
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah.
ERIC SCHMIDT: —which I think are—because they’re nontransparent, you know, because the judge’s orders are hidden, and so forth and so on. And the answer—the answer is that the laws are quite clear about Google in the U.S., that we couldn’t do it. It would be illegal.
JULIAN ASSANGE: We’re fighting this case now with Twitter, that we’ve done three court hearings now, trying to get the names of the other companies that fulfilled the subpoenas to the grand jury in the U.S. Twitter resisted, and so that’s how some of us became aware. They argued that we should be told that there was a subpoena. I wasn’t told, but—
ERIC SCHMIDT: And this is—and this is concerning you, concerning WikiLeaks?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, me personally, yeah. But three other people were told, but we know it is at least four other companies.
ERIC SCHMIDT: I can certainly pass on your request to our general counsel.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Tell them to argue that we should be told.
ERIC SCHMIDT: So, your specific request is that Google argue legally—
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah.
ERIC SCHMIDT: —that WikiLeaks, as an organization, should be informed—
JULIAN ASSANGE: Or any of the individuals.
ERIC SCHMIDT: —or the individuals, if they are named in a FISA.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah.
ERIC SCHMIDT: OK.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah.
ERIC SCHMIDT: I will pass that along.
AMY GOODMAN: That is a part of this five-hour conversation that you had with the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, and Scott Malcomson, director of speech writing for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. Can you talk about the circumstances of this meeting, how you made this recording, and then talk about the substance of what we just heard?
JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s quite interesting to speculate as to the surface excuse for the meeting being about a book versus was there another side to it, as well. If we look at the way that Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen have been going to North Korea and meeting with some other thieves, and how that information very rapidly goes back to the State Department—we know that the results of that meeting with Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen went very, very quickly back to the top levels of the State Department—that they’re, in some ways, becoming informal, deniable foreign ministers for a section of U.S. power. That’s a very interesting thing to see Google resting so heavily on the U.S. State Department.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to an excerpt from the book by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen called The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. In it, the authors suggest WikiLeaks has endangered lives. They write, quote, “Neither WikiLeaks nor groups like Anonymous are terrorist organizations, although some might claim that hackers who engage in activities like stealing and publishing personal and classified information online might as well be. The information released on WikiLeaks put lives at risk and inflicted serious diplomatic damage,” end-quote. The authors don’t cite evidence for their claim, but they do put an asterisk next to the statement saying, quote, “At a minimum, platforms like WikiLeaks and hacker collectives that traffic in stolen classified material from governments enable or encourage espionage.” Julian Assange, your comments on that quote taken from Eric Schmidt’s book?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, it’s absurd. States that engage in espionage want to keep the information that they gain to themselves in order to get competitive knowledge advantage over other states, and also simply to protect their sourcing operations. There’s a reason why that claim, like all such claims, remains uncited: because it is false. Not even the Pentagon, in fact, no government organization, claims that the activities of WikiLeaks have led even to the loss of life for a single person anywhere in the world. And if we want to speculate about speculative risks, as opposed to talk about the hundreds of thousands of cases of—hundreds and thousands of deaths that WikiLeaks documented, the U.S. military being involved in one way or the other, then we can go to a statement made by NATO in Kabul, reported by CNN, that NATO could not see a single case of an Afghan needing protection or needing to be moved as a result of our publication of the Afghan War Diaries, and that it was the Afghan War Diaries that led to all these rhetorical flourishes by the Pentagon and by the establishment media in the United Kingdom, led by Murdoch, and in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me end with your response to Alex Gibney’s recently released documentary. We interviewed him at Sundance, the documentary called We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. This is Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and National Security Agency, or NSA.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Everyone has secrets. Some of the activities that nation states conduct in order to keep their people safe and free need to be secret in order to be successful. If they are broadly known, you cannot accomplish your work. Now look, I’m going to be very candid, alright? We steal secrets. We steal other nations’ secrets. One cannot do that above board and be very successful for a very long period of time.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, or NSA, his statement, “We steal secrets,” the one that Alex Gibney used for the title of his documentary. Your response, Julian Assange? And have you gotten to see this documentary?
JULIAN ASSANGE: [inaudible] at best. The claim in the title is simply false. It has spread everywhere, of course, because it’s in all the promotional literature. I assume very few people will go actually to see that film. That the promotion has been done by Universal. That’s a $2.5 million hit job on my reputation, the reputation of the organization. What’s the equivalent title? I Make Fictitious, Fraudulent Films: The Story of Alex Gibney. In response, we have published the full transcript, ahead of public—ahead of the film’s release, with line-by-line detail showing exactly how Alex Gibney edited statements, stitched them together, etc., and didn’t engage in—didn’t engage, it seems, in any fact checking of the statements that the people he was interviewing. You know, for an example, I make some statement that begins with, “Well, what they say is,” and then I quote it. Alex Gibney cuts off the “What they say,” so in order to put someone else’s words into my mouth. And that’s present throughout the film. This is not a serious work.
AMY GOODMAN: We have just 10 seconds in this part of the interview, Julian.
JULIAN ASSANGE: This is not a serious work, and this is not a serious—not a serious filmmaker.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, we’d like to ask you to just stay with us for a post-show discussion. We have many more questions to ask you. Julian Assange, speaking to us from the Ecuadorean embassy, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, granted asylum by Ecuador. That’s why he’s in their embassy right now.
(*) See this program on Democracy Now.