Free Julian Assange: An Exclusive Interview with the Wikileaks Founder

The founder of WikiLeaks, essentially imprisoned in Ecuador’s tiny ‘embassy’ in London, grants the Observer a no-holds-barred interview about exposing government and corporate secrets

(Illustration by Joe Ciardiello)

(Illustration by Joe Ciardiello) (Illustration by Joe Ciardiello)

LONDON — “Don’t forget to tell them about my appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court,” Julian Assange tells me in a door-knob-one-more-thing moment as I’m leaving the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has taken refuge for the last two years. The “embassy” is just a flat in a building stuck behind Harrods. An entire floor in the back of Harrods facing the embassy has been offered by Qatar to England’s security service MI5 and the local NSA, the Government Communications Headquarters, to spy on one little man, the WikiLeaks publisher, proof if any that national security has little to do with the Assange story.

Hans Crescent in the Knightsbridge area of London is now the cobblestone intersection of many worlds, a modern Casablanca overcrowded with shoppers, spies, bums, London police, weird guys loitering, troubadours, too many men sitting in the same parked Mercedes, a tall Russian man yelling in his cell, a suspicious earpiece spiraling around his neck, two women nursing the same coffee for hours, one of them rushing towards me for a light and staring a little too long into my eyes, and four gigantic London police vans lined up for no reason. There was, no doubt, less intelligence on the ground at Abbottabad.

An MI5 officer keeping watch on Hans Crescent just ten feet from the embassy Photo by Jacques Hyzagi and Emily Lembo)

An MI5 officer keeping watch on Hans Crescent just ten feet from the embassy Photo by Jacques Hyzagi and Emily Lembo)

We were surprised after entering the embassy to see two smiley London police officers standing right in front of the apartment door of the Ecuadorian ambassador. If Mr. Assange were to put one foot out of this door he would be jumped immediately and extradited to Sweden, perhaps then to face rendition to the U.S. The appeal to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom that Mr. Assange wants me to tell the world about is his latest attempt at challenging the constitutionality of the non-retroactive clause, dubbed the “Assange clause.” It was inserted last-minute in the new law voted into parliament, barring extraditions for persons without charges after a growing number of British officials started to realize that their attempt at destroying Mr. Assange by extraditing him to Sweden with no official reason, was slowly making a mockery of their authority. In sum, England is desperately trying to extradite a man who has not as of yet been charged of any crimes, while writing a whole new law to restore some respectability, affirming that from now on, the country won’t be able to extradite anyone without charges in order to please the White House. Here’s what brought us to this Kafkaesque point.

Julian Assange created a website in 2006 called WikiLeaks that would allow for worldwide whistleblowers to post anonymously, even to the site administrators, revelatory and incriminatory documents that could be used as checks and balances to states and corporations who until then acted as terrorists and criminals with total impunity since the fifth column was naively being viewed as the Fifth Estate.

“Last week’s revelations that Ken Dilanian, a LA Times and Chicago Tribune reporter assigned to cover the C.I.A. was submitting his pieces to the agency for approval right before publication in exchange of access,” Julian Assange told The New York Observer last Sunday at the small Ecuadorian Embassy under siege in London, “is a typical quid pro quo that exemplifies the state of the press nowadays. Most news organizations in America who used to be family owned are now run by corporations so vast and diversified that their portfolio bottom line and quarterly shareholders dividend targets force them to change their business plans and have their journalists become government press secretaries in order to gain administrative favoritism.”
When Julian Assange needed an official voice to disseminate the millions of “for your eyes only” intel that Chelsea Manning gave him, he called Bill Keller at The New York Times, the same publication that had whitewashed Judith Miller’s use of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Ahmed Chalabi plant when time came to spin about the W.M.Ds.

“I get things done,” Mr. Assange told me.

“When you say things like ‘I get things done,’ you come across as a corporate power thirsty narcissist,” I said.

“WikiLeaks, despite some obvious setbacks, is still fully operational,” he replied.

