AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a Democracy
Now! exclusive with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has spent nearly
three years 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. Earlier this month,
Sweden’s Supreme Court rejected his appeal to lift his arrest warrant. Swedish
prosecutors are reportedly preparing to travel to London to interview Assange
after refusing to do so for years.
JULIAN ASSANGE: I’m not doing
too badly, given the situation. And I think that’s really because I have
something significant to focus on other than just my personal circumstance.
That’s the same for all people who are in a situation of detainment. I’ve been
five—almost five years now detained, in one form or another, without charge,
here in the United Kingdom. I don’t live in the United Kingdom. I’m an
Australian. So, it’s quite difficult for my family. But for me, WikiLeaks’ work
and the various cases that we have, defensive and offensive, is enough to keep
my mind out of the situation that I’m in. And that’s very important for
3. AMY GOODMAN: Which brings us to Edward Snowden, a man who you helped to secure his freedom, at least for now, though he’s not in the United States where he would like to be—he has political asylum in Russia—and what the revelations have led to—well, so many things all over the world, but in the United States, congressional action just in the last week, the challenges to the USA PATRIOT Act. Can you talk about what’s taken place? This is an absolutely critical week. June 1st, the USA PATRIOT Act, sections of it sunset unless they are continued. The administration has not appealed—applied for an automatic extension. And a number of senators, Republican and Democrat, have now bucked the corporate Republican-Democratic establishment and said they don’t want the overall surveillance of Americans. Explain more specifically what’s taken place.
4. JULIAN ASSANGE: The Edward Snowden revelations documented various forms of National Security Agency spying and secret interpretations of U.S. law that have been constructed by the Justice Department and the FISA courts. Now, some of those hinged on Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, a secret interpretation, that has been found just this month to be unlawful in the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals.
Now, that has dovetailed with the electoral process in the United States, and so there’s now increasing push to be—increasing push for popularism. Rand Paul and Ron Wyden have tapped into that. The USA PATRIOT Act has been on rolling sunset clauses since 2001. The sunset clause is June the 1st, and so Ron Wyden and Rand Paul engaged in a filibuster, pushing the passage of the renewal of the PATRIOT Act off to a week where Congress had scheduled to be away all the way leading up to June 1st. So unless there’s an emergency recall of enough of the Senate and Congress, the sunset clause will hit, and that means there will have to be a new PATRIOT Act reintroduced. So it will have to be resuscitated as opposed to having a rollover, and that’s a more involved process. However, our sources say that the NSA is not too concerned, that it has secret interpretations of other authorities that give it much the same power that it would have had under the secret interpretation of 215 and other areas of the USA PATRIOT Act.
What Edward Snowden revealed about the secret interpretation of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act was that the National Security Agency was using it to bulk-collect the calling records, every day, of essentially every American in the United States—the majority of the big telecommunications companies. However, that’s only a very small part of the National Security Agency’s mass interception system. On one hand, it can suck information out of the—of Google, Facebook and so on, under the PRISM system; and on the other hand, even more data is collected as a result of information flowing across the border of the United States or across borders of the United Kingdom, which has a sharing agreement with the National Security Agency.
But it is a type of at least political victory, showing that you can—Rand Paul clearly believes that you can garnish a type of political power by having a filibuster on this issue. I think that’s quite an important thing leading up to the 2016 presidential election. It’s safe now to have this as part of the political debate.
5. AMY GOODMAN: The administration has said, well, we’ll put the information in the control of the telecoms, the telephone companies, but that’s also something that Rand Paul has challenged: Why should the telecommunications companies, why should private enterprise have this information, holding it to be sought by the government?
6. JULIAN ASSANGE: That’s right. So the alternative proposal, which is something that was in the USA FREEDOM Act, which is pretty misnamed—it is a sort of milder version of the USA PATRIOT Act, in some ways. Instead, Verizon and the other—AT&T and other big telcos will hold the information, ready for the National Security Agency. But, you know, it doesn’t make much of a difference if that’s an automated system. It’s just—you know, 80 percent of the National Security Agency is outsourced anyway, in terms of the management of its data. In this case, if it has automatic connections to AT&T and Verizon, there’s no difference in terms of its searching ability. Now, in terms of whether there’s warrants that are used for searches, it is perhaps an aid, because the companies could be made legally liable—that’s up to Congress—for not insisting on a warrant to access that information. I rather suspect that Congress won’t mandate that the companies can’t hand over information unless there’s a warrant.
Now, it’s interesting to contrast that with the situation here in Europe. So, in Europe, there was legislation that telcos should hold that information for 18 months. Now, in Germany, that has been found—in fact, at the European Court level, has been found to be unconstitutional. And in Germany, it was ordered that all that information be flushed away. And now there’s a fight on with various European states, such as Sweden, insisting that they can retain the information, even though the laws of Europe say that they’re not permitted to retain that information.
7. AMY GOODMAN: Before we get to Germany and what you’ve revealed there, I want to stay with the U.S. for a minute, because President Obama famously said that the debate over privacy and surveillance would have been had without Edward Snowden. Can you respond to that?
8. JULIAN ASSANGE: Oh, I think it’s obvious to everyone that that is false. How can you have a debate with secret interpretations of the law? How can you debate them? They’re secret. Similarly, what are the actual actions that are occurring, not just in policy, but what is actually happening? What are these bureaucracies actually doing? If you don’t know, how can you possibly have the debate? Information is classified, no debate is possible.
9. AMY GOODMAN:
WikiLeaks founder Julian
Assange, speaking inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. If he steps foot
outside, he will be arrested by British authorities. We’ll
return to our interview with him in a minute and talk about the Trans-Pacific
Partnership, as well as British nuclear submarine whistleblower William
McNeilly. Stay with us. [break] We return to our exclusive interview
with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. I spoke to him inside the Ecuadorean
Embassy in London on Monday.
Julian Assange, let’s stay with the United States for a moment, with the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which certainly doesn’t only involve the United States, but there’s a huge debate within the United States about it right now. And I dare say, some of that debate is as a result of what WikiLeaks revealed. For some people, this treaty, that will determine 40 percent of the global economy, the only thing that we have seen about it comes from WikiLeaks. Explain what the TPP is and the information that you got, that you put out about this top-secret agreement.
10. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, the TPP is an international treaty that has 29 different chapters. We have released four of them, and we are trying to get the remainder. For the information that has been released, through the chapters that we got hold of and through some congressmen who have seen the contents of some of the others, but they are not allowed to write it down—
11. AMY GOODMAN: They can go into a room and look at it.
12. JULIAN ASSANGE: They can go into a room. It has been—it’s not formally classified, but it’s being treated as if it was classified, in terms of how the information is being managed. They go into a room. If they try and take notes, the notes have to be handed over to the government for safe keeping. And, of course, congressmen under those situations won’t take notes. So it is very well guarded from the press and the majority of people and even from congressmen. But 600 U.S. companies are part of the process and have been given access to various parts of the TPP.
