SPIEGEL Interview with Julian Assange: 'We Are Drowning in Material'

Maybe too much text for the average liveleaker, but quite interesting:


In an
interview, Julian Assange, 44, talks about the comeback of the WikiLeaks
whistleblowing platform and his desire to provide assistance to a
German parliamentary committee that is investigating mass NSA spying.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Assange, WikiLeaks is back -- releasing documents
proving United States surveillance of the French government, publishing
Saudi diplomatic cables and posting evidence of the massive surveillance
of the German government by US secret services. What are the reasons
for this comeback?

Assange: Yes, WikiLeaks has been publishing a lot of material in
the last few months. We have been publishing right through, but
sometimes it has been material which does not concern the West and the
Western media -- documents about Syria, for example. But you have to
consider that there was, and still is, a conflict with the United States
government which started in earnest in 2010 after we began publishing a
variety of classified US documents.

SPIEGEL: What did this mean for you and for WikiLeaks?

Assange: The result was a series of legal cases, blockades, PR
attacks and so on. With a banking blockade, WikiLeaks had been cut off
from more than 90 percent of its finances. The blockade happened in a
completely extrajudicial manner. We took legal measures against the
blockade and we have been victorious in the courts, so people can send
us donations again.

SPIEGEL: What difficulties did you have to overcome?

Assange: There had been attacks on our technical infrastructure.
And our staff had to take a 40 percent pay cut, but we have been able to
keep things together without having to fire anybody, which I am quite
proud of. We became a bit like Cuba, working out ways around this
blockade. Various groups like Germany's Wau Holland Foundation collected
donations for us during the blockade.

SPIEGEL: What did you do with the donations you got?

Assange: They enabled us to pay for new infrastructure, which was
needed. I have been publishing about the NSA for almost 20 years now,
so I was aware of the NSA and GCHQ mass surveillance. We required a
next-generation submission system in order to protect our sources.

SPIEGEL: And is it in place now?

Assange: Yes, a few months back we launched a next-generation submission system and also integrated it with our publications.

SPIEGEL: So we can expect new publications?

Assange: We are drowning in material now. Economically, the
challenge for WikiLeaks is whether we can scale up our income in
proportion to the amount of material we have to process.

SPIEGEL: Nine years ago, when WikiLeaks was founded, you could
read on its website: "The goal is justice. The method is transparency."
This is the old idea of Enlightenment born in the 18th century. But if
you look at brutal political regimes and ruthless big corporations,
isn't that slogan too idealistic? Is transparency enough?

Assange: To be honest, I don't like the word transparency; cold
dead glass is transparent. I prefer education or understanding, which
are more human.

SPIEGEL: The work of WikiLeaks seems to have changed. In the
beginning it just published secret documents. More recently, you have
also been providing context for the documents.

Assange: We have always done this. I have personally written
thousands of pages of analysis. WikiLeaks is a giant library of the
world's most persecuted documents. We give asylum to these documents,
analyze them, promote them and obtain more. WikiLeaks has more than 10
million documents and associated analyses now.

SPIEGEL: Are the personnel of the US government and the US Army still technically blocked from using your library?

Assange: WikiLeaks is still a taboo object for some parts of the
government. Firewalls were set up. Every federal government employee and
every contractor received an e-mail stating that if they read something
from WikiLeaks including through the New York Times website,
they have to remove this from their computer immediately and
self-report. They had to cleanse and confess. That's a new McCarthy
hysteria.

SPIEGEL: Do you know something about your readers?

Assange: Not much, we don't spy on them. But what we do know is
that most of our readers come from India, closely followed by the United
States. We also have quite a number of readers who search for persons.
The sister is getting married and someone wants to check the groom. Or
someone is negotiating a business deal and wants to know something about
his potential partner or a bureaucrat he has to talk to.

SPIEGEL: Did WikiLeaks change its ways of cooperating with journalists and the media over the years?

Assange: We use a lot more contracts now.

SPIEGEL: Why?

Assange: That's due to a few bad experiences, principally in
London. We have contracts now with more than a hundred media
organizations all around the world. We have a unique perspective on the
global media. We put together various consortiums of journalists and
media organizations on different levels and try to maximize the impact
of our sources. We now have six years of experience with Western
European media, American media, Indian media, Arab media and seeing what
they do with the same material. Their results are unbelievably
different.

SPIEGEL: Edward Snowden said that many journalists got
interesting stories from his documents, but the only organization that
really cared about him and helped him to escape from Hong Kong was
WikiLeaks.