At the peak of the COINTELPRO response, things looked gloomy. On orders from the White House, Visa and MasterCard cut the flow of contributions to WikiLeaks—even PayPal joined the boycott, which is striking since it is owned by eBay, which was founded by Pierre Omidyar, who now backs Glenn Greenwald and his information disseminating website The Intercept.

“But why not following your own advice from your first book Cypherpunks and do what the Weather Underground did, hit and hide?” I asked. “Why stay in the limelight for so long? Was it fun?”

“You don’t publish the world’s most powerful governments’ dirtiest secrets and stay anonymous for long,” Mr. Assange replied.

Mr. Assange was caught up in sexual allegations in Sweden by two women who, as later texts show, did not want to press charges but only wanted to have him tested for STDs after they realized that he was a cad. The allegations include that he ripped a woman’s underwear and did not use a condom and had sex with one of the two women while she slept and kept on having sex with the other knowing that the condom broke.

***

“A prosecutor looked at the allegations and refused to press charges,” Mr. Assange said. “These two women refused to press charges and didn’t want me to go to jail … their texts show that they were pressured into filing a report by the police but that in fact all they wanted was for me to take an STD test for which I complied.”

The two women kept on texting the white whale after the “rapes” to hang on, and one of them actually let him stay at her place.

Many corrupt Swedish politicians got involved, especially the foreign minister Carl Bildt, who had been previously hired by the State Department, as proven by none other than the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables, to precipitate Sweden into President Bush’s imaginary coalition of the willing. Sure enough, it didn’t take long to find a hack prosecutor willing to stand at attention. Mr. Assange, now in London, was wanted for questioning, as Sweden was willing to manipulate international laws and use the allegations to do Eric Holder’s bidding. If Sweden were so sure of sexual misconduct, why would they let him leave the country?

“We are witnessing the birth of a Google-military-surveillance complex here… When I met with Schmidt and Cohen in 2011, Schmidt was with a woman called Lisa Shields… later I contacted Hillary Clinton at the State Department and I got an answer from… Lisa Shields”

By then Hillary Clinton was touring the world, begging for forgiveness for the U.S., which had killed, bombed, insulted, plotted against, bullied, bribed, rigged elections, tortured, renditioned, demeaned, and eavesdropped on every single foreign government as proven by none other than the WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables. Ms. Clinton assured them things would be different going forward and those idiots believed her, as exemplified later on by the doughboy president, François Hollande, who agreed to have Bolivia’s president Evo Morales’ plane from Moscow refused air space due to a fear that Edward Snowden would be hidden in Mr. Morales’ luggage. Attorney General Eric Holder, the grand liberal proponent of gay marriage and mass Latino deporter-in-chief, convened a secret grand jury in Virginia to deal with Mr. Assange.

“Virginia is not an innocent choice,” Mr. Assange told me, “this is where every single military government contractor lives.”

England, which had in the past brilliantly stood up for Henry Kissinger, Augusto Pinochet and Donald Rumsfeld by refusing to hand the accused over to the International Criminal Court, after charges had been filed against them by a Spanish judge when they happened to land at Heathrow, was now so brazenly ready to extradite the whistleblower who hadn’t even been charged of anything.

“Do you think that had you had sought asylum at let’s say the German embassy,” I asked Mr. Assange, “David Cameron would have entertained as he did to invade a foreign soil?”

“It is clear that the Vienna Convention’s dismissal was starting to make many British diplomats all over the world very nervous,” he answered. “We now know that they started to contact the foreign office to express their mounting concerns … rushing this embassy would mean that the same could now be done to every British Embassy.”

“That’s not what I meant,” I uncouthly interjected, alluding to the underlying imperialistic racism latent here. “The Ecuadorian Embassy … a small insignificant country crawling with brown faces with not even a Picasso to speak for in any Quito museum.”

“Hmm, I know what you were alluding to,” Mr. Assange told me.

The balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy, from which Julian Assange gives his press conferences Photos by Jacques Hyzagi and Emily Lemb)

Ecuador gave Mr. Assange asylum on the grounds that he was being extradited to Sweden while not charged of anything, possibly for the purpose of later extradition to the U.S. While America was busy adventuring in the Middle East, many South American countries tilted to the left.

