WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hits back at Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo after he accused WikiLeaks of being a “hostile nonstate intelligence agency” operating outside of the protections of the First Amendment. This week on Intercepted: We spend the entire show talking with Assange from inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been holed up since June 2012. In the wide-ranging interview, Assange discusses the allegations that WikiLeaks was abetted by Russian intelligence in its publication of DNC emails and the new-found admiration for him by FOX News, Anne Coulter, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump. Also, why Assange believes he and Hillary Clinton may get along if they ever met in person. And we premiere an unreleased song by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine fame.
“Daisy” Presidential Campaign Ad 1964: One, two, three, four, five.
Male Speaker: Eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Zero. [Explosion]
Lyndon B. Johnson: These are the stakes. You make a world in which all of God’s children can live.
[“Danger Zone,” by Kenny Loggins]
Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (“Top Gun”): You guys really are cowboys.
Donald J. Trump: Who the hell cares? I’ll speak to anybody.
TK: You’re everyone’s problem. That’s because every time you go up in the air, you’re unsafe.
DJT: There’s a 10 percent or a 20 percent chance that I can talk him out of those damn nukes, ‘cause who the hell wants him to have nukes? But I wouldn’t give him a state dinner like we do for China and all these other people that rip us off, where we give ‘em these big state dinners.
TK: I don’t like you because you’re dangerous.
DJT: No administration has accomplished more.
DJT: We’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq.
DJT: You never know, do you? You never know.
DJT: We have submarines.
DJT: He’s playing around with nukes.
DJT: We have a big problem. That, I can tell you.
DJT: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
DJT: I will do whatever I have to do.
DJT: I don’t want to talk about it. We are sending an armada.
DJT: We’ll find out.
[“Take My Breath Away,” by Berlin”]
Lt. Gregory ‘Hollywood’ Dishart (“Top Gun”): Gutsiest move I ever saw.
Ainsley Earhardt: That is what freedom looks like. That’s the red, white, and blue.
Geraldo Rivera: Well, one of my favorite things in the 16 years I’ve been here at Fox News is watching bombs drop on bad guys.
GR: It’s not gonna win the war, but it certainly sends a message.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City, and this is episode 13 of Intercepted.
DJT: I was sitting at the table. We had finished dinner. We’re now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen. And, President Xi was enjoying it. And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded. What do you do? And we made a determination to do it. So, the missiles were on the way, heading to Iraq.
Maria Bartiromo: Well, headed to Syria.
DJT: Yes. Heading toward Syria.
JS: Let all doubts be laid to permanent rest. Donald Trump has become the commander-in-chief. Donald Trump is now presidential. And he is keeping us all safe from Iraq — or Syria, whatever country that is. He also deployed Vice President Mike Pence to the demilitarized zone on the border between North Korea and South Korea. And while he was there, Mike Pence wore his leather bomber jacket. And he made clear that his boss, the commander-in-chief, was putting nuclear-armed North Korea on notice. Kim Jong-un should look no further than Trump’s cruise missile strike on the Syrian airfield, and the dropping of the MOAB, the mother of all bombs, in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan. And by the way, it was already named the mother of all bombs before we learned the Mike Pence calls his wife “mother.” It was just a coincidence.
Now, last week, the White House announced that it had sent an aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson, and four other battleships into the Sea of Japan. And this was talked about in the press by White House officials as this warning to the North Koreans. It was Trump once again being presidential. And it was a warning to North Korea, and it was a bold statement on the full range of military options – and this is how it was portrayed in the press — the full range of military options that Trump has on the table. And when I think about Trump having military options on the table, I think of some random table on the al fresco patio that Trump is sitting at in Mar-a-Lago, taking selfies and crashing peoples’ weddings. But on Tuesday of this week, we learned that, oops, those ships that Trump was so presidential in deploying to stand down against Kim Jong-un and nuclear North Korea — yeah, they were actually heading in the opposite direction from North Korea. That’s presidential.
But don’t worry. We have the very noble people at the CIA and within the U.S. military, the quiet professionals in the intelligence community that are protecting us from the dangers of Donald Trump, right? That’s the narrative that we’re told, particularly by liberal pundits, that there is this secret clique of people within the intelligence community, the CIA and others, that are really gonna protect us from the true dangers of Donald Trump. Well, last Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo delivered his first major public address. And of all of the threats in the world that he chose to focus on, he chose WikiLeaks, and the founder of WikiLeaks: Julian Assange.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo: WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service, and has encouraged its followers to find jobs at the CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service, often abetted by state actors like Russia. We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us, to give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets as a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.
JS: Now, I think it would be a mistake to view Pompeo’s speech as just an attack on WikiLeaks. In fact, it was nothing short of a declaration of war against the First Amendment. And what does that mean, “ends now”? Of course, part of the irony here is that Donald Trump, throughout the campaign, heaped praise on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.
DJT: This just came out. This just came out. WikiLeaks — I love WikiLeaks.
JS: Fox News promoted WikiLeaks releases of the DNC emails and John Podesta’s emails. Republicans and extreme rightwing political figures, pundits, whatever you want to call people like Ann Coulter, these people that had previously called basically for Assange’s head were suddenly taking it all back. Oh, WikiLeaks is great. For the Democrats, of course, the focus on WikiLeaks has been they published volumes of emails from within the DNC and from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta. And the story goes in the liberal media that it was all a plot orchestrated by the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin to get Trump elected. That’s why Hillary Clinton lost. Russian hacking, Julian Assange — everything else is just an insignificant sideshow.
