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RS: How would you characterize your actions, both in this latest set of leaks as well as in the past? Would you say you're practicing civil disobedience against breaking the law in order to expose greater law-breaking? Is that the moral calculus that you use to justify the leaks?
JA: No, not at all. This organization practices civil obedience, that is, we are an organization that tries to make the world more civil and act against abusive organizations that are pushing it in the opposite direction. As for the law, we have now in our four-year history had over 100 legal attacks of various kinds and have been victorious in all of those matters.
So if you want to talk about the law, it's very important to remember the law is not what, not simply what, powerful people would want others to believe it is. The law is not what a general says it is. The law is not what Hillary Clinton says it is. The law is not what a bank says it is. The law, rather, is what the Supreme Court in [the] land in the end says it is, and the Supreme Court in the case of the United States has an enviable Constitution on which to base its decisions. And that Constitution comes out of a revolutionary movement and has a Bill of Rights appraised by James Madison and others that includes a nuanced understanding for the balancing of power of [the] states in relation to the government. Now, where the Supreme Court makeup now is such that it keeps to its traditions or proposes a radical reassessment of the power of the First Amendment and the U.S. Constitution remains to be seen. However, the U.S. Espionage Act is widely viewed to be overbroad, and that is perhaps one of the reasons it has never been properly tested in the Supreme Court. I think it was maybe found to be unconstitutional and struck out. Now we understand that there are attempts by [Attorney General Eric] Holder and others in the U.S. Administration to shoehorn the Espionage Act, Section G in particular, onto legitimate press functions. Those efforts are dangerous in the sense that they may give rise to a Supreme Court challenge, which throws out the Espionage Act, or at least that section, in its entirety. If that succeeds, that will of course only be good business for WikiLeaks, because the rest of the U.S. press will be further constrained and people will simply come to us.
RS: And obviously there are competing equities, even constitutionally, between the Espionage Act, which was, as you know, 1917, and the expansion of the First Amendment rights that have happened subsequent to that, but as you say, the law ultimately becomes what the Supreme Court says it is, and they could narrow some of those First Amendment rights and use some of that in the Espionage Act. Which leads me to my next question: One of the issues that's discussed a lot in American politics these days, in part because of criticism of President Obama, is this idea of American exceptionalism. You seem to also believe in American exceptionalism in a negative sense, that America is exceptional only in the harm and damage it does to the world. Would you describe that as a fair characterization of your view of the U.S.?
JA: Well, I think both of those views lack the necessary subtlety. The United States has some immutable traditions, which, to be fair, are based on the French Revolution and the European Enlightenment. The United States' Founding Fathers took those further, and the federalism of the United States also, of relatively powerful states trying to constrain federal government from becoming too centralized. Also added some important democratic controls and understandings. So there is a lot of good that has historically come from the United States. But after World War II, during World War II, the federal government of the United States started sucking the resources to the center, and the power of states started to diminish. Interestingly, the First Amendment started overriding states' laws around that time, which I see as a function of increasing central power in the United States. I think the problems with the United States as a foreign power stem from, simply, its economic success, whereby it's, historically at least, a very rich country with a number of people and the desire left over as a result of ... Let me explain this a bit better. The U.S. saw the French Revolution and it also saw the behavior of the U.K. and the other kings and dictatorships, so it intentionally produced a very weak President. The President was, however, given a lot of power for external relations, so as time has gone by, the presidency has managed to exercise its power through its foreign affairs function. If we look at what happened with Obama and health care reform, we see this extraordinary situation where Obama [indecipherable] can order strikes against U.S. citizens overseas but is not able to pass, at least not easily and not in the form that he wanted, a health reform bill domestically. And that seems to be ... the very good idea, which was to try and keep the country free from dictatorship by keeping the presidency weak. But as the United States has grown economically, that has led to a situation where the foreign affairs power is latched on to by central government to increase the power of the government, as opposed to state government. The U.S. is, I don't think by world standards, an exception, rather it is a very interesting case both for its abuses and for some of its founding principles.
RS: Rather than get in a conversation of Executive power, let me ask you about some other nations and your views of their role on the world stage. Certainly the rise of China, the power of Russia in the marketplace. They are two nations that compete with the U.S. in terms of wealth and influence. Would you put them in the same category as countries that you would indeed like to expose some of their secret dealings the way you have done with American documents?
JA: Yes, indeed. In fact, we believe it is the most closed societies that have the most reform potential. The Chinese case is quite interesting. Aspects of the Chinese government, Chinese Public Security Service, appear to be terrified of free speech, and while one might say that means something awful is happening in the country, I actually think that is a very optimistic sign, because it means that speech can still cause reform and that the power structure is still inherently political, as opposed to fiscal. So journalism and writing are capable of achieving change, and that is why Chinese authorities are so scared of it. Whereas in the United States to a large degree, and in other Western countries, the basic elements of society have been so heavily fiscalized through contractual obligations that political change doesn't seem to result in economic change, which in other words means that political change doesn't result in change.
RS: We talked a little bit about this earlier, your desired outcome from the leaking of this information is presumably, as you said, that world leaders and officials would say the same things in public that they say in private. Um, lots and lots of people would regard that as naive, in part because they in their own lives don't say the same things in public that they say in private. Is that the outcome that you would like, and how do you respond to the charge that that's the naive view of the way the world works?
JA: Well, I was quoting Netanyahu, who [is] certainly not a naive man. The, of course ...
RS: But the effect, by the way, Mr. Assange, for Netanyahu, is that what he's been saying publicly i.e., Arab leaders have privately been saying that Iran is the greatest threat, and they want Israel and the U.S. to do something the revelations have been in his interest.
JA: Of course. We're talking about a sophisticated politician who is of that sentiment he's on the side of, in this issue. But I suggest it is generally of course, there are exceptions but generally true, across every issue. We are negotiating ... We need to be able to negotiate with a clear understanding of what the ground is and what our [inaudible] positions are. Of course, one side has a disproportionate amount of knowledge compared to the other side. There cannot be negotiations or proper understanding of the playing field in which these events are to happen. Now, we would like to see all organizations that are key to their authority ... opened up as much as possible. Not entirely, but as much as possible, in order to level out that asymmetric information playing field. Now for the United States, its government actually has more information available to it than any other government. And so it is already in a symmetric position. I think this disclosure of diplomatic information, which is often third-hand, will allow people to understand more clearly these sort of broad activities of the U.S. State Department, which acts not, of course, in the interest of the U.S. people but in the interest of the State Department. It will allow people of other countries to see that. But it will also meet more reasonable negotiations and reveal a lot about the Arab states, and Central Asian republics, to the rest of the world and to their peoples.