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Julian Assange: The Rolling Stone Interview

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What has the low point been for you in all this? Were there any mornings you woke up saying, "What have I got myself into?"
I understood that the significance of what we were doing was greater than WikiLeaks as an institution and greater than our personal lives. In November, I told our people, perhaps to their surprise, that what we were doing was more significant than the life of any one of us. To that degree, the battles that we've had, the severity of the battles that we've had, is not something I have found to be difficult to deal with. Their severity is a reflection of the quality and importance of our work. That said, the betrayals are hard to take. This confrontation that we have had with the Western national-security state – it's not quite right to call it the U.S. national-security state, because it's a transnational phenomenon – has brought out the best and worst in people. It has brought out opportunism, weakness, other negative qualities. It's brought out greed and cowardice, but it has also brought out strength and loyalty in people. We have lost friends and colleagues, but we have also made very loyal friends, and we have seen the strength of old friends revealed. There's an old military saying: It's not the length of the war but the depth of the trench. For the past year, we have been in a very deep trench, and so the friendships have become deep.

Who has been your most critical public supporter?
John Pilger, the Australian journalist, has been the most impressive. And the other is Dan Ellsberg. It's the amount of time I've spent with him, both in front of and behind the scenes. When people are working in front of the scenes, in public, it is often because it is helpful to them. One never really knows what the true allegiance is. But when someone puts it on the line both publicly and privately, that's a sign of true character. Ron Paul did come out and make an impassioned and rational speech. It has not been the soft liberal left, the pseudo left that has defended us. In fact, they have run a mile. It has been strong activists who have a long record of fighting for what they believe in, both on the libertarian right and on the left.

What do you make of Anonymous? They've supported you.
We were involved with Anonymous from 2008. They were providing us with material related to our investigations into abuses by the Church of Scientology. It was a young pranksterish Internet culture, not something at all to be taken seriously. What's wonderful about what has happened over the last few years is that through engaging with forces much larger than themselves, starting with the Church of Scientology, they have been educated about how the world actually works. Then, reading information we've released and also seeing the attacks on us, they've been further educated. Now they have become politicized, they've come to understand some of where the big powers are. This was a very apolitical group that had absolutely no understanding about the military-industrial complex whatsoever, and no understanding about international finance. As a result of joining our battle and trying to protect themselves, they have come to see that the threats related to Internet freedom come from the military-industrial complex, the banking system and the media. The media is the third big power group, because when you're involved in something like this, it becomes newsworthy.

What advice do you have for journalists, based on your experience?
I have a lot of sympathy for journalists who are trying to protect their sources. It's very hard now. Unless you're an electronic-surveillance expert or you have frequent contact with one, you must stay off the Net and mobile phones. You really have to just use the old techniques, paper and whispering in people's ears. Leave your mobile phones behind. Don't turn them off, but tell your source to leave electronic devices in their offices. We are now in a situation where countries are recording billions of hours of conversations, and proudly proclaiming that you don't have to select which telephone call you're intercepting, because you intercept every telephone call.

So what's the future of WikiLeaks? Is the organization going to survive?
This week, I think we'll make it. We'll see what happens next week.

Where do you want to end up, when all the legal battles are over?
I don't want to end up anywhere. I want to do what I was doing before. I lived in Egypt when we had important things that needed to be done, or in Kenya or the United States or Australia or Sweden or Germany. When we have opportunities, then that's where I am.

When do you think you'll be able to regain that freedom to do that?
In relation to the United States, we'll have to wait for the revolution.

Michael Hastings is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and the author, most recently, of The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan.

This story is from the February 2, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

 

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