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Julian Assange: "I want to testify on Cambridge Analytica, but there has been political pressure "

27.3.2018 by STEFANIA MAURIZI http://www.repubblica.it/

In an in-depth interview with la Repubblica, the founder of WikiLeaks tells us why he rejected the contact from Cambridge Analytica, how he looks at the Trump Administration, the re-election of Vladimir Putin and the Catalonian crisis, and why he congratulated the Five Stars Movement for its success in the latest Italian elections

For the last eight years he has been arbitrarily detained, according to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. For the last six years he has been confined to the tiny embassy of Ecuador in London, and for the last two he has been under intense criticism for the decision of his organization, WikiLeaks, to publish the US Democratic party's emails only a few weeks before the US elections, in which Cambridge Analytica allegedly played a crucial role. Repubblica just interviewed Julian Assange, who in recent months has tried to be ironical about the barrage of attacks, criticism and suspicions he and his organization have dealt with over the last few years: "we are in the business of crucifixion", he told us a few weeks before this conversation.

Almost one and a half years have passed since the Trump Administration was elected, what is your view of it? I mean we went from a State Department headed by Hillary Clinton, perhaps not your favourite politician, to one headed by Mike Pompeo, who has spent the last year ferociously attacking you and WikiLeaks...
"It's a very revealing process to see how someone outside DC, slowly but surely, has become boxed in by the power networks around DC. That said, it does seem hard to keep Trump in his box, he keeps pushing at his corners. Pompeo hasn't got through Senate confirmation yet, but he probably will. It is clear that the anti-Iranian nexus in the US government is slowly but surely strengthening. John Bolton is the product of the Israeli-Saudi nexus and of the difficulty the Trump Administration has in recruiting talent. Bolton is skilled, understands bureaucracy, is high-energy and is a war hawk".
 
Are you scared of Trump's policies on matters like nuclear weapons?
"George W. Bush pulled out of important nuclear treaties in 2004 and Obama approved a 1.2 trillion dollar nuclear weapons modernisation programme. That has been in the pipeline for a while. Presidents can't simply order a nuclear weapons strike, you have to have several layers of people underneath who agree, so whom you are appointing to those layers of nuclear weapons systems people is important. If those few layers are people like John Bolton, then that's a concern".
 
Looking back, was it right to publish the Hillary Clinton emails?
"Right for who? That's why 'right' is one of the most difficult words in history. If the question is: did it fulfil our promise to the public to publish newsworthy information when we receive it and not censor it, then the answer is yes. Different groups now and in the future will have different views about any particular WikiLeaks' publication that helped or hindered them. It is their right to have different opinions, but I believe that it is clear that knowledge through information about the world is a net positive on average".
 
You offered to appear before the UK Parliament Committee investigating the Cambridge Analytica case, can you tell us more?
"I can't because I would ruin the surprise for the Parliament (he smiles). They invited me to give evidence and I was in favour of doing so, but there has been pressure on the committee. That is a political problem".
 
Why?
"I don't know, perhaps you should ask them. My name and WikiLeaks' name were mentioned by people who appeared there, such as Alexander Nix, 26 times. It would seem appropriate that I respond in the same fashion to libel from the Deputy editor of El Paìs, for example, David Alandete, who appeared before the same Committee to personally libel me and the Catalan independence movement, in a time of intense internal political conflict in Spain, which has now produced numerous political prisoners and refugees".
 
When you say that the deputy of El Paìs libelled you, are you referring to his articles arguing that Russia is behind the Catalonian independence movement and your support for it?
"Yes and not simply that, I'm referring to the accuracy of my comments on the independence of Catalonia. I have supported Article One of the United Nations: there must be self-determination for peoples, not self-determination for every family or small town, but self-determination for a people. Catalans have their own language, culture and so they are people: they have the right to self-determination. Whether they should be independent is an entirely different question. My own personal belief is that it would be better if the rest of Spain was nice to them and they were nice to the rest of Spain and they all lived happily together, but that isn't my decision to make, that is their decision to make".

Had you heard of Cambridge Analytica before they approached you?
"No. Many people and organisations are always trying to contact WikiLeaks, and we are also trying to contact many of them, as all serious media organisations do. What we don't do, unless there is a journalistic partnership, is tell people about our upcoming publications. Cambridge Analytica is not a journalistic outlet, that's why we rejected their contact".
 
So that was the first contact for you.
"Yes. There is an organization that is much more significant than Cambridge Analytica, which is the SCL Group, of which Cambridge Analytica is part. The SCL Group does a lot of work for the UK military and intelligence sector and has been involved in numerous elections over the last 20 years, they brag in 60 countries. It is partly government, partly commercial work. There is still an important question to be resolved, which is how much of the SCL Group's activities in other countries' elections are on behalf of the UK state, or otherwise subsidized in some way by the UK state, and how many are simply field service operations for political parties in those states".
 
If you aren't allowed to testify before the UK Parliament's Committee, will you go public with the documents?
"We'll see. Having been unlawfully detained by the United Kingdom in violation of two UN rulings for nearly eight years, I am in significant conflict with the UK state and the  broader establishment which runs the state. I spoke by video link at the European Parliament about the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, but at the moment it doesn't appear that the UK Parliament - the 'mother of Parliaments', as they like to call it here - has the independence of the European Parliament".

