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EXCLUSIVE: Transcript of Erin Burnett’s CNN Interview with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange

[UPDATE: Julian Assange’s November 29, 2012 clarification of his statement made during this interview regarding Ecuador’s significance as a global power is appended to this article. – FoWL – Chicago]

On the evening of November 28, 2012, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was interviewed by CNN’s Erin Burnett on her “OutFront” program.  CNN, to the best of our knowledge, never produced a transcript of this interview, so we decided to produce one ourselves.  The video of the interview from which this transcript was made is available on the CNN website here. All inaccuracies, errors, and misquotations are ours. Italics are all ours, as are all comments and interpolations inside brackets […] – FoWL Chicago.

[The video begins after the introduction of the program, the host and the guest, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.]

EB: Yeah; I wanted to start by asking you something in the very beginning of your book that really shocked me: you said, um… “the Internet is a threat to human civilization”; and I thought… saw that and thought “but the Internet is the tool by which you, Julian Assange have become one of the world’s most controversial people, where you’ve published all this information.”  Why is the Internet bad?

JA: Well… [holds up copy of his new book, Cypherpunks] here’s the book here as well – it’s on the back, as well, that quote…but… the Internet has become integral to our human civilization; it is a device by which we all communicate; by which we formulate laws; by which we engage in trade deals; by which we communicate the very core of our inner personal lives to one another.  So the Internet and civilization has merged; and that’s a new phenomena: it’s not just that, uh, this is a phenomenon affecting one country, but rather global civilization is merging – has merged, arguably – with the Internet.  So anything that is… affects the Internet in a serious way affects civilization in a serious way.  The big problem we have now is the control and mass spying that is occurring on the Internet; and that is something that has really shifted and changed in the past ten years – mainly because the technology to do it has become cheaper.

EB: So… so… let me just ask you a little bit about… um… you talk about the cables – that, that, obviously, are at the center of this entire case in the U.S…. I, …in the… in the book… uh, and, and, Bradley Manning,  obviously… he’s the one who… who had them – according to the United States.  He’s in a pretrial hearing; he’s trying to get the charges for him – against him – they’re for aiding the enemy – uh, thrown out of court.  But obviously, as, as I said, he could end up spending the rest of his life in, in jail.  Do you feel any guilt about that since the information the U.S. Government says that he stole was published by you?  No matter where you got it, you published it.

JA: Bradley Manning is in, ah… in court today – today, in the United States – and throughout this week.  The case is not about whether Bradley Manning, uh, allegedly stole, uh, cables or not.  The case is about the abuse of Bradley Manning.  Over a nine-month period Bradley Manning was abused; in fact, the United Nations has investigated this; the Special Rapporteur for Torture, Juan Mendez, found, formally against the United States, saying his treatment was akin to torture.  Why was he treated that way?  Well, his lawyer argues – and many others before the case argues it was ordered to coerce him into a confession that would bring down me or bring down WikiLeaks.  Uh, now, as far as we know, there has been no such, ah, confession, uh, but that’s the case that’s ongoing now.  And that case is a reflection of the decay in the rule of law… uh, the Secretary’s, Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson resigned over the issue.  The entire Quantico, uh, prisoner base in Virginia was closed over this issue. It’s a serious issue, and it reflects serious problems within the military system, that it’s, it has a feeling of unaccountability; and that unaccountability is flowing into other parts of our lives.

EB: Now, I…I…I…I didn’t… I don’t want to get into detail… I know you have a strong point of view, obviously, on how Bradley Manning has been, has been treated, but I didn’t want to go down that path; I wanted to ask you a question, though, about something else you said about him?  When you said that you thought that part of the reason they were doing what they were doing was to coerce him, uh, perhaps, into, uh, getting… getting you involved in all of this.  He… he could make a deal to serve limited time.  And to make that deal, you could be the guy who loses out.  I mean, are you worried that that could be the deal?  He says: “this is what Julian Assange did to help me get the information, to leak it”?