Hillary Clinton: Putin and the Russian government are directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts, to influence our election. And WikiLeaks is part of that, as are other sites where the Russians hack information. We don’t even know if it’s accurate information. And then they put it out.
JS: Well, what does it mean that the CIA Director has said that basically, WikiLeaks “ends now?” By what means would the CIA accomplish that? Julian Assange is holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and he’s been there since June of 2012. And Assange believes that if he were to leave the embassy, that there is a great chance that he would be snatched and ultimately extradited to the United States, where for years, Assange and his legal team have believed that there was a sealed indictment against him for the activities of WikiLeaks for the past decade, exposing U.S. war operations, and publishing state department cables and videos that show U.S. helicopter gunships killing civilians and journalists in Iraq.
Audio from WikiLeaks’ released “Collateral Murder” video
Male Speaker 1: Just fuckin’ — once you get on, just open up.
Male Speaker 2: I am. All right, firing.
Male Speaker: Let me know when you get them.
Male Speaker 1: Light ‘em all up.
Male Speaker: Come on, fire! [Gunshots]
Male Speaker 2: Roger. [Gunshots]
Male Speaker 1: Keep shooting. [Gunshots]
Male Speaker 1: Keep shooting. [Gunshots]
JS: Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, they’re talked about pretty much every day in the U.S. media now. They’re the focus of parts of Congressional testimony and inquiries, and also conspiracy theories about who really is Julian Assange working for? Well, at Intercepted, we believe that it’s important to hear from the man himself in his own words. And so, Julian Assange joins us now from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Julian, welcome to Intercepted.
Julian Assange: Good day, Jeremy.
JS: What is your response to the dominant narrative in the U.S. corporate media that you were the recipient of leaks that were either overtly or covertly provided to you by the Russians in an effort to defeat Hillary Clinton and ensure that Donald Trump was elected?
JA: Well, it’s interesting. If you read the wording carefully, that’s not the dominant narrative. That’s never said in anything that’s fact-checked because James Clapper, the former head of the DNI, James Comey have both said under oath, and Barack Obama, in the last — his very last press conference, actually, that WikiLeaks is no different to the rest of the U.S. media. There’s no allegation, even from U.S. intelligence, even from Democratic-aligned members of the intelligence services, that WikiLeaks dealt with the Russians, conspired with the Russians, etc., etc. The allegation is, from them, which we don’t accept, is that we received material that was given to us indirectly, and that they don’t have an understanding of how we got our material, the timing, etc. That’s said in Congress under oath. So, if we compare WikiLeaks with the rest of the U.S. media, who else published material allegedly leaked or hacked from the Democratic Party? The Hill did, The Smoking Gun did, New York Times, Politico, drawing on both our publications and alleged publications from Guccifer 2.0 or this alleged website, D.C. Leaks.
But in the case of Guccifer 2.0, the allegation by U.S. intelligence is that he was a member of the Russian intelligence services, so GRU. And the same with D.C. Leaks. And various media organizations dealt directly with D.C. Leaks and Guccifer 2.0. But the allegation in relation to us is that — which, once again, we don’t agree with — but that Russian hackers of some kind gave information to various state parties or approved of by the state, and eventually, it came to us. So, there’s an acceptance by the officials in the U.S. Obama administration that WikiLeaks was not engaging directly with the Russian government at all, but other U.S. media organizations were directly engaging with the Russian government.
JS: Just to clarify here, when I talk about the dominant narrative in the news media, I’m not referring to the Clapper statements or Obama statements that you accurately portray there. I’m talking about the kind of commentariat that exists on —
JA: Yes, that’s right.
JS: On U.S. media. That’s too nuanced for them. They don’t —
JA: And you look at what Pompeo, the current director of the CIA, stated. He said that WikiLeaks is a publisher, or I can’t remember exactly what word he used, that was abetted by other state intelligence agencies, including Russia.
MP: In January of this year, our intelligence committee determined that Russian military intelligence, the GRU, had used WikiLeaks to release data of U.S. victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee.
JA: So, what is he saying — what does he mean by “abetted”? We don’t know. The word isn’t unpacked. But if it is to be compatible with what James Comey said just a couple of weeks ago, what Obama said in January, and what DNI Clapper said last year, he must be speaking about indirectly, somehow, information came to WikiLeaks and we published it. That’s what he means by “abetted”.
JS: Well, actually, Julian, he said — and this is a direct quote — “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it is, a non-state hostile intelligence service, often abetted by state actors like Russia.” He’s not referring to you as a publisher. He’s referring to you as — you meaning WikiLeaks — as a non-state hostile intelligence service.
JA: Yeah. I mean, I quite like the phrase. So, let’s unpack it a bit. Interestingly, what the media, in picking up that statement — well, most journalists in the United States are Democratically-aligned, and they have a particular existing narrative that they want to play out. So, they see the word “state,” they see the word “hostile,” they see the word “intelligence service,” and they see the word “WikiLeaks,” and somehow, they put this soup together to imply that somehow, WikiLeaks is a state intelligence service. But if you look at what he’s saying, he says non-state intelligence service; i.e., we are not a state. We’re not a front for a state whatsoever. We’re a non-state entity. Okay, the type of entity that he’s trying to say we are is an intelligence service. It raises an interesting question. What are the similarities between publishers, investigative publishers, and intelligence services? Are there similarities?