“I’m so grateful and appreciative for Ecuador to have granted me asylum. I think more countries are empowered and have a say in geo-politics than one would think. Sweden’s refusal to have a prosecutor come to interview me in London, compounded by their refusal to promise that they would not extradite me to the U.S. is starting to look very bad amongst Swedes and the victory of a center left group last week might also speak to this effect. The American hegemony might be ebbing.”

Not behind Harrods on Hans Crescent it is not.

“WikiLeaks was responsible for the Arab Spring,” Mr. Assange told me in a folie des grandeurs spasm.

“More likely the neo-cons’ push into Baghdad and smoking a disheveled Saddam out of his hole,” I told him.

“What do you mean?” he answered puzzled.

In his newly released book, When Google Met WikiLeaks, about a meeting with Google’s Eric Schmidt that actually happened while Mr. Assange was assigned to residence outside London before he rushed into the Ecuadorian Embassy, Mr. Assange painstakingly and with a multitude of footnotes usually reserved for peer-reviewed studies on string theory, exposes the revolving doors between Google and Hillary Clinton’s Department of State.

“Why not just come out and call the U.S. a fascist state?” I asked him. “Isn’t the collusion of corporations and government the very definition of fascism?”

“I don’t think the U.S. is a fascist state yet,” he weirdly answered, after pausing for a long minute either to find the right diplomatic word in the hope the Justice Department would just be won over by being worn out and forget about him or to recoup from a brownie’s sudden kick. Is the great purveyor of Chicago politics that is the wonderful Obama administration still paying attention to him?

“The issue of the devastatingly dangerous, endless excuse of a ‘War on Terror’ is much more important than U.S. domestic civil rights at the moment, because eventually it will affect minorities too as the U.S. military disproportionally recruits them. Ron Paul and his son are amongst the rare voices in America who credibly support this point. The left is dead and the center left and right are interchangeable extremes.”

When we asked him what he hoped to gain out of receiving at the embassy the likes of Lady Gaga, as he did a few weeks ago, he mentioned her millions of followers. “I almost got her,” he said, “but we later heard that the White House convinced her not to do it so she gave money to a gay rights organization.” Their reasoning probably being that since Chelsea Manning had used a Born This Way CD to download millions of diplomatic cables; the pop star could not be seen cavorting with Mr. Assange.

To imagine Susan Rice making that phone call is to realize that Leo Strauss is still alive and well.

“If your hope is now the U.N.’s International Court of Justice, good luck,” I told him. “Since when have you seen the I.C.J. or the I.C.C. prosecute anyone other than a political or military figure from the colonies?”

“It’s true that the I.C.C. only goes after Africans,” he offered, “but the I.C.J. has a slightly better record.”

Mr. Assange with the author Photo by Emily Lembo)

Mr. Assange with the author (Photo by Emily Lembo) Emily Lembo for Observer

***

“You used to be my hero,” I told him, breaking with only six words every single journalistic deontological rule. “I loved what you did with WikiLeaks, but then…” I added like a reject who just met his favorite TV star outside David Letterman’s studio and got autograph shunned, “…I heard that you were saying stuff like ‘the non interventionist libertarian side of the Republican Party is the only way out for the future.’ Are you supporting that ferret looking nut case Rand Paul for 2016?”

“Sometimes you have to overlook some deplorable parts of a political agenda,” he said, “if you want to focus on the most important.”

“This asshole Rand Paul was going around the South promoting the idea that stores were entitled to refuse services to blacks,” I said.

“Yes, I know,” Mr. Assange said, “but this is a states’ rights issue and I don’t see, although granted I don’t live in the States, a U.S. civil rights issue right now.”

“I live there, I do,” I answered.