OK, so it’s a—the largest-ever international economic treaty that has ever been negotiated, very considerably larger than NAFTA. It is mostly not about trade. Only five of the 29 chapters are about traditional trade. The others are about regulating the Internet and what Internet—Internet service providers have to collect information. They have to hand it over to companies under certain circumstances. It’s about regulating labor, what labor conditions can be applied, regulating, whether you can favor local industry, regulating the hospital healthcare system, privatization of hospitals. So, essentially, every aspect of the modern economy, even banking services, are in the TPP.
And so, that is erecting and embedding new, ultramodern neoliberal structure in U.S. law and in the laws of the other countries that are participating, and is putting it in a treaty form. And by putting it in a treaty form, that means—with 14 countries involved, means it’s very, very hard to overturn. So if there’s a desire, democratic desire, in the United States to go down a different path—for example, to introduce more public transport—then you can’t easily change the TPP treaty, because you have to go back and get agreement of the other nations involved.
Now, looking at that example, what if the government or a state government decides it wants to build a hospital somewhere, and there’s a private hospital, has been erected nearby? Well, the TPP gives the constructor of the private hospital the right to sue the government over the expected—the loss in expected future profits. This is expected future profits. This is not an actual loss that has been sustained, where there’s desire to be compensated; this is a claim about the future. And we know from similar instruments where governments can be sued over free trade treaties that that is used to construct a chilling effect on environmental and health regulation law. For example, Togo, Australia, Uruguay are all being sued by tobacco companies, Philip Morris the leading one, to prevent them from introducing health warnings on the cigarette packets.
13. AMY GOODMAN: That we have in the United States on our own cigarette packages.
14. JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes. And it’s not even an even playing field. Let’s say you’ll say, OK, well, we’re going to make it easier for companies to sue the government. Maybe that’s right. Maybe the government is too powerful, and companies should have a right to sue the government under various circumstances. But it’s only multinationals that get this right. U.S. companies operating purely in the U.S., in relation to investments that happen in the U.S., will not have this right, whereas large companies that are multinationals, that have registrations overseas, can structure things such that they’re taking investments from the U.S., and that then gives them the right to sue the government over it.
Now, it’s not so easy to get up these cases and win them. However, the chilling effect, the concern that there might be such a case, is severe. Each one of these cases, on average, governments spend more than $10 million for each case, to defend it, even successfully. So, if you have, you know, a city council or a state considering legislation, and then there’s a threat from one of these multinationals about expected future profits, they know that even if they have the law on their side, even if this TPP is on their side, they can expect to suffer.
15. AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about more recently what you have been able to get out. I want to work backwards. William McNeilly, explain who he is and what he has to say.
16. JULIAN ASSANGE: William McNeilly is a submariner for the U.K. Trident fleet. Trident is the U.K.’s nuclear weapons system. All its nuclear weapons are in four submarines, called Trident. They’re an expensive program, been going for more than 30 years, which is a matter of significant debate now in the United Kingdom because it has been stationed in Scotland. And if you look at this from the Scottish perspective, England put all its nukes and nuclear processing in Scotland, in Faslane, making it a nuclear target, but also making it a, you know, potential place of a nuclear spill, a nuclear accident. And so, with the rise of the Scottish independence movement has come a formal statement by the Scottish government, the Scottish National Party, that they want those weapons out, and that if they get independence, they will take them out.
And William McNeilly revealed to us a long analysis of accidents and other dangerous activities that had happened in those—in the Trident nuclear weapons system program and some extracts from the nuclear weapons safety book. And he went—he learned quite a lot from the Bradley Manning, Chelsea Manning now, and the Edward Snowden situations. You can see that quite clearly. And he—yeah, he learned quite a lot from that, and he was successful in bringing this issue into public debate. Although, that said, the U.S.—the U.K. media was very conspicuously silent. We suspect that there is a standing D-Notice on all Trident nuclear weapons issues. That would not be unusual. The D-Notice system here is a defense advisory notice. The editors of the mainstream newspapers meet once a month in a closed session with the government, which says what things it doesn’t want to appear, as far as military intelligence is concerned. Anyway, eventually that was broken after we published, and some of the Scottish newspapers also picked up aggressively on the issue.
17. AMY GOODMAN: So, I mean, here you have this Trident whistleblower, who actually has just turned himself in. He, in an odd way, like you, now in captivity, puts out this extended statement trying to explain his concern about the lax security around the Trident missile system, how easy it is to get into the heart of—into the belly of the beast, saying it’s harder to get into a bar than to lay a duffle bag, that no one has ever checked the insides of, next to a nuclear submarine or a nuclear missile.
18. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, in a nuclear submarine next to a nuclear missile, yeah.
19. AMY GOODMAN: Explain some of the things that he has documented here, that WikiLeaks put out.
20. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, he’s documented fires on nuclear submarines; that the—so many false positives in the alarm systems, you know, where there’s a fault or a problem in the submarine, that people just started turning the volume off on them, because, you know, they’re too irritating; a gradual collapse in the maintenance standards. In some ways, these are all things that you would expect. For example—he gives another example of security, that it’s harder to get through airport security than it is to get onto a Trident nuclear weapons submarine. And—
21. AMY GOODMAN: He said rarely was his ID checked.
22. JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes.
23. AMY GOODMAN: Almost never.
24. JULIAN ASSANGE: And another Trident submariner came out and said that, as well, backed him up, after this revelation, on exactly that point. And that is actually not surprising, if you know—if you’ve studied institutions and how they work. For example, in a nightclub, you have people trying to sneak in all the time, and, you know, clearly succeeding. And as a result, that disciplines the security staff. If they start slacking off, then very quickly they pay the consequences. Similarly with the airport, there’s passengers trying to get through all the time. And now, for something like a Trident system, you have 30 years with—if anyone’s getting in, it’s perhaps Russian or Chinese spies, historically. And they keep it all quiet. So there’s no disciplining effect when it goes wrong, and so gradually the standards all start to decline. And people engage in a kind of pantomime for the higher-ups, but everyone understands that we don’t bother to do this because it’s too much work.
25. AMY GOODMAN: We’re here with Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he’s lived, taken refuge, has had political asylum for almost three years. And now we’re talking about William McNeilly, the man known as the Trident whistleblower, who has just turned himself in after releasing remarkable documents about his observations getting to the actual nuclear missiles with hardly ID, let alone anyone checking, for example, big duffle bags—who knows what would be in them? So, why did McNeilly turn himself in?
26. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, there’s two potential actions against McNeilly. One is a political action for his revelations. Now, the U.K. military, the Royal Navy, is very concerned about the politics. We have these missiles all based in Scotland. The recent election showed that the Scottish National Party was completely dominant. It won 57 out 60 seats in the election. And it says it’s going to remove Trident. That is its policy. And if it—as soon as it becomes independent, it will do that. As soon as Scotland becomes an independent nation, which they’re pushing for, they will do that. So the politics of this moment are acute, and the U.K. military doesn’t want to pour more fuel onto their political fires, trying to do everything to dampen out discussion of this material.
