In support of Edward Teller, here is a rough transcript of Glenn’s interview on CNN with Jessica Yellin and Fran Townsend yesterday:
JY: Wikileaks founder Julain Assange has been making news for doing new things lately, but now he’s doing something old fashioned: writing an ink and paper book for money. He tells London’s Sunday Times quote “I don’t want to write this book, but I have to, citing his legal fees and his desire to keep Wikileaks afloat. Assange tells the paper he’ll make about one point three million dollars off the deal. As Time magazine notes, some people consider Assange the “Robin Hood of Hacking” for starting Wikileaks in two thousand six. Now in essays attributed to him and published on the web, Assange explains his belief that some governments and corporations conspire to oppress people. He believes exposing government secrets leads to greater freedom because it breaks up those conspiracies. Others, of course, disagree vigorously. Joining us now to discuss all this from New York’s CNN National Security Contributor Fran Townsend, who was President Bush’s homeland security advisor, and joining us via Skype from Rio de Janeiro, Glenn Greenwald a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator and a contributing writer for Salon.com.
JY: Glenn, thanks to both of you for being here, and Glenn I’d like to start with you. I know you’ve spoken to Julian Assange several times. I’d like to get your reaction to his book deal today. Any qualms about the fact that he’s essentially profiting from classified information? And do you see any irony in the fact that he’s making money off of a corporate publisher?
GG: Well I would contest the basic premise of your question. He’s not profiting at all off classified information. The legal fees that he’s facing already amount to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Um and it’s certain that his legal fees will continue to sky-rocket. He’s clearly the leading target of governments around the world. The Pentagon in two thousand and eight wrote a classified report about how he should be destroyed, and how Wikileaks should be destroyed. So there’s no question that even with this one point three million dollar book contract, at the end of the day, his legal fees are going to be vastly more than that. What this is, is a way for him to survive the legal onslaught that governments are launching. And what I would add is that every leading American politician, virtually, has gotten extremely rich off their political careers by writing books: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Sarah Palin… he’s not profiting, he’s just surviving, by writing a book that will let him defend himself from these legal proceedings.
JY: Well certainly he doesn’t want to follow in the model of the very people he derides and is trying to bring down, so there’s a contradiction there. I want to ask you, you’ve defended Assange in your columns, can you explain for people what is his ultimate goal? Beyond embarrassing and disrupting the US government, what good do his supporters really hope will come from everything he’s doing?
GG: Well I don’t think embarrassing the US government is his goal. I think what he does is he looks at what has happened in the United States over the course of the last decade, and what he sees is that extreme amounts of secrecy are being used by the United States government to hide the vast majority of what it does from the American citizenry. This is not only a grave threat to democratic values, it’s crucial that citizens be aware of what their government is doing, not having them hide behind walls of secrecy, but what we’ve seen is that it’s secrecy that allows the government to engage in all kinds of criminality and corruption. It’s secrecy that let the Bush administration mislead the American people into believing that we had to go to war against Iraq to get rid of weapons that Saddam Hussein didn’t have, to establish a worldwide torture regime, to spy on Americans without the warrants required by law…
The founders all recognized that when people in power are able to operate in the dark, what they do is they abuse their power and they act deceitfully and corruptively and so what Julian Assange believes in, and what millions of people around the world believe in, is that it’s necessary to shine light on what the world’s most powerful factions are doing to prevent this level of abuse of power and corruption.
JY: Lemmee, uh, I want to bring this to Fran in a minute, but let me press you on that again Glenn, just so we understand. Julian Assange once wrote a blog post, saying quote, “The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia.” So in other words, he should expect exactly the reaction he’s seeing. He should expect the government to come after him. Right?
JY: And he should also be prepared to go to jail for what he’s done as other revolutionaries have. No?
GG: Well see, you’re a journalist so you should understand better than anybody that publishing classified information about what governments do is not actually a crime. Every day media outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post and CNN publish government secrets. They publish top secrets in fact the New York Times exposed the Bush administration’s top secret eavesdropping program, the CIA black site program…Wikileaks has never exposed top secrets. This is all secret, marked secret, which is a lower level designation. And in the United States, and again journalists should know this better than anybody and should hope that it’s true,
JY: Well there’s a fundamental …
GG: it is not a crime to publish top… classified information about the government.
JY: Right. We would draw a distinction between publishing information that comes to you by …and then publishing information that is stolen by somebody, ostensibly stolen. Um but..
GG: No you’re absolutely wrong, because the New York Times uses sources all the time that take classified information that they’re not authorized to disseminate and gives it to the New York Times which then publishes it. Good investigative journalists, maybe CNN doesn’t do this (Ouch, touche’Glenn), but good investigative journalists work their sources all the time to convince them to give them classified information to inform the citizens of the United States about what the government is doing. That’s what journalists do.
