Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks.
In part two of our exclusive interview, Amy Goodman goes inside Ecuador’s Embassy in London to speak with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Assange has been living in the embassy for more than two years under political asylum. He faces investigations in both Sweden and the United States, where 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. Assange responds to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent comments that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden should return home to face trial. "It’s the advice of all our lawyers that he should not return to the United States. He’d be extremely foolish to do so," Assange says. "It’s not possible to have a fair trial, because the U.S. government has a precedent of applying state secret privilege to prevent the defense from using material that is classified in their favor."
Click here to watch part one of this interview.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the second part of our Democracy Now! TV/radio broadcast exclusive. We went inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London last weekend to interview WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange. He has just entered his third year inside the embassy, 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. Let’s go to that interview.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where Julian Assange has actually lived for more than two years. He has political asylum in Ecuador but can’t make it there because he is concerned if he steps outside to get on a plane to Ecuador, the British government will arrest him and extradite him to Sweden. And he’s concerned, in Sweden, he would be extradited to the United States to face charges around his organization, WikiLeaks, which he publishes.
So, Julian, I’d like you to respond to Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, could be running for president, her comments on Edward Snowden. She was interviewed by The Guardian, which first released the revelations based on the documents of Edward Snowden. And if you could just hit the first comment.
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I would say, first of all, that Edward Snowden broke our laws, and that cannot be ignored or brushed aside.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, that first point of Hillary Clinton’s?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, it’s always interesting when someone proclaims to be a master of what is within the law and what is not within the law. We’ve seen a lot with Pentagon generals and other State Department figures, including Hillary. We’ve seen it in this case with General Alexander, talking about what is the law and what is not the law.
AMY GOODMAN: The former head of the NSA.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes. But, actually, in the end, in the United States, it’s the Supreme Court that determines what the law is and what the law isn’t. And part of what goes into the Supreme Court is the U.S. Constitution and its First Amendment obligations. So, whether the Espionage Act is constitutional is a very interesting question and has not been properly tested before. In fact, the U.S. government has been quite careful to not go to a proper appeal in relation to a conviction under the Espionage Act, in order to keep the threat there and not find that it is unconstitutional in court. So, I think there is actually a question even as to whether Edward Snowden, through his activities, broke the law. But then you can even go, OK, well, if he did, was it in fact the correct thing to do? Maybe the law is out of date. Maybe the law is wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Hillary Clinton’s next point.
HILLARY CLINTON: Secondly, I believe that if his primary concern was stirring a debate in our country over the tension between privacy and security, there were other ways of doing it, instead of stealing an enormous amount of information that had nothing to do with the U.S. or American citizens.
JULIAN ASSANGE: As a journalist, I have been working at various times in documenting what the National Security Agency has been doing in its burgeoning mass surveillance practice for more than 20 years. And other journalists, some of them very fine, have also been trying to expose the National Security Agency. And other whistleblowers have come forward—so, Thomas Drake, William Binney, both from the National Security Agency, for example. But what was the problem? While we could point to, based on a sophisticated analysis of what the National Security Agency is doing—say, look at this piece here, look at this little bit of congressional testimony, look at the subpoena record, look at the technology that they are buying from this company, look at the number of employees, look at the DOD budget as a whole—when you add everything else up, you can work out the National Security Agency’s budget. That’s a very complex picture, and that’s not a picture that can generate political reform and debate. And what Edward Snowden did was, by bringing out classified documents, that were official documents, that were even some of them just last year, he was able to show, even to people that didn’t understand, the complexity of what was actually going on. So, we have proof. People did try to start a debate, using all sorts of methods, including former National Security Agency whistleblowers, and it’s only primary source documents in volume that are probably capable of starting a debate about a complex issue like mass surveillance.
AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton again.
HILLARY CLINTON: I would say, thirdly, that there are many people in our history who have raised serious questions about government behavior. They’ve done it either with or without whistleblower protection, and they have stood and faced whatever the reaction was to make their case in public.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, Hillary Clinton is alluding to, without mentioning the name of Daniel Ellsberg, the famous Pentagon Papers whistleblower from the 1970s. There’s a reason she doesn’t mention his name, because Daniel Ellsberg has come forward again and again this year and said that, in fact, he couldn’t do what he did in the 1970s today, that the situation has changed, as far as the courts—the use of the state secrets privilege, how things have been sewn up holding all national security cases in Alexandria, Virginia—there’s not a neutral jury pool—that he couldn’t do that. And the reality is, that’s the case for all national security whistleblowers who have classified documents. You can’t fight a normal case, as we would think about it in the public. You’re swept into a very aggressive system that is set against you from the first instance.
AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton again.
HILLARY CLINTON: Mr. Snowden took all this material. He fled to Hong Kong. He spent time with the Russians in their consulate. Then he went to Moscow seeking the protection of Vladimir Putin, which is at the height of ironies, given the surveillance state that Russia is. If he wishes to return home, knowing that he would be held accountable, but also be able to present a defense, that is his decision to make. But I know that our intelligence forces are doing what they can to understand exactly what was taken.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Hillary Clinton. Julian Assange?
