Transcribed by @m_cetera
(Note – PLEASE READ: This is far from an exact transcript. I was not able to keep up with the conversation completely. That being said, there are sure to be errors and incomplete sentences and lost context. I have added notes in parenthesis to try and make my notes a bit more understandable. Please read this as a general overview of the discussion, rather than an exact transcript. If you were present at the event and notice any errors on my behalf, please message me so I may correct them. And if you have any further questions, please address them to my Twitter account: @m_cetera. Thank you.)
Christopher Hope: What has been the highlight for you this year?
Julian Assange: The highlight is clearly the (North African) revolutions, without a doubt. And the manner in which we have been involved in shaping the path of some.(Sentence lost.) Though I will address this meme that has been going around quite recently. (Context lost.) If we go way back, before Collateral Murder, we raised one million dollars from mums and dads across the world. We had a fairly significant stature within the free speech community.
Hope: What can you take credit for in the past year?
Assange: An Amnesty International report dedicated its first 5 pages to connecting WikiLeaks to the Arab Spring (uprisings), so it looks like (we played) a significant role. Tinder in the Middle East had become dry for a few reasons not to do with us: Increase of education, the role of Al Jazeera–the decision to broadcast images other channels would not. They produced an environment for which our material could work.
Hope: Do you have a favorite leak? One that makes you smile or produced the most influence?
Assange: My… hm… there’s a favorite circumstance I’ve had, and it predates all the recent things.Collateral Murder had the most emotional impact. When it first came to me, it was just another of many things. We didn’t know they were journalists, who was in the wrong or right. Giving it the context made it important. My favorite interaction we had is one that was entirely unknown. It was of the Turks and Caicos Islands. For many years we have been uncensoring material. (Context lost.) Many people are talking about the wrongs of material which is good, but there is a gap. We became under a number of years the publisher of last resorts. We published the full text documents of subpoenas multiple times. 5,000 natives and 30,000 guest workers and immigrants (are living) in Caicos. It was being run by a corrupt government. How it started to come out was a classic best-use case of the internet. A little journal came up (online) and started talking about it and it was anonymous. They were then hounded by overseas property developers and corrupt politicians. They had to flee and move their servers into Mumbai. They then had to flee to Malaysia, then to Japan, and then to the US, all in the course of six months, to continue publishing. A commission of inquiry was set up by the British Commonwealth. The ultimate protection under the constitution of this island. (Sentence lost.) A report that was produced on the corruption was immediately injunctioned. (The report was published with redactions. WikiLeaks got the uncensored report.) We turned the redactions into highlights. This is the interesting bit they try to not have you read. A British warship sailed into the island area. The entire government was suspended.The right to a jury trial was suspended. It was a mixed outcome in ways. The system is in the process of being rebuilt from scratch. But it didn’t end there. You recall the journal was moved to the United States. So the property owners went after them there and tried to shut it down. They noticed it had a Gmail address. The attached the subpoena and went after Google. Google would not help them. Google offered to fly their lawyers in to California (to fight them in court). But that’s the reality. The internet does not give you freedom of speech. If you try and say something, you are hounded from one end of the world to the other. You have to build up a sufficient armor to defeat them.
Hope: What’s driving you?
Assange: Quite easy. I would say that all of us have a certain temperament. Those temperaments lead us in certain directions. I have raised an intellectual world view based on my temperament. Actually, justice and the feeling of whether something is just or unjust creates most of the rights people believe we should have.
Hope: Could these aims be achieved in a less personal way?
Assange: I built an organization that conformed to my values. As the founder you have the luxury of designing an organization that totally conforms to your values. In the beginning I wanted all of us to be anonymous. I wanted to make sure the only people I pulled in had a common cause (as opposed to doing it for personal gain).
Hope: Would WikiLeaks continue if you were imprisoned?
Assange: I’m comfortable they would continue. My staff constantly reminded me that while I was in prison for 10 days, our publishing increased. Our people have been really heavily tested by the attacks we’ve gone under. They have survived all of this, so I have great confidence in their character, their temperament, and their ability. While I was in prison, they were a bit more conservative.
Assange: So, we don’t have limits in that way. We have policy. We have clearly designed policy. We have criteria of things we will not publish and what we will publish. We will publish after putting it through harm immunization review.
Hope: What about if it’s borderline? Or you’re not sure of the significance?
Assange: The super injunctions for example, there are some 200 or so outstanding super injunctions in this country. How many do we actually know about? We’ve put out 5 or 6. There probably is a circumstance where we would use a super injunction. If we did collect information on sources and it was about to be revealed, would we do everything to stop that? Yes.
