Edward Snowden is safe in Russia, but the fates of journalists who helped him and published his leaks are now of more concern for WikiLeaks, Julian Assange said in an exclusive interview with RT Spanish ‘Behind the News’ host Eva Golinger.
Assange also shared his views on the NSA scandal in Latin America
and the future of freedom of information.
He criticized the US and the White House for abusing its power more than any other administration in history, stressing that President Obama has prosecuted twice as many journalists under the espionage act as all previous US presidents combined since 1917.
Eva Gollinger: We’re at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and with us is the founder and publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.
Issues such as cyber warfare, espionage, surveillance, you have analyzed and written extensively about. Your organization WikiLeaks has exposed the way the US and its allies use these mechanisms to advance their power in influencing the world and the recent documents and revelations made public by Snowden, a former National Security Agency analyst, have caused a furious reaction throughout Latin America. Documents particularly pointing to mass surveillance and data collection of different Latin American nations, but especially Latin American leaders, heads of states in Brazil and Mexico, the Ecuador government, in Venezuela and strategic interests. How have you viewed the revelations by Snowden and the impact they have had on Latin America and the reaction from these Latin American governments?
Julian Assange: Ninety-eight percent of Latin American telecommunications to the rest of the world - that means SMS, phone, email etc. - passes through the US. That’s a function of the geography of the Americas, and as a result the US has what its intelligence agencies call a ‘home field advantage’, where they can easily intercept these communications that pass through them, index them, store aspects of them forever, and therefore gain understanding of how Latin America is behaving, where it is moving, its economic transfers, the activities of its leaders and major players.
That permits the US to predict in some ways the behavior of Latin American leaders and interests, and it also permits them to blackmail. Nearly every significant person in Latin America is blackmailable by the US, because the US has access to those telecommunications records that have passed through the US, as well as other records it has obtained within LA by planting fiber optic taps, surveillance equipment at embassies and DA bases. Even one of those revealed in Ecuador as a result of Snowden`s leaks.
So you have a situation where the US has mapped out the entire community structure, the relations between every individual who has any chance of having any influence in Latin America. And is able to shift and play off different parties against one another. If you say that it is true then why did Maduro win the Venezuelan presidential election? Why did president Correa win with a significant majority in the Ecuadorean elections, given the US attitude towards these two states?
Well it`s not a function of the US not having enough intelligence
data about Latin America, it’s a function of the US taking its
eye for a 10 year period off Latin America, and putting its eye
on the Middle East and to a degree on to Asia as well. And during
that period a number of Latin American states have developed an
increased independence from the US and its activities and now
unfortunately the US is turning its interests back to Latin
America. But unlike 10 years ago, it has a worldwide mass
surveillance apparatus to detect nearly every single person.
EG: The President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff recently in her speech before the UN General Assembly had very harsh strong words for the US mass espionage program, and particularly for President Barack Obama, who was there in her presence when she gave the speech, and she not only denounced and condemned that espionage as a violation of sovereignty, but she also called for the creation of an independent internet and communications platform within Latin American nations, or even internationally, that is not subject to US control.
Countries like Venezuela have developed fiber optic cables with the Caribbean, with Cuba exclusively having also launched communication satellites into space to ensure their own communication sovereignty. Is this the solution to protecting them against this type of US invasion and violation through technological sovereignty?
JA: Look, just like there is no meaningful sovereignty without control of freedom of movement, no meaningful sovereignty without economic sovereignty, there is no meaningful sovereignty without control of your own communications. It’s freedom of movement, freedom of communication, freedom of economic interaction that defines a state. Now the US has been aggressively trying to interdict economic exchange through interception of control over Swift, Visa, MasterCard, payments going through Latin America via the Bank of America. But it’s also delving in to Latin American major computer systems, operate important segments of government and the media and Pertobras in Brazil and other major economic interests and interfering with the sovereignty of communications. That’s what it is about.