Assange: Most of the media organizations do burn sources. Edward Snowden was abandoned in Hong Kong, especially by the Guardian,
which had run his stories exclusively. But we thought that it was very
important that a star source like Edward Snowden was not put in prison.
Because that would have created a tremendous chilling effect on other
sources coming forward.

SPIEGEL: It would surely have been a deterrence for other
sources. But most of the journalists insist on being independent and
objective. They also like to stress that they are not political
activists.

Assange: All they show is that they are activists for the way things are.

SPIEGEL: Haven't you also met journalists who dig deep into complex issues and work hard to deliver a proper analysis?

Assange: In the United Kingdom at various stages, journalism has
been the profession of gentlemen amateurs. And some of them even pride
themselves on being amateurs. Their quality is not comparable with the
quality of intelligence services even if most of them harbor a
remarkable degree of corruption and incompetence. But they still have a
certain ideal of professionalism. In order to protect sources now,
extreme diligence and professionalism is required.

SPIEGEL: In October, a book will be published called "The
WikiLeaks Files. The World According to the US Empire" for which you
wrote the foreword. Do you try to develop the contextualization, the
analysis and the counter-narrative which the documents provided by
WikiLeaks need?

Assange: Generally there is not enough systematic understanding.
This has to do with media economics, the short-term news cycles, but
actually I don't blame the media for that failure. There is a terrible
failing in academia in understanding current geopolitical and technical
developments and the intersection between these two areas. WikiLeaks has
a very public conflict with the United States, which is still ongoing
and in which many young people have gotten involved. They suddenly saw
the Internet as a place where politics and geopolitics happen. It's not
just a place where you gossip about what happened at school. But where
were the young professors stepping forward trying to make sense of it
all? Where is the new Michel Foucault who tries to explain how modern
power is exercised? Absurdly, Noam Chomski was making some of the best
comments and he is now 86.

SPIEGEL: Maybe young professors presume it might not be very
helpful for their careers to address this subject because it is highly
controversial.

Assange: Exactly. It is inherently controversial. At the same
time, the relationships of the major intelligence agencies is a one of
the great structuring factors of the modern world. It is the core of
non-economic relationships between states. I worry most about academia
and the particular part of academia that is dealing with international
relations. WikiLeaks has published over 2 million diplomatic cables. It
is the single largest repository for international relations of primary
source materials, all searchable. It is the cannon for international
relations. It is the biggest dog in the room. There has been some
research published in Spanish and in Asian languages. But where are the
American and English journals? There is a concrete explanation: They act
as feeder schools for the US State Department. The US association that
controls the big five international relations journals, the ISA, has a
quiet, official policy of not accepting any paper that is derived from
WikiLeaks' materials.

SPIEGEL: Let's talk about politicians. Why have politicians --
who had to learn, thanks to WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, that their
phones are tapped and their emails are read by English-speaking spies --
reacted in such a timid, slow and lame way to these revelations?

Assange: Why are they playing it down? Angela Merkel had to look
tough because she didn't want to be seen as a weak leader, but I reckon
she came to the conclusion the Americans aren't going to change. All
that US intelligence information is very valuable for the German foreign
intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst. Please imagine for a
moment the German government complains about being spied on and the
Americans just say: Okay, we will give you more stuff, which they have
stolen from France. When the French complain, they get more stuff, which
was stolen from Germany. The NSA spends a lot of resources obtaining
information, but throwing a few crumbs to France and Germany when they
start whining about being victims costs nothing, digital copies cost
nothing.

SPIEGEL: If it worked like that, it would be utterly embarrassing for the German and the French governments.

Assange: It's sad. It seems like German politicians think this
debate makes us look weak and creates conflict with the Americans. So we
better play the surveillance issue down. If you knew as a German
politician that American intelligence agencies have been collecting
intensively on 125 top-level politicians and officials over decades, you
would recall some of the conversations you had in all these years and
you would then understand that the United States has all those
conversations, and that it could take down the Merkel cabinet any time
it feels like it, by simply leaking portions of those conversations to
journalists.

SPIEGEL: Do you see a potential blackmail situation?

Assange: They wouldn't leak transcripts of tapped phone calls as
that would draw focus to the spying itself. The way intelligence
services launder intercepts is to extract the facts expressed during
conversations; for example to say to their contacts in the media, "I
think you should look into this connection between this politician and
that person, what they did on that particular day."