JA: Well, I don’t want to comment on the legal specifics of it; obviously it would be unwise, uh, in view of what is happening.  There is a concurrent process which is occurring for the last two years – an ongoing grand jury – which has sucked in a vast number of people; attempted to compel them to testify; pulled in all sorts of records… ah… pulled in, ah… Twitter records that are in relation to information about me; pulled in information, ah, from GMail; pulled in information from American [internet] service providers, et cetera, et cetera.  So, part of the reason that this book [holds up his new book again], uh, has been written, uh, is because we are… have become very well aware that what all these mechanisms are as a result of being involved in that process.  Uh, one of the co-authors – Jacob Applebaum – just filled in for me once, at a talk in New York; uh… and as a result, he is being subject to this process as well.  He has been detained at airports and so on.  Uh, you can… you can read about those details in the book.  But… let’s go back to… to… you know, this is just a small symptom in the way. uh… what’s happening to Julian Assange is not particularly important except that it is part of a much wider process.  Now, it’s not just a process that I’m talking about; it’s a process which all the top national security journalists in the United States are talking about: Jane Mayer’s article on Bill Binney in “The New Yorker says the same thing; Dana Priest from the Washington Post in her book, “Top Secret America, where she likens what is going on to literally a metastasizing cancer, where we now have five million people, uh… in this… in the National Security Clearance system in the United States: a “state within a state”.

Now, it’s not just the United States; this is a world-wide phenomenon; and you can look at The Spy Files“, which were published by WikiLeaks – just Google “WikiLeaks Spy Files”…

EB:  (interrupting): Yup, it’s on your website…

JA:  … and you will see details of over 175 companies… around the world that sell this mass surveillance technology.  We’re not talking anymore about picking on particular activists, going: “Oh, look, you just spoke to Julian Assange, that’s interesting, now maybe we’ll spy on you”.  Rather, the new game in town is “strategic surveillance”: it is cheaper now to intercept all communications in and out of a country…

EB: Um hmm… [affirmatively agreeing – FoWL]

JA:  … store it permanently than it is to simply go after one particular person.  And there’s companies in South Africa that were selling that into Libya; the French make a system, “Amesys”, who we exposed, that was a nationwide interception system: advertised as a nationwide interception system.  This is not…

EB:  Look… you…

JA:  …a matter of speculation; these… [holds up a document to the camera titled: “ATIS-UHER LBS Effect On Positioning”] …these are documents from these companies, they are secret prospectuses that are sold.  Here: [holds up another document to the camera] a “strategic mass infection system” – “FINFISHER” – just Google “FINFISHER”, you’ll see it.  Plenty of good work has been done on this…

EB: But… I…

JA:  …by a whole bunch of journalists…

EB: [interrupting] … right…now… what I’m curious though about this because, again, this… this… you raise a point; and a lot of people share this fear about, about being under surveillance, right?  I mean, I… I… I… I don’t… some people might say you go way too far on it; but people do share your fear.  But you also are someone out there trying to champion, and, like I said, benefitting by the internet, by putting out information that governments don’t want people to have; and… and I wanted to ask you in particular about where you… you are tonight.  Um… first, just one question I wanted to ask you because people asked me about this today and I have you here and I want to ask you: officials from Ecuador say that you have a lung infection and you’ve been sick, uh, since you’ve had to stay there: is that true?

JA:  Well, I, I’m not… Julian Assange is not very important you know… I… I… I’m in an extraordinary situation; have been in an extraordinary situation  for over, uh, two years now… but… what is important is this development that is affecting all of us, uh, you know…

EB: [interrupting]:  I mean… uh… but I…

JA:  … democracies die… democracies die behind closed doors, that’s the reality…

EB [interrupting again]:  OK, but… can… can you answer the question about whether you’re sick…

JA:  … and we are… we are…

EB: … or do you not want to talk about it?

