Wikileaks Role in Arab Spring

Source: Democracy Now


Earlier this year, WikiLeaks released a the largest trove of classified U.S. State Department cables in history, exposing the U.S. role in propping up unpopular regimes in the Middle East and supporting human rights abuses against opponents. During a July 2 discussion moderated by Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange highlighted the importance in releasing the information documented in the diplomatic cables, the impact WikiLeaks has had on world politics and journalism in general, and about the Arab Spring political uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, now continuing across the region in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Libya. [Includes rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, I want to ask you about the Arab Spring and what you see as Wikileaks role as what started in Tunisia, and Egypt, what we’re seeing in Bahrain and Yemen, Syria, Libya. What role did Wikileaks play

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s hard to disentangle, but the story that we have back from people who are back in Egypt and from the newspaper al-Akbar, one of the great newspapers published in the Middle East out of Lebanon.

AMY GOODMAN: You lived in Egypt for a time

JULIAN ASSANGE: I lived in Egypt during 2007, so I’m familiar with the Mubarak regime and the tensions within the Egyptian environment. Actually, I was staying at the time, rather unusual circumstance, I was staying in Ms. Egypt’s house.

And, Ms. Egypt’s house – other than having paintings of Ms. Egypt all throughout – was clustered right between the U.S. Embassy and the U.N. High Commission with a van outside fueled with 24 soldiers in front of my front door. So, for the type of work we were doing, this seemed to be the ultimate cover to be nested right amongst this. But, you know, Egypt’s a very interesting place. At that time, you didn’t feel in most areas of Cairo the presence of a dictatorship.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Um, when I lived there, later on, when we worked on Cablegate, we selected a French partner, Le Monde, in order to get the cables into, into French, because we knew they would have an effect in Francophone Africa.

Also, cables were published in early December by Al Akbar in Arabic from Lebanon, and also Al-Masry al-Youm, uh, in Egypt, although the material that was published in Egypt, back in December, under Mubarak, was pretty soft, uh, because of the threats that that newspaper was under. But, Al-Masry al-Youm pushed hard, and there was, a number of critical cables came out about the Tunisian regime, and about Ben Ali. Now, of course, the, the argument that has often been used, including, for example, in the electoral result that we were involved in in Kenya in 2007 is you just tell the people what’s going on, and then they’ll be angry about it and they’ll oppose it.

But actually the real situation is much more rich and interesting than that. Rather, yes, the demos knows, the population starts to know, and they start to know in a way that’s undeniable, and they also start to know that the United States knows, and the United States can’t deny what was going on inside Tunisia. And then, the elites within the country and without the country also know what is going on, and they can’t’ deny it, so, a situation developed where it was not possible for the United States to support the Ben Ali regime, and intervene in a revolution, in the way that it might have. Similarly, it was not possible for France to support Ben Ali or other partners in the same way that they might have been able to.

Also, in our strategy in dealing with this region, uh, and, uh, our survival strategy for Cablegate, was to overwhelm, that is, we have Saudi Arabia, for example, propping up a number of states in the Middle East, and in fact invading Bahrain, to do this. But, when these states have problems of their own to deal with and political crises of their own to deal with, they turn inwards, and they can’t be involved in this proper.

So, Cablegate as a whole caused these elites that prop each other up into region within the Arab speaking countries, and, within, between Europe and these countries and between the United States and these countries, to have to deal with their own political crises, and not spend time giving intelligence briefings on activists, or sending in, um, the SAS, or other support, and activists within Tunisia saw this, very quickly, I think they started to see an opportunity, and that information, uh, our site, a number of Wikileaks sites, were then immedietly, um, banned by the Tunisian government, Al Akbar was banned by the Tunisian government, a hacker attack was launched on Al Akbar, many had been launched at us but we had come to defend against them. Al Akbar was taken down, their whole newspaper was redirected to a Saudi sex site, believe it or not, there is such a thing as a Saudi sex site, and they rested it back through involvement to the foreign, the foreign ministry back in Lebanon, and then, what I believe to be state-based computer hackers, cause of the degree, the sophistication of the attack, came in and wiped out all of Al Akbar’s cable publishing efforts.

The cables about Tunisia were then spread around, um, online, um, in other forms, uh, translated by a little internet group called Tunis Leaks, and, so, present, presented, a number of different f-facets that everyone could see and no one could deny that the Ben Ali regime was fundamentally corrupt, um, it’s not that the people didn’t know it before, but it became undeniable to everyone, including the United States. And that the United States, or at least the state department, could be read, that if it came down to supporting the army or Ben Ali, they would probably support the army, the military class, rather than the political class.

