File photograph of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gesturing from the balcony of Ecuador’s Embassy in central London. | Photo: Reuters
In an exclusive interview with teleSUR, Julian Assange talks about why he chose Ecuador for asylum and the ongoing U.S. investigation into WikiLeaks. Swedish authorities announced Friday their willingness to finally interview WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief Julian Assange, but a secret U.S. investigation has trapped the insurgent publisher without charge in Ecuador’s London embassy. Monday, March 16 will mark 1,000 days since Assange sought asylum there. In an exclusive interview with teleSUR English, Assange said there is growing recognition that the situation is unjust. Assange spoke with teleSUR editor Chis Spannos.
Chris Spannos (CS): Why did you choose to seek asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy?
Julian Assange (JA): That is an interesting story. When we started our major cable publications in 2011 for Latin America, the Ecuadorean government, unlike any other government, asked us to increase the speed of our publications and to publish more material about Ecuador and not less. That was a very interesting and unexpected sign and the Deputy Foreign Minister came out at that time and said that Ecuador should offer me asylum in Ecuador. There had been some internal debate and things had moved on a bit, but that sort of opened up me looking at Ecuador in a particular way. The government had shown a history of fairly robust principled engagement, for example the removal of the U.S. base in 2008 at Manta. Ecuador was not on its own, it was in the broader Latin American context ALBA (The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), so that if Ecuador took that brave and principled decision it would have support. The President of Tunisia had also offered me asylum. In Tunisia, we were involved in the early days of the revolution there and the Tunisian people are strong supporters of WikiLeaks. But I felt that Tunisia, because of the regional matrix that it is embedded in, would not have back up from the Saudi’s and would not have back up from Qatar. It would not have back up from the surrounding countries. Where as Ecuador would have back up and support from surrounding countries. The other important factor is that Ecuador is a proper democracy. So maybe China could have been an option. But China is not a proper democracy. That might create some difficulties in living that might create some public relations difficulties; such as does WikiLeaks really support democracy and freedom of the press? Also, Ecuador is a highlight of nature and mountain climbing and fishing. Ecuador is a good country for that as well. These were the primary judgments. A little bit later on I came to see that Ecuador is politically interesting. Yes, it has its fair share of problems but it is moving really rapidly to try and address those problems in a lot of really interesting and creative ways. Not all of them successfully but others very successfully; in that sense, a more intellectually interesting country than Venezuela, which was another option.
CS: On the topic of your asylum, tell me about the larger context of the U.S. investigation into WikiLeaks?
JA: Well I had already had a number of run-ins and legal cases with big banks and the U.S. government before. Our publications beginning 2010 set off a major conflict with the U.S. government. As a result, the U.S. started up what it calls a whole government investigation, involving more than a dozen different U.S. agencies that is believed to be the largest ever investigation into a publisher. As the investigation has gone by, the competition between the different agencies over who is leading it has clarified. Now leading it is the Department of Justice National Security Division, the Department of Justice Criminal Division and the FBI as the sort of boots on the ground. A lot of information has come out over time about the U.S. formally admitting court filings in February, just over a week ago, that is a multi-subject, ongoing, long-term, investigation and other findings saying that WikiLeaks is the central target of that investigation, not Chelsea Manning, who has already been dealt with. This is not an investigation that is simply confined to the United States. The different agencies involved include the National Security Agency, the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The CIA and DIA, that is publicly admitted. The NSA, that is in the Snowden documents and also other records that came out from the Pentagon. According to Snowden records I was placed on an NSA manhunt list in 2010. But we know that the U.S. military intelligence was spying on me from 2009 onwards in Germany. The FBI has conducted its activities in Europe, in Iceland and Denmark; the U.S. military intelligence in Germany; and the FBI also in the UK; and U.S. and-or Swedish intelligence in Sweden. As time has gone by we have gone from a position of defense in these cases to offense. Which I have been able to do really to the thanks of the asylum of the embassy, since it is a static situation now [inside the Ecuadorean embassy] we can plan a bit more. We have filed criminal cases now against the U.S. intelligence activities in Germany where U.S. military intelligence came off their bases in Wiesbaden and went down to Berlin to spy on me and one of my friends, Jeremy Zimmerman, who runs a freedom of the press outfit in Paris. The criminal case in Denmark last year, in relation to the unlawful FBI actions against us in Europe. The FBI sent a secret private jet over to Iceland where they had recruited an informant for the U.S. embassy in Iceland. The Icelandic government found out about it, that they did it without authority, and told [the U.S.] to get out. They [the U.S.], then smuggled the informant around a number of different hotels around Iceland interrogating him. Eventually they were kicked out of the country by the interior minister. They then took that informant, who was being paid, to Washington DC, and interrogated him for another five days and engaged in various plans to try and get that informant to steal hard drives from England, and engaged in cash transfers and other interrogations with him — he did at least two — so that is the subject of another criminal complaint in Demark in relation to the FBI in Denmark, and the illicit cash payments