Now, the other attack on him is that he was—
27. AMY GOODMAN: He’s an Irish seaman, right? Irish?
28. JULIAN ASSANGE: He’s from Northern Ireland. The other attack on him is that he went AWOL during this whistleblowing period. Clearly learning from Edward Snowden’s playbook, stepped back, released material, try and manage the situation in terms of media and so on, and then, once you see how it’s going, maybe step back into the fold. So, every day he was away, he was technically committing another crime in military law of being away without leave. So the U.K. military have now said—we’ll see whether they stick to this; their promises can’t be relied on—but that they’re not going to prosecute him under the Official Secrets Act; they’re going to go for him under AWOL.
And I imagine if they’re trying to suppress debate about this matter, they will prosecute him for being away without leave, they will perhaps put him in prison for 28 days, and they’ll give him a dishonorable discharge, as a way to kind of dampen the conflict. If it comes to court about the material that he’s been released, well, they’ll have to say, “Yeah, it’s true. This is true. And it was unlawful for him to release this true information.” And he will say, “Well, but there was a public interest in this.” And then they’ll say, “Well, you don’t have a right to argue public interest,” and so on. So, at the moment, it appears that the U.K. government is heading down this direction of trying to not have a big, high-profile court case, which would probably be held in Scotland and further inflame the Scottish independence movement.
29. AMY GOODMAN: So, I just want to read from his observations. “This contains references,” he writes, “to CB8890: The instructions for the safety and security of the Trident II D5 strategic weapon system. I’m sure all the Strategic Weapon System (SWS) personnel are scratching their heads and wondering how I’m writing this on my personnel laptop”—I think means personal laptop—”and referencing a book, which is contained within a safe in the Missile Control Centre (MCC). The MCC is the compartment used to control the launch of the nuclear missiles. It can only be accessed by people on the access list, and no personnel electronics are allowed. I was on the access list but how could I have gotten a copy of every single chapter on to my phone? A hidden camera? No. Smuggled the book out then filmed it? No. What I did was walk into a room [where] no recording devices are allowed. I sat down; took my Samsung Galaxy SII (white) out of my pocket, and recorded the entire book word for word. I held the phone still, about a foot in front of my face and anyone who looked at the screen or used common sense, would’ve seen I was recording. There were other SWS personnel in the room; in the video you can see a SWS JR about 3 feet in front of me”—or an SWS JR about three feet in front of me—”talking to another SWS JR sitting right beside me. You probably think that’s impossible but I’ve got the evidence to prove it. The complete lack of concern for security worries me. The fact is it would’ve been even easier for me to cause a nuclear catastrophe than to gather that information, and gathering that information was actually quite simple, due to the amount of ignorance,” he writes. These are the words of William McNeilly. He says he filmed this top-secret book with his Samsung, which is white, out in front of other people—
30. JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes.
31. AMY GOODMAN: —in a room where he wasn’t even supposed to have a personal device.
32. JULIAN ASSANGE: And gives quotes from it in the material that we released, yeah.
33. AMY GOODMAN: So this is a tremendous embarrassment, to say the least, to the British military.
34. JULIAN ASSANGE: It is. But it’s very interesting to see the way it’s playing out in the U.K. press, you know, with a—it seems like an initial ban on reporting any of the information.
35. AMY GOODMAN: Has a deal been made between journalists and—or is there a kind of actual official ban?
36. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, the U.K. society is a often informal society. In London, things work behind the scenes, and—but there is a formal mechanism, as well, which is the D-Notice advisory system, where the military and intelligence agencies once a month meet with the editors of the U.K., and they say what things are not to be reported, and then there’s a gentlemen’s agreement that these things are not reported. It’s a sort of—the media self-regulates, because there’s a fear of regulation if they don’t do what they’re told.
37. AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaking inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he’s taken refuge for the past three years. We’ll be back in a minute with another explosive revelation. [break] We return to our exclusive interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. I went to London and spoke to him inside the Ecuadorean Embassy there on Memorial Day.
Can you talk about the documents you have released around Libya and the immigrants that are trying to escape?
38. JULIAN ASSANGE: A secret plan was constructed by the defense ministers of Europe, the defense ministers from the various countries. The plan was led by the U.K. and Italy. And that plan, authored on the 13th of May, is what we have released. Now, it calls for a military intervention in Libya to destroy refugee boats before they leave port, from Libya coming to Europe, and also for other attacks on the people who provide the services of conducting the boats, called, of course, in that plan, “people smugglers,” and they’re necessary to stop their network.
39. AMY GOODMAN: You said destroy the boats. What do you mean?
40. JULIAN ASSANGE: That’s right. Before the refugees get into the boats, destroy the boats. And so, of course, this involves potential infringements of Libyan sovereignty, destroying boats in port.
41. AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “destroying”? Blowing them up?
42. JULIAN ASSANGE: Blowing them up, sabotaging them. Destroying them through military means is what is specified in the document.
43. AMY GOODMAN: How would they know if there are people in them?
44. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, they may not. They may conduct surveillance operations to detect people. They may be unconcerned with people. The way that they’re talking about the people smugglers in the document is such that you have the impression that the people smugglers themselves would be a military target. The infrastructure, and specifically boats, but their broad infrastructure, also appears to be a military target. So, for example, the systems that repair boats or who are involved in collecting together the refugees, these seem like they would also be military targets.
45. AMY GOODMAN: And whose documents are these?
46. JULIAN ASSANGE: This is a classified document from the European Union, from the EU Military Committee. And the EU Military Committee is the defense ministers of the European Union. The document was led by the United Kingdom and Italy. And it will be Italy who is leading the on-the-ground—it will be Italy who is militarily coordinating the on-the-ground efforts.
47. AMY GOODMAN: And in the documents, the concerns about what this will look like, the so-called optics of the situation?
48. JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes, there’s a layout for a media information operations at the same time, very significant concern about the optics, about where there’s media scrutiny of the EU for killing people, or false reports of killing people. They say, you know, where the EU has actually killed people in this operation, so they are intending to at least risk killing people in blowing up these boats.
I guess from a—if we now pull back a bit, where is this coming from? Well, it’s no surprise that the U.K. was involved in the draft. Since the 7th, with the new Conservative government here having a majority, we have seen a very strong push along a Conservative agenda against migrants, against pulling out of some parts of the EU, against a retardation of the European Court of Human Rights. From the Italian perspective, they have to deal with the migrants that come across.
Now, this will be the first time that the EU, as a military force—not NATO, but the EU—is engaged in hostilities. So it’s quite—it’s quite significant from the perspective of what the EU is going to look like as a military force. And if you think of Libya, there’s the question of what do these EU nations want with Libya. Well, remember, Libya was largely Hillary’s war. That’s came out, that in fact the Pentagon was pushing against it, Hillary was pushing for it. From the American side, there wasn’t unity in pursuing the prosecution of Libya, because the Pentagon was worried about the post-Gaddafi environment, had that been set up enough, for exactly the same reasons—the exact same lessons we learned in Iraq. Now, there was considerable European push for war in Libya, as well, from Italy, from France and from the United Kingdom, to get at Libyan oil. Deals were done in terms of splits with the Libyan rebels, the splits that Italy would have, the splits that France would have. So, we may also be looking at an excuse to get on to the shoreline of Libya. They will have established a breach of Libyan sovereignty. They will be engaging in destruction of these boats and the people-smuggling operations on Libyan soil.
