On the tenth anniversary of Wikileaks, Julian Assange spoke with Spiegel, which, in case it is unclear from the interview questions below, is a publication of the journalistic persuasion.
I find I have not written about Assange for some years. I wrote in his defense back when the Rightward world, from Rush to Jonah Goldberg to Sarah Palin to Bill Kristol and on and on, was calling for his head, literally, in murderous terms not inspired even by an Aldrich Ames. On review, I also find this nasty bit from December 2010 Charles Krathammer:
Want to prevent this from happening again? Let the world see a man who can't sleep in the same bed on consecutive nights, who fears the long arm of American justice. I'm not advocating that we bring out of retirement the KGB proxy who killed a Bulgarian dissident with a poisoned umbrella tip. But it would be nice if people like Assange were made to worry every time they go out in the rain.
Sounds like a prescription for mental torture from Fox's resident pundit-psychiatrist. Since 2012, Assange has not, in fact, been able to "go out in rain," having taken refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape charges, which could lead to his extradition to the United States for Wikileaking.
I have never felt the mainstream conservative bloodlust for Assange. From the start, it struck me that defending Assange was also defending our basic right to know exactly what it is our fellow Americans are doing in our name, on our dollar, and behind our backs ("classified"), and then, as is so often the corrupt case, lying to our faces as they cling to their power, their perks, while royally wrecking the nation, let alone the world.
Here is a sample from a column I wrote in December 2010 amid shouts from the Right of `Death to Assange.'
I am still working out why I watch the high dudgeon sparked by Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks dump of a quarter-million State Department cables (giving rise to the most heated, bloodthirsty chorus I have ever heard in Washington, notably from conservatives) and feel strangely numb.
I observe the fits over "sovereignty" lost, and note that some of the same people find such emotion in bad taste when the prompt is our unsecured, non-sovereign border.
I hear the arguments that our national security is hanging by a computer keystroke, and note the fecklessness of a U.S. government that hides from us, the people, its own confirmation that North Korea supplies Iran with Russian-made nuclear-capable missiles; China transfers weapons materiel to Iran (despite Hillary Clinton's pathetic entreaties); Iran honeycombs Iraq; Syria supports Hezbollah; Pakistan prevents the United States from securing its nuclear materials; Saudis continue to provide mainstay support to al-Qaida (despite pie-faced denials come from Saudi-supplicating U.S. administrations).
Everything good citizens need to know, in short, to see through the dumbed-down, G-rated ("G" for government), official narrative, all "engagement" and "outreach," to throw the ineffectual bums out -- all of them -- and start from scratch.
Six years later, it sounds a little like an early call-out to the unforeseen Trump campaign.
But, the pushback goes, aren't Assange and Wikileaks Russian assets? Soros puppets? That has been the belief of such anti-Communist stalwarts such as Cliff Kincaid and Trevor Loudon. As Jeff Nyquist has pointed out, however (and Assange notes below in his Spiegel interview), Wikileaks has released hundreds of thousands of documents on Russia, many of them exposing the mafia-style thuggery of Putin's government. But where does Snowden, living large (?) in Moscow, fit in? How about Bradley, now Chelsea, Manning, now serving a 35-year-sentence, and facing fourteen days in solitary confinement for a recent suicide attempt and -- so Gulag-like -- possessing a "prohibited" book?
I went back to a 2012 column I wrote about Manning, whose crime was releasing about 250,000 diplomatic cables to which as many as 3 million Americans with security clearance already had access.
It's hard to get past that basic fact, which stands out even more starkly today in the wake of the unpunished and denied classified email crimes of Hillary Clinton.
Regarding Manning in 2012:
Is it even possible to consider such widely available documents “secret”? We’re not discussing, for example, the documents passed to Kremlin agents by the infamous Rosenberg ring that helped the Soviet Union construct an atomic bomb. This release of truly sensitive information not only aided the enemy, intelligence archives now tell us, but also gave Stalin the confidence to back the invasion of South Korea, kicking off a war that claimed nearly 50,000 American lives and those of about 2 million Korean civilians. This left much blood on the hands of the Rosenbergs, who were executed as traitors.
And WikiLeaks? We haven’t seen any evidence of such enemy aid, not even resulting from disclosures of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs Manning is alleged to have released. Which isn’t to say that Manning didn’t give someone something – but I would call it heartburn to the powers that be. Is life in prison really the appropriate punishment?
Of course not – that is, not if national security is the chief concern. But the prosecution of Bradley Manning doesn’t seem to be about national security. It’s about power – the power to control the information that constitutes an inattentive American public’s understanding of events, now and in the future.
In fact, our world abounds with information leaks and spills that pose grave threats to national security and will never be punished.
You could argue, for example, that Bill Clinton’s “leaking” as president created the Chinese military threat. Clinton, in effect, ran a WikiLeaks of his own when his administration declassified some 11 million pages of military data. As journalist Richard Poe has written, federal investigators later determined that these documents helped China modernize its missile technology and nuclear know-how (including “suitcase nukes”).