“The only civil rights I expect the U.S. government to protect is the right to vote,” he said. “The issue of the devastatingly dangerous, endless excuse of a ‘War on Terror’ is much more important than U.S. domestic civil rights at the moment, because eventually it will affect minorities, too, as the U.S. military disproportionally recruits them. Ron Paul and his son are amongst the rare voices in America who credibly support this point. The left is dead and the center left and right are interchangeable extremes. I rarely get involved in internal politics as this is not WikiLeaks’ interest.”

Hmmm.

“How do you reconcile admiring the thoughts of both Noam Chomsky, the kibbutz genius kid, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Slavic anti-Semite, anti-Communist, homophobic, woman-hater Jesus freak,” I proposed.

“You can be interested in both,” Mr. Assange said. “The left self-destructed in its search of identity politics like what you are doing right now. I understand the Solzhenitsyn of the ’90s who, coming back to Moscow from the States and having gladly participated in community politics in Vermont, now tries to restore a Slavic culture to a country ravaged by Western input and voided of its religious soul. Something Putin is trying to do now.”

Like a jailed mafia don, Mr. Assange was successful in having the WikiLeaks team help Edward Snowden escape to Moscow and find some sort of asylum there.

“What is WikiLeaks’ relationship with the Putin administration?” I asked.

“It would be the same as me asking, ‘What is The New York Observer’s relationship with the Putin administration,’ ” Yoda answered.

“Women’s movements in America didn’t come after you after the Swedish allegations,” I remarked.

“You are right,” he said, “same here or in Sweden for that matter … one could have been weary of identity politics to divide and conquer.”

“Do you read Michel Foucault or Jacques Derrida, who would have deplored some identity politics?” I tried.

“Only when speaking to a European audience,” the sequestered, media-trained Buddha answered.

And what to do when addressing an American audience? Quote Oprah?

“You do speak about universal truths sometimes,” I said, “which is scary.”

“I’m interested in science and the way things move into each other, overlap or push each other away.”

Like a jailed mafia don, Mr. Assange was successful in having the WikiLeaks team help Edward Snowden escape to Moscow and find some sort of asylum there.

It is a shame that Mr. Assange doesn’t read Foucault. The bold genius had an intense discussion once on power with Mr. Chomsky, easily found online. Foucault explains to Mr. Chomsky, who doesn’t seem to understand or be interested in much of it, how mass street movements, protesters and revolutionaries usually have a problem coming up with a new viable political system once they think of overthrowing a repressive and oppressive power. When they succeed, which is rare, they end up in charge of a new system very similar to the old one because in fact what they wanted all along was less change than power. This was very clear with the Occupy movement. I remember walking through smelly Zuccotti Park and reading all these signs praising Thomas Jefferson, the founding fathers, Jesus and “good” banks. Oh baby boy, I thought, maybe we are better off with the 1 percent. At least WikiLeaks never asked for good banks to replace the ones it toppled.

In their idiotic book, The New Digital Age, Mr. Schmidt and Jared Cohen propose that the majority of young people are not inherently good and that an unmediated Internet would bring nothing positive. They argue that U.S. foreign policy is in fact a boon to the world, probably code for “more countries flattened equals more spaces digitalized under Google’s panoptical, militarized eye.” These platitudes are pervasive nowadays but they are not totally unfamiliar; Ayn Rand could have said as much. This is a scary proposal since now Messers. Schimdt and Assange could also be viewed as the two faces of the same coin.

“Google looks so innocent with its childish, crayon colored, curvilinear graphic,” Mr. Assange told me, “but in fact it is a 24-hour flashing light, which uses statistical analysis to probe its users and invade their most secretive gardens—a legal NSA.”

Foucault long ago warned us of panoptical societies but it’s Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation who said that in America, Disneyland starts in the parking lot. Childishness everywhere. This would in part explain why the WikiLeaks team is always on the defensive, saying that no one died following the publication of the diplomatic cables. Mr. Schmidt for his part had the audacity to call his latest book How Google Works and write about (this is not a joke) how to be an efficient manager, since at Google NYC, while you are buying spices at the Chelsea Market across the street, they lounge around and occasionally send an email from their pastel colored iMacs with their Park Slope babies downstairs at the daycare having their chakras massaged. How about How Google Works: Meta-data Mining and the Weaponization of Your Digital Footprint?

