WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief.
A Royal Navy whistleblower who exposed security problems at Britain’s Trident nuclear base in Scotland was arrested earlier this month after about a week on the run. In an 18-page report published by WikiLeaks, Able Seaman William McNeilly wrote: "We are so close to a nuclear disaster it is shocking, and yet everybody is accepting the risk to the public." McNeilly describes a fire on board a submarine, the use of a missile compartment as a gym, an alleged cover-up of a submarine collision and lax security which makes it "harder to get into most nightclubs" than into restricted areas of the nuclear base. In our exclusive interview from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, we speak to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about McNeilly and his leaks.
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.
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.
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.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, in a nuclear submarine next to a nuclear missile, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain some of the things that he has documented here, that WikiLeaks put out.
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—
AMY GOODMAN: He said rarely was his ID checked.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Almost never.
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.
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?
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—
AMY GOODMAN: He’s an Irish seaman, right? Irish?
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.
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—
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —in a room where he wasn’t even supposed to have a personal device.
JULIAN ASSANGE: And gives quotes from it in the material that we released, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: So this is a tremendous embarrassment, to say the least, to the British military.
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.
AMY GOODMAN: Has a deal been made between journalists and—or is there a kind of actual official ban?
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.
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.