Assange: It’s U.S. Security State vs. First Amendment

In a 40-minute Web & television interview on Democracy Now! WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange discussed U.S. Justice Department spying on journalists and what the “abuse of the Espionage Act” against a reporter means. He also talked about the future of WikiLeaks, the financial blockade against it, and his nearly year-long political asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

Some excerpts:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Julian Assange, you spoke in the first part of our interview about some of the financial restrictions placed on donations to WikiLeaks. Can you explain what you think the future of WikiLeaks is, how the organization has suffered as a result of the constraints that have been placed on financial donations, and some of the ways in which you’re still managing to receive funding?

JULIAN ASSANGE: The initial blockade, which occurred for purely political reasons, by Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Western Union, Diners Club, JCB, Discover, the Bank of America and Swiss Post Finance, that initial blockade was done extrajudicially, extralegally. There’s no law being used. There’s no law being cited. There’s not even an administrative decision that has been cited by, say, the U.S. Treasury. In fact, the U.S. Treasury has found just the opposite, that there is no lawful reason for such a blockade, and has not applied one itself. This is an example of patronage, an example of how this new center, extreme center, of U.S. power is able to influence the organizations in its periphery — namely, financial service companies.

AMY GOODMAN: In a major development in the ongoing scandals around the Obama administration spying on journalists, NBC News has revealed that Attorney General Eric Holder personally signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a possible co-conspirator in violations of the Espionage Act. The search warrant enabled Justice Department investigators to secretly seize his private emails as part of an investigation into who provided him with classified information about North Korea in 2009. In the government’s application for the warrant, prosecutors allege there was probable cause to believe that Rosen violated the Espionage Act of 1917. In another filing, prosecutors argued they should be allowed to keep the warrant secret from Rosen because they might need to monitor his email account indefinitely. I want to ask you about Rosen and also about the FBI getting the phone records of AP, you know, on 20 phone lines, which meant about a hundred reporters and editors at Associated Press.

Julian Assange on Democracy Now!

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, let’s look at this phenomena from two aspects. Don’t be deceived by what appears to be small maneuvers by the Department of Justice to go after AP, to go after Rosen, to go after us, etc. We have over here the bulk surveillance industry run by the National Security Agency that already has all these records. It has them all already. The National Security Agency — and this has come out in one court case after another — was involved in a project called Stellar Wind to collect all the calling records of the United States, every record of everyone calling everyone over years. And the result of that lays out the entire community and political structure, based upon who people are friends with. You can infer that by who calls who, and what the status is by the relative flow of calls around the country, to suck out the entire community structure of the United States. That has already been done. Those calling records already enter into the national security complex.

What we’re talking about here are mechanisms to use that information in a court case, and therefore it has to be clean. This is the dirty team; this is the clean team. And so, these are maneuvers to pull people into court cases that will become public to set a deterrent against national security journalism. And the most pernicious aspect of that is the abuse of the Espionage Act and other mechanisms to try and conflate the activities of a source with the activities of a journalist or a publisher, and to try and say that whenever a journalist deals with a source, they’re in fact engaged in a conspiracy. And if there’s an allegation — of course, allegations can be very easily made, placed on the table, just invented from thin air — that a source’s behavior affects national security and is therefore espionage, and therefore, extend that allegation over to the journalist and to the source — and to the publisher. In the case of Rosen, they have done that in order to get at Rosen’s emails and other records, to then reflect back onto the source or onto other sources. You know, it is simply a disgrace. It is unethical conduct. It is politically worrying conduct. It is chilling conduct. And it is — why is it being done? Because they believe they can get away with it. It is part of advancing the frontier of the national security state to roll on over the First Amendment and every other traditionally accepted U.S. value.

Read a transcript of the complete interview.

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  1. says

    I remember how wild and anarchic the Internet was in the 90s, and the potential it had for fomenting protest and challenging the status quo. How quickly that has changed. Now the Internet is a tool to foment rebellion in enemy countries like Libya and China, while similar uses of the Internet in our own society are crushed.

    The destruction of Wiki Leaks has become a bell weather for the way the power of the Internet has shifted from common people to a powerful elite. Once a force for social rebellion, the Internet is now a tool of social engineering.

  2. says

    Right. You could see that beginning to happen around 2001 and even a bit earlier, when the usual media and other corporate suspects woke up to the Internet and decided they needed to throw their weight around so as to keep their monopoly going. Social media has made their influence more pernicious than ever.

    Speaking of the 90s, I recall that you took on the Vienna Philharmonic back then:

    “Through his adroit and impassioned use of the Net, William Osborne mobilized a tiny, far-flung band of feminists who pressured the Vienna Philharmonic — among the world’s highest-paid orchestras and, historically, the most important in terms of symphonic music — to accept a woman member for the first time since it was founded in 1842.”

    More than a decade later the orchestra’s hiring practices, as well as its cultural and ethical values, are still an issue. Which means that while the drive you launched so long ago has yet to achieve the sort of success many feminist activists would have liked, the campaign still has legs — and that’s thanks largely to the Internet, too.

  3. says

    From an AP report today entitled “Secret to Prism success: Even bigger data seizure”:

    “Prism makes sense of the cacophony of the Internet’s raw feed. It provides the government with names, addresses, conversation histories and entire archives of email inboxes.”

    This massive collection and powerful analysis of data is one example of what I mean when I say the Internet has become a tool of social engineering.