Julian Assange speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012. The WikiLeaks founder has been in the embassy for two years. Photo: AFP/Leon Neal US whistleblower Edward Snowden. Julian Assange claimed to be assisting him from the Ecuador embassy in London Photo: Reuters/NBC News
Julian Assange said former foreign affairs minister Bob Carr lied about the level of consular assistance offered to the WikiLeaks founder. Photo: Peter Rae
Julian Assange is promising another massive leak of information affecting 50 countries on Thursday to mark his two years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
On the eve of that anniversary, the Australian editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks invited the world’s media to dial in to the embassy so he could download.
In his conference call late on Wednesday night, Australian time, Assange called former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr a liar; he chastised US President Barack Obama; he revealed he had done more kilometres than he could count on his cross-trainer; and he spoke of his pride in WikiLeaks’ “state-of-the-art” technical clout which had allowed him – while confined in his diplomatic refuge – to “manage” the evacuation of American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden from Hong Kong during “the largest ever intelligence manhunt the world has ever seen”.
But Assange is making time to watch the World Cup after 729 days of asylum in the embassy. “Of course, Ecuador undoubtedly deserves to win,” he said, although he added Brazil probably would triumph. In any case, “the reception in this building is quite difficult”, which may have its advantages. “Perhaps it makes it a bit harder for the bugs to transmit through the walls as well.”
Assange said police gather intelligence on visitors and that the British government has spent almost $10 million on 24-hour surveillance of the embassy lest he ever dare to leave the small building, close to Harrods in Knightsbridge.
If he does leave, he faces immediate extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual misconduct involving two women – for which he is yet to be charged after four years. He dismisses it as a trumped-up, politically driven distraction from the main game: the United States, where Vice-President Joe Biden has called him a “high-tech terrorist”.
Michael Ratner, Assange’s US legal representative, told the news conference that his client, if extradited to the US, could face similar treatment to Chelsea Manning, the US soldier formerly called Bradley serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. Assange could be punished with solitary confinement and held in underground cells, Ratner said.
But Assange said the second anniversary of his asylum at the embassy would be marked by a release of documents by WikiLeaks “in the field of international negotiations” – and extending to 50 countries. He would not elaborate. The message was to stay tuned.
In another plug he said: “You will see that WikiLeaks has turned into a security document search service, now with more than eight million documents instantly searchable if you go to search.wikileaks.org.”
Assange remains hands-on while confined. “The situation does create certain difficulties. On the other hand, unlike other national security reporters, I am in an effective jurisdiction where I cannot be subpoenaed; there cannot be any police knocks in the night or in the day…
“If you look at the situation of getting Edward Snowden out of Hong Kong and trying to manage that from an embassy under extensive surveillance in the largest intelligence manhunt the world has ever seen, you can understand that securing communications between here and Hong Kong in such circumstances is on the very edge of what state-of-the-art is. And we are proud that our techniques were successful in that instance and we are developing systems to allow others to use them more broadly.”
Assange said he kept close contact with the legal team for Snowden, who has been granted asylum in Russia. But he refused to say whether he is in direct contact with Snowden due to the “security situation”.
Assange claimed he was punished for helping Snowden. British Foreign Secretary William Hague had agreed to a working group on Assange’s case after meeting Ecuador’s foreign minister last year, but: “Following our involvement in gaining Edward Snowden asylum … my involvement … the United Kingdom unilaterally cancelled that working group.”
A British Foreign Office spokesman was quoted saying: “We have neither cancelled nor suspended our working group with the Ecuadorian authorities, but remain as committed as ever to reaching a diplomatic solution to this situation. As ever, we look to Ecuador to help bring Mr Assange’s difficult, and costly, residence to an end.”
Next week Assange’s lawyers will lodge a challenge in Sweden against the extradition case. Australian lawyer Jennifer Robinson, on the conference call, said the case was based on “new information gathered in Sweden” but she declined to give details. Assange’s lawyers say they have invited the Swedish prosecutor four times to come and question him at the embassy, but the offer has been refused.
Even if that extradition-without-charge warrant was dismissed, “I still have the larger problem”. The US, he said, could send extradition warrants “sealed” and “secret” to Britain, or it could send a preliminary extradition request without paperwork – and worry about those details 40 days later.
The British police had “instructions to arrest me even if I was in a diplomatic car, even if I had diplomatic immunity”, and the police units involved included the counterterrorism command and the covert squad. They were treating him as a security threat, not as the subject of a normal extradition request.
Assange called on US Attorney-General Eric Holder to halt a federal grand jury investigation of him and WikiLeaks.
“It is against the stated principles of the United States and I believe the values supported by its people, to have a four-year criminal investigation against a publisher,” Assange said. “The ongoing existence of that investigation produces a chilling effect, not just on internet based publishers, but all publishers.”
Assange advised Barack Obama to reflect on his legacy or be remembered as the US president who conducted “more espionage investigations against journalists than all presidents going back to 1917 and the original issuance of the Espionage Act”.
On the former Australian Labor foreign minister, Assange said: “Bob Carr has admitted in his biography that he lied to the Australian public in saying that I had had more consular assistance in equivalent time than any other Australian. He admits to lying and says that he did it – he lied – to quote, ‘needle me’.”
For the computer-illiterate, Assange helpfully added: “And you can find reference to that if you search the internet for ‘Bob Carr’, ‘Assange’ and ‘needle’.” Or you could read Mr Carr’s book, in which he indeed said he wanted to needle Assange’s “self-righteousness”.
After the big bangs of the Manning and Snowden release of classified files, is WikiLeaks still relevant?
Assange replies: “If the question is, have we this year produced a leak that involved every single country in the world and more than 350 million words – in the case of Cablegate – and subsequently inspired changes of governments across the Middle East … the answer is no. But that’s a tall ask to reach such a standard every year.”