Journalist Bill Gertz and others have also chronicled how the Clinton administration permitted top-secret weapons technology to flow to Beijing in exchange for campaign contributions. Far from being considered an enemy of the state, of course, Clinton is lionized and petted, while his equally corrupt wife is the No. 1 Democratic hopeful for 2016 ...
And speaking of Obama, wasn’t it he and Vice President Joe Biden who disclosed the top-secret fact that members of Navy SEAL Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden? Some SEAL parents believe releasing this information led SEALs to be targeted by a strike in Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of 17 SEALs and 13 other service members. ...
I came across an old email exchange I had on the subject of Wikileaks, circa December 2010, with the late Soviet expert Joseph D. Dougalss, Jr.
True confession: I am struggling with "unpatriotic" thoughts. I can't summon the high dudgeon against the Wikileaks dump of docs that reveals so much stupidity and hypocrisy on the part of our State Department, etc. ... I don't see any "blood" here (along the lines of that long ago famous publication of a list of undercover agents by some Leftist I can't remember his name?), and I don't see the country harmed, except insofar as the current pack in power goes along the lines of a high school note-passing scandal. I am glad to know perfectly appalling (but not surprising) stuff like this, and think such information is vital to any debate to extract us from current disasters in the Islamic Umma.
I certainly don't put Assange in the category of OBL as Sarah Palin has done!
Where/what are your thoughts on this?
Douglass replied on December 6, 2010 :
While there are many embarrassments among the WikiLeaks, (perhaps deservedly so), I have not seen anything that harms national security -- especially in the long term, where it might actually serve a valuable purpose respecting the various character analyzes of supposedly respectable people.
Recall the case of the Pentagon Papers, which ruffled many tail-feathers in the White House and State Department. I never saw any high-level acknowledgment of serious resultant problems. All I could see they produced was insight into poor U.S. decision-making, especially in trying to get even with the perpetrators! Many were pleased to see them them out in the open. The only unfortunate repercussion I am aware of was the resultant cessation of serious, needed crises studies whose intent was to improve U.S. defense crisis management. That was a real loss. Of course, probably not so much so because their sensitivity was such that few military and civilian decision-makers ever knew about them or had the time to read them.
As for national security, there are so many factual incidents that show how bad our document security is that they come near to making the vast majority of the control process seem a bit like a farce that only benefited the Soviets. Amron Katz (Very shart RAND analyst, now deceased) put it best, "The ship of state is the only ship that leaks at the top!" On top of that, I have believed that people in the White House, State Dept, etc have always had the worst security or concern for security walking the halls than prisons have inside their gates, as least until a large bunch were shifted from one house to the other. Also of interest following the early 1990 CIA and FBI internal spies problem was the recognition that over 90 percent of CIA-recruited agents were considered "double agents," and one of the most valuable documents they were accused of leaking was a sensitive KH-11 manual that was later determined to have no less than 10 copies "missing" from various defense, intelligence, and contractor files
Much, much worse than Wikileaks, in my judgment are the various secret agreements between Justice and CIA that let the CIA be responsible for deciding when its people who were conducting crimes crimes should be turned over to Justice to be brought before Grand Juries or not -- talk about obstruction of justice!
And, speaking of intelligence "tricks," I wonder how many of the WikiLeaks, if carefully studied, would end up being judged as actually intelligence fabrications designed to cause exactly the likes of the embarrassments and chaos that the honorable officials around the globe are complaining so vociferously about and now given credibility and currency by their mere presence within the WikiLeak mass.
All told, Diana, when placed in perspective, the entire incident (aside from the few that the system decides to use as an "example") seems to me to be more likely than not to go down in history as Much Ado About Nothing!
Anyone of most intelligence who has worked within the national security classification system for any length of time can come up with many, many examples. The above is just the first of many that come to my mind.
That was six years and millions of Wikileaks ago. Here is Julian Assange on Wikileaks' first decade.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Assange, 10 years after the founding of WikiLeaks, the whistleblower platform is again being criticized. WikiLeaks is said to have put millions of Turkish voters in danger. What is your response?
Assange: A few days after the publication of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee, an entirely false story was put out that we had published the names, addresses and phone numbers of all female voters in Turkey. It is completely false. And it was and is simple to check. Power factions fight back with lies. That's not surprising.
SPIEGEL: Quite a few German journalists have long sympathized with WikiLeaks and also with Edward Snowden. But they aren't impressed with the publishing of the DNC emails. Are you campaigning on behalf of Donald Trump?
Assange: Our publication of the DNC leaks has showed that the Democratic National Committee had effectively rigged the primaries in the United States on behalf of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders. That led to the resignation of leading members of the DNC, including its president Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
SPIEGEL: People within the Clinton campaign have suggested that the DNC emails were given to you by the Russian secret service.
Assange: There have been many attempts to distract from the power of our publications. Hillary Clinton is the favorite to win. As always, most media aligns with the presumptive winner even though their claimed societal virtue is to investigate those in power.
