2012-03-31 Transcript: Julian Assange on RadioNational, 29/03/12

Interview originally aired on ABC RadioNational Late Night Live, 29 March 2012 at 10:05PM.
Audio is available at the ABC website.

Norman Swan: And now an interview that we were going to do Monday, but we are now going to do tonight, which many of you were waiting keenly on, with Julian Assange. Who's nearing... What is it, Julian, 500 days in house arrest?

Julian Assange: I've lost count, Norman. I think it's 500 in 24 days.

Norman Swan: Where are you? Where are you under house arrest?

Julian Assange: I'm outside the city of London in the country. It's a bit isolating, but it's necessary for security reasons.

Norman Swan: But it's not a little shed. You're in a quite comfortable house.

Julian Assange: It's a small country holiday house, but it's comfortable enough. And I am in a fortunate position to have some good friends in this country to be cared for.

Norman Swan: Right. Getting a bit of noise on your phone there, Julian. Is there a bit of wind coming through or something like that?

Julian Assange: There is. I stepped outside, Norman, because it was breaking up again. Let me move into another room; maybe the reception will be better.

Norman Swan: Okay.

Julian Assange: Go ahead, Norman.

Norman Swan: Well, we're certainly getting an audio tour of your incarceration, Julian. So what's the situation; you're waiting on the Supreme Court handing down the appeal on the extradition.

Julian Assange: Yes. So we had a very big Supreme Court case here, which in itself is quite interesting. So the Supreme Court said the matter was of great public importance. There's concerns whether in the European Union one state can extradite a person from another state without any charges being made, without any evidence being given, and when the person issuing the extradition request is not even a judge, but is a policeman or a prosecutor. So that really goes from the mental notion of statehood. Because really a key ingredient to statehood is that you have the monopoly on the deployment of coercive force. And so if other, policemen say, in other countries in the EU, are able to take the reigns of coercive force in England or in other EU countries, then how does that redefine the state in the EU? Really it does, in fact, create an EU as a nation-state as opposed to an EU as a mechanism which permits states within the EU to cooperate. Another being part of an ideological project in the EU amounted to the Cold War to try and produce a United States of America. And that's a particular aspect in relation to extraditions within the EU came in after 9/11—in response to 9/11—saying that this mechanism was necessary for terrorist extraditions from one state to another, to do things very quickly, without evidence, without even charge.

Norman Swan: And if you win, putting aside the impact on you, if you win then it creates a crisis in terms of internal extradition processes within the European Union.

Julian Assange: It's hard to say. I mean, ideally that would be the case. And it would solidify more common law notions about—to be fair, which are included in the EU constitution—that there should not be punishment before trial, that decisions that are made that effect someone's liberty must be reviewable by the courts. And so, if I win it could be within the context of simply that Swedish policemen are not able to do this. But it will set some kind of important precedent.

Norman Swan: And is there a double-jeopardy, can they reissue the extradition order from a more appropriate source and get around the finding of a Supreme Court?

Julian Assange: Yeah, so they can.

Norman Swan: So they might not end with this.

Julian Assange: The Swedes could reform their system to be compliant with the British Law. The British Law demands that a judicial authority issue an extradition warrant. So they could bring their system into compliance with that and reissue, but that's not really the big concern. What is likely if I do win then the United States will issue its request for extradition, and they can simply do that by telephone call. And then they have 40 days to put in the actual extradition papers themselves.

Norman Swan: Why haven't they done that yet? I mean what grounds would they have for doing that? Is that via the Bradley Manning case?

Julian Assange: That's via this Bradley Manning case. There has been a Grand Jury meeting every month, several days a month, in Washington D.C. for the past 14 or so months, since September 2010. And that Grand Jury goes for a period of 18 months. Information has come out from several sources that this Grand Jury has a indictment against me already, but they're keeping it sealed until the appropriate moment comes to release it. And the U.S. Ambassador to the UK, Susman, said early last year that they were waiting for the Swedish case before considering their moves. So, that's all fair report that we hear back from our people in Canberra, that everyone's sort-of happy with the Swedish solution and as well to ship me off to Sweden and then Sweden has to deal with the matter.

Norman Swan: But in fact in the United States it's over the breach of security and WikiLeaks, rather than the case in Sweden which is alleged sexual assault.