JY: Fran let me bring you in here, obviously they’re trying to draw a line between what Julian Assange is doing and what any other journalist does. Um, my question to you is, let’s bring up what the Vice President Biden said on Meet the Press earlier this month. And let me ask you to react to this.
David Gregory: Mitch McConnell ollin says he’s a high tech terrorist and other say this is akin to the Pentagon Papers, where do you come down..
Biden: I would argue that it’s closer to being a high tech terrorist than the Pentagon Papers, um, uh, but uh, um look, uh this guy has uh has done things that have uh damaged and and put in jeopardy the lives and uh, and uh occupations of people in other parts of the world. He’s made it more difficult for us to conduct our bi our business with our allies and with our friends…
JY: Fran, you got the gist of what he’s saying. Is it fair to call him a terrorist?
Fran: Well look, there is no question, let’s be clear, your initial question was “Is he profiting from the commission of a crime, and the answer to that is yes. Nobody cared who Julian Assange was until Wikileaks came out with these tens of thousands of documents, of classified documents. And so what he seeks to do now is to profit from that. The notion of equating him to public servants and elected officials who publish autobiographies after their government service and profiting from that is purely outrageous. I mean this is a guy who committed a crime. He did not do what your standard journalists do, and oh, by the way, when your other guest refers to the New York Times, even the New York Times, when they have very sensitive classified information, would come to the government and redact it. David Sanger went on NPR after this and talked about instances where the New York Times redacted classified information from their reports because to not do so would have been irresponsible.
JY: Glenn, I want to press you on this again because what you said what he’s doing is what any responsible journalist would do, journalists will go to jail to protect their sources, for example, there are things journalists will do, ah, in, in the line of their craft. Shouldn’t he again be prepared to go to jail in defense of his beliefs here?
GG: People should go to jail if they’re charged with a crime and then they are convicted of that crime in a court of law. Fran Townsend can talk all she wants about how he’s committed a crime. Many people believe that her boss has committed lots of crimes, but he hasn’t been convicted of any crimes..
Fran: Of, course he hasn’t been convicted of a crime…
GG: And neither has Julian Assange. He has not been charged with a crime, and he has not been convicted of a crime in connection with these leaks. And that’s because, you can say it all you want, but as a lawyer, I will tell you, and you ask any lawyer if this is true, it is not a crime in the United States to leak classified information if you don’t work for the government. The New York Times publishes secrets far more sensitive at a far higher level of secrecy than anything Julian Assange has ever published and in fact, the Bush administration repeatedly threatened to prosecute the New York Times for doing things like exposing the illegal surveillance program, for exposing the bankings program that tracked people’s banking information. Classified information, publishing classified information is what journalists do, and I can’t believe that anyone in the field of journalism, such as yourself, would say that he should go to prison for doing what reporters are supposed to do, which is inform people about what the government is doing.
JY: Fran, is there any good that can come of what Julian Assange is doing, is there a, a ,a transparency motive here that’s admirable? In your opinion.
Fran: No, i..i…i..there’s, there’s no, i.. i..look, even Julian Assange himself has not made sort of the notion, the argument that what he’s doing is some sort of public service…this is somebody who absolutely, he didn’t take any steps to understand the information, it was so vast, of what he was publishing, whether or not it would be useful or not, he made no distinctions about the harm he might be doing to foreign governments, to the US government, to diplomats and soldiers around the world. He just wholesale threw this all out there. And so he took no steps that a responsible journalist would.
GG: That’s totally false. That’s just a lie. He’s published less than one percent of the two hundred and fifty thousand diplomatic cables that he came into possession of, less than two thousand out of the two hundred and fifty thousand, so for you to say that he just indiscriminately dumped these documents without assessing what they are and making decisions about what should be withheld and what should be redacted is just simply factually false. Why are you telling that to the viewers?
JY: Does he not plan to publish them all?
GG: What’s that?
Fran: He’s, he has, he has threatened to publish much more than he has and there isn’t any, you know the notion we should be grateful he didn’t commit a larger crime than he’s already committed is ridiculous.
GG: The, the newspapers..go ahead
JY: Let me ask you about the rape charges, um, I’m, I’m guessing you, do you agree with him that it’s a smear campaign, and beyond that do you think they hurt his credibility for his larger cause?
GG: Well, I think it would be totally irresponsible for anybody, me or anybody else, to assume either that he’s guilty of those charges or that he’s innocent of those charges. He, let me just remind you though, that he hasn’t actually been charged with a crime even in connection with that case. The Swedish government wants to interrogate him, but has not yet charged him with any crime. So obviously, when someone is accused of crimes like that, it harms their reputation. Um, every time there is somebody who reveals information about the government that is embarrassing they get charged with all kinds of improprieties. That’s why Richard Nixon broke into the psychiatrist office of Daniel Ellesberg to try and discredit him, but I think what we need to do is to wait and see how that plays out, and if he’s guilty, he should be punished in a court of law, and if not then he shouldn’t be.