CNN's Erin Burnett Tries To Play 'Gotcha' With Julian Assange

During an interview on CNN Wednesday night, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange warned that mass surveillance was becoming a worldwide problem as technology progressed. Assange has just published a new book about the internet, called "Cyber Punks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet."

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During an interview on CNN Wednesday night, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange warned that mass surveillance was becoming a worldwide problem as technology progressed. Assange has just published a new book about the internet, called "Cypher Punks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet."

Assange told CNN host Erin Burnett that the Internet has merged with global civilization, giving governments and others an unprecedented ability to spy on virtually anyone, because the technology to do so has become cheaper.

"Rather, the new game in two is strategic surveillance," he said. "It is cheaper now to intercept all communications in and out of a country. Store it permanently than it is to simply go after one particular person."

Now while you get the impression, at first, that Mr. Assange is a guest on CNN to discuss his new book. It could have indeed been quite an interesting topic, but that doesn't seem to be what Erin Burnett had in mind as she continuously tries to interrupt...

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In this portion of the interview, CNN host Erin Burnett doesn't hold back any longer, and attempts to begin an all-out game of "Gotcha" with Assange.

As she brushes aside discussion of the internet and surveillance, she starts in on Bradley Manning, the young soldier who is in pretrial hearings for allegedly leaking classified government documents, and the fact that he could end up in prison for life.

"Do you feel any guilt about that since the information the U.S. government says that he stole was published by you? No matter where he got it, you published it" Burnett declares matter-of-factly.

ASSANGE: Bradley Manning is in court today in the United States and throughout this week. The case is not whether Bradley Manning allegedly sold the cables. The case is about the abuse of Bradley Manning. Over a nine-month period Bradley Manning was abused. In fact, the United Nations has investigated this, a special rapporteur for torture, Juan Mendez, found formally against the United States, saying his treatment was akin to torture.

Why was he treated that way? His lawyer argues and many others before the case argue it was order to coerce into a confession that would bring down me or bring down WikiLeaks. Now, as far as we know, there has been no such confession. But that's the case that's going on now.

And that case is a reflection in the decay of the rule of law. The secretary -- Hillary Clinton's spokesperson resigned over the issue. The entire Quantico prisoner base in Virginia was closed over this issue. It's a serious issue and it reflects serious problems within the military system. It has a feeling about accountability and unaccountability is flowing into other parts of our life.

BURNETT: Now I don't want to get into detail, I know you have a strong point of view, obviously on how Bradley Manning has been treated. But I didn't want to go down that path.

I wanted to ask a question about something else you thought about him. When you said that you thought that part of the reason they were doing what they were doing was to coerce him perhaps into getting you involved in all of this. He could make a deal to serve limited time. And to make that deal, you could be the guy who loses out.

I mean, are you worried that that could be the deal? He says, this is what Julian Assange did to help me get the information to leak it?

ASSANGE: Well, I don't want to comment on the legal specifics. That would, obviously, be unwise in the view of what is happening. There's a concurrent process which is occurring for the last two years, an ongoing grand jury who has sucked in a vast number of people, to compel them to testify, pulling all sorts of records, pulling our Twitter records in relation to information about me, pulling information from Gmail, pulling information from American service providers, et cetera, et cetera.

So, part of the reason that this book has been written, is because we have become very aware of what all these mechanisms are, as a result of being embroiled in that process. One of the co-workers, Jacob Appelbaum, just filled in with me once a talk in New York. And as a result, he is being subject to this process as well. He's being detained at airports and so on. You can read about those details in the book.

Let's go back to -- you know, this is just a small symptom, in a way what's happening to Julian Assange is not particularly important, except that it is part of a much wider process.

Now, it's not just the process that I'm talking about. It's a process which all the top national security journalists in the United States are talking about. Jane Mayer, (INAUDIBLE), "New Yorker" says the same thing. Dana Priest from "The Washington Post," in her book "Top Secret America," where she likens what's going on to literally a metastasizing cancer, where we now have 5 million people in the national security clearance system in the United States, a state within a state.

Now, it's not just the United States. This is a worldwide phenomenon. And you can look at the spy files, which were published by WikiLeaks, just Google "WikiLeaks spy files".

BURNETT: Yes, it's on your Web site.

ASSANGE: And you see details of over 175 companies around the world that sell this mass surveillance technology.

We're not talking anymore about picking on particular activist, going, oh, look, we just spoke to Julian Assange. That's interesting. Now, maybe we'll spy on you.

Rather, the new game in two is strategic surveillance. It is cheaper now to intercept all communications in and out of a country. Store it permanently than it is to simply go after one particular person. And there are companies in South Africa that were selling that into Libya. The French made a system, AMESYS, that we exposed, that was a nationwide interception system, advertised as a nationwide interception system.

BURNETT: Look --

ASSANGE: This is not a matter of speculation. These are documents from these companies that are secret prospectuses that are sold. Here, strategic mass infection system, FinFisher. You will see it.

Plenty of good work is being done on this, by a whole bunch of journalists.