The leaks published by Mr. Assange were mere confirmation that America, along with 200 other countries, had its hands in every single disgusting dealing around the world, a realpolitik run amok, from backing up tyrants to bullying democratically elected governments, toppling them and meddling in places where the U.S. not only had no specific strategic interests but nothing to gain. One of WikiLeaks’ major strengths is that it ratted on Iran as well as the U.S., a bank or a trade deal—no one was safe. One common thread in the 8 millions of leaked documents so far is the disregard, disgust and contempt that governments, elites, journalists, politicians and corporations have for the unwashed.

“In your book,” I told him, “you mention that activists made a major mistake by focusing on governments and giving corporations a free pass.”

“This is at this point in time probably the most important thing to keep in mind,” he answered.

With WikiLeaks, support and financing of the worst crimes, death squads, renditions of the wrong people and torture were finally time stamped and signed, names were named. But who seriously had ever seen it any other way? So why kill the Cassandra bearing old news? Deterrence? Preemption? What other monstrosities could possibly be out there to leak?

“Have you ever read any leak that would suggest a military coup in 2008 when Obama kept Robert Gates at Defense?” I asked.

“No…” Mr. Assange said after a long pause that suggests a lie. “But I’ve been thinking long and hard as to why he did that … Washington doesn’t work like this … with soft coups, it’s a compact, intricate, intertwined culture that is unmovable … even by a national election.”

If the avant-gardes at the turn of the 20th century taught us anything it is that utopians tend to ultimately drag along with them more horror than beauty.

“In which context could you possibly have said that the words ‘Honor Bound to Defend Freedom’ plastered at Guantanamo were a worse pervasion of the truth than the ‘Work Will Set You Free’ signs at the Nazi concentration camps?” I asked.

“I never meant to imply that Guantanamo was worse than the unspeakable horror of the Nazi camps, of course. But ‘Work Will Set You Free’ was an old slogan predating the camps,” Mr. Assange answered, “whereas the one at Guantanamo was tailor-made for it, using words in a deceptive way to completely pervert language…”

“Like Orwell’s doublespeak?” I asked, hoping that, as they say across the pond, when in a hole someone would stop digging.

“No,” he corrected me, “doublespeak uses a word to alter the perception of meaning, this was created to scarily legitimize multiple wars and it worked.”

Recently, a national vote put a more leftist coalition into power in Sweden. It more and more looks like David Cameron might blunder the Tories out of Downing Street. And the Obama presidency, which led the worst war on whistleblowers ever witnessed, has been so disgusting with its unprecedented mass deportations to Latino voters who now are in a position to swing elections, that if the GOP had any brain they could use the Latino vote to regain the White House. This imbecile Mitt Romney had the White House keys in his hands until he spoke about Latinos self-deporting, granted in a tough lunatic primary. Most importantly, the U.K. Court of Appeal, in Bancoult v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, ruled a few months ago, albeit tentatively, that diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks were admissible in court. If this ruling were to be seen as precedent in the rest of the Commonwealth, before we know it Canada or Australia could see WikiLeaks make its entrance in courts of law as an evidentiary depository. With the European Court of Human Rights following suit, Mr. Assange the pariah could very quickly become the prophet. Already numerous human rights lawyers all over the world have won cases thanks to leaks revealed by WikiLeaks.

“Would these changes help you?” I asked Mr. Assange.