Assange: We’re an organization that has a goal: justice. So far, we have been operating 4 and a half years, there is no official claim that any person has come to any physical harm with anything we’ve published. We have never censored anything. We have never taken anything down through pressure.We have never got it wrong. We have never published anything where there is a claim that the document is false.
Hope: Here’s a hypothetical situation: You have a document containing South Korea and North Korea conversations. What would you redact?
Assange: The way we’ve done it with Cablegate (passing it to media partners in the respective country). We now have 83 partners. Those people understand who the participants are in the cables. We’re not in the position to because we don’t have the local knowledge.
Hope: Not risk free exercise? (Not entirely sure what this question was.)
Assange: Absolutely not. You have a population of around 80 million (in Egypt). And you have how much risk the Egyptian people are willing to go through to (change) their society? At least 300 people.(Referring to the death toll.) When you are dealing with the fate of nations, you cannot take the principle of ‘do no harm’ and look at it through a microscope. What you have to consider is the total situation. When I lived in Cairo there were around 22,000 political prisoners. To tell you the truth that is something I detest about the UK. There is a certain meet-brow (meat-brow?) squeamishness. It would rather keep a dictatorship, that being risked the blame for little things.
Assange: Our principle is, we, through our best effort, under the constraints of time, economy, etc. We are certainly willing to take flak, take bullets. We are not squeamish. The proof of our fine balancing has been in what has occurred.(Question about the possibility of people knowing harm was caused, but keeping it secret to prevent further damage.)
Assange: There are no official allegations in the public domain. (He mentioned something along the lines of, as far as he was concerned, keeping it private just means there is not enough evidence to back it up.)
Hope: You could’ve continued in a sense. Thinking behind about arrangements with other media partners? (Another question that I am uncertain of.)
Assange: From the very beginning we have been working with the media. Once again this is a myth that people like to erect for their own causes. In this country, it was a journalist at the Guardian wanting to take credit for (the leaks, that ruined the relationship with us). UK has (a problem with) pathological credit stealing.
Assange: Why did we do it? Why did we do it in the very beginning? Back in 2007 we changed the Kenyan election by 10%. We promise we’ll work our legs off in order to make the maximum possible impact for the risks (whistleblowers) take. We work hard to give them a result. If we can get a bigger result with bigger media partners (we will go to them) to get the biggest possible bang for the effort those REAL courageous people who got the material (put forward).
(Question about ‘dumping’ Iraq and Afghanistan cables)
Assange: Garbage is what is dumped, not the history of a nation.
Assange: I’m very proud of the work we did for the Iraq War. I commissioned two documentaries. We did all the statistics. That was a very good coalition that was formed. We had an automated redaction program formed. Yes, we published them all the same day. Certain properties: total death count. 108 thousand deaths were described record by record. 15 thousand deaths never even mentioned. (These properties are why it was released as a whole, instead of gradually like the diplomatic cables.)
Hope: It seems like you fell out with the Guardian and New York Times due to issues with the control of information.
Assange: We (currently) have 83 media partners. The New York Times and Guardian conspired together to break a written contract. They would’ve destroyed us as an organization. They wanted to prevent the Washington Post and McClatchy from (getting) the information. They wanted to get in there first, get the journalistic scoop, and NOT get the maximum possible impact.
Assange: We pulled together a good coalition that had the chance of resetting the Guantanamo situation. We pulled together 9 media partners. (We had a) big investigative team, including Andy Worthington. Moving towards a position where we would come out in deep detailed stories.
Hope: It was about who does what, when.
Assange: There’s an internal tension. There’s two variables we’re trying to optimize. One, publish as soon as possible. Two, publish with as much impact as possible. So we want the maximum possible impact. That’s why our sources give us material. They didn’t give the Guardian the material. They didn’t give New York Times the material. (The Guardian and New York Times) conspired together to violate a written contract. They’re a pack of back-stabbing bastards. We don’t have the right to force them to stop publishing. We are pleased the information is out, but we are displeased that it came out in such away that reduced the possible impact.
Assange: We were pleased, yes at least we have two more people publishing. But I think it did reduce the total impact because we did not have as many detailed investigations. The significant chance to reform Guantanamo was lost.(At this time, it went to audience questions.)
Question: When is your book due to be published?
Assange: When it’s ready.
Question: Julian, you said that you built an organization that conforms to values, except for values put on restriction by the market. What about (restriction by) laws?