49. AMY GOODMAN: And the documents address the Western-backed groups within Libya and what they feel about this?
50. JULIAN ASSANGE: It has come out publicly, when some versions of this plan have been spoken about in the media. The plan hasn’t come out, but versions of it have been spoken about, and that the groups that the West says is the government of Libya, if you like, they’re those factions around Benghazi. The Libyan foreign minister says that this should not be tolerated, of course. Libyans could not accept the prevention of Libyans seeking refuge being pursued by jihadists. It’s really a very new situation. It’s new in terms of the EU acting as a force in this manner, acting as a force against refugees, against refugee boats, acting as a force, in effect, to assist ISIS. These are people that are being driven out of Libya by jihadists of various factions, including ISIS. So, I find it quite, you know, quite a dangerous precedent. Now, having once established themselves on the northern shore of Libya, there’s a question about then what happens. Presumably, EU troops or EU agents or EU warships on the shore of Libya are going to receive some kind of resistance occasionally, and they will meet that resistance. And that could then well snowball into an invasion of Libya. And that may—I must speculate that that may be part of the vision.
51. AMY GOODMAN: Julian, the Swedish Supreme Court just ruled against you in a four-to-one decision. Can you explain what this means for your case?
52. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, the big case is the U.S. case, which started in the beginning of 2010. A grand jury was in place by the middle of 2010. A WikiLeaks war room was established by the Pentagon, comprised predominantly of Defense Intelligence Agency and FBI, over 120 people working 24/7, more than a dozen different government departments involved.
53. AMY GOODMAN: How do you know this?
54. JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s publicly stated by those organizations. And subsequently, the case has narrowed down in its focus and is now being run by the Department of Justice National Security Division and the Department of Justice Criminal Division. The latest information is, in federal court this year, March 4th, the U.S. government again admitted that they are pending prosecution, and they are proceeding. And it is a national security criminal investigation, multi-subject, long-term pre-prosecution. And as a result, the press is not entitled to any information at all. There’s around 500 Freedom of Information requests from different media organizations trying to look at whether the case has been conducted in an illegal manner—spying on our supporters, spying on funding and so on. All of that is restricted under the basis that the matter is pending prosecution.
Now, the Swedish Supreme Court, in this split decision, said that they will not drop the arrest warrant. But interestingly, one judge did go our way, and the registrar itself. Documents have just now come out that the court investigated the matter and said that the arrest warrant should go away. So we have the court itself saying that due to injustices that have occurred in the matter to date, that it should be dropped, and one judge going our way. But ultimately, a decision was made. It looks like a political decision, that I think that the cost to—of face to Sweden and its relationship with the United States would be too much, and so, as a result, they’re not going to go there yet. But it’s still under consideration by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which is a panel of five, which is about to make a decision. And then we have other opportunities, the European Court of Human Rights and here in the United Kingdom.
The U.S. case against WikiLeaks is widely believed to be the largest-ever investigation into a publisher. It is extraterritorial. It’s setting new precedents about the ability of the U.S. government to reach out to any media publisher in Europe or the rest of the world, and try and achieve a prosecution. They say the offenses are conspiracy, conspiracy to commit espionage, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, computer hacking, conversion, stealing government documents.
55. AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering if you could respond to the lawyers for the complainant, Claes Borgström, for one of the complainants, who said he’s very satisfied by the Swedish Supreme Court’s decision, but surprised that one of the judges dissented. Borgström said, “If Assange was suspected of a theft or another minor crime, proportionality would be different, but he is suspected of rape, a very severe crime.” Your response?
56. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, that’s simply not true. In fact, both of the women involved explicitly say that they had not alleged rape; in fact, even in the court documents, say that they had no intention of making a complaint and that this is something that the Swedish state brought.
57. AMY GOODMAN: What—
58. JULIAN ASSANGE: But you mentioned—I mean, this is detail, but you mentioned this figure, Claes Borgström, and I think that’s interesting. This is detail which I think no one will know about, but this figure, Claes Borgström, is a very senior—was a very senior politician in Sweden. And the whole preliminary investigation—the preliminary investigation was dropped by the most senior prosecutor in Stockholm. It was Borgström, the politician, who intervened in the case, took it to another prosecutor in Gothenburg, the current one, and resurrected the matter, which is a quirk of the Swedish justice system that you can shop around to different prosecutors.
59. AMY GOODMAN: So one prosecutor can drop it, and another can then pick it up?
60. JULIAN ASSANGE: The most senior prosecutor of Stockholm, very well regarded, Eva Finné, dropped it and said there was no rape had been committed, then there was not even any evidence that there had and not an allegation that there had. And then he took this to Gothenburg. Subsequently, he has become the most disgraced lawyer in Sweden. He was kicked out of his political party. He’s involved as a central person in the most scandalous judicial case in Europe, the case of Thomas Quick, where an innocent man was convicted, across six separate trials, to eight murders and imprisoned for more than 20 years. All of those convictions have now been quashed, and he is free. But it was Claes Borgström who was a central figure in fixing the framing of Thomas Quick.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you keep up
your health? I mean, you have not stepped foot outside in three years.
JULIAN ASSANGE: I think, like
all other detained people, you just have to be diligent about your exercise.
There’s a unique situation here. In some ways, it’s easier. It’s easier to get
visitors, although you have to pass the police surveillance operation. On the
other hand, yes, the absence of sunlight is a problem. There’s a reason why,
since at least World War II, the U.N. minimum requirement for prisoners is at
least one hour a day. Even solitary confinement prisoners are meant to get one
hour a day, even if it’s in an outside exercise yard, even if it’s by
themselves, to have the sun.
AMY GOODMAN: And you haven’t
JULIAN ASSANGE: No.
AMY GOODMAN: What give you
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, if you
look at—despite the situation, we’ve kept together as an organization, have a
really strong team that’s been through some pretty tough times. We have
defeated this banking blockade. We continue on in our publications. Sources
still have confidence that we can get impact for their material. A very wide
range of people in the United States have come forward to work for us in a
variety of different ways, probably most visibly Michael Ratner and the Center
for Constitutional Rights. We have more than—have used more than 150 lawyers.
And we had to add it up the other day for another case. So that’s a lot—a lot
of work in terms of the legal fight. But there’s something to be said that a
small international investigative publisher is able to keep going under that
pressure, and not only keep going, but to expand. Not many publishers have been
expanding in the past five years.
67. AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaking inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he’s taken refuge for the past three years. When we went inside the embassy on Memorial Day, British police asked the Ecuadorean Embassy to hand over our identification. We refused. Just hours before we went to air today, WikiLeaks released more than a half a million U.S. State Department cables from 1978. Tune in tomorrow, Thursday, for part two of our interview with the WikiLeaks founder. We’ll speak with Julian Assange about the cables, as well as the leaked Sony documents, the new ICWatch database, which culls personal details from LinkedIn posted by former members of the U.S. intelligence community, and the inside story about why the United States forced President Evo Morales to land during the 2013 hunt for Edward Snowden.
[the next day]
Five years ago this week, U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning was arrested in Kuwait and charged with leaking classified information. Weeks later, WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of internal logs from the war in Afghanistan. It was one of the largest leaks in U.S. military history. Major articles ran in The New York Times, in The Guardian, Der Spiegel and other outlets. Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley, and Julian Assange soon become household names.
While Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail, Assange has been living for the past three years inside Ecuador’s Embassy in London, where he has political asylum. Assange faces investigations in both Sweden and the United States. Here in the United States, a secret grand jury is investigating WikiLeaks for its role in publishing leaked Afghan and Iraq War logs and State Department cables. In Sweden, Assange is wanted for questioning on allegations of sexual misconduct, though no charges have ever been filed. Earlier this month, Sweden’s Supreme Court rejected his appeal to lift his arrest warrant. Swedish prosecutors are reportedly preparing to travel to London to interview Assange after refusing to do so for years.
On Monday, Democracy Now! went to London to interview Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorean Embassy. When we were inside, British police asked the Ecuadorean Embassy to hand over our identification. That’s unusual. Local police aren’t supposed to ask people for ID entering foreign embassies, so we refused. In part two of our exclusive interview, Julian Assange began by talking about the latest developments in the U.S. case against him.
68. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, the latest information is from the 4th of March. Now, we know, as a result of warrants that were issued to our journalists’ Google accounts, that the charges are espionage; conspiracy to commit espionage; the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is computer hacking; conversion, which is theft of government secrets; and general conspiracy. We don’t know how many of each one, but we know that these are the charge types. This is what has been used to apply for warrants. We know that there are several more warrants that Google has. Google has admitted publicly that it is still gagged about the other warrants that have been applied.
Now, on the 4th of March, there was a case in federal court where EPIC, which is a Electronic Privacy Information Center, NGO based in Washington, D.C., has been litigating to try and see whether the U.S. government is illegally surveilling our supporters. And their case has become unexpectedly important. There are some 500 information requests from the media and us, that have been blocked by the U.S. government, into what has been happening with WikiLeaks. And they’ve been blocked under the excuse that to release such information would be to help us resist the prosecution, and that they want to use that in the prosecution, and therefore they can’t release it to anyone. Now, the FBI has admitted that they have more than 42,135 pages just in the FBI file. There’s the DOJ file. There’s the grand jury file. And they’re not going to release a single sentence, not a single paragraph. But they have to explain themselves. And in explaining themselves, they’ve revealed some important things, that the investigation is being run by the DOJ National Security Division, and it’s being run by the DOJ Criminal Division, and that there is responsive documents in the DOJ extradition unit. So, we see the flavor of the prosecution from this, but also many other things. But this is the most recent one, from the 4th of March.
Now, importantly, we lost that case. Or rather, EPIC lost that case to get those documents, because the court accepted that to release any information about the WikiLeaks prosecution would affect the WikiLeaks prosecution, that we could use this to defend ourselves. And the argument used is quite incredible. So, we argued that—the argument used to restrict all information about the pending WikiLeaks prosecution is quite incredible. It is that not only would any information be—if released, assist us, even saying that we’re no longer interested in that particular person, we’re interested in this one, but that the court doesn’t have a right to, itself, make this determination. So, the government says that we need to keep all this information secret about the WikiLeaks investigation—tens and tens of thousands of pages, not a single sentence can be released—because it would help—would help WikiLeaks, would help me.
And then, so we say, and EPIC, who’s litigating the case, says, “Well, that’s absurd. Surely, out of tens of thousands of pages, there’s one sentence that can be released under the FOIA.” And they say, “No, we’re the experts on our own investigation, and that’s what we say.” And then, so we say, “Well, we want the court to look at the documents and say whether they can be released or not, whether they would truly affect the investigation.” And then the government argues, “The court does not have a right to make this assessment. This is a question of a national security fact. Either it is a fact that the information held by the DOJ and held by the FBI would—about WikiLeaks, would affect national security or not. And it is the government that is best placed to determine this fact, not the court.” And so, in the judgment, the judge states that it is necessary to show, quote, “appropriate deference to the executive on matters of national security,” and therefore she is simply going to defer to the government’s claim without looking at the material at all. This is incredible, that you have the judiciary—the whole purpose of the judiciary is it is not to defer to the executive; it’s meant to be an independent assessor.
And if you look at what would happen in a normal criminal case, say, a murder case, there’s a question of DNA in the murder case. So the government would bring their witness and say, “We believe the DNA shows that this person was at the murder scene.” And the defense would go, “We have an expert. He is much more eminent than your expert. He has done a bigger study. And he says that, in fact, no, this is quite incorrect. It is that you simply have incompetent procedures.” And then the court would allow these experts to battle it out and make a determination on which one was the most credible. That is not permitted here. The court doesn’t say, “Let’s hear your expert.” The court doesn’t say, “Well, I, the judge, will look at these documents, and I will judge them.” Rather, it’s necessary to show appropriate deference to the executive in matters of national security. So all that’s necessary for the government is to claim that this is a national security fact, information—any information released about WikiLeaks will harm national security. Its investigation into us, its spying on us, its spying on our supporters—any of that information, if it’s released, will harm national security and will compromise the pending prosecution of WikiLeaks.
So, what has happened here, at a much more interesting and structural level, is a front loading—a front loading of the deterrent and penalty phase. You have a classical view of the criminal process and the deterrent process. Someone is accused of something, you charge them with a crime, it goes to trial, you convict them or they’re acquitted. Let’s say they’re convicted. Then the sentence is both the penalty, and it is the deterrent. OK. Now, what has happened in these whistleblowing cases is that has been flipped. If you look at Thomas Drake, for example, NSA whistleblower, it’s been seven years. There was no penalty, no—he didn’t go to prison at all, in the end. And they just plea deal down to a slap on the wrist. It was—the pretrial process was both the deterrent, the general deterrent, and it was the penalty. And the same thing is happening here in the WikiLeaks process, where we have no rights as a defendant because the formal trial hasn’t started yet. The same thing has happened with me here in this embassy in relation to the Swedish case: no charges, no trial, no ability to defend yourself, don’t even have a right to documents, because you’re not even a defendant.
69. AMY GOODMAN: And the investigation, U.S. investigation, has gone on for how many years?
70. JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s gone on for just over five years.
71. AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaking inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has taken refuge for the past three years. Coming up, Julian Assange will speak about the new ICWatch database, which culls personal details from LinkedIn publicly posted by former members of the U.S. intelligence community. You’ll also hear the inside story about why it’s believed the U.S. forced down the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales in 2013 during the hunt for Edward Snowden. You may be surprised. Stay with us.