SPIEGEL: The fact is, WikiLeaks is damaging Clinton and bolstering Trump.
Assange: We're not going to start censoring our publications because there is a US election. Our role is to publish. Clinton has been in government so we have much more to publish on Clinton. There is a lot of naivety. The US presidency will continue to represent the major power groups of the United States -- big business and the military -- regardless of who the talking head is.
SPIEGEL: If someone submitted internal documents from the Trump campaign or the Republican Party, you would publish that as well?
Assange: Yes, of course. That's what we do.
SPIEGEL: The German newsmagazine Focus has even has accused WikiLeaks of publishing NSA documents and other documents that have been forged by the Russian secret service. What's your comment on that?
Assange: The claims are not credible. Even the US government had to come out and say that they have no evidence of a link to WikiLeaks. I exposed the same German magazine back in 2008 as having been extensively penetrated by the BND (Eds. note: Bundesnachrichtendienst, the German foreign intelligence agency). We listed the times and dates of 58 contacts that a Focus journalist had with the BND.
SPIEGEL: Isn't WikiLeaks vulnerable because it isn't possible for you to check and verify every single document submitted and to find possibly forged documents?
Assange: We have a perfect record in detecting forgeries and, unlike the traditional press, we publish every document so everyone else can check too. WikiLeaks is literally the worst place in the world to try and plant a false story.
SPIEGEL: Would WikiLeaks publish material about corruption in the Russian leadership?
Assange: Yes. In fact we have already published more than 650,000 documents on Russia and President Vladimir Putin, most of which was critical. A number of highly critical books were written using this material, like "The Mafia State" by the Guardian journalist Luke Harding. The documents have also gone on to be used in a number of significant litigations, including the Yukos case.
SPIEGEL: How can you prevent WikiLeaks from being taken advantage of in the global war of information?
Assange: Our editorial criteria are public and they have been the same for about eight years. If a source gives us material that is of political, diplomatic, ethical or historical significance that has not been published before and is comprised of official documents or recordings, then we will publish it. Is the majority of our material in English? Yes. But that is a resource constraint. Most of our submissions are in English because most of our readers speak English.
SPIEGEL: On Oct. 4, 2006, you registered the domain name www.wikileaks.org. What have you accomplished since then?
Assange: WikiLeaks has published over 10 million documents in 10 years. Most have been published over the last six years, during which time I have been illegally detained, without charge, in the United Kingdom.
SPIEGEL: You have received political asylum from the government of Ecuador, but have been stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the last four years. British authorities would like to arrest you and extradite you for interrogation to Sweden. Hasn't this situation handicapped WikiLeaks?
Assange: While many of the established media make losses or go bankrupt, WikiLeaks has survived a major conflict with a superpower, including an unlawful economic blockade by its banks and credit card companies and the detention of its editor. We have no debts. We have not had to fire staff. We have never lost a court case related to our publishing. We have never been forced to censor. Adversity has hardened us. We're 10 now. Just wait until we're teenagers.
SPIEGEL: What has been WikiLeaks' most important publication?
Assange: The most important publication of WikiLeaks is that it has published more than 10 million documents. The most important single collection of material we have published is the US diplomatic cable series. We started with 251,000 in 2011, but are up to 3 million now and have more coming.
SPIEGEL: What have been the shortcomings of WikiLeaks? What would you like to improve?
Assange: Resources. Has WikiLeaks been forced to do one thing rather than another in response to resource constraints? Yes. Constantly.
SPIEGEL: For example?
Assange: For example, resource constraints forced us to deal with politically compromised publications like the New York Times in order to harness their distribution networks.
SPIEGEL: Do you regret the fact that you no longer have a cooperation with established papers like the New York Times or the Guardian -- and that WikiLeaks is even criticized by liberal papers?
Assange: We have subsequently worked with journalists from both papers. Liberal papers are not necessarily liberal. We have excellent relations and contracts with more than 110 media organizations from all over the world. We aggressively enforce our agreements.
SPIEGEL: Your source Chelsea Manning, a US soldier, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Edward Snowden is stuck in Moscow. And you are stuck here in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. How can whistleblowers come to terms with such setbacks?
Assange: Let us not compare Edward Snowden's situation with that of Chelsea Manning or Jeremy Hammond, who is also imprisoned in the United States. As a result of WikiLeaks' hard work, Edward Snowden has political asylum, has travel documents, lives with his girlfriend, goes to the ballet and earns substantial speaking fees. Edward Snowden is essentially free and happy. That is no coincidence. It was my strategy to undo the chilling effect of the 35 year Manning sentence and it has worked.
SPIEGEL: Given all the pressure that you and those you work with are facing, how do you keep going?
Assange: We believe in what we are doing. It's very satisfying. It's extremely interesting intellectually. Sometimes great moments of justice come out of it. In one case, a man falsely accused left prison thanks to a publication of ours. A lot of people who work for WikiLeaks have the same instinct as me: If you are pushed you push back.