Regardless of your personal views about Wikileaks exposing secret U.S. documents, you will find this exclusive interview by Russia Today of Juliane Assange fascinating. He also weighs in on Google, Facebook, the Guardian, the New York Times, and media in general.
Here is a transcript of the interview [added by Allen May 8, 2011]:
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange talked exclusively to RT from Norfolk in the UK.
He presented his outlook on the political situation in Libya, explained how global social networks became tools for intelligence services and talked about his own possible extradition to the United States.
Julian Assange told RT that he considered human ignorance his worst enemy and also explained who is to blame for distorting true information around the globe.
Shotlist Q.: Because of your work, you have some insight into the way that political decisions are made throughout the world. What’s your view on what’s going on in the Middle East and North Africa at the moment? Do you think that we are witnessing genuine social unrest or do you think there is something else behind it?
1. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: There is genuine change in some parts of the Middle East. I mean Egypt is a clear case. I was concerned at the beginning over what the Egyptian revolution has to win: whether what we saw was just a changing of the chairs and the maintenance of the same existing power structure or whether something different was really happening. But after Mubarak fled Cairo, you saw mini-revolutions occurring in every institution within Egypt, from Alexandria to Cairo. So, that’s the sort of change that’s hard to undo.
2. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: Now, what’s happening in some other countries is a bit different. The situation in Libya clearly has an involvement of state actors in it from many different areas. That’s something that has been driven by state actors. Now, it is normal for neighboring countries to have interconnections with each other: the activists in different countries, families in different countries, businesses in different countries, and the states from neighboring countries. That’s normal. When outside forces from very, very far-flung countries start to take an aggressive role in a regional affair, then we have to look a bit more and say that what is going on is not normal. So, what’s happening in Libya, for example, is not normal.
Q: Facebook and Twitter have been instrumental in the trouble that we’ve seen in the Middle East in propagating information, spreading information about where to gather and that kind of thing. Do you think there’s any way in which they can be manipulated?
3. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: Facebook in particular is the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented. Here we have the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations and the communications with each other, their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US intelligence. Facebook, Google, Yahoo – all these major US organizations have built-in interfaces for US intelligence. It’s not a matter of serving a subpoena. They have an interface that they have developed for US intelligence to use. Now, is it the case that Facebook is actually run by US intelligence? No, it’s not like that. It’s simply that US intelligence is able to bring to bear legal and political pressure to them. And it’s costly for them to hand out records one by one, so they have automated the process. Everyone should understand that, that when they add their friends to Facebook, they are doing free work for United States intelligence agencies in building this database for them.
Q.: The latest WikiLeaks cables that have been released show the UK as a haven for extremism, with at least 35 Guantanamo detainees having at least passed through the UK. Is the UK still a haven for terrorists?
4. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: You know it’s still been a haven for terrorists, and it is certainly a haven for oligarchs and former regime dictators that have come here. I mean, remember the famous Pinochet trial for the extradition of Pinochet from the UK, which Thatcher resisted – incredibly, using a lawyer that is involved in trying to extradite me from the United Kingdom. Now, part of that is, perhaps, good. It’s an example of true liberalism in the United Kingdom: everyone come here, and we’ll protect you. On the other hand, there does seem to be a disconnect. Is it really supporting free-speech activists like me who come to the UK? But, on the other hand, it is supporting people like sons of Gaddafi.
Q.: The Guantanamo information-why has WikiLeaks released it now? It seems sort of to be after the fact. Is it because Obama has recently announced his re-election campaign and obviously closing Guantanamo was one of his main election promises?
5. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: There is a number of reasons why we released it now. The primary one is that we are a small organization, a very committed one. Last year we came under an extraordinary attack. All these things continue to go on. And so they’ve really dampened down our ability to move quickly and publish quickly.
6. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: The timing is good. Obama has given up on closing Guantanamo and has decided to re-open the trial process. And we now have a situation where even the Obama administration says that 48 of these people still in Guantanamo are completely innocent and they should be sent somewhere, and they are not being sent anywhere. So, completely innocent people are incarcerated for years and years and years with no trial and no hope of relief.
7. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: No country will agree to house them, including the United States. But the United States has made them its problem. The United States was involved in rounding up these innocent people, setting up a process that was from the very beginning corrupt. There is a reason why they are in Guantanamo, and not on US mainland, and not in an allied country. That reason was to hide them and keep them outside of the law. Just like you have Caribbean islands engaged in money-laundering, the United States was engaged in people-laundering.
