LEIGH SALES: Julian Assange: given your circumstances, is Wikileaks currently operational?
JULIAN ASSANGE: We have increased our publishing since late last year when my present difficulties began to include over 63 media organisations from around the world. We have now published over 7,000 US Embassy cables relating to Cablegate, so, yes, we’re continuing on. Even when I was in prison for 10 days we continued publishing.
LEIGH SALES: So Wikileaks exists outside of Julian Assange?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes, we have been structured that way quite deliberately to avoid interruption to our publishing, although certainly there has been very aggressive efforts to do so, but also to provide disincentive for decapitation attacks on the organisation.
LEIGH SALES: The US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates basically said that the impact of Wikileaks has been overstated; that it was a little awkward and embarrassing for the US but it basically hasn’t had any effect on foreign policy, what’s your response?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Of course the hype that the Pentagon has always drummed up and the White House has always drummed up in response to bona fide scrutiny of its national security sector is to say, well, the end is nigh, people are going to die. No official from the US Government or anywhere else has claimed that anyone has come to physical harm as a result of what we have done. Certainly politicians have been embarrassed and lost elections and officials have lost their jobs, but that is not the end of the world
LEIGH SALES: Commentators have noted that in terms of what the cables revealed about American diplomacy, it didn’t show anything particularly scandalous, if anything it showed that there was quite a bit of consistency between America’s public positions and their private positions, although in private of course they are more frank. Do you agree with that assessment?
JULIAN ASSANGE: The statement that embarrassing information, information, internal information is revealed and it simply shows the US Government to be a good guy is something that is done by apologists. The cables across the board reveal a very nuanced position – everything from that state security apparatus using a diplomatic core to spy on NGOs and take their DNA all the way through to bona fide pushing of a human rights agenda in some countries. So we can see that the State Department and US embassies in their interactions with other governments are not the caricature that the White House presents, but neither are they the caricature that some leftists present.
LEIGH SALES: I want to whip around a couple of other quick issues before we’re out of time. In a book about you that’s recently been released by two Guardian journalists, David Leigh and Luke Harding, they say they had an exchange with you last July, they wanted you to redact the names of informants mentioned in the Iraq War logs and they claim that you said, “Well, they’re informants, so if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them, they deserve it.” Did you say that?
JULIAN ASSANGE: No, and we are suing them for liable and we have witnesses to show that is a libellous claim, and is an ongoing dispute, so there’s a lot of vitriol in the top end of the news business and a lot of back-stabbing, and unfortunately we happen to be on the receiving end of it from this individual.
LEIGH SALES: So you’re saying that that statement was completely fabricated?
JULIAN ASSANGE: It is completely fabricated.
LEIGH SALES: When the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard appeared on the ‘Q and A’ program and you asked her a question, you wanted to know what information she’d supplied foreign powers about Australian citizens working or affiliated with Wikileaks, and you also raised that point in an SBS interview in February. What exactly are you suggesting there?
JULIAN ASSANGE: What I am suggesting and what we have, what our sources tell us is that the Australian Government provided in its liaison, in its intelligence liaison function, foreign powers information about me and other individuals working for Wikileaks. Why? Simply because I am an Australian citizen. What possible pressure could enable them to do that? Well it’s bootlicking for the United States, that’s the reality, that unfortunate reality is as a result of the ALP being grouped, some people in the ALP like Mark Arbib being groomed for many years by the US Embassy and other inducements from Washington.
LEIGH SALES: If you have that information from sources, will you be prepared to release that into the public domain?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well unfortunately thus far the type of information we have is such that to reveal it would be to reveal the sources of it, so that is why we want the Australian Government, and Australian Government personnel who know that statements to the contrary are false to step forward to the Australian media and reveal that this sort of liaison has been occurring. It is not acceptable for that sort of liaison to occur.
LEIGH SALES: But Australia shares intelligence with its allies all the time, you’re the subject of a Justice Department investigation in the United States. What’s wrong with Australia sharing what intelligence it has?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, yes, but not on Australian citizens. The Australian Government’s purpose is to protect Australian citizens. It has no other purpose.
LEIGH SALES: You’ve come from being a kid who’s had a suburban Australian upbringing, to at times sleeping rough on the streets of Melbourne to being Time magazine’s Person of the Year and being talked about by the President of the United States. Does it feel unreal?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well it does feel unreal because I’ve never slept rough on the streets of Melbourne, although I have …
LEIGH SALES: That’s a myth is it?
JULIAN ASSANGE: I had when I was 20 slept in the Dandenong Ranges, but not as a homeless person but rather because I enjoy the wilderness, but yes, of course it feels unreal. On the other hand I know we’re doing good work and very, very important work and the trials and tribulations that we all go through is really quite a small price to pay to do something that is so profoundly meaningful and which our sources and the public at large demands that we do.
LEIGH SALES: Is your motivation genuinely that altruistic or is there a side of you that enjoys the power and the spotlight?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Encoded within me from a young age is a sense about what is just and what is not just and those things that I see in the world that I feel to be unjust I want to do something about.
LEIGH SALES: As I said before you’ve developed a very high profile and not everybody likes you, to put it gently. Do you fear for your life?
JULIAN ASSANGE: I have to disagree with that actually
LEIGH SALES: You think everybody does like you?
JULIAN ASSANGE: No, not everybody, but these sorts of statements are in fact mischievous. I mean, if we look at Australian opinion polls, actually Wikileaks and myself have far greater popularity amongst the Australian population than sitting prime ministers have had in many years.
LEIGH SALES: So does that mean you?
JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s not right to say – it is not right to say that this organisation is polarising or that somehow the critics are evenly balanced with our supporters because it’s simply not true.
LEIGH SALES: So does that mean you feel comfortable then about your personal safety?
JULIAN ASSANGE: In terms of my personal safety and the safety of my team, we have had right wing politicians in the United States such as Sarah Palin calling for our assassination, kidnapping, rendition, etc. Now some of that goes a bit beyond mere rhetoric which can inflame mentally unstable people. We have bills in the US Senate to declare our organisation a transnational threat, to take us from the status of individuals, Australians, Americans and turn us into enemy combatants where we can be dealt with in the same manner as senior figures in the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. That’s a serious business.
LEIGH SALES: Julian Assange, I know our audience will be very interested to hear your views. Many thanks for making time to speak to us.
JULIAN ASSANGE: You’re most welcome.