[long pause]

JA:  I don’t think it’s important… uh…we are in an extremely…

EB:  OK… the… then … then let me ask you this…  let me ask you this…

JA:  … serious situation now…

EB:  I… I understand… let me ask you this about Ecuador because, you know, look, you’ve… as you say, you’ve been there in this extraordinary situation for five months; they’ve provided you asylum; they’ve been trying to get you out of the country… that you’re in right now to avoid facing charges in Sweden or the U.S.; but… but, you know, when you talk about this… you know – governments clamping down on people’s right to speak – Ecuador is an unlikely champion of your call for free speech; and… and I wanted to lay this out for you because, just this month, “Human Rights Ecuador” reports that the President of Ecuador, President Correa, proposed…

JA:  [interrupting] Oh, look… look… look…look… come on, seriously…

EB:  … that freedom… let me… let me finish here for my viewers…

JA:  Serio… serio… seriously!

EB:  … let me finish for my viewers here though and then… and then you can go ahead and rip it apart: they said he said “freedom of expression should be a function of the state…”

JA:  [interrupting] Well, look, I… I’m… I’m not here…

EB:  …”and that information would be regulated”…

JA:  …I’m not here… I’m not here to talk about…

EB:  … but let me… let me… I’m going to ask you…

JA:  … to talk about the… all governments…

EB:  … the question, it’s a very relevant…

JA: … all governments… all governments have their problems…

EB:  …question…

JA:  … I’m not here to talk about… I’ve heard it.

EB: But this government is a government…

JA:  I’m not gonna talk about these little…

EB:  … that has been… the Committee to Protect Journalists says…

JA:  …these little things about Ecuador or, or…

EB:  It’s not… it’s not a “little thing”…

JA:  …or whatever.  Come on…let’s be… let’s be real… let’s be realistic… I mean…

EB:  Suppression of journalists is not “a little thing” for someone who says that their job is to put out information…

JA:  No.  No… it’s a… it’s a… it’s a very big…

EB:  … that governments tries to suppress [sic]…

JA:  It’s a very big problem, the suppression of the freedom of speech, all over the world, an extremely big problem; and so is the collapse in the rule of law.  And you should be well aware that an Al-Jazeerah  journalist spent six years in Guantanamo Bay; that there are cases all across the U.S.; that this… the… the Pentagon is now taking a position where it is saying – arbitrarily, completely invented – that the act of receiving information by any journalist, anywhere in the world, that the Pentagon says is classified – and publishing some portion of it, or quotes from it, is espionage…

EB:  O.K., but…

JA: … and they are saying that that is something that applies to journalists…

EB:  OK…

JA:  …and that it also applies to people within government…

EB:  I understand your point…

JA:  … and they’re saying that that means…

EB:  … but The Committee to Protect Journalists says…

JA:  …communication with the enemy…

EB:  … about Ecuador…

JA:  … now that’s… that’s an extremely serious business…

EB:  … about Ecuador… hold on!  Let… let me ask you the question… about Ecuador.  [quoting the Committee to Protect Journalists]: “In less than five years…

JA:  Look…

EB:  “… President Correa has…

JA:  … look…

EB:  “…turned Ecuador

JA:  As we… as we… as we agreed… as we agreed…

EB:  “… into one of the hemisphere’s

JA:  … for this program…

EB:  “…most restrictive nations for the press.”

JA:  … the issue is…

EB:  How do you justify staying…

JA:  …the surveillance state.  We are…

EB:  … there as a guest?

JA:  … we are in a situation…

EB:  I didn’t agree to talk about “the surveillance state.”

