Julian Assange, the controversial founder of WikiLeaks, was back in the spotlight this week, as he fights to avoid extradition to Sweden from the UK. Mark Davis has been in the London courtroom, following the extradition hearing. He sat down with Assange for an exclusive one on one interview when the court went into recess a few days ago.
REPORTER: Mark Davis
Julian Assange is a wanted man. He is wanted by the world's media, American authorities and more pressingly by Swedish prosecutors. None of them are having much luck. This week, his lawyers were in court arguing that Sweden's request, to extradite Assange to face questioning over rape allegations were comprehensively flawed.
JULIAN ASSANGE, WIKILEAKS FOUNDER: What we have seen is process abuse after process abuse being revealed for hours and hours.
A judgment may be a fortnight away, but it is not just legal default that Assange is fending off right now. He has faced a barrage of highly critical books on former associates cashing in on his now extraordinary international profile. It is a far cry from when I first caught up with Julian Assange nine months ago. The little-known former hacker was backpacking around Europe running a largely unknown website called WikiLeaks.
I caught up with Assange again in London during a break in the extradition hearings a few days ago.
REPORTER: Thanks for your time, Julian. We have seen a lot of different faces of Julian Assange in the last months. The suit and the short hair cut is new - a new image or courtroom Assange?
JULIAN ASSANGE: When you are in this business, people try to take any point they can to malign you and stop the power of your publication. That is the same reason why politicians dress so conservatively, when they are under constant attack. It is something that I have to do in order to keep the focus on our material and keep the focus off me.
REPORTER: Well, it's been an uphill battle, keeping the focus off you. Has it surprised you, the intensity of the attention upon you?
JULIAN ASSANGE: I don't think it's - actually, I don't think it's surprised me. If you think about the situation carefully, I suppose that is inevitable. Someone who is associated with a new endeavour that is very controversial, has a lot of very powerful enemies, it will be the subject of ad hominem attacks on the person if they cannot get an attack on the content. Certainly, the level of scrutiny, the level of attacks on my person is like nothing else I might have experienced - possibly with some exceptions, like nothing else, anyone else in Australia has experienced.
REPORTER: The current extradition hearings, we get to hear the final witnesses, but what has been your experience so far? How do you think it is going?
JULIAN ASSANGE: I think a lot has come out into the public domain that was not there previously.
REPORTER: It is a sense of relief to you?
JULIAN ASSANGE: It is a sense of relief to me. Because it is an ongoing legal process, it is not something that I can talk about, the facts of the matter. Yet, at the same time, we have seen other parties, Swedish government...
JULIAN ASSANGE: And certain individuals...
REPORTER: They are leaking, ironically enough...
JULIAN ASSANGE: They are violating their own laws and feeding out selective bits of the material and selective allegations to the media, where we cannot do that. If we are to follow the practice and the law..
REPORTER: Or however this current situation pans out, it looks like you will be in need of a home. Let's rule out the US. Possibly you can rule out Europe for the short term, is Australia one of your options or the proper question is, what are your options?
JULIAN ASSANGE: The support from the Australian people is very strong. So in that sense, Australia's a very good option. But, as we have seen, with a statement, especially last year by Gillard and McLelland...
REPORTER: Australia is hardly rolling out the welcome mat for you.
JULIAN ASSANGE: That's right. On the surface, it will be 'give the Australian people what they demand.' Underneath, it will be 'give the United States everything it wants.' And that's something we are seeing even now with the more recent statements by Gillard.
REPORTER: Hands-off notion?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Pretending to be hands-off, statements that there is no - there is not any more an active investigation by the Australian Federal Police into our activities. That has been cancelled. But we know that under the surface, in fact, there's not an Australian Federal Police investigation, but there is assistance being afforded to the United States. That is something that really needs to come out. Gillard, McLelland, need to disclose all the assistance they have afforded foreign countries against Australians involved in WikiLeaks and the Australian registration of WikiLeaks as an entity.
REPORTER: Why do you think the PM and other ministers are hostile, or apparently hostile, to you?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, they're co-opted. The Australian Labor Party has been co-opted in key positions by the United States since 1976.
