As Julian Assange released his latest secret documents, Mark Davis filmed every step in the unfolding drama.
When the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, leaked his massive stash of secret Afghan war files earlier this week, in no time flat a worldwide controversy erupted around the sensational leaks and around Julian Assange himself. In the US, the Obama Administration at the White House condemned WikiLeaks's actions, the Pentagon called in the FBI to investigate the leaks, and even closer to the action - Afghan President Hamid Karzai slammed Julian Assange claiming that the leaked documents could already be endangering the lives of informants, US troops and innocent Afghan families.
Earlier this year Dateline's Mark Davis travelled through Europe with the then almost reclusive media shy Julian Assange - a veritable human moving target. We broadcast that story by Mark back in May. Since then Julian Assange has been on the run from authorities, and our man Davis was with him as he worked through the 90,000 WikiLeaks documents before their release a few days ago and Julian Assange found himself in the eye of a raging international storm. And a warning, some viewers may find images in this report disturbing.
REPORTER: Mark Davis
NEWS READER: Today Private First Class Bradley Manning is in military custody. An army intelligence analyst, who over time becoming disillusioned with US foreign policy took credit for leaking this video of a US helicopter strike in Baghdad giving it to that whistleblower US website WikiLeaks.
JULIAN ASSANGE, WIKILEAKS: This is disgusting. These claims are not protecting his whistleblowers after the arrest, which critics, what is the evidence;..
It's been a month since Private Manning was arrested for leaking the Iraq video to WikiLeaks - Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange has been virtually in hiding for all that time - moving constantly every few days to cover his trail.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Every false rumour stuck together in the one article.
It's been a long, wearing month for Julian Assange, and internet chatter about him is his main contact with the outside world.
JULIAN ASSANGE: It's a lie. It's just not true.
I spend weeks lying low with Julian Assange, as he prepares for a spectacular re-emergence into the public eye.Assange was in Australia when Manning was arrested.
JULIAN ASSANGE: We had Intel sources saying that things were not looking good.
He immediately went into hiding and then made his way here to the United Kingdom when he believed the US were making requests of the Australian Government to take some action against him.
REPORTER: As far as you could tell what were the requests to Australia?
JULIAN ASSANGE: As far as my source tells me, they were to perhaps raid, detain, interview, get information from in that manner, in the end it was being seen as a counter-espionage request, and was being treated that way by Australian authorities because it involved an Australian journalist. They were a bit hands off.
The arrest of Manning over the Iraq video and other material made it hot enough for Julian Assange, but the material he's holding and working on now makes the Iraq video pale in comparison.
JULIAN ASSANGE: This is 91,000 reports between 2004 and 2010 from US forces not generally including Special Forces but all regular US Army forces in Afghanistan. And it includes the location, date, the unit involved, the number of people killed, wounded or detained. In fact, it's the most detailed history of any war has been made ever. It's significant.
Assange and others have been working around the clock crunching raw military data into GPS-specific graphics and fully searchable text.
JULIAN ASSANGE: It's an extraordinary bit of history.
REPORTER: It's also fairly current, so it's not exactly for librarians.
JULIAN ASSANGE: By history I include what happened an hour ago. There is nothing new in this world other than the history that you don't know yet, right.
He's a man on a mission. But he's not flying entirely solo. For the first time in WikiLeaks's history he has pulled in mainstream media heavyweights to collaborate in preparing material.
REPORTER: So where are we heading now?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Off to the bunker in The Guardian.
REPORTER: What's in the bunker? What's happening in the bunker?
JULIAN ASSANGE: In the bunker we have our team from 'The Guardian', us, 'Der Spiegel', and 'The New York Times' was there, but they've gone back home. We have a really quite horrible airless room filled with computers, but at least to doesn't have anyone else.
In a secure room in The Guardian, teams of researchers and journalists from three publications are working their way through the material.
JULIAN ASSANGE: They describe what they are doing during the 3-hour order, and then there's, like, another five killed here and there, three here. It's suspicious;;.
For anyone to pull these three important organisations together, three competitors together, and us......
At some stage they bring in this AC130 gun ship. It has actually been pretty good. Everyone has been generous and flexible. You always want to sort by civilian casualties. I'm getting carried away. This is the most complex, the others are similar.