Julian Assange: The case in Sweden has no charges, it's all very odd. There is no case to that degree. There is a demand by a Swedish prosecutor from Gothenburg that I be extradited to Sweden for questioning. And she has refused to use all the standard EU mechanisms such as the mutual systems treaty or Skype or telephone call or anything else—even though that is normally done in Sweden—to question me. So we believe that this questioning is in fact not a legitimate activity, if it was legitimate...

Norman Swan: So this is where your conspiracy theory, if you like, is that they're doing this so that America can extradite you directly from Sweden.

Julian Assange: Well, like all rare circumstances, like a jumbo jet going down, it tends to be many unusual factors coming together. And in this particular case, there's a Swedish national election just one month after the arrest. And this guy Claes Borgström was running the Swedish election and the complainants all from the same party, the Social Democratic party. So there's national factors and there's also geopolitical factors because Sweden has run very close over the past 10 years to the United States.

Norman Swan: Let's talk about the United States for a moment and why they're going after you. I mean, WikiLeaks is an organization, it has many members, it has members who are public, not a secret, who has been involved in WikiLeaks at the top. Why do you think America would be focusing on you rather than a corporate group, you know, 5 or 6 people that could be easily identified as being involved with WikiLeaks.

Julian Assange: It's the principle of general deterrent, Norman. WikiLeaks has been going for over 5 years, we've done material from over 120 countries. But in our publications about the United States in 2010, we've reached a certain level of publicity which was of global prominence. And the United States, the Pentagon, made a 40-minute press conference demanding of me personally, by name, and the White House as well, that we destroy all our previous publications that had come from the U.S. Government, we destroy all future publications that we had in our possession that we would publish, and that we cease dealing with U.S. military employees full stop. And of course we said that those demands were unacceptable and we would not be following them and we did not. In fact, we published everything that we said we were going to publish. But look at it this way: the Pentagon made an international, public demand and said that they would coerce us in that press conference if we did not fulfill that demand and they failed. So what credibility does the Pentagon have now? To stand up and say North Korea must do something, we demand it must do something, or an African state must do something, or Thailand must permit greater importation of tobacco. It simply has no credibility in terms of its authority anymore because it couldn't apply its authority to us, so it has to reestablish its authority with the group that defied its authority.

Norman Swan: Julian, how are you sleeping?

Julian Assange: Well, I'm pretty busy, Norman. I don't sleep much, but you know that the work that we have done over the past five years and this tremendous international battle that we have been through over the past two years, I am proud, I understand the significance of what we all have achieved, and I am very proud of it.

Norman Swan: Right, but you know what I'm asking. I'm asking about your psychological state. You run the potential of... you could lose this case, you could go to Sweden, you could be extradited to the United States, you could spend a long time in jail. You're sounding remarkably relaxed on the phone. Are you really relaxed?

Julian Assange: Well, you know since July 2010 we've been going through this every week or every couple months, that someone's been seized or raid or detained or I've been arrested or imprisoned or about to be extradited and so on. Now we are reaching the end of the road, if you like, because the matter has reached the Supreme Court and there's no legal alternative left there, merely political alternatives left. But you know, you adapt to everything.

Norman Swan: So is part of this frenetic activity as distraction?

Julian Assange: It is distracting. And I mean, what else can you do in such a situation? I believe in certain things and we're working towards those things and it is very satisfying for me to do that. We must all understand that we only live once anyway, and life is not so long anyway, so one should live your life fully and do something that you believe in. And what we have been doing I believe in and it has been successful.

Norman Swan: How are things going in WikiLeaks itself? You hear stories of internal disagreements, not being as coherent as it used to. How is the organization itself?

Julian Assange: Well, it's funny you mention this, Norman, because this is all nonsense. We had, during the sort-of big attack on us, like all organizations some people are stronger and some people are weaker. And we lost two people from the whole organization, two people. And that was in 2010.

Norman Swan: But one of them's pretty senior. Somebody who went way back with you.

Julian Assange: No, not at all. Not at all. This is simply spin. And you know when there's a big news story, people want to be in on the news story and so they start claiming authority and proximity that they never had. And that's something we have seen over the past year. And there has been no problems with the organization, no resignations—and there wasn't even a resignation; someone was suspended—there's been no suspensions since this dramatic moment in late 2010. And yet we see these sort of issues constantly bought up by our press competitors, and we should look at it that way...