Yes, there are similarities. For example, the German intelligence service, the BND, the German equivalent of the CIA and NSA combined — what does BND expand to? Bundesnachrichtendienst, which literally means “federal news service.” The CIA itself, early on in the Obama administration, changed its policy of how it would write its internal reports to say that they should take on the inverted pyramid style. They should adopt the style used by news articles internally in making their reports. So, can you say that The Intercept or WikiLeaks or ProPublica is in fact like an intelligence service? Well, yes and no. Intelligence services are in the business of developing sources, obtaining information that is not already public, analyzing it, verifying it, writing some of that up, making it accessible. And then, what do they do with it? They don’t publish it. The publishers, what do they do with the information? They publish it. So, the different between a serious news organization that covers national security or an investigative publisher like WikiLeaks, or The Intercept, or ProPublica, or the London Bureau of Investigative Journalism is that their end product is publishing.
JS: Right. You know, of course, we all watched with some curiosity as Pompeo used a line from an Intercept article to attack you. And I wanted to give you a chance —
JA: Yes. I never liked that article. I — [laughs]
JS: But I want to give you a chance to — this, of course, was an article by Sam Biddle. And I wanted to give you a chance to respond to that.
JA: I can’t remember the name at the time, but I do remember reading the article at the time and thinking, that was inaccurate and unhelpful in the present climate.
JS: So, what he said is —
MP: The Intercept, which has in the past gleefully reported unauthorized disclosures, accused WikiLeaks in late March of “stretching the facts” in its comments about the CIA. In the same article, The Intercept added that the documents “were not worth the concern WikiLeaks generated by its public comments.”
JS: This was referring to the Vault 7 releases that you published.
JA: I think that was about Signal. We had this incredible scoop that we’re in the business of publishing right now, which is in fact the reason why Pompeo is launching this attack, is because he understands we’re in this series exposing all sorts of illegal actions by the CIA, so he’s trying to get ahead of the publicity curve and create a preemptive defense. So, one of the, I thought, important revelations from our initial Vault 7 publication was that the CIA had spent enormous resources on developing endpoint attacks. That is, to attack your smartphone directly, Apple or Android smartphones, and thereby simply bypass Signal and all these other encryption technologies: Telegram, WhatsApp, etc., that have become popular in the last few years. There’s been a kind of app cult which has developed amongst a certain journalistic and security class, which emanates out of San Francisco, where Signal was — might still be developed. And that app supremacy class sort of pushes forward that you just install this app, and all your problems will be solved.
We thought it was very important to show that, no, that’s not true. The encryption itself is quite good in most of those programs, as far as can be determined, but if you can hack the endpoints, the encryption doesn’t matter. They’re still important for preventing or making the expanse of bulk surveillance harder. But if you are a person of interest and they get your phone number, they can hack your endpoint.
JS: Right. And the fact is that two years ago, a report I did described how the NSA and GCHQ had in fact broken into, both physically and digitally, broken into the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world —
JS: Gemalto, which is a Dutch-French firm. And part of the point of that was, if we have the keys to every lock on every phone, it doesn’t matter what their encryption level is because we can access the data. And I think that the same is true, of course, with Signal, WhatsApp, or any other — or your computer. If they owned your computer, no level of encryption is gonna protect you.
JA: That’s right.
JS: If they already have you keylogged. So, on that level, to —
JA: Yeah. If they have the information before it’s encrypted and they get it after it’s decrypted on the other end.
JS: Right. But you have to admit that the way that it was reported — I’m not saying you projected it this way. The way it was reported was, oh my god, there are these flaws in Signal. And in a bigger picture, you can say, yes, there are. This is an inherent flaw of every app. But are you concerned? I mean, don’t you —
JA: It’s not a flaw in Signal. It’s not a flaw in Signal. It is a flaw in the marketing of Signal and the marketing of these apps. This kind of — as I said, this cultish app supremacy that doesn’t want to talk about, yes, these are important. They make it much harder to conduct mass surveillance. But on the other hand, if you’re a person of interest, there’s plenty of ways to actually get in behind the encryption by hacking your phone. If the marketing had been done accurately, it wouldn’t have been a news story. It would have already been known. Because amongst technical people, of course, this already was known, of course, if they hack your phone, these encryption tools are worthless. But it was news. And it was news because of the misleading information that had been put about those crypto-products.
JS: I agree with the warning that you’re sounding, which is that if people adopt the view, “oh my god, if I put Signal on my phone and that’s the only way that I communicate with people on sensitive issues, then I’m totally safe,” that that’s rank bullshit.
JA: Yeah, that’s pretty dangerous.
JS: Yeah. No, I agree with you. I agree, it’s dangerous. So, let me ask you a couple of quick-fire questions about the way WikiLeaks has been portrayed in the U.S. media, just to get this, in a more precise way, answered. Was WikiLeaks in possession of any RNC emails that it did not publish?
JA: No. Very interestingly, Comey, in his last Congressional testimony, he was asked a question. I can’t remember exactly the context, but his answer was, “No RNC leaks were published.”
Rep. Jim Himes: Let me just ask this question, then. Was there any equivalent dissemination of adverse information stolen from the RNC or individuals associated with the Trump campaign?