SPIEGEL: Have you got a documented example in which this sort of tactic has been used?

Assange: We haven't published one yet about a German politician,
but there are examples of prominent Muslims in different countries about
whom it was leaked that they had been browsing porn. Blackmail or
representational destruction from intercepts is part of the repertoire
used.

SPIEGEL: Who uses these methods?

Assange: The British GCHQ has its own department for such methods
called JTRIG. They include blackmail, fabricating videos, fabricating
SMS texts in bulk, even creating fake businesses with the same names as
real businesses the United Kingdom wants to marginalize in some region
of the world, and encouraging people to order from the fake business and
selling them inferior products, so that the business gets a bad
reputation. That sounds like a lunatic conspiracy theory, but it is
concretely documented in the GCHQ material allegedly provided by Edward
Snowden.

SPIEGEL: Snowden is trapped in Moscow, Chelsea Manning, formerly
known as Bradley Manning, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for
submitting classified documents to WikiLeaks. Did this not deter other
potential whistleblowers?

Assange: It was designed to be a very strong deterrent. However, a
number of people have come forward subsequent to that and these acts of
repression have a mixed effect. Obviously, sentencing someone to 35
years in prison does have some deterrent effect. But it also erodes the
perception of the US Government as a legitimate authority. Being
perceived as a just authority is the key to legitimacy. Edward Snowden
told me they had abused Manning in a way that contributed to his
decision to become a whistleblower, because it shows the system is
incapable of reforming itself.

SPIEGEL: Did you get more cautious?

Assange: The US government is pursuing five different types of
charges against me. I don't know how many charges altogether, but five
types of charges: espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, computer
fraud and abuse, theft of secrets and general conspiracy. Even if there
were only one charge of each type, which there wouldn't be, that would
be 45 years, and the Espionage Act has life imprisonment and death
penalty provisions as well. So it would be absurd for me to worry about
the consequences of our next publication. Saudi officials came out after
we started publishing the Saudi cables and said that spreading and
publishing government information carries a penalty of 20 years in
prison. Only 20 years! So if it's a choice between being extradited to
Saudi Arabia or the US, then I should go to Saudi Arabia, a land famous
for its judicial moderation.

SPIEGEL: When you started WikiLeaks in 2006, did you ever expect to end up in the kind of situation you are in now?

Assange: Not this precise situation. But I did expect significant difficulties, of this type. Of course I did.

SPIEGEL: On the other hand, WikiLeaks has become a global brand within
less than nine years, a household name even. Does this compensate for
the substantial problems you are having?

Assange: No. But other things do. The conflict has made us much
tougher, producing the WikiLeaks you see today. This great library built
from the courage and sweat of many has had a five-year confrontation
with a superpower without losing a single "book." At the same time,
these "books" have educated many, and in some cases, in a literal sense,
let the innocent go free.

SPIEGEL: That's not a bad conclusion. Especially given that you chose to
go up against the most powerful enemies available on Earth. Or what is
more powerful than the US government and its military and secret
services?

Assange: Physics. Mathematics. The underpinnings of physical reality are harsh and could do with adjustment but it is not clear how.

SPIEGEL: You mentioned the US investigations. A Swedish state
prosecutor is also investigating you for the alleged lesser-degree rape
and sexual molestation of two Swedish women. And the British would like
to lock you up because they say you breached your bail conditions by
applying for asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Are there any other
investigations against you and WikiLeaks?

Assange: The US is still proceeding against me and WikiLeaks more
broadly according to a court filing by the US government this year. A
"WikiLeaks War Room" was erected by the Pentagon and staffed with an
admitted 120 US Intelligence and FBI officers. The center of it has
moved from the Pentagon to the Justice Department, with the FBI
continuing to provide "boots on the ground." In their communications
with Australian diplomats, US officials have said that it was an
investigation of "unprecedented scale and nature" -- over a dozen
different US agencies ranging from the US State Department to the NSA
have been involved.

SPIEGEL: What do you regard as the most threatening case of all?

Assange: We have a dozen different legal proceedings. From a
journalistic point of view, as the largest international espionage case
against a publisher in history, it is a very sexy case, which the media
has reasons to protest every day. But there is one thing that is still
sexier than an espionage case and that's a sex case no matter how bogus.
There is another investigation, which has to do with the role of
WikiLeaks in Edward Snowden's asylum. And there is the Anti-Terror Act
in Great Britain, which is the reason that Sarah Harrison, our
investigations editor, has to be based in Berlin. Australia, my home
country, has also announced a criminal investigation against us this
week for revealing a gag order used to cover up a major international
bribery case involving heads of state.