You know, when is a person or an organization is part of one state or another? Well, it’s part of a state if that state can control its movements, its economic interchange or its telecommunications interchange, the US is grabbing hold of economic interaction and telecommunications interaction and so what is left is some degree of control of the physical force in a state. Even that is being eroded.
When we look at what happened in the Edward Snowden case when the US sprayed out extradition requests, Neil McBride, the same national security prosecutor who is prosecuting me, behind that sprayed out extradition requests for Edward Snowden to Venezuela, to Bolivia, to Hong Kong, to Iceland, to Ireland. That was about trying to take advantage of treaty arrangements which force the police and judicial systems of other countries to obey the interests of the US government.
So by subordinating regulatory or policing systems in treaty arrangements to another government, that third component – the control of use of force – is also given away. In academic theory about what is happening there, we call this ‘lawfare’, which is using international treaty arrangements and multilateral organizations to get the territory or gains that you would normally get by war instead by law. When you couple that activity to telecommunications interception and economic interception then in fact you control the state without invading it. And that’s what leaders and policymakers must be aware of in Latin America. That there’s no effective sovereignty without sovereignty in the most important parts – economic interaction, telecommunications and control of police and judicial instruments.
EG: But is it possible knowing also what you know of about the US capacity in terms of its technology and its massive reach through surveillance that in Latin America they can develop sovereign technology that would be free from US control, or is it merely a dream?
JA: Well, this idea that Dilma proposed of perhaps setting up an international regulatory commission for the internet. There are some that the US is terrified of: the ITU – the international communications union - taking over regulation of key aspects of the internet. ITU is European-dominated, has been for many years. I don’t believe that the internet should be dominated by any one region and to a degree it shouldn’t be dominated by governments. I mean, the great liberty of communications for individuals and trade for businesses has come about because of a lack of control by states.
See, some of the proposals by Dilma being put forward are not a
mechanism to give Brazilians greater freedom from interception,
rather they are a mechanism to give the Brazilian government
equal access to that intercepted information. So we must be quite
careful. There’s a natural tendency by states, of course, to want
to increase their own power. And they are more concerned in
increasing their domestic power really, than they are typically
concerned by the United States increasing its power.
EG: I want to talk about Google. Because you’ve criticized Google extensively and also referred to it as an extension of US foreign policy and power. These are strong statements to make about a service that is used around the world. And for example in many Latin American countries, even the highest levels of government, have Gmail accounts. So can you elaborate a little bit on why you perceive Google as such a danger to our society and what are the alternatives?
JA: I wrote about that this year in my book ‘Cypherpunks’ and some recent articles reviewing the chairman of Google’s book ‘The New Digital Age’. In that book it’s very clear what is happening. Google is presenting itself to Washington as a geopolitical visionary who can show the US the way forward in Latin America, in Asia, in Europe and so on. And that’s quite a reactionary piece of work. With backcover praise chosen pre-publication by Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Tony Blair, [Michael] Hayden, the former head of the National Security Agency, the NSA. The primary acknowledgement is to Henry Kissinger.
So where’s that coming from? That is coming from Google that started out in California as part of grad student culture in Stanford University, pretty nice, naïve, wanting to build services that the world would use. But as Google got big it got close to government. As it tried to enter into foreign markets it became reliant on the State Department to the degree where the head of Google ideas is now immediately a former advisor of Hillary Clinton and Rice from the State Department.
This close nexus and interaction between Google and the State Department is something that we’ve documented on WikiLeaks in releases and also in cables - meetings between key State Department advisors and execs of Google. It wasn’t much of a surprise when we learnt that as far back as 2009 Google had paired up with the National Security Agency to enter into the PRISM program.
So we can see that Google is now part of Family America. It
spends more money now on lobbying in Washington than Lockheed
Martin. In the Google book it even states that what Lockheed
Martin was to the 20th century, hi-tech companies will be to the
21st. It’s a really quite strong form of neo-imperialism. And I
don’t want to use that phrase as some sort of hackneyed Marxist
expression, but that’s what it’s about – jacking in the entire
world into the US economic and informational system.