James Comey: No.
JH: Thank you.
JA: And that’s false. I find it quite strange that — we didn’t publish any ‘cause we didn’t have any, but I find it quite strange that James Comey, under oath, would say something that is provably untrue and is an obviously relevant matter which he should know about. I mean, this D.C. Leaks outfit did publish a range of RNC emails. They weren’t picked up because — I think because it’s a kind of stupid website with — it’s very hard to read, had no credibility, didn’t promote the material well. But that was published during August 2016.
JS: Would you have published in the same manner RNC emails in the race between Hillary and Trump?
JA: Of course. When does WikiLeaks get a great scoop and not publish it?
JS: No, no, I know. I’m asking because I’m responding to some of the idiocy in the U.S. press.
JA: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it’s — to some degree, WikiLeaks is — we’re a hostage to fortune because we do specialize on encouraging whistleblowers and other sources to step forward, and then analyzing what we get from them. And we specialize on really big scoops. You can’t go, oh, look, we have this massive scoop about corruption in the DNC. Now we need to balance this with a massive scoop about corruption in the RNC. These things come along once every few years. I mean, you can’t, you can’t go, “oh, now we’re going to balance.” Like, put it another way — did any other media organization publish a massive leak about what was in the RNC? The combined forces of the U.S. media, which, apart from Fox, was pretty solidly in the Hillary camp, and the European media, which was much the same, were not able to find any massive scoop on Donald Trump, apart from the sex tape. The New York Times got hold of one small tax extract for one year, which is not a massive scoop —and none of the other — none of the other years and none of the other papers. We asked for those. You know, we encouraged people to step forward.
So, I think part of what is going on is it’s kind of flattering that there’s a view that WikiLeaks is omnipotent in its ability to get hold of massive scoops whenever it wants. That’s nice. It’s good for the institution’s reputation. But it’s not true. Massive scoops are hard to come by. They’re hard to come by, and they come at their own time, not when you think, oh, we need to — we need to, you know, engage in a bit of balancing operation, so, you know, people stop falsely saying that we’re Republican-aligned.
JS: Right. Well, and I should say that both Glenn Greenwald and myself were attacked in a similar vein to you, where they were saying, oh, you guys were harping on Hillary Clinton. You were talking about her emails, and you were part of how Trump got elected. I mean, you of course got this on a totally different level than we did. But we got —
JA: Oh, I noticed that you guys were getting that as well.
JS: Yeah. And then — and what we were doing was reporting on what you were publishing at WikiLeaks. But I want to ask you, did you have, during the campaign, communications with Roger Stone or other members of the Trump campaign about messaging, or what you were publishing, or what was going to come up? Did Roger Stone ever get a scoop from you where you told him, “we’re gonna be doing this thing?” ‘Cause he seemed to indicate that he was getting information from you.
Roger Stone: I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next crunch of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation. But there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.
JA: People are just being led through their noses by Roger Stone. If there was some conspiracy with Roger Stone, do you think he would be trying to intimate that he had some undefined, unnamed back channel? He’s just trying — well, I’m not going to project what I think is happening inside his head, particularly since he’s said nice things about us. But the result of what his statements were is that suddenly, people in the Republican base, which he was talking to, started paying him attention. He started getting spots on TV. He started getting a lot of attention, and started selling a lot more books. So, I mean, it’s an amazing bit of chutzpah and pretty clever marketing, but there was no communication.
JS: So, you never —
JA: We have had a communication with Roger Stone. I admit it. Do you want me to tell you what it is?
JA: It was, “Why are you saying — why are you going around saying we have communicated? We have no record of communication with you. We’re not aware of any form of communication. What are you saying?”
JS: And that was it. That’s the extent of you and, to your knowledge, WikiLeaks’s communications with Roger Stone.
JA: During the campaign, yes.
JS: And since, has he?
JA: After the campaign, it’s a similar type of, “what are you doing?” Stone complaining, “Stop attacking me. I’m a supporter, so, why are you attacking me?”
JS: Do you know how you got the DNC emails?
JA: That treads on sourcing, so —
JS: No, I know. I’m trying to ask in a way, Julian, that respects —
JA: I’ll put the response in another way. For each publication, we develop an understanding of the publication and its context, to the point where we are confident in its veracity.
JS: Okay. I respect that, but I think you, being a publisher and being in this game for a long time, understand why people would want to understand your perspective on this question. Are you confident —
JA: I agree. I agree. I, I —
JS: Well, are you confident that you did not get these from Russia?
JA: I apologize that WikiLeaks can’t name its sources.
JS: No, I don’t want you to name your source, Julian.
JA: We wouldn’t have any if we went around naming them, or talking about, or kind of giving a 20 clues perspective.
JS: Come on, Julian. You know I’m not asking you to do that. I’m saying, are you confident, as a publisher of a very influential organization — are you confident that you were not given these documents by a foreign government for their own purposes?
JA: I’m confident in what we have already stated, that our source is not part of a government.
JS: Right. But let’s game this out. Let’s say someone, let’s say —
JA: No, I’m not talking about — I’m not gonna go into who — where our sources placed our — who our source’s, you know, friends are.
JS: Okay, let me put it on myself. Let’s say. —
JA: — Anything like that. I’m not going near it.