[Q] You mentioned earlier your media partners, one of which is The Guardian, with whom you’re now involved in a dispute. You chose them as your primary English-language partner for distributing the WikiLeaks cables. But they appear to have drastically edited those cables, particularly in relation to how British gas companies operate abroad. And now Guardian journalists have published this book on WikiLeaks, which you say is an attack on you. How would you describe, following that, Guardian’s stance on whistle-blowing and media freedom in general?
8. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: They are a publishing organization, and so of course they want as much right for them to publish as possible, that’s a natural self-interest. What they have done with this cable-cooking in this incredible over-redaction of cables….
….they have pushed the right of the people to know to the very, very edge.
And what they’re concerned about is any possible attack on them.
9. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: But we have seen this sort of abuse of the material that we have provided several times. The Guardian is the worst offender, but we saw it also by The New York Times. The New York Times redacted a 62-page cable down to two paragraphs. And this is completely against the agreement that we originally set up with them on November 1, 2010.
That agreement was the only redactions that should take place are to protect people’s lives. There should be no other redaction, not to protect reputation, not to protect the Guardian’s profits, but only to protect lives.
10. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: What happens in the West is that there is no border between state interest and commercial interest. The edges of the state, as a result of privatization, are fuzzed and blurred out into the edges of companies. When you look at how The Guardian behaves, or how The New York Times behaves, it is part of that mesh of corporate and state interests seamlessly blurred into each other. The Guardian is concerned predominantly about being criticized by these powerful interests, about lawsuits against it driven by oligarchs, driven by people powerful enough to push a court case forward.
Q.: You are currently fighting extradition to Sweden. What are your fears should you be extradited there?
11. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: The problem is in two parts. The United States is trying to get up an extradition case for me to the United States. Just today we see a new subpoena coming out of the secret grand jury that is operating in Alexandria, Virginia, and it’s trying to get up that espionage case against us. It is building that case, and whatever country I am in, once it decides to indict, they will try to extradite me from that country, and possibly not just me, possibly our other staff.
The other problem with the Swedish extradition is that the process itself has been corrupted. It was corrupted from the very beginning. Within 12 hours of the original charges being filed, they were reviewed by a senior prosecutor in Sweden and the allegations were dropped as representing no kind of crime. And a Swedish politician by the name of Claes Borgstrom then picked them up and went to a different prosecutor all the way out of Stockholm in Gothenburg, and pushed it back up again. And we’ve seen corruption in Swedish media, we’ve seen all sorts of strange actions in relation to how this case progressed.”
Q.: What message do you think you would send to the world, if the UK did turn around, almost unexpectedly at this point it seems, and refuse to extradite you?
12. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: It depends on to which country. Here is the kind of calculation that’s going on in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom – at the various levels – wants to keep its good relationships with the United States. So, if the UK was to reject the US extradition order, that would pose terrible problems for it. Similarly, if it was to reject the Swedish extradition order, that would pose problems for it, because it would look like it was seeking to harbor me. And this is the sort of a difficult situation that Afghanistan faced, where it appeared as if it was harboring Bin Laden, and as a result there was an aggressive response. Any country which appears to be harboring us, as the United States is trying to conduct its aggressive response, faces political pressures.
Q.: Who do you consider to be your number one enemy?
13. SOUNDBITE Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, speaking English: Our number one enemy is ignorance. And I believe that is the number one enemy for everyone; it’s not understanding what actually is going on in the world. It’s only when you start to understand that you can make effective decisions and effective plans. Now, the question is, who is promoting ignorance? Well, those organizations that try to keep things secret, and those organizations which distort true information to make it false or misrepresentative. In this latter category, it is bad media.
It really is my opinion that media in general are so bad that we have to question whether the world wouldn’t be better off without them altogether. There are some very, very fine journalists, and we work with many of them, and some fine media organizations. But the vast majority are awful, and are so distortive to how the world actually is that the result is, we see wars, and we see corrupt governments continue on.
One of the hopeful things that I’ve discovered is that nearly every war that has started in the past 50 years has been a result of media lies. The media could have stopped it if they had searched deep enough, if they hadn’t reprinted government propaganda they could have stopped it. But what does that mean? Well, that means that basically populations don’t like wars, and populations have to be fooled into wars. Populations don’t willingly, with open eyes go into a war. So if we have a good media environment then we also have a peaceful environment.