With detailed field reports from almost every event in the war now available, unknown incidents are revealed, and the voracity of official accounts of others called into question. This official video supposedly of a battle with the Taliban sits oddly with a leaked report detailing an aerial strike with a hellfire missile and documents the wounded children left in its wake.
GAVIN MACFADYEN, DIRECTOR, LONDON CENTRE FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM: People aren't under cover. They are sitting on top of a wall: that's the propaganda version.
JULIAN ASSANGE: This historical archive belongs to the people of Afghanistan. This is their history.
REPORTER: It belongs to the military of the United States, though, more properly.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, they would say that. It's not the way - in a broader scheme, when all is said and done, I imagine it's probably only a few years off, really this is the - it is the high resolution history of the people of Afghanistan. And it is the first time anything this significant has come out during the course of a war.
After a few days here, it's time to move again. Cramming an extraordinary amount of gear and possessions into what appears to be a magical backpack.
REPORTER: This is pretty much it, this is life's possessions right. This is you.
JULIAN ASSANGE: This is not me. This is portable me.
Assange is heading off to give a talk at London's Centre for Investigative Journalism since speculation has been running rife about his whereabouts, and the possibility of his arrest, this will be his first public appearance.
REPORTER: Why are you popping up now? You've been pretty low - lying low for the last month?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Politically it seems alright. Might even be good to encourage a little bit of action because I think we would win it and benefit from it.
We would find a way to not be scared to publish anything that we actually wanted to publish.
MAN: Aren't you afraid that something may happen to you, because you have an uncomfortable position in the eyes of many enemies.
JULIAN ASSANGE: You act intelligently. You think about the situation, act intelligently.
Centre director Gavin MacFadyen.
GAVIN MACFADYEN: There was never a safe place for a whistleblower to send that material, now there is and so Julian has got it all - Julian is now putting it out, and he's getting major collaborations going, which is extremely interesting. Governments don't like what he does, which makes him very attractive to a lot of people. He becomes almost a celebrity figure in some way.
MAN 2: There must be some secrets Governments can keep secret.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Governments are entitled to keep them, sure.
MAN 2: But you released it.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Doesn't mean we should suffer under coercive force;
MAN 2: If it damaged national security will you go ahead and publish it?
JULIAN ASSANGE: What do you mean, the phrase is so abused. We have a four-year publishing history. We have published enormous quantities of stuff. Pick an example.
MAN 2: Movements of troops;say?
JULIAN ASSANGE: No-one has given us movements of troops.
REPORTER: I doubt few people will question the voracity of the material. It is what it is. Your action in publishing it may be judged and judged very severely.
JULIAN ASSANGE: I think that won't happen quite so much. What our experience is, is that we get attacked when people don't like the message. We get attacked not in proportion to whatever we are doing wrong or doing right, but in proportion to the impact that our material is having. They'll attack the messenger and try to discolour the message by proxy.
REPORTER: You're the messenger.
JULIAN ASSANGE:Yeah. and we are the messenger.
REPORTER: You are the messenger specifically.
JULIAN ASSANGE: That's true. My function in WikiLeaks is to take-all the heat. Personally.
REPORTER: Are you built for that. Is that in your DNA, has that been your experience. My feeling is it's not, and how are you coping with that?
JULIAN ASSANGE: I have had my baptismal fire. We'll see what the second one is like. It probably will be bigger - I think, than the first, on the other hand now I've had some experience, so...
REPORTER: Bit battle hardened.
JULIAN ASSANGE: We'll see how it goes.
As the new material starts to circulate between the three publications the full scope of the data becomes clearer, and one of the partners seems to be getting a little nervous.
JULIAN ASSANGE: The latest squabble is not over the date, they are all happy with that, the precise time. So, anyway, The Times came back and said they don't want to go first. They want us to scoop them.
GAVIN MACFADYEN: So they can claim they were reprinting someone else's news. Exactly.
JULIAN ASSANGE: That's right, so they can claim that we didn't - we weren't involved, we are just reporting what someone else did.
GAVIN MACFADYEN: It's good. So who is going first?
JULIAN ASSANGE: 'The New York Times', wants,wants a web-start-up press - they want a web start up press to scoop them.
REPORTER: The US military accounts of local informers they have, they are given in some detail.
JULIAN ASSANGE: We've withheld all those.
REPORTER: Do you lie awake at night wondering if you have found all those?