Let's talk about the Five Stars Movement, because after their success in the latest Italian elections, you congratulated them via Twitter. What do you like or find interesting about them?
"I'm happy to praise any particular policy from any particular party that I view as helpful for our sources or helpful to trigger the debate around such policies. For example in the 2016 elections I spoke at the US Green Party Jill Stein's inaugural election conference, because the Green Party, which of course had no chance of winning, had a strong position on the protection of whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. In the case of the Five Stars movement, they have positive transparency policies and statements of actions toward our alleged sources".
 
You mean their proposal for the protection of whistleblowing?
"Yes".
 
But your ideas differ from theirs. For example, you told us you are "somewhat sceptical" about direct democracy achieved through online platforms...
"I am sceptical about other forms of democracy as well, but I support the experiment, it is important to create things, to conduct the experiment and see what areas succeed and what areas fail. We'll have to see if it [experimenting direct democracy through online platforms] increases liberty, justice, compassion and creativity in society, it isn't clear what the answer is. The parameters of human politics are rapidly changing because of rapid technological change, so the politics must also change. Most of those experiments don't succeed, but we can be certain that the groups that don't try, fail".
 
What do you think about the re-election of Vladimir Putin?
"The arguments about the Kremlin's control of the state TV channels are largely correct, but if you look at what happened to the Russian people - having to deal with Gorbachev and Yeltsin from a Russian perspective, who mismanaged their nation into a calamitous collapse which led to starvation - even by Soviet standards, Putin is the most managerial leader Russia has seen in years, under whom Russia has seen a very substantial increase in pensions and wages. Russia's problems, which are serious, and its economic stagnation for the last 4 years, are still mild compared to what the Russians suffered through the 1990s".
 
At the same time, he is a former member of the KGB and his enemies don't die from natural causes...
"It's quite hard to know, it's clear that numerous murders are linked to elements of the state, but serious analysts of Russia attribute it to a lack of control over the elements of the Russian state and its regions. For example, a number of the murders that have been associated with [Ramzan] Kadyrov in Chechnya, acting for, it seems, in his own interests, doesn't seem in many cases to be of benefit to the Kremlin, and in fact makes the Kremlin look weak. The suspected assassination attempts on [Sergei ] Skripal here in London, I think, has more hallmarks of state involvement. There is more circumstantial evidence of Russian intelligence service involvement: they had the motive, they had the means. I agree with the PM, Theresa May, that they are clearly the primary suspects, but so far there are other possibilities, which I'm not going to mention because I think they are too speculative. Many things that elements of the Russian state do in regions like Chechnya or Russian mafia are attributed to president Putin's personal decisions, it is clear that the Kremlin sometimes works with or through the mafia".
 
The WikiLeaks cables literally say that...
"Yes, but because of the size of Russia, the diversity in its regions and relatively young age of the state, the control structures are weak, and the Kremlin much prefers to be given credit for things it hasn't done than to look like it isn't in control. The Russiaphobia spread by Western intelligence and Eastern European politicians, which they use to increase their budgets and politically unify their states, frequently benefits the Kremlin, projecting it as powerful and disciplined, when in fact its GDP is the size of Italy's and there is a considerable lack of oversight on many structures. Don't get me wrong: there have been many abuses in Chechnya that the Kremlin did control, they were authorised policies, but most of the analyses relative to Russia are simplistic".

On more than one occasion the US and UK press have connected the dots between WikiLeaks publication of Hillary Clinton's emails, Russia, and Trump, pointing to the fact that you received people very close to the Trump Administration in this embassy, like Nigel Farage or the US senator Dana Rohrabacher. Why did you meet with those individuals?
"I try to meet with anyone who might have information or could be useful to get a message out. If you believe what you are doing is important, you want to speak to every possible type of audience, that's why in 2015 and 2016 I met everyone from Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore to Nigel Farage, that is what journalists do. LBC, which is the Leading Britain's Conversation [a London-based radio station], wanted to do an interview".

You mean that is why you met Farage?
"Yes, but let me explain how these theories on WikiLeaks and Farage emerged. The head of Fusion GPS, [Glenn] Simpson, talked about these theories to the US Congress. Fusion GPS is the firm hired by Hillary Clinton to hire Christopher Steele to produce the Steele report [the dossier on the alleged Russian conspiracy to elect Donald Trump]. Glenn Simpson told the US House of Intelligence Committee that they had heard, but hadn't confirmed, that Nigel Farage came to see me in 2016 with the usb containing all the emails of the Democratic National Committee. That testimony was then deliberately let out by the House of Intelligence Committee and reported by the Guardian. Nigel Farage denied these facts and said that the first time I met him in my life was in 2017. In some sense, these conspiracy theories shows how terrible journalism is".
 
You met with US senator Dana Rohrabacher here with your lawyers and all those cameras around...
"Yes, that was an interesting meeting, which I will have more to say about in due course...".
 
And what about the direct messages between WikiLeaks and Donald Trump Jr.? How do you explain those?
"Like all media organisations we try to get information from any campaign, and we succeeded in publishing by far the biggest scoop in 2016 in relation to the Democrats, so we wanted to develop contacts and gain information on Republicans. We are still asking for Trump's tax revenues post election: Donald Trump hasn't published them, despite promising to do so".
 
Do you think you will ever travel the world again as a free man?
"It's a matter of culture and politics, in a sense it's up to public opinion. At a certain level of conflict, all rules and standards break down. You see that in case of the conflict in Iraq, for example, but it is also true for very high-profile legal cases, where there is state interest. That is true for me as well. What should be a legal process has turned into a political process, so that's why it's up to public opinion, because my arbitrary detention is a political matter".

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Last modified on Thursday, 29 March 2018 21:46

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