that occurred to that informant. So that is most aspects of the criminal case in the United States. Something important came out early this year in relation to Google. The U.S. government subpoenas all information that Google had — email, search terms, etc. — from three of our journalists: Sarah Harrison, Kristinn Hrafnsson and Joseph Farrell. These subpoenas were important. Not only did they place Google under gag orders, but the subpoenas revealed a sort of legal attack that the U.S. government is making on media and on WikiLeaks. So their defense is that they are investigating — which add up to 45 years in prison — espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, computer hacking, general conspiracy, theft of U.S. government information. These charges are very interesting because they are sort of like crossing the spectrum of different charge types. They are trying many, many different ways to attack the organization and me using conspiracy on the one hand but also non-espionage charges that make it easier to extradite people, and you can see a little bit like that, that just happened in a case in Canada where they extradited someone for a non-conspiracy related charge successfully even though he claimed asylum in relation to his espionage investigation. The two conspiracy charges are detail. But lets put this back into the global context about what is going on. WikiLeaks does not publish in the United States. WikiLeaks is not registered in the United States. WikiLeaks is a publisher in a variety of jurisdictions: Iceland, France, at one time Sweden. So how is it that the United States is claiming jurisdiction to prosecute us for these offenses. What the U.S. is claiming is that any information about the United States gives it jurisdiction and if we publish information that came from the U.S. government, therefore it has jurisdiction to prosecute publishers that exist outside the United States, because of their connection. Now, the way journalists and publishers work is that some journalists get something from a source and then communicate it to other journalists in the organization; the editors and subeditors, the publisher, the distributor, the tech guys, and so on. What the U.S. government is saying is that this flow of information, that occurred within WikiLeaks as a media organization, is a conspiracy. So they have worked out a way to embroil an entire media organization in the U.S. jurisdiction based on any information coming in through one journalist working for that media organization. So it is a territorial grab by the United States to say that they can go after any media organization anywhere in the world that publishes information that they say is classified; not even classified actually… That they say has been derived from someone in the United States — a government worker doing something that they should not have — that is enough. If they allege one crime in the United States, some government worker that cannot handle classified information properly, or something else, and that circulates to others in a media organization that use that to go after the whole media organization. So it is really quite a serious threat to global media scrutiny of U.S. wars and U.S. spying.
CS: So in this larger context, what does the Swedish investigation represent?
JA: The U.S. investigation was already on foot. Without wanting to go into the details of the Swedish investigation, which are well documented on justice4assange.com, the Swedes started their investigation and then dropped it, and then started it again, and then in the context of us just about to publish Cabelgate, put out an Interpol red notice for this preliminary investigation with no charges and kept it going ever since. The women in the case say to the courts that they did not want any such investigation. But the government took this up anyway. So it is quite a strange case and is being used as a PR stick and it has trapped me here in the UK. So whenever we talk about what is going on in the U.S. case and how serious that is, the PR attack says “oh no, no, no. That is about some Swedish sex case.” That has been a tremendous distraction. Formally the Swedes say that it is a quote “preliminary investigation” un-quote. I have not been charged and there has been nothing done in that preliminary investigation for four years and the Swedish authorities admit it. Now it seems likely that the preliminary investigation will dissipate within the next year. But the UK has said that even if that happens they are going to arrest me anyway and you also have the U.S. case.
CS: Is there anything you want to say or add about your 1000 days of asylum generally?
JA: It has been a difficult 1000 days. Not so much for me but for my family. For me, I have plenty of things to concentrate on that are not in the embassy. I have an organization to run. We have a dozen different court actions across the world. As time has gone by the legal and political situation has clarified, such that it has become an obvious and conspicuous injustice. That view is now the dominant view in Sweden, the United Kingdom and many other countries always had that view but these two countries are involved in a concrete way. The United States is a bit harder. Although there has been very hostile rhetoric in the United States — calling for my assassination, calling for WikiLeaks to be listed as a terrorist organization, calling for bills presented before congress to define me and all my staff as enemy combatants who can be killed and kidnapped at will — the U.S. is a large enough country that we do have a fair run in a number of U.S. media outlets; some of the small ones nearly all the time. But even the largest, even Fox News, occasionally. So we have a spectrum of support in the United States not always able to express itself, but sometimes it is and I think that is quite a hopeful sign when you consider the amount of demonization that has occurred from the national security state in the U.S. Here in the United Kingdom, as a result of my case, they changed the law last year to say that there should be no more extradition without charge. That only deals with one charge because we still have the U.S. case to deal with. But there is a growing realization that what is happening here is really unjust. You cannot have someone detained in Europe without charge for four-and-a half years. Everyone can see that there is something wrong with that.