BURNETT: I'm curious, though, about this, because again, this -- you know, you raised a point. A lot of people share this fear about under surveillance, right? I mean, I don't -- you know, some people might say you go too far on it. But people do share your fear.

But you also are someone out there trying to champion and like I said benefiting by the Internet by putting out information that the governments don't want people to have. I wanted to ask in particular where you are tonight.

First, just one question I wanted to ask you because people ask me about this today and I have you here and I want to ask you. Officials from Ecuador say that you have had a lung infection and that you have been sick since you have had to stay there. Is that true?

ASSANGE: Julian Assange is not very important, you know? I'm in an extraordinary situation, being in an extraordinary situation for over two years now. But that is not important is this development that is affecting all of that.

BURNETT: I know --

ASSANGE: Democracies die behind closed doors. That's the reality.

BURNETT: Can you answer the question about whether you're sick or do you not want to talk about it?

ASSANGE: I don't think it is important.

BURNETT: OK, let me ask you this.

ASSANGE: We're in an extremely situation now.

BURNETT: I understand. Let me ask you this, though, about Ecuador, because -- you know, look, as you say, you have been there and it's an extraordinary situation, four or five months, they've provided you asylum, they've been trying to get you out of the country that you are in right now to avoid facing charges in Sweden or the U.S.

But, you know, when you talk about this, you know governments clamping down on the right to speak, Ecuador is an unlikely champion of your call for free speech and I wanted to lay this out for you, because just this month, Human Rights Ecuador reports that the president of Ecuador, President Correa proposed --

ASSANGE: Look, look, look, seriously --

BURNETT: Let me finish for my viewers here, though, and then you can go ahead and rip it apart. He said freedom of expression should be a function of the state, where information --

ASSANGE: Look, look, I'm not here -- I'm not here to talk about -- all governments have their problems.

(CROSSTALK)

ASSANGE: I'm not here to talk about -- I heard it.

(CROSSTALK)

ASSANGE: I'm not here to talk about these little things about Ecuador or whatever. Come on. Let's be realistic.

BURNETT: It's not a little thing. Suppressing journalists is not a little thing for someone who says that their job is to put out information that governments try to suppress.

ASSANGE: It is a big problem, the suppression of the freedom of speech all over the world, an extremely big problem. And so is the collapse in the rule of law.

And you should be well aware that al Jazeera journalists spent six years in Guantanamo Bay, they are cases all across the U.S. that the Pentagon is now taking a position where it is saying, arbitrarily, completely invented, that the act of receiving information by any journalist anywhere in the world that the Pentagon says is classified and publishing some portion of it, or quotes from it, is espionage.

BURNETT: OK, but --

ASSANGE: And saying that that is something that applies to journalists --

BURNETT: OK.

ASSANGE: -- and it also applies to government within government.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: I understand your point. But the Committee to Protect Journalists say about Ecuador, about Ecuador -- hold on.

ASSANGE: Extremely serious business.

BURNETT: Let me ask you the question, about Ecuador, in less than five years, President Correa has turned Ecuador into one of the hemisphere's restrictive notions for the press.

(CROSSTALK)

ASSANGE: Look, as we agreed for this program the issue is the surveillance state. We are in a situation --

BURNETT: I didn't agree to talk about the surveillance state.

ASSANGE: We're in situation -- I'm sorry. Look, do you want to bring my P.A.'s on? Please, please.

So look, let's be honest. We have a serious situation here. Whatever little things are occurring in small countries are not of our concern.

BURNETT: OK, the country that is Ecuador is the country that is preventing you from being arrested the moment you walk outside the door.

(CROSSTALK)

ASSANGE: Including the United States, including Western Europe, including France, including what was happening in former Libya.

We are experts in this. We have lived through it. We have researched it. We have documented it.

BURNETT: Then why will you not talk about Ecuador?

ASSANGE: We are part of the community of national security journalists who are involved in this sort of thing. Because Ecuador is insignificant. It's extremely important to me --

BURNETT: But it is the country that is enabling you to not be arrested.

(CROSSTALK)

ASSANGE: It's people have been generous to me, et cetera.

BURNETT: Yes.

ASSANGE: But it is not a significant world player. South America and the developments that are happening in South America are interesting and significant and it's growing and emerging independence. But they are not the topic of what we are doing here.

The topic of this book is what is happening to all of us and the threats that all of us face. You know, in the 1930s, certain people saw what was going on and they saw the general trends. I'm telling you there is a general trend.

I am an expert and I've lived through it. Other experts have also live through different facets of this, an American, a German, and a Frenchman, all experts on different parts of what is happening legislatively and what is happening in terms of the technology.

Now, we are all being intercepted permanently.

BURNETT: All right.

ASSANGE: This is a state change. This is not a matter of simply a small change in individual. It is a sea change in politics.

BURNETT: OK.

ASSANGE: And we are going to have to do something about it. If we don't do something about it, we all run the risk of losing the democracy that we treasured for so long.

BURNETT: We will leave it on that note and thank you very much for taking the time, Julian Assange.

This was probably the last time Julian Assange will grant an interview to Erin Burnett.

About Diane Sweet

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Senior Editor, Lives in a gerrymandered district in Michigan.

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