JULIAN ASSANGE: They have a particular code within the reports. It wasn't too hard. That said, it is possible, there may be a stray report here or stray report there. The choice, again, we are forced to make hard choices and those hard choices are do we do best effort to minimise harm, which we have done with the understanding that this is an extraordinary body of material capable of producing extraordinary reforms. It belongs in the hands of the Afghan people. Give it to them.
If the material is of a diplomatic, political, ethical and historical significance and has not been published...
With the release date looming Julian Assange begins to give selected interviews.
JULIAN ASSANGE: As to whether something fits into that criteria, well sometimes it's completely clear to one of our people.
He's beginning to shake off his reputation for being elusive and tetchy with the media - to a degree.
INTERVIEWER: Could we talk Julian, a little bit about your life and the way you have to live because of...
JULIAN ASSANGE: No. No. It's an interview about me or WikiLeaks. It can't be an interview about both.
In the final days before the release, Frontline, a journalist club in Paddington becomes temporary HQ for Julian Assange and assorted volunteers.
JULIAN ASSANGE: You know what I've done before, which is really nice, if you think you have a hot phone, you charge the battery up fully, and then you post it overseas - not airmail, snail mail, so, like, it goes on the train, to the airport overseas, so people are tracking it, see it.
This type of quick set-up quick pull-down office is becoming a hallmark of WikiLeaks, and thoroughly in keeping with Assange's semi-itinerant lifestyle that he has led since childhood.
REPORTER: This is temporary HQ?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes, our London HQ. It's pretty nice, actually.
REPORTER: Then the circus moves to another temporary HQ somewhere else.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes. Maybe, I totally rejected the views. You understand the psychology of the person in the childhood and you understand the man. Actually pretty much we're doing something that my family did do when they were involved in theatre and movie business, which is heading off to a certain location, bring all your people, get ready for a production launch, bang, go. I don't think that forced me into doing this work. It certainly perhaps made it a bit easier.
It's 10pm Sunday night. 'The New York Times', The Guardian, and 'Der Spiegel' launch their websites promoting the following day's publication.
MAN 3: CNN says "Tens of thousands of alleged Afghan war documents go online".
WOMAN: 'The New York Times' is going mad on Twitter. The Guardian has a couple, Der Spiegel - just one.
MAN 4: The information is now on the internet. 200,000 pages mostly classified secret, the raw details of America's war in Afghanistan.
It will be the beginning of a media storm that will last for days. With 100 journalists waiting outside, Julian Assange prepares for the critical first press conference that will set the tone of the coverage. Assange sees today's task as keeping the focus on the story, and not on the attacks on him and WikiLeaks that he knows will come.
JULIAN ASSANGE: We are familiar with groups whose abuse we expose attempting to criticise the messenger to distract from the power of the message...for us to reveal that information, however we have done that quite success fully over the past four years.
Pretty good actually - We'll see what they are like when they come out. I think the incentive now is to explore the news worthiness of the event, not to engage in attacks. The news is too much of a leader for this to try...
REPORTER: Meaning attacks on you?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes, attacks on my character.
WOMAN: There's a few people that want really late stuff and really early stuff because of the time differences in different places. I don't know how you're feeling about sleep this evening. They were like, 'The site is overloaded and we can't get on' and were really aggro. I would justignore them if I were you, are you happy to ignore them? OK good.
MAN: They want you to go on Larry King. They want to do the whole hour with a panel. Someone from homeland security, Gates, Ellsberg;..
JULIAN ASSANGE: Gates, Ellsberg and me and another guy. She mentioned a few other names, Howgood would that be! Put it in, I can always cancel at the last moment.
MAN: You can't cancel at the last moment on Larry King.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Why not? Sorry, Larry.
LARRY KING SHOW: Afghanistan bombshell, leaked documents rip the lid off the war. The man whose website WikiLeaks published the classified document for the world to see is here. It's on next on 'Larry King Live'.
LARRY KING: You said that these leaked documents contain evidence of war crimes by United States forces. What kind of evidence?
JULIAN ASSANGE: In the end it will take a court to really look at the full range of evidence and decide if a crime has occurred. We see events like...
JULIAN ASSANGE: There's a vast range of material.
REPORTER: Are you getting to it?
JULIAN ASSANGE: All countries, not just related to United States - all the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, there is material that is every bit as significant as this. Stay tuned.
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1st August 2010