EG: Your organization WikiLeaks has published hundreds of thousands of documents, many of them from the US government, classified documents. You’ve come under heavy fire, the organization has come under attack. And yet you continue to publish documents. Is that going to go on, how is WikiLeaks functioning and are the attacks also continuing?
JA: The attacks are continuing. Let’s go back to 2010. Pentagon gave a 40-minute public press conference. During that press conference they made a demand to us, the organization, to me personally. “You must destroy everything that we had published in relation to the US government.” Destroy everything we were going to publish. And cease stealing with [the help of] US military whistleblowers or else we will be compelled to do so. As a result we said no, we were not going to do so. We’re a publisher, we made a promise to our sources and the public to publish fearlessly and frankly.
The US government then engaged in a three-year-long war against WikiLeaks, which continues to this day. It started up a whole government investigation, including over 12 different agencies including the CIA, publicly declaring the grand jury into WikiLeaks, that investigation the Department of Justice admits as recently as August 23 continues.
The position that we’re in is that our important source of WikiLeaks, Private Manning, has been sentenced to 35 years. A tactical victory, believe it or not, for his defense team, because the US was demanding life imprisonment without parole. And probably as a result of our intervention in the Edward Snowden matter, we know it for a fact that the sentiment in Washington against WikiLeaks as a result of the Edward Snowden matter is increasingly adverse.
But the organization continues to publish, continues to fight in courts where we’ve intervened in multiple times. In the Bradley Manning case we’ve had a series of victorious court cases against the banking blockade. Interestingly all court cases that WikiLeaks has been involved and that have come to a judgment, it has won. There have been significant victories in the European Parliament where we’ve managed to push forward legislation which outlaws this sort of banking blockade that is against us, the blockade that’s similar to that blockade that’s happening against Cuba.
Interestingly in relation to financial blockades and the freedom of economic interaction, that sovereign right for states to interact within states, to interact economically. The internet has meant that economic interaction and communication are now merged together. So when the US wants to intercept and surveil [sic] the economic interactions between people and companies, it just intercepts the internet and it gets both of these at the same time. Similarly if it wants to block off economic interaction with some bank, say in Iran, well it can just block off telecommunications with that bank.
EG: You mentioned Private Manning's case. And in that case, now known as Chelsea Manning, she was accused of espionage for passing documents to a media organization. Classified documents. But not to the so-called traditional enemies. So this treatment now of media organizations or journalists as an enemy - is that dangerous in terms of whistleblowers for one? But also the media outlets? And do you think that this forms part of what President Barak Obama referred to in his speech before the UN recently as the exceptionalism of the US. This kind of persecution, treatment of media and whistleblowers as terrorists.
JA: Look, whenever you see a president talk about exceptionalism, what he's trying to say is the rules of civil behaviour doesn't apply to him. Whether that's in invading another country or whether that’s abuse of laws at home. In relation to Barack Obama's use of the espionage act against alleged journalistic sources and journalists, that’s something new. So it’s very important that people understand that this is not just a bit more of the same, it’s a radical change.
Barack Obama has prosecuted more people under the espionage act,
more journalistic sources under the espionage act than all
previous presidents combined, going back to 1917. In fact he’s
prosecuted double the number. So this is a deliberate conscious
decision by the White House to create a chilling effect, using
the espionage act as opposed to some other mechanism. In the case
of Bradley [now Chelsea] Manning there’s no allegation, has never
been an allegation that he has passed information on to another
country, that he has sold information, that he was intending to
harm the United States or its people in any manner whatsoever. So
that's just a linguistic abuse to call speaking to the media
espionage. Similarly it's a linguistic abuse to say that
WikiLeaks as a publisher, when it publishes, is conducting
EG: I want to talk about your case a little bit. We're here in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where you’ve been for over a year, close to a year-and-a-half. And as of now there has been no resolution to the situation. You've been given asylum by Ecuador, but you can't get to Ecuador because the British government would detain you if you set foot outside these doors. Recently the foreign minister of Ecuador, Ricardo Patino, has confirmed the fact that they have been working aggressively with the UK government trying to reach a solution. They've been unsuccessful and now they're considering taking a case to a foreign international court: violation of sovereignty as well as the right to asylum amongst other rights that have been violated. How do you see the resolution to this situation? And is there one?