***

Maybe,” he said, “but look at what Tony Blair did … and look who is introducing Hillary Clinton at meetings last week … Anne-Marie Slaughter, the president of New America and Jared Cohen the director of Google Ideas … Senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, ex-Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff member and advisor to both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton … He is also on the Director’s Advisory Board at the National Counterterrorism Center … He co-wrote with Mr. Schmidt or wrote The New Digital Age … Cohen is seen on Instagram clowning in front of troops … It is pretty clear that we are witnessing the birth of a Google-military-surveillance complex here … When I met with Schmidt and Cohen in 2011, Schmidt was with a woman called Lisa Shields … later I contacted Hillary Clinton at the State Department and I got an answer from … Lisa Shields. The courts might be the only answer here. Many here in England believe that the Supreme Court should strike down this clause in the new law voted in to ensure that someone who is not charged shouldn’t be extradited …They call the clause, making it non-retroactive, the ‘Assange clause.’ It doesn’t look good if this clause were to stay upheld for democracy and justice independence in the United Kingdom…”

MI5 officers sitting in a van on Hans Crescent Photos by Jacques Hyzagi and Emily Lembo)

MI5 officers sitting in a van on Hans Crescent Photos by Jacques Hyzagi and Emily Lembo)

Mr. Cohen, an international affairs tourist, says things like, Condi Rice truly cares about young people and I debated young members of Hezbollah at McDonald’s in Lebanon that should be punishable by jail time, especially if by Google Ideas he means Google Glass. Someone has to pay for these.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor, was Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department under Ms. Clinton, hence the Cohen connection. As a professor of politics and international affairs and an international lawyer, she thought that the 2003 Iraq invasion would be legitimate if W.M.D.s were found. That in itself is not too damaging since mostly everybody in Washington and New York at the time was saying this while at least having suspicions that it was a canard, and that, very conveniently, after the war (if there’s such a thing) it could be rescinded, which of course Ms. Slaughter did. She doubled down a few years ago with the same routine on Libya with the devastating results that we now see in a post Gaddafi show, proving that she’s either dumb or part of the military propaganda machine.

The leaks published by Mr. Assange were mere confirmation that America, along with 200 other countries, had its hands in every single disgusting dealing around the world, a realpolitik run amok, from backing up tyrants to bullying democratically elected governments, toppling them and meddling in places where the U.S. not only had no specific strategic interests but nothing to gain.

“I think you are underestimating the power of the love for authority,” I told him. “You and I are rejects who despise authority and order but most people out there love it.”

“It’s true,” he said, looking defeated while ensconced in his chair, one of the sorriest sights I ever saw. I feel that this guy fought for the rest of us, this vapid digital generation. I pointed to another person present in the room. “Her brother is a 28-year-old New Yorker who works for a major communication company and pre-ordered the iPhone 6 five months ago and he hates you.”

“What?” Mr. Assange looked up. “Why does he hate me?”

“Because he thinks you should not release secret documents and breach government security clearances.”

“What people say publicly and what they do privately are two different things,” he said in typical undergraduate bon mot rant. But he seemed hurt, as if wanting to think that most people like him. What an all around tragedy. I used to think that asking someone’s opinion about Mr. Assange was a good way to gauge their intelligence. Now that I saw in person, not in a Kafka or Orwell book, I saw how a state can crush a human being, I don’t care if you think that Mr. Assange is Don Quixote, a dangerous asshole or the second-coming of Christ. I know that most people don’t care that each time you Gmail your grandma an ad pops up on the left end corner for a Christmas discount certificate on a year worth of Depends. Nonetheless we all could mobilize and as the previous generation did for Nelson Mandela, we could all fight for net neutrality and ask for his release from the claws of the cold monster. Or we could be remembered as the generation who read The New Yorker on the F train on the iPad kiosk and followed Katy Perry on Twitter. Think about this next time you open your Google search page and it reminds you that today is national fly fishing day.

“Would you rather see people start boycotting Google and Gmail and use Tor?” I asked Mr. Assange.

“There are ways to encrypt texts,” he answered. “But it’s not my place to tell people what to do.”

Julian Assange is trapped in a bit of bother: a primitivist digital king. This is not gonna end well.

I left the embassy disgusted with the world. On our way toward the Knightsbridge tube station we had to dodge dozens of Harrods shoppers from all over the world, their new iPhone 6 strapped to their ears. Across Brompton Road, an enormous Cara Delevingne was making out with Kate Moss like in one of Fellini’s short films. Awesome. 🙂

Additional reporting by Emily Lembo

Free Julian Assange: An Exclusive Interview with the Wikileaks Founder