Transcribed by @m_cetera
Kristinn Hrafnsson: Before we go into the details, I just want to mention that this is the subject matter of this meeting, we are all aware of the case that was in court next door, yesterday and the day before, the Royal Court of Justice. I will ask you to refrain from questions with regard to that matter, but I think Julian will shortly address that issue before we continue with the matter at hand. So Julian, would you like to comment there?
Julian Assange: Yes, just a very few brief comments about the matter yesterday and on Tuesday. I see this morning that there has been a lot of false reportage in the press. I must remind people of the seriousness of reporting court proceedings accurately and fairly. It’s a difficult job that people have to do in deciding such matters and they should not be unduly influenced by inaccurate reportage. For those people who wish to have more detail and accurate information, it is not my place to report on matters given before the courts. However, I understand that there are others who were there, and there are some websites, such as Sweden versus Assange, which are devoted to placing the public information in an easily accessible manner. And that includes the skeleton arguments by the defense, and I believe by the prosecution, also. Those are well worth reading and contain accurate details of what the matter is about.
Kristinn Hrafnsson: The real overview of what we’ve been having to face as an organization since late last year, the relentless attacks by the biggest and strongest financial institutions in the world. Which in my belief are unprecedented and almost reminds you of blacklisting in the McCarthy era.
Julian Assange: Kristinn is quite right. The nearest analogy to what has been going on here is the blacklisting under McCarthy. That is, certain press organizations or Hollywood figures, were black listing from economic activity and their free rights of association in the United States as a result of a hysteria about Communist activity. We all know now that that was wrong. And in hindsight we can see that it should not have happened, and it should be prevented from occurring again.
Last year, although WikiLeaks has been publishing for over four and a half years from 120 countries around the world, last year saw us publish, not for the first time, information from the United States government, but rather much more information; thousands of files exposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with dramatic footage showing the slaying of two Reuters journalists in Baghdad.
In response to that, right-wing politicians from the United States, and some within the US Democratic Party, called for this organization to be declared a terrorist organization, and for its staff to be treated as enemy combatants and slain at will, without any regard to international law. That political pressure from Washington didn’t stop at mere rhetoric. Pressure was applied to a number of countries,including my home country Australia. Pressure also seems to have been applied, not in any legal manner, but through connections in Washington, to the major financial institutions. And in December last year, we saw an economic blockade established against WikiLeaks by Visa, MasterCard, the Bank of America, Western Union, and PayPal. Now you might think that such a blockade would need to exist some kind of official process, some kind of investigation by the authorities in the United States, and adding us to a list of organizations that must be blockaded economically. However, that didn’t happen.
There are only two known formal investigations into whether WikiLeaks should be financially blockaded. One was conducted by Teller, the company licensed by Visa to process payments in Scandinavia. It is Teller through which all WikiLeaks Visa payments were moving. Teller concluded that WikiLeaks and Sunshine Press, the corporate registration affiliated with WikiLeaks in Iceland, had not broken any Visa rules or regulations. The other was by the US Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy C. Geithner, who issued his finding on January 13, that WikiLeaks had done nothing to warrant it being placed on the US Treasury blacklist. The so-called, US specially designated persons list. And yet, here we are in July, with an active economic embargo, still occurring against this organization by US financial companies and their licensees without any reasonable explanation. So, we should look at has there in fact been an attempt to lift this embargo, and is there a reason that these companies have for conducting the blockade that they do.
Teller, the Danish company responsible for processing Visa payments, conducted its own internal investigation and found that WikiLeaks, Sunshine Press did not breach Visa rules. Subsequently,there have been a number of other attempts to reactivate Visa processing for WikiLeaks in different countries. Those include through VALITOR in Iceland last month and on the 12th of June, 2011, for some12 hours, the gateway of payments to WikiLeaks opened up again through Iceland. However let me correct that. An agreement was made with VALITOR on the 12th of June in 2011, and earlier this month that was our payment gateway opened up for a period of some 12 hours and was then immediately shutdown. Visa issuing a statement saying that it was shut down because it was being used to process payments for WikiLeaks, and it was against the policy of that company to permit donations to be processed for WikiLeaks. And an email was sent from VALITOR, notifying that the agreement had beenterminated to us Notifying that the agreement had been terminated due to violations of the inquiry’s terms and due to the fact that the international card organizations do not allow the services provided toWikiLeaks.