So that gave activists and the army, uh, a belief that they could possibly pull it off. But this wasn’t enough. So all that was intellectual. And, was, was making a difference and was stirring things up in Tunisia. Uh, and then, you had this action by a twenty-six year old, uh, computer technician, who set, um, afire, who self immolated, uh, on, er, in December, um, sixteenth, um, last year. (mumbling) Yeah. And was hospitalized and died on January fourth. And that taking a sort of intellectual frustration and irritation and hunger for change and undeniably to an emotional, physical act on the street, is then what changed the equation. There’s other things that sort of, uh, more of a systemic issue that was gradually breeding up, which is, you had aging rulers in the middle east that, who’s regimes to that extent were becoming weaker, that the intellectual management of them was decreasing, um, you also had the rise of satellite tv, and, the decision of Al Jazeera staff to film and broadcast protest scenes on the street.

So most revolutions kick off in a crowd situation like this one, where everyone can, you know, all the time the regime is saying, this voice is an outcast voice, this a minority, this is not popular opinion. And what the media does is censor those voices and prevents people from understanding that actually, that what the state is saying is in the minority is in the majority. And once people realize that their view is in the majority, then they understand they physically have the numbers, and there’s no better way to do that then in some kind of public square, which is why Tahrir square in, uh, Egypt was so important, because everyone could see that they had the numbers.

Um, and that’s, you know, I often perceive that there are moments like that, politically, um, yes the Middle East was one that we might be going through, you know, you saw just before the Berlin Wall fell, everyone thought that it was impossible. Why? I mean, if, if it’s not that people suddenly received a lot of new information, rather what the information that they received is that everyone, a large majority of people, had the same belief’s that they’d had, and people became sure of that, and uh, and then you have a sudden switch, a sudden state change, and then, then you have a revolution. So I often feel that we, we’re on the edge of that, and, that, alternative ways of people becoming aware of what their beliefs are, what each other’s beliefs are, is something that introduces that truly democratic shift.

I’ve, I’ve often lambasted bloggers as people who just want to demonstrate peer value conformity, and who don’t actually do any original news, who don’t actually do any original work, uh, when we release original documentation on many things, although the situation is, very interestingly, improving. Uh, often we find that all of these left wing bloggers do not descend on a fresh cable from Panama revealing, as it did, today, that the United States has declared the right to board one-third of all ships in the world without any justification. They do not descend on that, rather, they read the front page of the New York Times and go “I disagree” or “I agree” or “I agree in my categories” and that is something that sort of, that hypocrisy of saying that you care about a situation, um, but not actually doing the work is something that has angered me.

But, it does serve an important function. The function that it serves is the function of the square. It is to show the number of voices that are lining up, on one side or another.

AMY GOODMAN: Before you respond, I just wanted to ask, since you talked about what you released today, you also have just sued MasterCard and Visa, can you explain this weekend why you did that?

AUDIENCE: (Applause)

JULIAN ASSANGE: You know, when Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, actually I spoke to Daniel Ellsberg last night, he told me an incredible story about that, but did you know the New York Times had a thousand pages of the Pentagon Papers one month before Daniel Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times? Fresh news. Amazing stuff. Uh, yeah. I’ll leave that aside.

AUDIENCE: (Laughter)

Um, sorry, what was the question? Oh yes, MasterCard. So, when Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, did they suddenly change things? Actually, Nixon was re-elected, after Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, the Vietnam War didn’t stop, the information was very important in all sorts of ways, and its importance over time was very important. The most important thing to come out of the Pentagon Papers was the reaction to the Pentagon Papers, because the Pentagon Papers described a situation in the past, what the past was like, but the reaction to the Pentagon Papers described what was going on right now, and, it showed a tremendous overage by the Nixon administration, various attempts to cover things up, and actually the New York Times actually probably really wouldn’t have published the Pentagon Papers unless they thought it was going to be published anyway, which they did, it was scheduled to be published, um, in four months time, in a book, very, very interesting.

So, on December sixth last year, these, uh, MasterCard, PayPal, The Bank of America, uh, Western Union, all ganged up together to engage in an economic blockade against Wikileaks, and that economic blockade has continued since that point. So it’s over six months now, we have been suffering from an extrajudicial economic blockade that is occurred without any process whatsoever. In fact, the only two formal investigations into this, one was on January thirteen last year, by Timothy C. Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury, who found that there was no lawful excuse to conduct an economic blockade against Wikileaks. And other, was by a Visa subsidiary, who was handling our European payments, Teller, who found that we were not in breach of any of Visa’s bylines or regulations.

Those are the only two formal inquiries. And yet, the blockade continues, it’s an extraordinary thing, that we have seen that Visa, MasterCard, Western Union, and so on, are, instruments of U.S. foreign policy, but, instruments of U.S., of not U.S., as in a state operating under laws foreign policy, but rather instruments of Washington’s patronage network policy. So there was no due process at all. And so, over the past few months, you know we have a number of cases on, so we’ve been a bit distracted, but over the past few months we have build up the case against Visa, and MasterCard, under European law. And, Visa and MasterCard together own about ninety-five percent of the credit card, um, payment industry in Europe, and therefore they have a sort of market dominance, and that means, under European law, they cannot engage in certain actions to, uh, unfairly remove people from the market.