JS: But let me put it on myself. Let’s say that I get a cache of documents from a source, and I’m trying to determine where those documents came from. And I suspect that they may have come from a foreign intelligence service. Now, to me, that doesn’t mean, “oh my god, you don’t publish them because they came from a foreign intelligence service.” It means you have to figure out, are these accurate? What is the context of what they say? Do they give a complete picture? And what is the potential — what are the potential voids in the information? Do you feel like you did enough diligence to —
JA: In terms of voids and accuracy, yes. Very confident.
JS: Mm-hmm. And on a philosophical level, Julian, ‘cause I know you actually have a firm grasp of philosophy — on a philosophical level, if the documents were received from a foreign government, and you had verified the accuracy of them, the context of them, and that there wasn’t some big missing piece, do you believe that those still should be published?
JA: Well, not only do I believe that they should still be published. That’s the recently stated position of Dean Baquet, the editor of the New York Times. It’s not a — I don’t think there’s much argument.
Dean Baquet: But I think that truth trumps strategy and everything else every day. And if a powerful figure writes emails that are newsworthy, you just gotta publish ‘em. I mean, look, Edward Snowden stole documents. We, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and others reported them. I think they provoked one of the most compelling arguments about national security we’ve had in a generation.
JA: Let’s kind of flip the situation. Just imagination if WikiLeaks had obtained information they knew was true about the Democratic Party and corruption in the primary process, and it decided that it was not going to publish that information, but suppress it. It would be completely unconscionable. It was something you go, like, could we actually do it? Could we suppress information? WikiLeaks can’t keep coherency amongst its staff, it can’t have a committed, dedicated staff, which you need to survive in this kind of serious conflict with intelligence agencies. It couldn’t have that esprit de corps if we went around suppressing information that we knew to be true that lots of people were interested in, in order to favor one particular candidate in an election.
JS: In a few minutes, we’re gonna continue our conversation with Julian Assange. And I want to ask him about Fox News’ newly found admiration for him and for WikiLeaks. And also, before we go to break, we wanted to share with you a song sent in to us by the legendary musician Tom Morello. He, of course, is one of the most celebrated guitarists of our time. He was a founder, original member of Rage Against the Machine and Street Sweeper Social Club. Tom, more recently, has been performing as The Nightwatchman, and he is now part of the — I guess you could say supergroup of the ‘90s. It’s called Prophets of Rage, and it’s Tom Morello, and Chuck D of Public Enemy, and B-Real from Cypress Hill. Well, Tom sent us a song, and the song has never been publicly released before now. Here is the world premiere of Tom Morello’s “Keep Going.”
[Tom Morello, “Keep Going”]
If you hear the dogs
See the torches in the woods
They’re shouting after you
You want a taste of freedom
It’s time for another chapter
Heretics have found the rapture
I was born for this minute
I was outside
But now I’m in it
So if you hear the dogs
See the torches in the woods
They’re shouting after you
You want a taste of freedom
86 miles there
86 miles back
Stole a brand new car
Can’t afford the gas
At the crossroads right around midnight
I pimp slap the devil
He couldn’t get my riffs right
I hear the dogs
See the torches in the woods
They’re shouting after you
You want a taste of freedom
Rise like coyotes
Cold blackened thunder
The fleet has left, son
While the admiral slumbers
Go on, test the chains
Go on, gnaw the screws
You are many
They are few
You are many
They are few
So if you hear the dogs
See the torches in the woods
If they’re shouting after you
You want a taste of freedom
You want a taste of freedom
JS: Many thanks to our friend Tom Morello for his words and his work, and for sharing this track “Keep Going” with us here on Intercepted. We’re gonna take a quick break and then return with more questions for Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
JS: Okay, we are back now on Intercepted.
MP: No, Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom. They have pretended America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they’re wrong. Assange is a narcissist who has created nothing of value. He relies on the dirty work of others to make himself famous. He is a fraud, a coward hiding behind a screen. And in Kansas, we know something about wizards hiding behind screens.
JS: That was CIA Director Mike Pompeo, again, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. And our guest remains the man Pompeo put in the crosshairs of the CIA, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. Julian, the CIA Director spent the majority of his speech on you and on WikiLeaks. And I’m curious, as you watched this speech from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, what was your immediate reaction?
JA: Well, initially, we thought it was quite a weak speech in that it put the CIA in a position where they looked like they were frightened and worried that we were the better intelligence service, ‘cause they decided to put us in that competitive context. I think the Director of the CIA should have gravitas, so that you feel that he’s a sober person, a very considered person, who is able to look closely at the information that he and his teams are assembling, and ensure that it’s accurate and not politicized. And as his first speech, Pompeo was not demonstrating that to CIA staff or to the intelligence partners of the CIA, or to the media, or anyone else who has to go, well, is what the CIA is saying about Syria — is that true or not? Can I be confident that Pompeo is a measured man with gravitas, insight, who wouldn’t lie to me? And when he descended into pompous kind of name-calling, that’s not what intelligence reporting should be about.
MP: First, to the days like today, where we call up those who grant a platform to these leakers and so-called transparency activists. We know the danger that Assange and his not-so-merry band of brothers pose to democracies around the world. Ignorance or misplaced idealism is no longer an acceptable excuse for lionizing these demons.