Norman Swan: Press competitors?

Julian Assange: Yes, that WikiLeaks is involved in sort-of three fields of operation. One, yes we are holding very powerful organizations to account, who of course lash back and they try and discredit the message by attacking the messenger and they want to reassert their authority.

Norman Swan: That's government.

Julian Assange: That's government and sometimes big corporations like the Bank of America which set up permission to a two-million dollar a month campaign to attack us through HB Gary, U.S. intelligence firm. And then there are our media organization competitors. So we are a media organization, we have produced more words than the New York Times in the equivalent period. And so we are a competitor in that raw sense as a competitor for providing the public information. And then in relation to individual journalists, you know we have over 90 media organizations that work with us and hundreds of journalists, but there are many more who do not. So those who do not, they are social competitors. Those journalists particularly who have tried to market themselves as protectors of freedom of the press or being on the left to the degree that they are holding governments or entrenched authority to account. Those journalists are in social competition with us. Media organizations are in economic competition; those journalists see themselves as in social competition with us, and rightly so, because their grandiloquent claims of holding authority to account in fact are rather diminutive when compared to what we have achieved over the past two years. We work with many fine journalists from around the world, and also many fine media organizations, but there are many who are more about the marketing than they are about action. And our actions have shown their marketing for what it is.

Norman Swan: So it sounds as if, I mean apart from you last comment, that you've built a fair degree of wall around yourself thinking that the world is against you.

Julian Assange: We have friends and we have enemies. A superpower like the United States is a superpower because it has its tentacles in so many different places. This is not to say that it is engaged in all sorts of secret conspiracies—although of course it is engaged in a vast array of secret operations—but rather the areas are sort-of a gradient of interest. And people all over the world of certain types try and curry favor with people that they perceive to be more powerful than them, is not necessarily a matter of instruction but rather people who are perceived to be powerful, others attempt to do them favors in order to get prestige or placement or patronage. And, on the other hand, we have a lot of friends who understand that system. Reuters did a survey of 24 countries involving 19,000 people looking at what their relative support for WikiLeaks was over the world. If we look at the top 5 countries, the most supportive countries, whose support was up at the 80% level, we see South Africa was the most supportive country, Germany, Argentina, Russia, and Australia. Australia is unique, but these other four countries, what do they have in common? Well, these are countries that have thrown off a regime within living memory and they understand the abuses of government.

Norman Swan: Well, and some of them, like Russia, hate America.

Julian Assange: Maybe. But why are they... you know, China wasn't up there, for example, in that front. China is a more conservative authoritarian country. These other countries, they have thrown off a previous regime and they understand the importance of things like the Stasi archives, the national archives showing the bad behavior of government, and that publishing is a way to get the truth. And in South Africa you had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process which brought out the mechanisms of government. And if we go to the other end, we have the United States as the least supportive, and Britain as the second least supportive. But nonetheless, support in these countries, support in the United States runs to 40% of the population. That is despite the sort-of domestic propaganda within the United States that revealing classified information is treason. That's not true in most cases. So the population, despite a hostile media within the United States, is incredibly resilient at seeing through deliberate attempts to try and push a particular agenda.

Norman Swan: You're listening to Late Night Live with me, Norman Swan. I'm talking to Julian Assange. Julian, is Stratfor a competitor?

Julian Assange: That's quite interesting.

Norman Swan: Well that's what people are saying, that's why you took them down because they're a competitor of yours.

Julian Assange: Well, I did think about this. I did think about this, that to a degree...

Norman Swan: I should explain to people who might not know what we're talking about, Stratfor is a subscription service, private intelligence, giving you intelligence about the world and so on. And you, I think, what is it, 5 million emails or something like that through WikiLeaks were released recently and some people believe that was a competitive action.

Julian Assange: Well, we are source-driven, Norman. We spend extra analytical attention on matters that we think will have greater impact. But we are source-driven in terms of information that comes to us. But if we look at Stratfor, perhaps describes it a bit generously, this is an organization which we have discovered and published engages in bribing people around the world to collect information, which it then uses for...

Norman Swan: But another interpretation of that is that they're like a newspaper and they're just paying people for contributions the way a correspondence would.