SPIEGEL: In March, the Swedish prosecutor announced that she
would finally come to London to interview you in the embassy, but this
ultimately didn't happen.

Assange: The Swedish "preliminary investigation," which arose
during the heat of the US conflict, has been dormant for almost five
years now. There are no charges. In 40 other cases, Swedish prosecutors
have interviewed people in Britain during those five years. They have
not done that in my case and they placed me under a grueling bail
situation.

SPIEGEL: You had to pay £200,000 (€290,000) and report to the police every day.

Assange: Yes, for almost 600 days. And I had to wear a monitoring
unit around my ankle. Alleged war criminals from the former Yugoslavia
being held on bail here in Britain don't have such conditions.

SPIEGEL: How many lawyers do you employ?

Assange: WikiLeaks has received legal advice from about 150 lawyers across all these cases.

SPIEGEL: Are you experiencing greater support or solidarity as a result of the continuing persecution against you?

Assange: The persecution was used to create desolidarization.
Partly it had the opposite effect but partly in the Western countries it
made the rhetorical attacks on us easier. But the climate has shifted
positively. It never affected the majority of the Spanish-, French- or
Italian-speaking worlds and obviously not the Russian-speaking world.
Even in the United States we have support from the majority of people
under 35 now.

SPIEGEL: What is your impression of the reputation of WikiLeaks in Germany?

Assange: The transition of the German public opinion is
interesting. A study in 2010 found that 88 percent of Germans appreciate
the US government; after the disclosure about the NSA, the rate dropped
to 43 percent. That is a healthy shift in the German view of the United
States, which has been starry-eyed. Japan suffered the same problem. At
the same time, German public support for WikiLeaks is significant and
even quite mainstream.

SPIEGEL: Does that have something to do with the fact that Sarah
Harrison, your investigations editor, is working in Berlin and sometimes
makes public appearances there?

Assange: Sarah has had an impact, but it is more the other way
around. Sarah is staying in Berlin because it's a friendly environment.
And a number of other people connected with WikLeaks are there for the
same reason.

SPIEGEL: You yourself visited Berlin in 2009. You visited the annual hacker congress of the Chaos Computer Club.

Assange: The CCC is a unique phenomenon. There are some big American conferences, but they are almost entirely depoliticized.

SPIEGEL: Already back in the 1980s, Dr. Wau, the founder of the
Chaos Computer Club, came up with the slogan: Protect private data, use
public data. That has been quite farsighted. Back then Wau and CCC
members were consultants to the parliamentary group of the Greens in the
German parliament, the Bundestag. Today, Green Party member of
parliament Christian Ströbele and other MPs with the Greens and the Left
Party are working hard in a committee of inquiry to reveal the truth
about the nature and scope of the US surveillance in Germany. What do
you think about this committee?

Assange: As an analyst, I tend to be cynical about such
committees because they are normally set up to bury rather than open
debate. However, the Bundestag's committee of inquiry is foraging out
some interesting facts and there are members like Hans-Christian
Ströbele and other members of the Green and Left parties who definitely
want to find out the truth about US surveillance in Germany.

SPIEGEL: Would you be willing to support them?

Assange: Yes. If they need a witness I would be happy if they would come here and ask me their questions.

SPIEGEL: What issues could you talk about with members of the of inquiry committee?

Assange: We have documents about US surveillance of top German
politicians including the chancellor and the foreign minister. We can't
reveal our sources but we can state the reasons we believe the documents
are authentic and assist with interpretation.

SPIEGEL: You only published the list with the last four digits on
the numbers redacted. Would you provide the German MPs with the full
numbers?

Assange: Yes. Legally, that table we have published with the 125
phone numbers of politicians and officials is great. The German federal
prosecutor dropped his investigation because he claimed not to have
found evidence of actual surveillance that would stand up in court. We
also published memos written on the basis of intercepts of Merkel and a
number of others, precisely to provide this evidence.

SPIEGEL: Who put the German politicians on the list?

Assange: James Clapper, the director of national intelligence,
formally approved the policy to target the German government. There were
three areas that were targeted in the material we have published so
far: German political affairs, Eurpoean policies and economic affairs.
That is explicitly listed in the table. None of the 125 number we
released is listed as being targeted for "terrorism" or military
affairs. The US is in the business of managing an extended empire. The
ability to prevent Merkel from constructing a BRICS bailout fund for the
euro zone by intercepting the idea at an early stage is an example.