Assange: The law is something else. Similarly, we have generals claiming there are no war crimes. The law says something else. We have people claiming I have conspired to commit espionage, but the First Amendment says otherwise. As an organization we have never lost a court case. And we have had hundreds of legal threats. Then if that is your reading of the law, we are on the same side of the law.There are lower laws and higher laws. The First Amendment is a very high law. On the way down through the system they are lost. They are lost as a result of politics. We know the law in one country is something we could not possibly agree with. We can go back in time and say the same thing. When practice changes and political and economic weight produce law is recodified. Laws are simply not enforced. The practices change, and they are just not enforced. (Law is not something created by God, itis man-made.) Law has all the abuses a man has. And it has all the high points man has also.
Hope: Is WikiLeaks above the law?
Assange: Of course not. All our people are in some state. So we all have to suffer with abuses of the law.But, let’s look clearly at what the First Amendment of the US says. It says congress shall make no law interfering with rights of freedom of speech and press. Not that it shall make a law to protect it. That is amendment that takes our… (Sentence lost) What creates the law? It is the communication we have. If we have the law regulated, our human-political communication (Sentence lost) (Context lost) A system that is trying to self-regulate.
Hope: Are there certain things that cannot be made public?
Assange: I believe that there is no information (that shouldn’t be made public), which is given high ways of minimizing public harm. I cannot see a case for that. I cannot see why a month ago the CIA refused to release the Bay of Pigs documents. I cannot see why the CIA has documents going back to 1910.
Question: Your comments about the UK are interesting. Are there any governments for which you have positive feelings?
Assange: All governments by definition have to control with force. (Going by the literal definition of government.) That is a system (that) by its nature is corruption. Fresh revolutionary governments have the inertia of the revolution, that idealism. I have seen two interesting things recently, one in Ecuador,one in Jamaica. The Ecuadorian government came to us and said, not, ‘Don’t release these cables,’ not,’Give us special copies,’ but rather, ‘Release everything about Ecuador to the public.’ We said interesting, quite interesting. But we are not willing to give the Ecuadorian government the cables.(They said that) one paper was cherry picking material. The Prime Minister of Jamaica made the same statement. He said, ‘Look, we want you to release all the material, all the cables to the public. Because we think the paper is cherry picking.’ By stating that, those governments are legitimizing our values.
Question: To what extent you think your personality and celebrity undermines the good work WikiLeaks can do? When you were in prison, what did you think about 23 year old Pfc. Manning who may spend his life in prison?
Assange: When I was in solitary confinement, (I was) under quite severe conditions. (They were) very similar conditions to (that of) Bradley Manning in Quantico. It’s not just Bradley Manning, actually many prisoners are in that condition around the world. I am trying to draw attention to the problem of prisons. It’s not easy for info to come out about a prisoner. People concerned about Bradley Manning have been able to get information (to come) out. (After this question, a couple people kept calling for Assange to ‘Answer the question,’ obviously unsatisfied with what he had said).
Question: Tony Blair, over his career, was accused of feeling that his dignity absolute right to make choices (Sorry, I typed this question illegibly). (Why are you given the) ability to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong?
Assange: I don’t know where you begin in a comparison between me and Tony Blair. I don’t see a comparison there. If you are talking about decision-making, we run a service where we are public. We try to make maximum-impact. The people that conduct abuse make the first decision that makes our sources step out and give information to us. Was Tony Blair more accountable than we are accountable?Actually, everyday our sources make the decision whether they trust us or not. They make that decision based on our performance. Everyday members of the public decide whether they will donate to us or not. Everything we do ends up in publishing. Our entire actions end up in publishing. You can see the fruits of our labor. You can see the fruits of our suffering. That is what holds us accountable. It is the support of those people that keep us going. It is not an election every four years; it is an election every few weeks.
Question: How do you feel about the media focusing on you instead of the issues WikiLeaks has presented?
Assange: I have a tremendous platform to speak for our values. What a privilege it is to have an audience to speak to. Approximately 8700 stories (have been) generated to our work. (There are)[number given in the 1,000s] with my name. So the vast majority talks about our work, as opposed tome, which is right. As a standard bearer for our values, it is right to have a person that represents the organization and can be held accountable for our actions. (The question) ‘Who was the founder of Wikileaks?’ created such interest in the organization that it just came out. Journalists shifted around to people who had things to do. Rather unhelpfully my friends said, ‘Julian deserves all the credit.’
Question: Given where you’re sitting now, looking back would you have done anything different?
Assange: Of course. If you look back and don’t (see anything that should’ve be done differently), you’re an idiot. Of course. I learn all the time. And hone my ability to deal with the situation and the organization as a whole I hope becomes more adept as a whole.
Question: Is there a particular event you would’ve done differently?
Assange: I suppose we thought everyone was honorable gentlemen. Also, in business interacts had more so. (Sentence lost) And those people who felt that people should play by the rules would themselves play by the rules. As an Australian, I felt like a wild colonial boy who got eaten up.