JA: Look, Pompeo said explicitly that he was going to redefine the legal parameters of the First Amendment to define publishers like WikiLeaks in such a manner that the First Amendment would not apply to them. What the hell is going on? This is the head of the largest intelligence service in the world, the intelligence service of the United States. He doesn’t get to make proclamations on interpretation of the law. That’s a responsibility for the courts. It’s a responsibility for Congress. And perhaps it’s a responsibility for the attorney general. It’s way out of line to usurp the roles of those entities that are formally engaged in defining the interpretations of the First Amendment. For any — frankly, any other group to pronounce themselves, but for the head of the CIA, to pronounce what the boundaries are of reporting and not reporting are is a very disturbing precedent.
JS: Right. And of course, Donald Trump has referred to himself as a media organization because of his social media following. So, I’d be curious to know what Director Pompeo thinks about that. But I wanted to ask you —
JA: Well, the First — he was saying, “Julian Assange has no First Amendment rights.”
JA: This is not how the First Amendment works. It’s just legally wrong. The First Amendment is not a positive definition of rights. It’s a negative definition. It limits what the federal government does. It doesn’t say the federal government must give individuals rights and enforce that. It limits what the federal government can do to take away a certain climate of open debate in the United States. So, the First Amendment prevents Congress and the Executive from engaging in actions themselves which would limit not only the ability of people to speak and to publish freely, but would also limit the ability of people to read and understand information, because it is that climate of public debate which creates a check on a centralized governmental structure from becoming authoritarian. It’s a right from that perspective for all the people, not just the publisher.
JS: What was it like for you when Donald Trump would mention you publicly or mention WikiLeaks publicly, or tweet — even though he somehow never could seem to spell WikiLeaks correctly, but he did tweet about WikiLeaks frequently?
JA: He did correct it once. He did make a correction once.
JS: Oh, good. Okay, well, at least he corrected that.
DJT: By the way, did you see another one? Another one came in today. This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.
JS: I mean, just on a personal level, Julian, like, what was it like to see Trump citing WikiLeaks during the course of his campaign in the way that he did?
JA: Well, I mean, whenever a high-profile person cites our material, especially when a big audience is watching, we think, great, more people are gonna read it. From that perspective, we thought, well, this is great. Donald Trump is marketing our material. People are gonna read it.
JS: Yeah, but he got you some really reprehensible fans. I mean, come on, Sean Hannity comes over and sits down. I mean, Sean Hannity is an amoral charlatan.
JA: Yeah, but I don’t — I’m not a groupist, if that makes sense.
JS: No, I know you’re not, but come — give me a break. I mean, Sean Hannity is — he’s a carnival barker for extreme rightwing causes in the United States, and he jumped onto the WikiLeaks bandwagon for his own partisan, narrow political purposes. He’s no friend of WikiLeaks or free information.
JA: Yeah, and probably Sarah Palin did as well. But did Sarah Palin say the right thing? Did she do the right thing? Why, Sarah Palin said I should be hunted down like the Taliban. We published her emails in 2008, and she subsequently came out and apologized, and said that people should watch the Snowden film. So, this is very interesting. This is not just about WikiLeaks. This is about a, my guess, a certain perception amongst populist rightwing politicians like Sarah Palin, that the population has shifted in what it expects, and that critiques of mass surveillance and WikiLeaks are now something that are becoming something that’s sayable. And of course, yes, on a particular — on the narrow basis, something that we publish which damages the reputation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the DNC, or something like that — of course, that’s just party political. But I wouldn’t underestimate that there is an important transition in this populist right sphere. And you can talk about how it’s been instrumentalized and so on. But there’s a — I think a very important transition where a number of the grassroots on the populist right are saying wars or intervention are bad. The CIA is problematic. That’s an extraordinary education that has occurred in that light.
JS: Right, but I think —
JA: And I don’t think — I don’t think it comes about just because of Donald Trump. But the election campaign certainly brought it out to a greater degree, and Trump and his team tried to harmonize with parts of it.
JS: But Julian, look at it from the other side, which I’ve experienced in my time as a reporter. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are in power. Liberals love me. Oh, I’m writing about Blackwater. Oh, I’m writing about Iraq, etc. Then Obama comes into power and shoots the popularity ratings of drone strikes off the charts. MSNBC, I’m basically persona non grata. And a lot of it was about their own partisan leanings. I mean I felt dirty as fuck the other day when Ann Coulter followed me on Twitter and is retweeting me positively.
JA: Well, she said I should be prosecute — you know, she went on Bill O’Reilly in 2010 and said I should be prosecuted.
JS: Yeah, and now she probably wants to come visit you and bring you flowers.
JA: And then — and then she said some good things. I just, I think you have to —
JS: Yeah, but – but Julian, come on. You and I have both been around –
JA: You have to —
JS: Wait, no. I want to stop you on this. I just want to ask you.
JA: All the big mainstream media outfits are evil.
JS: Yeah, but Julian, you seem to be —
JA: The massive media holdings, they’re just serious power players. I mean, there’s — that I can discern, there’s no genuine human moral values that are being pushed by these guys. But you have to instrumentalize them, just like you’ve got to put Shell in your car.
JA: People who want to get the truth out, they have to instrumentalize these big networks.