JULIAN ASSANGE: This is sadly typical of Hillary Clinton. We have facts about this matter. Not even the National Security Agency accuses him of working with the Russians. In fact, the National Security Agency, formally, in its investigation, has said that they don’t think that he was working with the Russians, at least not before he left the agency. And Hillary Clinton, however, tries to reshape the chronology in order to smear Edward Snowden with being a Russian spy. The actual chronology is that Edward Snowden went to Hong Kong. He then saw that the situation was very difficult, reached out for us to help, and we were intimately involved from that point on. So I know precisely, myself, and our staff know, what happened. We submitted 20 asylum applications on behalf of Edward Snowden to a range of different countries, Latin America. It was Ed Snowden’s intent to go to Latin America—Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador was also looking favorable, and Bolivia offered him asylum. En route to Latin America, the U.S. State Department canceled his passport, leaving him marooned in Russia, unable to catch his next flight, which had already been booked from the very beginning. His whole path had been booked while he was in Hong Kong.
AMY GOODMAN: But she does say he went to the Russian Embassy in Hong Kong.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Hillary says that he went to the Russian Consulate in Hong Kong. I don’t know about that, but I’m sure that perhaps he was looking for all different kinds of asylum options, and that would have made perfect sense for anyone to do that in such a severe situation. It is not a matter of irony that Edward Snowden was marooned by the U.S. State Department in Russia. Asylum is a serious business. It is something of a concern that the countries in western Europe, for example, that he asked for asylum—France, Germany, Spain—did not in fact come to the table. They were too scared about their geopolitical relationships. It’s something of a concern that Edward Snowden, as an American citizen, felt that he could not speak freely in the United States. And he is right. It’s the advice of all our lawyers that he should not return to the United States. He’d be extremely foolish to do so.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Hillary Clinton, who now goes on to talk about the debate in the United States.
HILLARY CLINTON: The debate about how to better balance security and liberty was already going on before he fled. The president had already given a speech. Members of the Senate were already talking about it. So I don’t give him credit for the debate. I think he may have raised the visibility of the debate, but the debate had already begun.
JULIAN ASSANGE: A lot of people in the civil liberties community in the United States, in the privacy community in the rest of the world, and specialists, national security journalists like myself, had been following what the National Security Agency has been doing for a long time. We have been trying very hard to erect a debate. And there, yes, there were small debates, that really didn’t proceed anywhere. The lawsuits filed by the EFF and ACLU to try and get somewhere went nowhere, because they didn’t have the evidence. And what Edward Snowden revealed was documentary evidence, and it was that primary source evidence that has led to this debate. Everyone knows the difference—most people can’t even remember hearing about the National Security Agency prior to last year. Now everyone knows about it. And that is almost entirely as a result of these disclosures.
AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton makes other critical points.
HILLARY CLINTON: I don’t know what he’s been charged with; those are sealed indictments. I have no idea what he’s been charged with. I’m not sure he knows what he’s been charged with. But even in any case that I’m aware of, as a former lawyer, he has the right to mount a defense. And he certainly has the right to mount both a legal defense and a public defense, which of course can affect the legal defense.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, your response?
JULIAN ASSANGE: As Daniel Ellsberg, the famous Pentagon Papers whistleblower, has said, it is not possible for a national security whistleblower now in the United States to have a fair trial. It’s not possible to have a fair trial because all the trials are held in Alexandria, Virginia, where the jury pool is comprised of the highest density of military and government employees in all of the United States. It’s not possible to have a fair trial, because the U.S. government has a precedent of applying state secret privilege to prevent the defense from using material that is classified in their favor. It’s not possible to have a fair trial, because as a defendant in a national security case, you are held under special administrative measures, which makes it very hard to look at any of the material in your case, to meet with your lawyers, to speak to people, etc. So, this is—it’s just simply not a fair system. And even if you do eventually win by the time you get up to the Supreme Court, you spend seven years or something in a very serious condition trying to defend yourself, instead of what has happened with Edward Snowden. As a result of him having asylum, we can talk about the issues, not talking about whether Snowden is guilty or not, and Edward Snowden himself can tell the world, "Well, look, this is what actually happened. This is what is going on."
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to what Hillary Clinton has to say.
HILLARY CLINTON: But the other issue that has never been satisfactorily answered to me is, if his main concern was what was happening inside the United States, then why did he take so much about what was happening with Russia, with China, with Iran, with al-Qaeda?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Hillary Clinton in her Guardian interview. This last point that she addresses, Julian Assange?
JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s no surprise to me that Hillary Clinton thinks that human beings that are not formally U.S. citizens don’t have any rights. But not everyone thinks like that. Other people in other countries have rights. Now, if we look at the practicalities of Edward Snowden acquiring documents while he was a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton working for the National Security Agency and, prior to that, a contractor for Dell, the National Security Agency runs a mass surveillance program, a strategic surveillance program. The same technology, the same protocols are used to surveil people inside the United States, people outside the United States, etc. So if you’re trying to collect information to expose mass surveillance, then, by its very nature, you’re going to expose National Security Agency practices all over the world, because it’s the same process that occurs, whether you’re in England or whether you’re in Germany or whether you’re in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Julian Assange responding to The Guardian's interview with Hillary Clinton. It was The Guardian's Phoebe Greenwood who questioned the former secretary of state. You can see her full interview at TheGuardian.com. Back to my conversation with Julian Assange in a minute.
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