REPORTER: The WikiLeaks material certainly didn't reflect well upon the Labor Party. Do you think that is effectively showing a well-beaten path from Labor to the American Embassy. Do you think that reflects on their attitude towards you - they have been embarrassed?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Absolutely. I mean, since the time of Gough, there is a view in Washington, is that that should never happen again. You should never have a rogue Australian Prime Minister going in and inspecting secret bases in Pine Gap and so on. It was not to happen again, and it hasn't happened again.
REPORTER: Do you believe that the Labor Government, or the Labor Party, has shown to be compromised in the WikiLeaks material?
JULIAN ASSANGE: It has been compromised. The failure to remove Mark is an example of that compromise spreading to others in the Labor Party. It is not just this individual, you must remember that back in December, we had a whole-of-Government investigation into us involving ASIS, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and parts of Cabinet, and the Defence Department. That is an extraordinary thing. Absolutely extraordinary that - I mean that's more than the United States was doing. It is extraordinary to try and demonstrate such compliance, simply because I am an Australian, therefore, the Australian Government might in some way be blamed for my activities. That is completely turned around - all of those have been dropped. All...Official Investigations have been dropped.
REPORTER: Are you still sensitive or are you still cautious that Australia would extradite you if there was an American request?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes, I think that is still a serious issue.
REPORTER: Do you feel safer in the UK than in Australia on that?
JULIAN ASSANGE: I think they're about the same at the moment.
REPORTER: As far as you are aware, has all the relevant material, the WikiLeaks material dealing with Australia, has it been released?
JULIAN ASSANGE: No, there is more comming - You will see more WikiLeaks material coming up.
REPORTER: What is the nature of that material? How do you read it? What do you think it reveals about Australia?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, it's a pretty spread spectrum, involving a number of large companies and politics, international politics. I don't want to go into any specific detail, obviously.
REPORTER: You had a blossoming relationship with the 'New York Times', and the Guardian, which soured very severely. When did that go off the rails? And, briefly, why?
JULIAN ASSANGE: We - for the Cablegate material - we were in a position last year where we could see that the US intelligence sector, as a whole, was pulling in favours from every area of the world where we had people located. And we were quite concerned about the mass round-up that would interfere with our ability to publish. As part of that, we gave a back-up copy of the material to the 'Guardian' to be used in the event that we were no longer in a position to publish ourselves. We had a written contract with the 'Guardian'. They were to look after the back-up copy, they could read it. But they were not to publish anything from it. They would not give it to any other organisation. They were to store it on a machine that was completely separate from the internet to keep it secure. The 'Guardian' breached every one of those things. Although we were in negotiations with other newspaper, it squirreled to the 'New York Times', it stored on the internet computer systems where the Chinese intelligence, and God knows who, could get it. It published stories on it. It set all this in motion without telling us.
REPORTER: We are starting to see an impact in the Middle East from some of this WikiLeaks material - the upheaval in Tunisia is labelled the WikiLeaks revolution. Are you claiming Egypt as well?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, we have to be careful here. The actual revolution is always done by the people of the country, and usually, as a result of years and years of abuse. There is no difference here. It does seem to be the case that material that we published through a Lebanese newspaper was significantly influential to what happened in Tunisia. Perhaps the most important part was that the cable showed that Ben Ali, in Tunisia, would not necessarily be backed up by the United States. Rather, it was the army that would be afforded by the United States. My suspicion is that that gave the army and people around the army in Tunisia the confidence that they needed to attack the ruling political elite. Additionally, those cables were read by all the surrounding countries' intelligence agencies and armies, and that would have affected their decision on whether they should intervene to support Ben Ali in particular ways. Then there's no doubt that Tunisia was THE example for Egypt, and Yemen and Jordan and all the protests that have happened there.
REPORTER: This is almost text book WikiLeaks theory.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes.
REPORTER: You have always said that if information was available, there would be a political flow-on. I mean, you must be ticking your boxes here going, "There would be an impact."
JULIAN ASSANGE: I mean, it's extremely gratifying. Yes, I've had all these troubles in London. But to see this happening elsewhere - you know, worth every cent of time wasted on the other thing.
REPORTER: Thanks for your time.
13th February 2011