JS: There is an extent to which I get the logic there. I do think, though, and I’m not necessarily saying this is the conclusion I draw from what you’re saying. But I do think that — I’m not certain that you’ve brought Sean Hannity along to some realization that what the NSA has been doing represents a fundamental violation of our rights. I think that these guys are in the moment, saying, “Huh, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And I do think — I mean, you certainly are a shrewd enough person to understand that these guys aren’t your friends. They aren’t in sync with your —
JA: I think that’s largely right. But is it great that, you know, a network like Fox might actually pick up true material?
JS: No, it’s surreal, Julian. But it exists at a moment in time —
JA: [Crosstalk] sometimes, but for WikiLeaks to be able to present true material to a wide audience, that’s a good thing.
JS: Okay, I agree with you a hundred percent there, and I find it surreal and amazing, and I’ll — in a way, I’ll take it any way I can get it, and I give you total credit for somehow figuring out a way to get Sean Hannity to come to London, into the embassy that you’ve been basically imprisoned in for years.
JA: It’s incredible. And, you know — and publicly apologize, etc. He has taken some heat for that, by the way. I wouldn’t — in my view, you know, I guess Trump is an interesting figure psychologically. But Sean Hannity’s more normal.
JA: Yes, of course there’s groupism operating and probably opportunism as well. But, you know, I don’t think you can cast these people as devils at all. These are people with a range of noble and ignoble character traits. They’re human beings. And they have a worldview, and it really is a worldview. They exist within a particular information sphere, which I find fairly confining and self-referential, and believe some weird things. But I think that’s a product of the information that they receive, their upbringing, their — you know, the networks who are keeping them in a particular bubble. And I don’t think it’s because, with some exceptions, that they are intrinsically bad human beings.
JS: I’m not saying they’re intrinsically bad human beings. I do believe — first of all, the way that Trump referenced you on the campaign trail, he should have given you immunity and exonerated you of any potential future prosecution, given what he —
JA: I mean he should have done that anyway. We didn’t need to — because, I mean, Obama should have done that. It’s — those are the rules of the DOJ introduced in 2005. And, you know, if they follow those rules, if they follow the First Amendment, they shouldn’t be pursuing a prosecution.
JS: Right. But I mean, I agree with that logic. But what I was saying is if — I was more making a direct statement, which is that if Trump truly believes that what you’ve done is a public service, which Obama, you know, he flirted with a version of that about parts of what Snowden did. But what I’m saying is that if Trump asserted these things about the public value of what you did —
JS: And promoted the idea that WikiLeaks was a pro-democracy organization, which he did, then it’s a much more obvious call on him to say, “Okay, well, then do the logical thing,” than Obama, who took a publicly hostile and privately hostile stance toward you.
JA: Yeah, but you have — I mean who knows what would have happened anyway. But of course, the Russian narrative has politically confined the administration in relation to a whole lot — in relation to anything that’s anywhere near that narrative. That’s us. That’s having peace with Russia. And of course, it’s ultimately, in my view, the declining popularity, coming out of a variety of things, but including the eating away at Trump by the Russian narrative that has caused him to look for distractions. And those distractions include throwing missiles at people.
JS: Yeah, I mean, and it’s — you know, he now is in the mode where I think he realizes how good it is to embrace the idea —
JA: Well, he’s seen it. I mean, it’s —
JS: Yeah. It’s — it makes him drunk with power. I mean, you’re —
JA: The cable networks across the board, including CNN, CBS, ABC, were in love with his missile strike on Syria, and he’s seen that and understood it. Early on, it seems to me that he was making a mistake with how he was setting up the cabinet. And I remarked on it at the time that it was becoming very general-heavy, and that that could lead to serious problems.
DJT: I see my generals. Those generals are gonna keep us so safe. They’re gonna have a lot of problems, the other side. They’re gonna look at — they’re gonna look at a couple of ‘em. These are central casting. If I’m doing a movie, I’d pick you, General.
JA: There was a reason it was becoming very general-heavy. Well, my interpretation is that the democratically aligned media’s constant assault on him, which also correlated with an assault on him by the Central Intelligence Agency, lessly agreed to FBI, resulted in him going, “Well, I have to have some people that they’re not going to criticize, and who are part of the core power element of the state.” You can’t have a presidency or a cabinet, which doesn’t have loyal hard power. So, what are the hard power elements? It’s the military, and the police, possibly the judiciary, insofar as they couple to the police. And so, he didn’t have the police. Definitely didn’t have the judiciary. There’s one more. It’s soft power, but it can translate to hard power, which is the general support of the population, because ultimately, serious support of the population will dominate the streets. So, he had to rely on building up support from the Pentagon. As a result, the cabinet became general-heavy, and now we see the result.
JS: A final question. Obviously, you have reason to identify former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as one of the people who put you in the position that you’re in and went after WikiLeaks with a passion. Was there any part of you during the publication of the DNC emails or the political campaign — was part of this a vendetta or part of the war between what was Hillary Clinton’s State Department and WikiLeaks? Was there —is there any truth to the idea that you wanted Hillary Clinton to fail to win the presidency?
JA: Well, that’s kind of the psychobabble explanation.
JS: That’s why I’m asking you for it.
JS: I’m asking you because that’s what people say.
JA: If a man does something and it’s, you know, substantive, then it must be because he has a problem.
JS: No, it’s a question that I’m asking you.
JA: That’s the type — that’s kind of East Coast psychobabble —
JS: No. [Laughs]
JA: Explanation for why things occur.