[the next day]
We return to our exclusive interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. I spoke to him inside the Ecuadorean Embassy on Memorial Day, where he’s taken refuge for the past almost three years. On Wednesday, WikiLeaks added more than a half a million U.S. diplomatic cables from 1978 to its Public Library of US Diplomacy database. The documents include diplomatic cables and other diplomatic communications from and to U.S. embassies and missions in nearly every country. I asked Julian Assange to talk about the significance of the documents.
72. JULIAN ASSANGE: The U.S. State Department cables. 1978 was a very interesting period. These cables have come through the State Department system, international archives. We have sucked them all out and put them into our system, where we now have more than two million cables in the collection, all indexed. So, 1978, a very interesting time period. We have deliberately released all 400,000 at once to everyone. So, no one’s had an opportunity to cherry-pick, and we haven’t done that, either. What we have done is identified broad areas which are very interesting.
For example, 1978 actually set in progress many of the regional elements, the geopolitical elements, that are playing out today. For example, 1978 was the beginning of the Iranian revolution. It wasn’t until 1979 that it succeeded, but the push against the Shah started in 1978, with demonstrations and killings in response. Similarly, Nicaragua in 1978, the Sandinista movement started in its popular form as a result of a killing of a newspaper editor and was complete within two years. Afghanistan, the war period in Afghanistan began in 1978 and hasn’t stopped since. It was—the Soviet-friendly government came in in 1978, the assassination of the previous president, the rival of Soviet special forces towards the end of the year.
1978 saw the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. And while you might think, “Oh, well, that just concerns Vietnam and Cambodia,” no, this is an important consequence of the Vietnam War and how Cambodia was used and became a Chinese and American proxy in relation to Vietnam. So China, the U.K., U.S. supported Cambodia against the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese prevailed, but the conflict also led to a finalization of what had started under Kissinger’s rapprochement with China—a decisive move to configure China against the Soviet Union and onto the U.S. side of the Cold War conflict. And this war with Vietnam is something that facilitated Brzezinski’s visit to China and the eventual normalization of relations which occurred shortly after.
73. AMY GOODMAN: When it comes to Afghanistan, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in an interview with a French newspaper, talked about the arming of the mujahideen, of Osama bin Laden and others, saying, “What’s a few riled-up Muslims?”
74. JULIAN ASSANGE: It was Brzezinski’s—the moment of history that Brzezinski is the proudest of is in fact Afghanistan and creating a Vietnam for the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by arming the mujahideen and bin Laden. And that—
75. AMY GOODMAN: So that the Soviets would have their own quagmire.
76. JULIAN ASSANGE: So the Soviets would have their own quagmire, which they did. And that started in 1978.
77. AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, can you talk about ICWatch and what it is?
78. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, ICWatch is a database of more than 27,000 profiles of people associated with the U.S. intelligence community or intelligence industry, so that includes people who work for government and people who work for private industry. It was created by a little journalism startup, a great bunch of guys, called Transparency Toolkit. And so they launched this a couple of weeks ago. This information was all originally in the public domain, or seemingly in the public domain, from LinkedIn, so these are CVs of people involved in various intelligence activities. By searching LinkedIn for key works, so they used, for example, the National Security Agency documents or names of special task forces or the, say, Joint Priority Effects List, the assassination program in Afghanistan, these were scraped out and then linked together so you can easily see, for example, who claims that they had worked at the National Security Agency at some stage or on various code-worded projects that the National Security Agency uses. As a result of doing that, they faced counterattack. And the counterattack was some quite serious death threats from—
79. AMY GOODMAN: This is for Intelligence Community Watch, ICWatch—
80. JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes.
81. AMY GOODMAN: —for creating it, for indexing what already is in the public domain.
82. JULIAN ASSANGE: Indexing what was already public. An example of one of those death threats, from Washington, D.C., from a counterintelligence operative, who was also a former marine, saying that he would hunt them down and kill them no matter where they were in the world, and there’s no place in the world that they can hide.
83. AMY GOODMAN: As specifically what is quoted in your press release, “I promise [that] I will kill everyone involved in your website. There is nowhere on this earth that you will be able to hide from me.”
84. JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes. So I think that—and there was a number of other such threats.
85. AMY GOODMAN: How do you know who this is?
86. JULIAN ASSANGE: We have the email that it was sent from. Now, I think this—it actually perfectly explains why the U.S. intelligence community must itself be scrutinized. What do we have in that statement? Murderous criminal arrogance, and it’s somewhat megalomaniacal, as in “there’s nowhere in the whole world you can hide,” and vengeful. So—and I should add one further point: and deeply incompetent to, A, send such a message at all, but, B, this is a counterintelligence person. This is a person whose job it is to not allow secret information out. That’s their job. But they let that information—they themselves put that information on LinkedIn. They themselves are irritated about their own incompetence, to the degree where they get threatening to kill people involved with a journalism project.
87. AMY GOODMAN: So, this is an intelligence analyst, you say, in the Washington, D.C., area who put this information, his own, on LinkedIn. Have you handed this email over to the federal authorities in the United States to investigate the death threats?
88. JULIAN ASSANGE: They have handed the information over to their lawyers to take the next step. And there’s a question about whose side of the matter the federal authorities might be on, and would they use the investigation as, in fact, a way to investigate the criminal death threat, or would they actually use it as an excuse to investigate ICWatch.
89. AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about—you have something like 140,000 entries here. So what are you doing with this, and how are people using it?
90. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, as a result of those death threats, ICWatch came to us and said, “Can you make sure that this information will be protected?” They were also attacked electronically. So we, if you like, put ICWatch into the WikiLeaks system. It’s merged with all the other 8.3 million records. And so now it’s really quite powerful, and it is providing information on a lot of very serious programs that we didn’t know anything about. It’s also a great way for journalists to get people to talk to, because these are individuals, named individuals, saying that this year they worked in this particular program. And so, as a source of witnesses for prosecutions and for journalists, it’s a great resource.
I’ll give you an example, JPEL. If you search, go to WikiLeaks-dot—sorry, go to ICWatch.WikiLeaks.org and search for JPEL, or Priority Effects List. And that’s a name that is used for the U.S. assassination program in Afghanistan. We first revealed that in 2010, that that name was being used, and a task force associated with it, Task Force 373, but it has continued on and expanded in various ways. It has also brought in some NATO partners. That’s the joint aspect of it. But in the ICWatch information are individuals saying that they nominated 600 people to the JPEL. As a result, 37 of them were killed or captured. Others saying that they were directly involved in nomination for the purpose of kinetic targeting.