JA: It's a political, diplomatic, legal mix. I think in a reasonably short time frame - year, year-and-a-half actually, there are some good signs that there will be a resolution. That time is on my side in this situation, because as times goes by, more of the facts of the situation are coming out. We've been filing criminal cases in Sweden, in Germany, in relation to intelligence activity against the organisation there. So I think the position of the some of the players involved is becoming aggressively more untenable as time goes by. And we have seen even the Conservative Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson denounce the expenditure of the police outside this embassy spying on me. He said that now this money amount to $10 million and should be spent on frontline policing, what police are meant to do, not ringing this embassy.
EG: And both you and Edward Snowden have received asylum in Latin American nations. You in Ecuador and he's been offered asylum in Venezuela and Bolivia and also in Nicaragua. He is in Russia with temporary asylum which your organization helped him obtain. But how do you view the fact that it has been Latin American nations, traditionally known as less powerful and developing countries, that they had the courage to stand up to US power and support both of you.
JA: It's extremely interesting, isn't it? We were involved in filling out asylum requests for Edward Snowden formally and informally to around 20 different nations. Some because we thought there was a decent chance, others because we wanted to show the public the refusal to generate some public debate and awareness about how the government is behaving. But you're right, in terms of those nations that stepped forward, it was Latin America and Russia. Not all of Latin America either, but Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador showing a keen interest. What does that mean?
These are not very powerful countries. Russia we can understand, it has its own nuclear armaments, it’s geographically fairly independent. Whereas Latin America is not so. That's really I think is an expression of Latin American democracy, where you have governments who feel the need to be responsible to their people, who feel the need to live up to the sort of values that they are preaching or they will held to account by the population.
And so I see that as a part of the democratic nature of
Venezuela, Ecuador and perhaps now even Brazil, which hasn't yet
made an offer, but it's starting to respond - in relation to the
surveillance matter, in protecting Glenn Greenwald - it's
starting to respond to the public pressure there.
EG: Also a shift in global power and the growing sentiment of sovereignty and independence in Latin America, but I want to ask about something…
JA: You can compare in an interesting way, say Germany and Venezuela. So in Germany privacy is a really big concern, it's probably of all the medium sized countries, privacy is the most in value in Germany, because of what happened in the WWII, and some other cultural aspects. And in Germany we had Angela Merkel up for election. So not only did these events about Edward Snowden's asylum and then spying occur in the context where a country is interested in privacy, but in the context of a country that had federal election. And with reporters like Laura Poitras, based in Germany, working with Der Spiegel, publishing about German documents. And yet the German government did not offer Snowden asylum, did not seek to transport him or assist him in any manner whatsoever.
So I think this is an example when even if the population has the democratic desire, population has the will, that the government doesn't properly reflect the will of the population. Whereas we can see in Ecuador and Venezuela, that the government is more...
EG: Bolivia as well…
JA: …and Bolivia… that the government is more responsive.
At least in relation to sovereignty issues, to the demands of the
EG: Unwilling to subordinate itself to US power. I can only get in one last question. I want to throw in a few things.
One is the issue if the future of journalism. Is investigative journalism under extinction because of this treatment and prosecution of journalists who are exposing US abuses and those also other powerful entities around the world and are therefore being treated as terrorists or enemies? Snowden's possibilities in the future: what awaits him in terms of whistleblowers’ treatment? Would he come under severe prosecution by the US? And also I want to tie into all of that a question about the film that's coming out. Is it another attempt, the same thing in terms of trying to discredit and distort the work that you're doing, WikiLeaks is doing, Snowden is doing? Anyone, who's trying to expose those abuses?
