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about the newest hacking attacks, about passwords and his ideology of transparency Source: Sueddeutsche Zeitung 09th of September (printed) (so… English interview was translated into German and now translated back. Meh!) No other figure of the digital culture is as controversial as Julian Assange, the founder of the whistleblower platform WikiLeaks. Some regard the former hacker as an anarchist, American authorities persecute him as a traitor of secrecy, and some of his former companions describe him as an egomaniacal fanatic. At least an equivalent number of people worship him as a freedom fighter in the internet fighting for the absolute freedom of opinion and against a policy of lies and corruption. But most certainly there isn’t another person recently kicking off so many political scandals as he did. The biggest one of these scandals was “Cablegate”, the publishing of files from a data set of 251 287 diplomatic cables and files of the American State Department and Department of Defense. Since December last year Assange, 40, is under house arrest. That’s not about his work with WikiLeaks but about charges of rape and an extradition request by the Swedish prosecution. Ever since then he lives in Suffolk, England, in the country home of journalist and operator [transl. note: yes ;) they wrote that] of the London based Frontline club Vaughan Smith. After the release of the diplomatic documents in November and the lawsuit about his extradition to Sweden it went quiet about Assange. Furthermore his former companion Daniel Domscheit-Berg announced that he took important software and data with him when he dropped out last September – WikiLeaks would be de facto incapable of action. After the complete encrypted archive and passwords for decryption started to circulate in the internet in the last weeks and after WikiLeaks began to publish all files Julian Assange and his organization are now back in the headlines. In an interview over phone Julian Assange now explained to SZ his version of the events. SZ: How capable of action are you right now? Julian Assange: As capable as one can be under house arrest. This is mainly a geographic handicap. SZ: Do you still have a team? Assange: Right now 20 people are employed at WikiLeaks. SZ: Last week there was a hacker attack which paralyzed the WikiLeaks website with a Denial-OfService attack. How capable of action are you technical wise? Assange: Our website is almost daily under attack. But we have developed enough counter mechanisms to fight off such attacks. SZ: Who’s behind these attacks? Assange: This ranges from mentally confused persons to governments. SZ: Do you have evidences for that?
Assange: After our releases about China we witnessed attacks launched by Chinese government computers. Attacks on websites by governmental institutions however are a war crime, same as assaults on every other civilian infrastructure. SZ: Is that enshrined in international law? Assange: The international law is not that far yet. Attacks by governmental institutions on websites is a war crime SZ: Daniel Domscheit-Berg states he took software with him during his exit from WikiLeaks and that WikiLeaks is not functional without that. Is that right? Assange: Domscheit-Berg was fired. He took cash, hardware, material by our sources, e-mails, software and archive material written by me with him. This all happened in context with a workgroup of the CIA working against us and with the investigations by a Grand Jury in Washington. SZ: Are you trying to say that Daniel Domscheit-Berg was part of that operation? Assange: I think that Domscheit-Berg is an informant for the police. SZ: Do you know that or think that? Assange: His name appears nowhere in the documents of the Grand Jury while my own and the names of other individuals from our organization are listed there. SZ: Are you rebuilding the infrastructure? Assange: We reconstructed some parts. Other kinds of material are irreplaceable. Domscheit-Berg claims he destroyed 3.500 records leaked to us from 2009 until midst of 2010. Our sources are not endangered by that. We principally [transl. note: I assume Assange used “principally”. SZ translated it into “prinzipiell” which has a softer note and would be backtranslated “in principle”. Synonym is “grundsätzlich” which actually has the definite note of “principally”. I can haz tape of interview? -.-] don’t record any information which could identify our sources. But these efforts and risks they took for us to eventually publish this material was for nothing. SZ: What are the consequences of the embargo by the big credit card companies, which aren’t processing donations for you anymore, for your capacity to act? Assange: That took 90% of our revenues away. This is about 15 million euro. We had to reduce our staff and our publishing. But despite everything we published documents every week since my arrest in December. Even when I was in jail. SZ: In the meantime you released all data. Why did you publish the unreleased files and cables with such speed since 20th of August? Assange: When we discovered that the newspaper The Guardian published the password for the decryption of the data set and announced publically where this data set could be found and after Domscheit-Berg spread these details to others, amongst them the weekly newspaper Freitag, we contacted the American State Department. We told them that if they didn’t warn all informants and collaborators of the US agencies who are named in the material within the framework of their
protection program they should do it now. The State Department let us know then that they completed their program as far as possible in November and December of last year. Following that we first published the material which wasn’t classified because we knew that the complete archive already circulated. When we saw that not only the passwords but also the complete encrypted archive was retrievable over various websites we were in a tight spot and released the whole material by ourselves. SZ: Was that even necessary after the whole material was already in public? Assange: It’s important that journalists and activists have a source they can trust. With the not authorized versions being in circulation before that they couldn’t be sure if the material is faked or somehow compromised. There was already a race between governments trying to cover up the disclosures and journalists and activists wanting to get the truth from this material to the people. SZ: The editors of The Guardian you hold responsible for publishing the password say the passwords were temporary. Assange: Decryption keys don’t have an expiration date. They are technically permanent. We have always spread encrypted data and saved them in hidden places in order to have safety copies. For that we used the same advanced encryption technology used by the American armed forces. This was a secure method of wildly spread backups – provided that the passwords won’t be published. SZ: What interests should The Guardian have in publishing the passwords? Assange: The Guardian was in a hurry to produce its first book and wanted to build up a market for it. First they sent the encrypted data around inside the editorial office. Then they secretly passed it to the New York Times. Furthermore they stored the cables in computer systems being connected to the internet. This is a clear violation of point three of our contract. SZ: With the publishing of the full data set you now don’t work anymore with traditional media partners like during Cablegate but with a crowd sourcing campaign on Twitter (editor’s note: WikiLeaks called people via the short message service Twitter to search the material for relevant stories and facts and to spread them over Twitter via Hashtag #WLfind ). Does this method work out? Assange: The method is effective. According to Google News 350.000 news articles were written in the last 30 days based on our material. In almost every country the stories started debates and investigations. The hashtags (editor’s note: Twitter identification mark) feed this news cycle. The Guardian made the data set public and therefore broke our agreement SZ: Wasn’t that a rushed action? Assange: We tried already before that various variations and found that the method works with not classified material. But we also discovered: Mass works out but something like a megaphone is needed. The most important role of the media was it that they had to make clear that these cables are interesting and important. It doesn’t work out if you just push the material online. We tried that in the last years. The combination of mainstream media and crowd by gathering different perspectives of the material is the most effective. SZ: But how can you now protect sources who are named in the material?