So, the U.S. has kind of made a bit of a legal—the Pentagon has made a bit of a legal ruse in terms of how it describes these assassination lists. They always say it’s a kill/capture list. And this is to create some kind of ambiguity, which is you go in to capture them, but they resist, and then they’re killed. But, in fact, in practice, it has come out that they’re destroying them; there’s no actual attempt to capture. And here we have evidence, confessions even, because it’s the individual concerned who has written the information, saying that, no, the purpose was always kinetic targeting involved in hundreds of nominations. There’s around 50 entries talking about—you know, bragging on their CV about how they were involved in these programs to assassinate people. Similarly with interrogations and detainee operations, people bragging on their CVs about how they oversaw 3,000 different interrogations, including of high-value detainees, high-value targets.
And new National Security Agency programs that we had not previously been aware of, even in the Snowden documents, because they give a list of codewords which they worked on. We know these ones, which is how we found the entry, but these programs we don’t know about. The CVs are great. I mean, you read a CV, and it’s all in context—the individual, what they did at the key dates, and giving the range of their work. So it’s not just some information about a particular keyword, but in context of the rest of the work they did that year and how the process integrates, what agencies they dealt with. So they brag about that they were liaising with the CIA and the DIA in relation to these assassinations.
91. AMY GOODMAN: And they talk about drone programs, being involved with drone targeting.
92. JULIAN ASSANGE: Thousands of references to—and some 8,000 references to people involved in UAVs, which is unmanned aerial vehicle, which is what is used inside the military to describe drones. There are more than 8,000 people involved in various aspects, from maintenance, manufacturing, targeting, intelligence feedback from drones.
93. AMY GOODMAN: Spying?
94. JULIAN ASSANGE: And spying, yeah, visual spyings, spying on radio signals, telephone signals.
95. AMY GOODMAN: So perhaps if you have job openings, you might be concerned that someone actually who’s applying for a job might actually be a spy.
96. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, I think that there’s a real question. If you look at some of these CVs, OK, for some people, they were involved in assassinating people, interrogating people, and then they’ve moved on. And where have they moved on? So they’ve moved into police. They’ve moved into careers advice at universities. So, you could be, you know, faced with a police interrogation, and that interrogator is someone who tortured people in Guantánamo Bay. I think there’s a real question about what the effect is on U.S. society, when you have all these people who have become used to torturing and killing people coming back and integrating back into society. And as far as I’m aware, no program to help them reintegrate and help them mobilize as they come back in. There’s a lot of debate about whether Guantánamo detainees could be brought to New York to be trialed. Are they too dangerous after the way that they’ve been treated in Guantánamo Bay? Or they’re an irritation to the United States. Are they too dangerous to have on U.S. soil? But I think the same question needs to be asked: Are Guantánamo Bay interrogators, are black site interrogators, are people involved in assassination programs too dangerous to be brought back in and enter into the police force or enter into university administrations or enter into the DOJ?
97. AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, talking about ICWatch—that’s Intelligence Community Watch—speaking inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has taken political refuge for the past three years. Coming up, Julian Assange will talk about the inside story about why the U.S. forced down the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales in 2013 during the hunt for NSA contractor Ed Snowden. Stay with us. [break] We return to our exclusive interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. I spoke to him inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has taken refuge for nearly three years. In 2013, Assange played a pivotal role in helping National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden leave Hong Kong for Russia. During the U.S. hunt for Snowden, Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plan was forced to land in Austria for 14 hours after Spain, France, Portugal and Italy closed their airspace under pressure from the United States over false rumors Snowden was on board. I asked WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to talk about what he knew about the incident.
98. JULIAN ASSANGE: Let’s go back to 2013. There was a worldwide manhunt for Edward Snowden—at a particular moment in time, the largest manhunt the world has ever seen, more resources put into it over that two-week period than any other manhunt. The manhunt for Osama bin Laden over an expanded period is, of course, larger, but over that short period, because of the abilities now of the National Security Agency and the incredible paranoia by the U.S. deep state, the general intelligence community, which is about 100,000 strong, vast resources were put into trying to grab Edward Snowden or work out where he might go, if he was leaving Hong Kong, and grab him there.
So we worked against that, and we got him out of Hong Kong and got him to Russia, and we were going to transit through Russia to get him to Latin America. Now, the U.S. government canceled his passport as he was en route, it seems, to Moscow, meaning that he then couldn’t take his next flight, which had been booked through Cuba. And at that point, there became a question of, well, how else can he proceed? If he can’t proceed by a commercial airline, are there other alternatives? And so, we looked into private flights, private jets, other unusual routes for commercial jets, and presidential jets. Now, we managed to get some intelligence on the U.S. government thinking of the different types of jets and that they were concerned that the presidential jets might be difficult for them, from a legal perspective. In fact, from a legal perspective, they are flying embassies. They’re protected under the Vienna Convention. And no one has a right to go into the presidential jet. So, in assessing these options, President Maduro, for example, had already made an offer of asylum. I’m not sure if it was public by that stage, but it became public shortly after. And yeah, so we thought that and a few other presidential jets were a possibility, but we—particularly concentrating on—I don’t want to mention all the nations involved, but Latin American nations who were not Bolivia. There was an oil conference on in—there was an international oil conference in Moscow that week. Edward Snowden and our journalist, Sarah Harrison, still in the Moscow airport in the transit lounge, and so we thought, well, this is an opportunity, actually, to send Edward Snowden to Latin America on one of these jets.
Now, I thought and, in fact, advised Edward Snowden that he would be safest in Russia, that the ability to protect the borders of Russia was significantly stronger than Venezuela’s abilities, for example, to protect its borders or Brazil’s ability to protect their borders or Ecuador’s ability to protect their borders. But he was very worried about the optics. He didn’t want to be accused of being some kind of Russian spy, so he really didn’t want to be in Russia, because he didn’t want that kind of propaganda attack to distract from the revelations, even though it would place him at some increased risk.
So it’s the week of the oil conference. A number of presidential jets are flying back, and we are considering one of these. And so, we then—our code language that we used deliberately swapped the presidential jet that we were considering for the Bolivian jet. And so we just spoke about Bolivia in order to distract from the actual candidate jet. And in some of our communications, we deliberately spoke about that on open lines to lawyers in the United States. And we didn’t think much more of it. We had engaged in a number of these distraction operations in the asylum maneuver from Hong Kong, for example, booking him on flights to India through Beijing and other forms of distraction, like Iceland, for example. We didn’t think this was anything more than just distracting.
But the U.S. picked up a statement, a supportive statement made in Moscow by President Evo Morales, and appears to have picked up our codeword for the actual operation, and put two and two together and made 22, and then pressured France—successfully pressured France, Portugal and Spain to close their airspace to President Evo Morales’s jet in its flight from Moscow to the Canary Islands for refueling and then back to Bolivia. And as a result, it was forced to land in Vienna. And then, once in Vienna, there was pressure to search the plane.
So, it’s really a quite extraordinary situation that reveals the true nature of the relationship between Western Europe and the United States and what it claims are its values of human rights and asylum and the rights to asylum and so, and respecting the rule of law, the Vienna Convention. Just a phone call from U.S. intelligence was enough to close the airspace to a booked presidential flight, which has immunity. And they got it wrong. They spent all that political capital in demanding this urgent favor to close the airspace, which was humiliating to those Western European countries, and they got it wrong.