SPIEGEL: Erich Mielke, the infamous head of East Germany's Stasi secret
police, liked to say, "We have to know everything." The US spies, for
their part, appeared to focus on specific areas.

Assange: The intercepts that we published were from the Global
Signals Intelligence Highlights (Executive Edition). That's the
executive version; it's not the lower-level boring stuff. It's the
Academy Awards. When something is said that is in some way
"interesting," it starts passing up through the intelligence food chain.
If it is very "interesting," it gets into the Global SIGINT Highlights.
When it is so "interesting" that it helps a Hillary Clinton, Barack
Obama, the head of the DNI, the head of the Department of Commerce or
Trade make a decision, then it gets into the executive version.

SPIEGEL: So you think you can learn something about the political priorities of the US government?

Assange: Yes, you can observe real policies -- that the United
States government was very interested in the idea that Germany would
propose a greater role for China in the International Monetary Fund, for
example. An executive decision can be taken: Kill that idea of Merkel's
before it learns to crawl, because the US sees China helping Europe as a
threat to its dominance.

SPIEGEL: Well, we've talked about politicians. And about secret
services. We didn't talk about the big private corporations. You met
Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google. Do you think he is a dangerous man?

Assange: If you ask "Does Google collect more information than
the National Security Agency?" the answer is "no," because NSA also
collects information from Google. The same applies to Facebook and other
Silicon Valley-based companies. They still collect a lot of information
and they are using a new economic model which academics call
"surveillance capitalism." General information about individuals is
worth little, but when you group together a billion individuals, it
becomes strategic like an oil or gas pipeline.

SPIEGEL: Secret services are perceived as potential criminals but the
big IT corporations are perceived at least in an ambiguous way. Apple
produces beautiful computers. Google is a useful search engine.

Assange: Until the 1980s, computers were big machines designed
for the military or scientists, but then the personal computers were
developed and companies had to start rebranding them as machines that
were helpful for individual human beings. Organizations like Google,
whose business model is "voluntary" mass surveillance, appear to be
giving it away for free. Free e-mail, free search, etc. Therefore it
seems that they're not a corporation, because corporations don't do
things for free. It falsely seems like they are part of civil society.

SPIEGEL: And they shape the thinking of billions of users?

Assange: They are also exporting a specific mindset of culture.
You can use the old term of "cultural imperialism" or call it the
"Disneylandization" of the Internet. Maybe "digital colonization" is the
best terminology.

SPIEGEL: What does this "colonization" look like?

Assange: These corporations establish new societal rules about
what activities are permitted and what information can be transmitted.
Right down to how much nipple you can show. Down to really basic
matters, which are normally a function of public debate and parliaments
making laws. Once something becomes sufficiently controversial, it's
banned by these organizations. Or, even if it is not so controversial,
but it affects the interests that they're close to, then it's banned or
partially banned or just not promoted.

SPIEGEL: So in the long run, cultural diversity is endangered?

Assange: The long-term effect is a tendency towards conformity,
because controversy is eliminated. An American mindset is being fostered
and spread to the rest of the world because they find this mindset to
be uncontroversial among themselves. That is literally a type of digital
colonialism; non-US cultures are being colonized by a mindset of what
is tolerable to the staff and investors of a few Silicon Valley
companies. The cultural standard of what is a taboo and what is not
becomes a US standard, where US exceptionalism is uncontroversial.

SPIEGEL: Cultural politics is not the core business of WikiLeaks. Which issues will you focus on in the future?

Assange: Over the last two years, we already have become
specialists for the three extremely important trade agreements, the
Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Trade in
Services Agreement (TISA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TP).
WikiLeaks has become the place to go to leak parts of these agreements
that are now under negotiation. These agreements are a package that the
US is using to reposition itself in the world against China by
constructing a new grand enclosure. We are seeing something that would
result in a tighter economic and legal integration with the United
States, which draws Western Europe's center of gravity away from Eurasia
and towards the United States, when the greatest chance for long-term
peace in Eurasia is its economic intergration.

SPIEGEL: If you look at yourself, you have paid a high price for
what you did. And you're still paying; you have been sitting here in
this embassy for more than three years now and you have lost your
freedom of movement. Did these experiences change your attitude, your
political points of view or your readiness to act politically?

Assange: It is said that you get less radical as you get older. I just have turned 44 now, but I feel I have not become less radical.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Assange, we thank you for this interview.
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