Assange: See, this is exactly the twist used against us. Sources are people who give us informations. These are protected by us. What you refer to are names coming up in some contexts in the material. We coped the problem in the past. The easiest way is – to warn and to delay. This seems to happen unplanned with the newest release. Although we wanted to go on publishing the full material till 29th of November, the first anniversary of Cablegate. Of course there is a risk that collaborators of the US could get into difficulties. But in the end this material will lead to significant positive changes. The right of people communicating freely is a basic right SZ: Are you keeping track of which news is generated out of the material? Assange: That is impossible. It’s around thousand stories a day. SZ: Putting it another way: You mentioned once that you only publish material revealing relevant contents. Which criteria do you have for that? Assange: Our criteria are the most transparent existing in media organizations. The material has to be relevant in diplomatic, political or historical matter. It must not be published anywhere else. And the source must be in danger, whether fear for his life or freedom or could lose the job. We focus on the most difficult cases. SZ: In which cases did your efforts have the desired positive effect? Assange: During the Arab spring. It started with Tunisia. That doesn’t mean that our contribution belittle the work, courage and the sacrifices of the activists. Tunisian did in fact know about the corruption. As the over 20.000 prisoners and their relatives in Egypt knew exactly what it means to be politically active under Mubarak. The actual revelation was that Washington knew all that too. Thus they couldn’t go on denying the corruption and torture, not only in those countries but also in the USA and Europe where these regimes were supported. So the external support of the regimes broke down the same time as the internal. SZ: Are you actually seeing a new culture of transparency as WikiLeaks always wanted to inspire? Assange: The most important aspect of our work is certainly that we polarized the internet. In almost every country on earth you find a new generation which grew up with the internet and follows our ideology that the right of humans to communicate freely is a basic one. This ideology is right now represented by young people working also in corporations and government departments making them more aware of respecting this right. SZ: But doesn’t that change the ideology into a dogma? Assange: The right for people to communicate is a very simple ideology existing ever since humans learned to speak. But now it gets its strongest expression in a connected world because the potential value of communication is so high. SZ: Not everybody shares your ideology. As you said – it is foremost an ideology of young people who grew up with the internet. Assange: Certainly there are aspects of a generation gap. But we’re supported by many radicals who are in their sixties or seventies. I believe that the actual conflict is between people indoctrinated by
TV and people shaped by the internet. The generation which is not that influenced by TV more likely feels connected to us. It’s also a generation which is more educated than the generation which grew up with TV and newspapers. SZ: And that is due to the internet? Assange: The possibilities and different kinds of education just got larger and more complex because of the communication revolution. The possibilities of education got larger because of the revolution of communication SZ: In contrast to that there are debates about the “filter bubble”, many studies proving that the internet in no way broadens the horizon but in contrary narrows it. Assange: There are certainly different approaches. But I don’t talk about the education in the ivory towers. The majority of the people don’t have any chance of higher education. It’s the quality of mass education which got improved enormously. Additional many young people realize that now is the time for being political active. SZ: The Arab spring maybe verifies that. But do you also see this trend in Europe? Or in such a closed system as China? Assange: I see it in all countries which have internet. And China is at the threshold of changes. The power elites already changed their actions due to pressure from the internet. SZ: But right now you mostly hear about reprisals and censorship. Assange: We hear about that in particular because it meets the political interests of the west. Two years ago there were more than 60.000 uprisings in China within 12 months. At the same time we witness the reactions of the government to earthquakes or railway accidents, reactions being influenced by the public pressure. This could only develop because so much information is circulating. SZ: At the same time the Chinese authorities use the internet as a surveillance tool. Assange: But that is not only happening in China. The USA is the largest spying authorities in the world. The level of surveillance is unbelievable. I think the internet right now develops into two directions. One is encouraging the development of authoritarian structures. The other will create a community which can respond fast and effectively to these authorities. SZ: This all sounds like you don’t see your role as a mere technical function in a system of total transparency anymore. Assange: We’ve never been only a technical organization. We have always sworn the people to the virtues of transparency. We stumbled into this but now we have a forum where we can talk about the importance of these virtues. SZ: So do you see yourself as an ideological leading figure? Assange: That is a privilege which we received following our fights. It has to come visible to others that we strongly believe what we say and that this is a result of our fight.
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