In diplomatic cables, the investigation into WikiLeaks by the U.S. government has been called “unprecedented both in its scale and nature.” How much do you know about it?
Since last September, a secret grand jury was empaneled in Alexandria, Virginia. There is no defense counsel. There are four prosecutors, according to witnesses who have been forced to testify before the grand jury. The jury itself is taken from the local area, and Alexandria has the highest density of government and military contractors anywhere in the United States. It is a place where the U.S. government chooses to conduct all national-security grand juries and trials because of that makeup of the jury pool.
The investigation has involved most of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, the FBI, the State Department, the United States Army. It has subpoenaed the records of most of my U.S. friends or acquaintances. Under what are called Patriot Act production orders, the government has also asked for their Twitter records, Google accounts and individual ISPs. The laws which they’re working toward an indictment on are the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.
And they’re going after Manning, who is facing a life sentence, to get him to say that you’re a spy?
To be another chess piece on the board in the attack on us. The U.S. government is trying to redefine what have been long-accepted journalistic methods. If the Pentagon is to have its way, it will be the end of national-security journalism in the United States.
They’re trying to interpret the Espionage Act to say that any two-way communication with a source is a collaboration with a source, and is therefore a conspiracy to commit espionage where classified information is involved. The Pentagon, in fact, issued a public demand to us that we not only destroy everything we had ever published or were ever going to publish in relation to the U.S. government, but that we also stop “soliciting” information from U.S. government employees. The Espionage Act itself does not mention solicitation, but they’re trying to create a new legal precedent that includes a journalist simply asking a source to communicate information. A few years ago, for example, the CIA destroyed its waterboarding interrogation videos. In the Manning hearing, prosecutors described how we had a most-wanted list, which included those interrogation videos if they still existed.
The WikiLeaks site had a “most-wanted” list of stories you were eager to get?
This list was not put together by us. We asked for nominations from human rights activists and journalists from around the world of the information they most wanted, and we put that on a list. The prosecution in the Manning hearing has been attempting to use that list as evidence of our solicitation of information that is likely to be classified, and therefore our complicity in espionage, if we received such information.
From a journalist’s perspective, a list like that would be the equivalent of a normal editorial meeting where you list the crown jewels of stories you’d love to get.
So if you’re going to jail, then Bob Woodward’s going to jail.
Individuals like Sy Hersh and Dana Priest and Bob Woodward constantly say to their sources, “Hey, what about this, have you heard anything about it? I heard that there’s been an airstrike in Afghanistan that’s killed a bunch of civilians – do you have any more details, and can you prove them with paper?” And all those would be defined as conspiracy to commit espionage under the Pentagon’s interpretation.
Given the broader implications, it’s surprising that you haven’t received much support from what you call the “Anglo-American press.” In fact, The New York Times and The Guardian, both of which collaborated with you on releasing some of the documents, have done their best to distance themselves from you.
The Times ran in the face of fire; it abandoned us once the heat started from the U.S. administration. In doing so, it also abandoned itself, and it abandoned all journalists working on national-security journalism in the United States.
What the Times was concerned about is being swept up in the government’s investigation. If Bradley Manning or another U.S. government employee had collaborated with us to provide us with classified information, and we, in turn, collaborated with the Times to provide it to the world, then the argument would run that the Times had been involved in a conspiracy with us to commit espionage. This is something that the Times was deeply concerned about. It said to us that we should never refer to the Times as a partner – that was their legal advice.
Bill Keller, the former editor of the Times, wrote a widely read and lengthy piece that attacked you personally. In it, he says four or five times that “WikiLeaks is a source, they are not a partner.”
Keller was trying to save his own skin from the espionage investigation in two ways. First, on a legal technicality, by claiming that there was no collaboration, only a passive relationship between journalist and source. And second, by distancing themselves from us by attacking me personally, using all the standard tabloid character-assassination attacks. Many journalists at the Times have approached me to say how embarrassed they were at the lowering of the tone by doing that. Keller also came out and said how pleased the White House was with them that they had not run WikiLeaks material the White House had asked them not to. It is one thing to do that, and it’s another thing to proudly proclaim it. Why did Keller feel the need to tell the world how pleased the White House was with him? For the same reason he felt the need to describe how dirty my socks were. It is not to convey the facts – rather, it is to convey a political alignment. You heard this explicitly: Keller said, “Julian Assange may or may not be a journalist, but he’s not my kind of journalist.” My immediate reaction is, “Thank God I’m not Bill Keller’s type of journalist.”
The publishing mindset at WikiLeaks, it’s fair to say, is radically different than that of the mainstream press. Where a newspaper that received 500,000 documents might release 20, you released all of them.
Cablegate is 3,000 volumes of material. It is the greatest intellectual treasure to have entered into the public record in modern times. The Times released just over 100 cables. There are over 251,000 cables in Cablegate. So our approach is quite different to that of the Times. The Times in its security arrangements was only concerned with preventing The Washington Post from finding out what it was doing. But it told the U.S. government every single cable that it wanted to publish.
And in return, the Times has basically portrayed you as a pariah, despite being responsible for getting them all this incredible material, as well as setting up an innovative organization to gather and process all the leaked data.
Absolutely no honor or gratitude. I don’t wish to make light of the difficulties the Times faces in working in the United States, but I do think it could have managed those difficulties in a more honorable way.
After the Afghan war diaries came out, the Times ran a hostile profile of Bradley Manning that psychologized him into being a sad, mad fag, and can only be described as a tabloid piece. Then, when we published the Iraq War logs, we discovered details about the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians, and details of the torture of more than 1,000 people. Every other paper ran the story. The United Nations and a number of countries investigated the allegations, and even the U.S. military’s own internal documents referred to the abuses as torture. Yet the Times refused to use the word “torture” at all. Instead, they ran a sleazy hit piece against me on the front page that was factually inaccurate. It said, for instance, that I had been charged with sexual abuse when I had not, and that 12 people had defected from our organization when we had suspended one. I don’t mind taking a hit, but it must be factually accurate. For the Times to descend into a tabloid hit piece on the front page when we had just exposed the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians was not commensurate.