JA: Edward Snowden: he's now safe in Russia. He has asylum for a one-year period formally. But assuming he doesn't run anyone over in a car, I imagine that the Russians will be happy to extent that indefinitely. I’m more concerned in terms of present people at risk, with our journalist Sarah Harrison, who was involved in getting Edward Snowden out of Hong Kong, spent 39 days with him in the Moscow airport, protecting him filing asylum applications and is still in Russia. Now, she's from the UK, as we know. The Guardian newspaper was raided, Glenn Greenwald’s partner detained for nine hours on account of terrorism charges here without charge. A formal investigation, a formal terrorism investigation has started up in relation to all those people.
EG: Well the head of MI5 has also just declared that Edward Snowden, his documents have placed national security in danger…
JA: Yeah, I mean just absurd. But also it's a position by the UK which is clearly that they're going after anyone who has had something to do with this matter, probably in order to show to the US that they feel their pain and that they are a part of the same club. And possibly in relation to GCHQ. So that's a concern for us, what will happen to Sarah Harrison? But I think if we look at the bigger picture, OK, yes, there’s some development in the US and the UK, which is extremely serious. It's obvious to everyone. The rule of law is gradually starting to collapse. The mechanisms of government are lifting off from the population, from the judicial system. The judicial processes are becoming more and more secret. Here, introduction of a secret court.
Even the Labour Party here, Ed Miliband from the Labour Party pushing legislation saying that soldiers should not be able to be criticized, adding them to hate speech legislation. This is a sort of proto-fascism. I mean, that's a strong thing to say, but I think that's a correct description. And the US - yes, that is making people extremely timid. It has made. The Guardian does good work here, but it has made the Guardian also very timid in its publications. It's been holding a lot of stories back. It's been extensively redacting, it has been holding documents back, same in the US.
From the point of view of WikiLeaks as a publisher, of course, we think that's great, that we we'll be the only player left in the field. From the point of view of Julian Assange as a free speech activist, I think that's an abomination and extremely concerning. On the other hand, just because you can smell the gun powder in the air, you can smell the heat of the battle between those people, who are revealing information about the crimes of state, and war crimes and mass surveillance and so on. And those who are trying to suppress it. It doesn't tell you which side is winning.
There's a serious conflict going on between a growing national security system in the West and those people who are trying to expose what that system is doing. That's for sure. Which one of these two groups is winning is not clear. We actually have some pretty important winds under our belt as well as saying many journalists are surveyed and prosecuted.
EG: The film?
JA: OK, so the film, Fifth Estate ...or actually introduced already…
EG: Do you think it’s an attempt to discredit you and your organization?
JA: I don't sort of look at the things that way. This film comes from Hollywood. I know the book that it was based on. The books were definitely an attempt to do precisely that. DreamWorks has picked the two most discredited libellous books out of dozens of books available for it to pick. But it's coming out of a particular milieu about.. within Hollywood and that constraints, it seems, what scripts can be written and what things would get distribution. I don't know if that was the intent of the filmmakers. It's certainly the result, but it's been doing quite poorly in the reviews.
I think the information we have published about it was pretty successful in knocking out any view that is inaccurate history. It's interesting to see that in the America's Disney, who's responsible for the distribution there, has been putting up posters of me with the word ‘traitor’ emblazoned across my face. You know, a laughable concept ‘cos because I'm an Australian, I couldn't even be a traitor, in theory, to the United States. I mean it's a type of libel.
I think ultimately people are starting to become immune to those sorts of attacks. There’s been so many as time is going by. And people who’ve been watching the WikiLeaks saga have seen many of these attacks, having seen that they've turned out not to be true. So I think our base is not going to be affected by the film.