So, there is a question, what form of redress can this organization take and what other organizations are in danger of being politically censored by the major financial institutions? Now any small milk bar can chose who it does business with or not if it is in a free market and there are many other grocery stores or milk bar stores, but it cannot choose to refuse to sell milk to a black man. And when a financial institution becomes so large, that together with its nearest competitor it forms aduopoly Visa and MasterCard together have 95% of the inquiring business in Europe additional responsibilities come into play. This is no longer a matter of free choice in the market because there isno longer a free market. At that point, such companies have encoded within their market dominance the functions of government. Banking services are essential for people to act in a modern economic state, and when Visa and MasterCard together control 96% of card processing in Europe, they must actin a fair and rational manner. It is not a matter for these companies operating in Europe, operating in Australia, operating in Iceland, to enforce unwritten rules of US foreign policy. How can it be right for someone in England who is a supporter of WikiLeaks, who wishes to provide us with the support that we need to expose the truth, to be prevented from doing so by Visa Europe as a result of the licensing conditions that Visa Europe is forced to maintain from Visa in the United States? Similarly, how can it be right that an Icelander wishing to send money to WikiLeaks in Iceland is prevented from doing so by Visa as a result, in all probability, of influence from Washington, influence which has not gone through any due process or any formal procedure? And for people in the United States that wish to affiliate with WikiLeaks, and show their affiliation by their donations, how can it be right that this duopoly of Visa and MasterCard is able to, in practice, violate their affiliative rights? Well it’s not right, and that is why we’re engaging in a legal attack on Visa and MasterCard in every jurisdiction where they operate, and in everyplace where people who have Visa and MasterCards want to exercise their free choice to affiliate and support this organization.
It is not just WikiLeaks who is at threat; all activist organizations are at threat. All media organizations worth their salt, who maintain their cash flows as a result of generosity of the public, area lso at threat. For instance, the excuse used by Visa and MasterCard in some of their public statements is that there are allegations flowing around that some of our publishing is sometimes, somehow. Excuses used by Visa and MasterCard are that some of our publishing, sometime, somehow encourages somewhere, some illegal activity, presumably referring to alleged sources. However, organizations like Green Peace are well known for engaging in what is sometimes to be alleged as illegal activity done for the greater good. Similarly, Amnesty International is working all over the world, and journalists working all over the world collecting information that the public needs to know are often accused by one country or another of having encouraged or facilitated some illegal activity somewhere. However, WikiLeaks, its directors, employees, and contractors have not been charged with any illegal activity. You compare that to, for example, News International, who has had staff, employees, and contractors imprisoned for illegal activity, and yet still we do not see US financial companies cutting off their services to News International. Why not?
Julian Assange: The largest donation WikiLeaks has ever received was 20,000 Euro. Our donations come from a very large group of generous people who believe in our work. That is something that keeps us impartial and also keeps us honest. On the last day of the Visa/MasterCard payment system being opened we received 130,000 Euros and that was also the similar figure in proceeding days to that. I understand that when the payment gateway opened very briefly for some hours last week, that there were around 100,000 Euros, although it hadn’t been advertised, was pushed through during that time.So, we have lost around 90% of our donations in value terms and the estimated lost based on those rough figures that we have so far, this is not a detailed analysis, but the estimated loss is some 15 million Euros.And on your question about News of the World, actually, we do have something to say about that. First of all note that no person, no director, spokesperson, employee, or contractor of WikiLeaks has even been charged with a crime in any country. And yet we have suffered this economic embargo for the past six months, seven months now. And that News International, News of the World has been charged multiple times for sourcing-related matters. Now, that said, it does appear based on the allegations that in some cases News International overstepped the boundaries of what was ethical. That does not mean that an entire newspaper should receive the death sentence. Rather, the few employees or staff or managers should be investigated perhaps, and dealt with. But, should all the journalists in News International and the entire paper go? It’s always a loss to a community when it loses one of its newspapers. So I would ask that people think carefully and distinguish between destroying an institution and cleaning up bad apples.
Reporter 1: And how much money does WikiLeaks have today? How well have you run funds during this campaign?
Julian Assange: The blockade has been combined with other difficulties. Recall it is not merely Visa and MasterCard who are involved in this blockade, but they are the first two companies that we are going after. It has made our operations difficult, trying. We have an intense duty of care to people who are at threat around the world. And the blockade has interfered with our ability to dispense that duty of care.So, it is more than just a monetary issue.
Reporter 1: Sure but, is there a risk of WikiLeaks to become financially unviable if you don’t get this blockade?
Julian Assange: There is a risk. That said, we are committed to staying afloat and we will fight to do whatever it takes to stay afloat and continue to dispense our mission. And this legal case being one of those actions.
Reporter 2: I just want to repeat the question of differentiating between receiving information in order to help the public, and receiving information by people like News Corp who cross the line. Can you distinguish between the two cases?
Julian Assange: The News Corp case is not one that I have been following closely in recent weeks. So I would not like to go into details of the wrongs and rights of that case. Only to say, more generally, that in our fervor to deal with the unethical practices that seem to have occurred in News Corp, that we should be careful of producing collateral damage that will destroy the ability of investigative journalists to act in the public good.
Reporter 3: It’s obviously been quite a few months since the sensational diplomatic cables was leaked. Is this solely due to the blockade, as you call that, that we’ve heard less from WikiLeaks? (inaudible) I know you can’t talk about the extradition trial, but has that factored into it? Why is that we haven’t heard so much from you in the last seven or eight months or have you got something coming up for us?