Julian Assange: That's not true. It didn't start like that and it's not ending like that. And now information is showing that it isn't like that. In fact it does three things with its information: Number one, it collects that information and it feeds that information on to its private clients, like the U.S. military, U.S. intelligence, Coca-Cola corporation, Dow Chemical to spy on Bhopal activists and so on. So it is, in that extent, a private intelligence organization. It also takes that information and it is attempting to use it in something called Stratcap which is its own captive investment vehicle. So it is using information gleaned from these bribes to invest in particular stocks, invest in current...

Norman Swan: I hear what you're saying, Julian, that you're source-driven, but this seems to have been a deliberate attack by Anonymous, the hacking organization, to do it for you. It looks as if it was a fairly deliberate attack to take down Stratfor by Anonymous.

Julian Assange: You have to understand, Norman, that as a source-protection organization I can't speak at all about sourcing-related matters. Only to say that our system that we have developed is one that is designed to give the maximum protection to sources by keeping them even anonymous to us.

Norman Swan: Now Julian, you talked about Russia being big fans of WikiLeaks. You've already recorded a 10-part series with Russia Today, one of the Russian television stations, is that right?

Julian Assange: That's correct. We recorded the 10th episode two days ago.

Norman Swan: And this is an interview-based program, I hear.

Julian Assange: It's an interview-based program. It came out of me being isolated under house arrest, but nonetheless needing to understand the world and try and use the information from my understanding to protect our people and help run the organization and also help analyze the material we're getting.

Norman Swan: And who are your guests?

Julian Assange: So we thought, well, given that we need to get people anyway over to see me because I'm so isolated, and they're quite interesting people and perhaps we should film it and release the film.

Norman Swan: And can you tell us who you've interviewed?

Julian Assange: And other people shared in that. So some of the guests have said that they had been interviewed, for example the President of Tunisia, and Alaa, a famous Egyptian revolutionary, and the leader of the Bahrainian democratic movement, and David Horowitz, a right-wing Zionist from the United States. There's quite a range.

Norman Swan: And so how do you live with yourself, given that Russia is about 142nd on the world's list of press freedom and this is a Kremlin-run station.

Julian Assange: Well, you're talking about the license that Russia Today has bought. So, we have our own production company, we produce everything, and we sell licenses to any media that wish to buy licenses for the production. There is no editorial input from any of the licensees, including Russia Today.

Norman Swan: But they've instigated it, haven't they, they're the primary...

Julian Assange: The BBC didn't chose to buy a license, you know. No, they didn't instigate it; that is absolutely false.

Norman Swan: So you offered it to them.

Julian Assange: That's correct. We offered licenses and others such as the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian are also requesting licenses. But it's interesting, Norman, that you have this perception, this deception that somehow Russia Today is producing this, when this is just a licensee. Why do you have this deception? Because we released the press release that we were engaged in this very interesting production and then some days later Russia Today said they had proudly bought a license. Now, that you have the perception that you have because certain groups wish to spread an attack on us saying, 'Look, oh Julian Assange the great defender of press freedom, WikiLeaks the great defender of press freedom, has gotten into bed with the Kremlin, is employed by the Kremlin, is working for the Kremlin,' when that is false. This is another example of how traditional media dynamics are used to distort what the actual picture is. And if we look more broadly, because I want to pull out of this now, and look at the different media organizations. So, in terms of penetration to United States for foreign media network, the BBC has number one penetration, Russia Today has number two, and Al Jazeera has number three. So from our perspective, Russia Today has the second best penetration into the United States and therefore is a good deal to us if the BBC wouldn't buy a license, and of course they won't.

Norman Swan: We only have a couple minutes left, Julian, and I can't avoid talking about your discussion of running for the senate. I mean, is this just words or do you think you can really do it?

Julian Assange: I think we can do it. We've looked closely at the legal situation.

Norman Swan: Which state would you run in?

Julian Assange: Well, I've lived in in fact every state in Australia, but have particularly strong connections to Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. So picking between those states is sort of a strategic matter. There's interesting reasons for different states that we need to look at, say, the senate make up within those states and the fraction that is required and the relative existing sort-of preference swaps that are occurring. That's a strategic matter, but I do have... my father lives in New South Wales, my mother's in Victoria and so on.

Norman Swan: We will watch with interest, Julian, and good luck in your court case.

Julian Assange: Okay. Thank you, Norman.

Norman Swan: Thank you very much.

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