JA:  … we are in a situation where the entire…we are in a situ… [pause].  Well, I’m… I’m sorry.  Do you want to bring my P.A.’s on? [He makes a motion to persons off-camera, gesturing for them to come before the camera and discuss the agreement reached between CNN and WikiLeaks regading the subject matter to be discussed during the interview].  Please.  Please. [JA motions for them to come on.  Voices off-camera apparently refuse the offer.]  So, look, let…let’s be honest: we have a serious situation here.  Whatev… whatever little things are occurring in small countries are not of the concern… we must concentrate…

EB:  But… but this country is…Ecuador is the country that is preventing you from being arrested…

JA:  …on what is happening to the entire civilization…

EB:  … the minute you walk outside the door.

JA:  … of the world…including… including the United States, including Western Europe, including France, including what was happening in the former Libya.  We… are experts in this; we have lived through it; we have researched it; we have documented it…

EB:  [interrupting]: Then why wouldn’t you want to talk about Ecuador?

JA:  …we are part of a community of national security journalists who are involved in this sort of thing. [pause]  Because Ecuador is insignificant!  It’s extremely…

EB:  [jumping in:] But it is the country that is enabling you…

JA: …important to me;  it is being…

EB:  … to not be arrested!  It is significant!

JA:   …its people have… its people have been generous… uh… to me…

EB:  Yes.

JA:  … et cetera.  But it is… it is not a significant world player.  South America, and the developments that are happening in South America are interesting, and significant; and its growing and burgeoning independence.  But they are not the topic of what we’re doing here… the topic of this book [picks up his new book and shows it to the camera] is what is happening to all of us – and the threats that all of us face.  You know, in the 1930s, certain people saw what was going on; and they saw the general trends.  I’m telling you: there is a general trend.  I am an expert and I have lived through it.  Other experts have also lived through different facets of this: an American, a German and a Frenchman… all experts on different parts of what is happening legislatively, and what is happening in terms of the technology.  Now, we are all being intercepted…

EB:  Right…

JA:  …permanently.  This is… this is a state change; this is not a matter of simply a small change to any individual.  It is a sea change…

EB:  OK…

JA:  … in politics; and we’re going to have to do something about it.  And if we don’t do something about it, we all run the risk of losing the democracy that we’ve treasured for so long.

[Source: CNN website: “OutFront” with Erin Burnett, 28 November, 2012.]

Addendum:

Assange statement regarding CNN’s Erinn Burnett show comment on Ecuador

Thursday, 29th November 19:00 GMT

Translations
[es] Comunicado público de Julian Assange respecto del comentario de la periodista Erinn [sic] Burnett al Estado de Ecuador

Today there have been reports misquoting Julian Assange in relation to Ecuador as a result of an exchange with CNN’s Erinn [sic] Burnett. To those who watch the segment the meaning is clear. Those that have drawn attention to the quote have clearly done so with the intention of misrepresenting what in context was clear in its meaning. Said comment occured within the context of a CNN interview about Mr. Assange’s new book, Cypherpunks. CNN had agreed to ask Mr. Assange about the topic of the book, namely the abuse of mass surveillance by the United States and other mass surveillance powers. The CNN interviewer tried to move the debate away from the scrutiny of the abuses of the United States mass surveillance, by attacking Mr. Assange over Ecuador’s media reform. Since the subject was the abuse of mass surveillance and Ecuador is not known to be an abusive surveillance power, Mr. Assange said Ecuador’s was “not significant” in this context and the conversation should return to topic.

To avoid any doubt, Mr. Assange stated that Ecuador was personally significant to him and that developments within the region were of general international significance. The threats to Latin America by US mass surveillance are extreme as nearly all communications between Latin American and the rest of the world pass through the United States. These and other topics are discussed in Mr. Assange’s book “Cypherpunks” which was published by OR Books this month. Readers are encouraged to watch the segment, which is available on the internet.   [Source:  WikiLeaks website, 29 November, 2012]

Friends of WikiLeaks – Chicago

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About fowlchicago

Chicago-based support group for WikiLeaks. We are always looking for new members who would like to help study and publish reports based on new document releases from WikiLeaks as they come out, as well as to provide public support for Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and all whistleblowers who come under attack from the US Government. Join us!

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