Kristinn Hrafnsson: Can I just correct you on the Cablegate project. It is very much ongoing and it has been ongoing since the end of November. It has been expanding in scope. It has been creating sensational stories in countries around the world, even though we in this little corner of the world called Western Europe have been deprived of that information because of our narrow scope. But as of now we have released about 20,000 of the cables, which is less that 10% of the entire process. With an ongoing project with regard to how slowly that has been ongoing, we and possibly the affect of the obstructions we’ve had from financial or blockades with financial companies, it is quite possible we could have worked on a rather faster pace. It has slowed us down, the operations. As has the case that was in court next door, yesterday and the day before, as we’ve said before.
Julian Assange: And I’d like to agree with Kristinn, it has tremendously impeded our operations, just like any organization that’s cut off from 90% of its revenues. That said, we have released some 4,000 cables this week. The elections in Peru seem to have been effected by the recent work that we have done.There’s over 30 front pages of The Hindu in India that have come out since March 17. So all around the world the effects of WikiLeaks are being felt in an ongoing way. Because we started first with the English press, that material that the English press found to be relevant to its own countries has diminished.Although I note that a statistical analyses about a month ago showed that one in every two issues of the New York Times on a daily basis cited our material.
Reporter 4: Julian, this is from Times of India and (inaudible). This question has to do with India. There were lots of people hoping that the Rudolph Elmer discs would have a lot of Indian names. But there was a story in the Reuters recently that you didn’t find anything on those discs. Is that correct?
Julian Assange: We can’t comment on issues that have to do with sourcing. However, let us note that Rudolph Elmer has been in prison, in Switzerland, for six months now without charge. And let us contemplate what kind of regime the west is falling into when I can be held, without charge, for seven months under house arrest, where Rudolph Elmer can be held in Switzerland for six months without charge, and where people, as we all know, can be held for over seven years in Guantanamo bay, without charge, and in fact seem to have no hope of being released.
Reporter 4: You have also said there have been messages sent to you that say if you return those discs Rudolph Elmer might be free. (inaudible)
Julian Assange: Those messages which were bordering on coercion were sent to us over that case, that is correct.
Reporter 4: And nothing has changed even though nothing has been found on those.
Julian Assange: And nothing has changed.
Reporter 5: May I ask you if you are worried about your freedom?
Kristinn Hrafnsson: Is this a question for Julian?
Julian Assange: About my personal freedom?
Reporter 5: Yes.
Julian Assange: We have an ongoing grand jury process in the United States, six kilometers from the center of Washington, that has been rounding up people believed to be associated with WikiLeaks in one way or another, and forcing them to coercively testify with no lawyers present and no judge present. There are four prosecutors. There is a grand jury selected from that suburb in the United States which has the highest density of military and defense employees anywhere. So it is a rubber-stamping process for the Department of Justice to do anything they want, in particular to violate separation between executive and the judiciary. That is a well-known problem in jurisprudence; it is something that the United Kingdom banished years ago. It is a star-chamber process. And we’ll see where it goes. At this stage, no one has been charged as a result of the grand jury investigation, but it continues.
Kristinn Hrafnsson: Any other question before we call it a day?
Reporter 6: Given all this stuff in December, why are you only taking action now?
Kristinn Hrafnsson: Well I mean, there has been correspondence between WikiLeaks and the lawyer s acting on behalf of DataCell and WikiLeaks, the card companies there have been attempts to have these gateways reopened over time. We have been in preparation of the legal issues and formally over a month ago, the credit companies were told that we were ready to take this last step and they were offered a chance to negotiate a settlement, which they did not, and have not yet formally replied to.Although, they have acknowledged the receipt of our letter and claims. So this has been a long procedure, but there has been correspondence between us, meaning WikiLeaks and DataCell, and thec ard companies, leading up to this decision today.
Julian Assange: So this is a complaint to the European Commission. It’s a non-trivial document to produce if it’s going to be effective, which I believe it will be. This doesn’t include the annexes which(inaudible). As a small journalism organization, we have been attacked through legal means and illegal means since, especially since last December. We have lost 90% of our revenues as a result of the Visa/MasterCard attack. We have lost other revenues as a result of the PayPal attack. We have lost other revenues as a result of Bank of America’s blockade. Similarly, had you not only deal with the largest publishing operation we have done to date, now in over 50 countries with over 90 media partners, we have had to defend ourselves and our sources from various threats and consider those cases of the two alleged sources that are both now in prison. So, it has been a very difficult and productive six months for us. So, that is part of the reason it has taken this amount of time. But, we have also tried to negotiate a reasonable settlement with these card companies. It’s not that we do not understand the McCarthyist hysteria that was around in December and January. But that hysteria has now largely passed. And so, any excuse by these companies that that’s just the Realpolitik of dealing with Washington, can no longer be maintained. They have a responsibility as European registered companies, sub-licensed from the United States, to act within the European law, and they have not.