99. AMY GOODMAN: Have you spoken to President Morales about what happened?
100. JULIAN ASSANGE: I’ve spoken to his ambassador and conveyed what had happened. Interestingly, the ambassador to the United Kingdom was involved in Portugal, so he was actually—at that time, in 2013, he was involved in the whole incident.
101. AMY GOODMAN: Because Portugal closed its airspace, too.
102. JULIAN ASSANGE: Portugal, Spain and France closed their airspace. Some other things happened. Some preemptive extradition requests were sent out, for example, to Iceland, which we got hold of and published. So there was—the U.S. was pressuring countries where flights might go through or land or refuel. And as a result of that operation, then it became clear that in fact it was too dangerous to—at that moment, at least, to take any flight out of Moscow. And this is what then led to his eventual asylum. It wasn’t just the removal of the passport, which removed his ability to use commercial flights. It was that the U.S. was closing airspace and acting in a manner where you would have to assume that they—you know, if a flight went past the United States—not over U.S. territory, but past the United States—there might be some kind of interdiction.
103. AMY GOODMAN: This is an odd situation. The U.S. is spying on your conversations. They pick up information from your conversations with lawyers, and then they force a president’s plane down on the ground.
104. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, the U.S. should apologize to Evo Morales, to Portugal, to Spain, to France. Portugal, Spain and France should apologize to Evo Morales for not following the law. But we can’t predict when other countries won’t follow the law. We can’t predict that other countries engage in some criminal operation, unprecedented criminal operation. But in some ways, while it was unfortunate for President Morales, it was also a very good thing to have seen, because it revealed the arrogance of Western Europe towards Latin America. It revealed the arrogance and hypocrisy of the United States in pressuring Western Europe in that way. It revealed the nature of the relationship between Western Europe and the United States.
And this became the key ingredient in Edward Snowden’s asylum application, because, you know, you could debate about, well, will he receive a fair process in the United States? You know, there’s no system of law there, and will he receive a fair process or not? But after that happened, at a legal level, in terms of asylum law, it was very clear that there could not be a fair process. It was very clear he could not receive asylum in Western Europe. That was meaningless. And at a political level, the Russian government had to react. And it didn’t have any—it couldn’t react by handing him over. It would look weak and unprincipled. It only had one other card it could play, which is to accept his asylum.
105. AMY GOODMAN: Were you shocked when the U.S. forced down President Evo Morales’s plane?
106. JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes and no. I didn’t—we didn’t expect that they would do that. But we had seen from what they—Snowden was shocked—that we had seen in our battles over the past few years that similarly illegal conduct occurred. For example, they flew a private jet with six FBI agents and two prosecutors illegally into Iceland to interrogate people and commission them to try and steal information from us. So, we had seen this type of illegality before.
107. AMY GOODMAN: On that point, very quickly, on Iceland, the FBI flew into Iceland without asking the government’s permission?
108. JULIAN ASSANGE: The U.S. flew a private jet with six FBI officers and two prosecutors—one from New York and the other one, we believe, from Alexandria, Virginia, where the ongoing WikiLeaks grand jury is taking place—into Iceland under false pretenses, pretending that they were investigating a hacking threat to the Icelandic government. Once there, they then started interrogating an informant. Now, this informant had approached the U.S. Embassy with information. Now, it’s interesting to speculate exactly why the approach was made, whether it was because of a fear of threatened prosecution or a desire for financial reward, but then started interrogating them, taking them around hotel rooms in Iceland.
The interior minister of Iceland found out about what was going on and ordered that the FBI leave. They said they would. They didn’t. And then a second order was put in. And then they fled Iceland under fear of arrest and, at that point, then got the informant to fly to Washington, D.C., where they interrogated them for another five days and then tried to use them to infiltrate a part of WikiLeaks. And they then met in Denmark on two occasions, and money was handed over in exchange for information, $5,000.
Now, subsequently, that informant has confessed doing that, has been prosecuted in Iceland for fraud, embezzlement and other crimes, being pursued by us and by some other Icelandic businesses where this person was involved in embezzlement. Now, importantly, this is the FBI’s star witness in the case against WikiLeaks. So their star witness has gone from just being a witness to being someone who’s now in prison, who has confessed to fabricating letters for me—from me as part of a fraudulent operation, and other businesses in Iceland, and is convicted of other crimes and has additional crimes that are outstanding.
109. AMY GOODMAN: And he is in prison currently in Iceland?
110. JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes.
111. AMY GOODMAN: And this is the star witness against you in the espionage case in the United States?
112. JULIAN ASSANGE: In the espionage case.
113. AMY GOODMAN: How do you know he’s the star witness?
114. JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, it seems, from other records where the U.S. government speaks obliquely about that operation and how valuable it was to them, that it was, you know, of extreme value to them.
115. AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, I want to end where we started, and that’s you right here in the Ecuadorean Embassy. You have been here now for years. Do you expect ever to leave?
116. JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s, you know, a geopolitical situation. It will depend on the geopolitics. There’s a number of nations involved who have relationships with each other. U.K. has a relationship with the United States. There’s domestic things happening here in the United Kingdom which are concerning, on the one hand. The U.K. says it will arrest me regardless. It refuses to reveal whether U.S. has already put in an extradition request. It says it will pull out of the European Court of Human Rights within a hundred days. I think it’s going to find it harder than what it is saying politically. It is engaged in this crazy adventurism in Libya.
It is introducing new legislation to say that it’s not enough anymore to follow the law. This is the incredible rhetoric coming out of the prime minister’s mouth, and the home secretary, who’s responsible for policing, police, that it’s not enough anymore to follow the law, it’s not a matter of introducing new laws to make new crimes, but people who make statements, which are perfectly lawful, need to be stopped; otherwise, criticism against the U.K.’s foreign policy could lead people into—it’s a stepping stone to domestic extremism. And so, once people are named as someone who is leading to domestic extremism, a gag can be put on them, where everything they say has to have pre-publication review by the government. Meetings and meeting places can similarly be banned. You have to submit your agenda to what you’re going to do at that meeting and so on. This is not a matter of incitement. There’s already laws about incitement: You can incite one—someone to commit murder, incite someone to commit terrorism—these are already offenses. But it’s speaking about matters which are not offenses, and they have no intention to make offenses, so that’s a very strange thing. That is—you know, it’s not rhetoric that we expect to hear post-World War II in northern Europe. But we’re hearing it now.
117. AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaking inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has taken refuge for the past three years. If he steps outside the embassy, he’ll be arrested. To watch part one of our exclusive interview, visit democracynow.org, where he talks about leaked drafts of the TPP—that’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership—the recent disclosures of a British nuclear submarine whistleblower, who says it’s harder to get through airport security than to get onto a Trident nuclear weapons submarine, and Assange talks about secret details of a European Union plan to use military force—in other words, blowing ships up—to curb the influx of migrants from Libya.