This is the transcript of TIME managing editor Richard Stengel's interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange via Skype on Nov. 30, 2010.
RICHARD STENGEL: Hi, Mr. Assange, it's Rick Stengel. I'm the editor of TIME magazine, and thank you for joining us this evening.
JULIAN ASSANGE: You're welcome.
RS: So sorry about the technical difficulties, but I'm sure it's something you're used to. So here we go.
JA: Thousands of them.
RS: What is the effect thus far of the latest round of leaks and what effect do you hope to have from those leaks?
JA: I can see that the media scrutiny and the reaction from government are so tremendous that it actually eclipses our ability to understand it. And I think there is a new story appearing, a new, original story appearing about once every two minutes somewhere around the world. Google News has managed to index. At this stage, we can only have a feeling for what the effect is based upon just looking at what the tips of the wave are doing, moving currents under the surface. There is simply too much volume for us to even be able to see. But looking at what we can, I can see that there is a tremendous rearrangement of viewings about many different countries. And so that will result in some new kind of harmonization [variant: harm minimization]. And we can see the Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu coming out with a very interesting statement that leaders should speak in public like they do in private whenever they can. He believes that the result of this publication, which makes the sentiments of many privately held beliefs public, are promising a pretty good [indecipherable] will lead to some kind of increase in the peace process in the Middle East and particularly in relation to Iran. I just noticed today Iran has agreed to nuclear talks. Maybe that's coincidence or maybe it's coming out of this process, but it's certainly not being canceled by this process.
RS: One of the unintended consequences is the opposite effect, which is what we've seen with the Department of Defense, and even the State Department, here in the U.S., of trying to make secrets more impenetrable rather than less and trying to take precautions against what has happened from happening again in the future. How do you regard that?
JA: Well, I think that's very positive. Since 2006, we have been working along this philosophy that organizations which are abusive and need to be [in] the public eye. If their behavior is revealed to the public, they have one of two choices: one is to reform in such a way that they can be proud of their endeavors, and proud to display them to the public. Or the other is to lock down internally and to balkanize, and as a result, of course, cease to be as efficient as they were. To me, that is a very good outcome, because organizations can either be efficient, open and honest, or they can be closed, conspiratorial and inefficient.
RS: Are there any instances [in] diplomacy or global affairs in which you see secrecy as necessary and as an asset?
JA: Yes, of course. We keep secret the identity of our sources, as an example, [and] take great pains to do it. So secrecy is important for many things but shouldn't be used to cover up abuses, which leads us to the question of who decides and who is responsible. It shouldn't really be that people are thinking about, Should something be secret? I would rather it be thought, Who has a responsibility to keep certain things secret? And, Who has a responsibility to bring matters to the public? And those responsibilities fall on different players. And it is our responsibility to bring matters to the public.
RS: You mention the public. Do you believe the American public in this particular instance was either dissatisfied or unhappy with the way the U.S. government was conducting diplomacy, so that you felt compelled to expose it to them? Because it seems to me that the public is reacting negatively to a lot of this exposure of diplomatic secrets that they presumably feel were actually in their interest.
JA: Well, I think the response by the American public has been very favorable to our endeavor. In fact, I think the State Department is going to have a hard time of it trying to spin this. It's one thing to tap into [audio lost]. It's one thing to talk about the need to protect this image of the innocent young soldier; it's another thing to talk about how diplomats are hard done by when they find their very privileged position in life undermined by having their lies revealed. And it doesn't seem to me that there is grass-roots, broad support for the behavior of diplomats, say, stealing [inaudible] DNA. That's just something that doesn't resonate well with the average person.
RS: And I know you've e-mailed about this, but what is your reaction to Secretary [Hillary] Clinton's declaration that you've put lives in jeopardy and now the apparent attempts by the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute you? What is your reaction to that? And have you committed any crimes that they should be prosecuting you for?
JA: Well, this sort of nonsense about lives being put in jeopardy is trotted out every time a big military or intelligence organization is exposed by the press. It's nothing new, and it's not an exclusively American phenomenon by an means. It goes back at least 50 years, and in extremely different forms hundreds of years before that, so that sort of reactionary sentiment is equally expected. We get that on nearly every post that we do. However, this organization in its four years of publishing history we don't need to speculate, it has a history has never caused an individual, as far as we can determine or as far anyone else can determine, to come to any sort of physical harm or to be wrongly imprisoned and so on. That is a record compared to the organizations that we are trying to expose who have literally been involved in the deaths of hundreds or thousands or, potentially over the course of many years, millions.