JS: Okay, maybe that’s true, Julian. But I’m just, I’m asking you because this is — you’re in your own prison of sorts because you can’t leave that embassy. The American people are in the prison of their own cable news vacuum.
JS: And that is a big part of the narrative. So, I’m trying to give you an opportunity to respond to what people are basically told all the time about you on television here.
JA: Well, I mean, I’ve never met Hillary Clinton. I think I would probably like her in person. Most good politicians are quite charismatic in person. In some way, she’s a bit like me. She’s a bit wonkish and a bit awkward. So, maybe we’d get along. But I look at it through two lenses. Number one, the lens of WikiLeaks the publisher, and me as the editor of WikiLeaks. Hillary Clinton’s an interesting person because she was anointed to take the formal executive power of the United States. She had also been Secretary of State. And we had become domain specialists in a variety of ways. Did we pursue collecting documents about Hillary Clinton because of some kind of vendetta or because we perceived that that was where the center of power was heading in the United States, and a lot of people were very interested in where the center of power was heading? It’s not that we thought, well, look, Hillary Clinton, she was involved in putting Chelsea Manning in prison. No. It’s — that’s not the case.
We thought Hillary Clinton was going to win. We thought our publications were actually going to create a very infuriated Hillary Clinton on the other end that we would have to deal with. So, it’s a kind of — far from that publishing cycle being one of self-interest, it was one of, as far as we foresaw, one of self-sacrifice, because we were infuriating what everyone perceived would be the next executive. If we had wanted to kind of do things for me, we would have praised Hillary Clinton and, you know — and published stuff about her opponent, because everyone was predicting Hillary Clinton would win, including me.
JS: Mm-hmm. What’s the most realistic path to you getting out of that embassy and actually being free?
JA: Well, on February 5th, last year, after 16 months of litigation, the UN formally ruled that I am being unlawfully detained and should be immediately freed and compensated. The UK appealed, and we won the appeal in November, so there’s now two rulings at the United Nations level saying that I’m being unlawfully detained in violation of international treaties, which the UK is a party to, and I should be immediately released and compensated. So, I think, you know, it’s entirely political, how much political pressure the United Kingdom and Sweden and Australia perceive that the U.S. security state is placing on them to conduct things in a certain way, and then their own prestige in the situation. So, how can they get out of the situation and still keep face, and how can they get out of the situation and not offend the U.S. security sector? Of course, our publications in relation to the CIA make the equation a lot harder because there will be a perception that they’re likely to offend.
I will note the Director Mike Pompeo, the CIA Director, the day before he gave that speech on Thursday evening before Easter Friday, he was in London. I don’t know what he was doing in London, but he was in London. And there’s a statement in his speech, which is — you know, you can look at that speech as it’s mostly kind of hot air. But there are a couple of important positional revelations. They are his attempts to redefine who is a journalist, who is not; who is a publisher, who is not. There’s a disclosure about the existing case against us, where Pompeo has stated that WikiLeaks instructed Chelsea Manning to go after certain information. That’s an interesting revelation. And then there is his statement that this, i.e., WikiLeaks and its publications, are — end now.
So, how does he propose to conduct this ending? He didn’t say, but the CIA is only in the business of collecting information, kidnapping people, and assassinating people. So, it’s quite a menacing statement that he does need to clarify. It’s also something that’s false. We did our next CIA publication the next day, together with our partners, Liberation media partner in France and La Republica in Italy. So, I like to joke that the CIA directed Pompeo in his maiden speech, make his first prediction as America’s chief intelligence officer, and it was that WikiLeaks publications would be no more after that speech, and he was proven wrong next day. I think what he was saying, what was ending now was his reputation.
JS: Hm. I do hope that we see you as a free man out in the world with the ability to publish.
JA: Thanks, Jeremy. Take care.
JS: All right, thanks a lot, Julian. I really appreciate it.
JA: Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks. Julian remains confined in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and he’s been there since the summer of 2012.
I want to just give a heads up to people. My colleague Laura Poitras, who won the Academy Award for her documentary “Citizenfour” about NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden, she has a new film that’s going to be hitting theaters this summer. Actually, it premieres on May 5th in some cities, and it’s the inside story of how Julian Assange came to end up in the Ecuadorian embassy, and his multi-year battles with the U.S. government. And it’s a stunning and revelatory film, and it also has this access to history as it unfolded, which seems to become more and more relevant with every release that WikiLeaks does. The film is called “Risk”.
“Risk” trailer: Oh, hello. Can I please speak to Hillary Clinton? I’m calling from the office of Julian Assange. This is an emergency.
JS: You can watch the trailer and find out information about what cities and theaters it’s gonna be in. Check out the website at riskfilm.org.
That does it for this week’s show. One programming note: Intercepted will be off for the next two weeks. Season two is slated to kick off on May 10th. And all of our episodes from this season are archived on our website, theintercept.com/podcasts, and they’re also archived on iTunes and Google Play, and anywhere else that you listen to the show. If you missed any of those, catch up on ‘em over the next two-week break. Also, it’s a great time to promote the show to your friends.
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro, and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Rick Kwan mixed the show. We had production assistance from Elise Swain. Our music was composed by DJ Spooky. We’ll see you in a few weeks. Until then, I’m Jeremy Scahill.
JS (as Alex Jones): I’m sorry, this is a family show! I just get — I get so mad!