A conversation with Australian author Richard Flanagan about his latest book “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” The Man Booker Prize-winning novel is based on his father’s experience as a slave laborer in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.
In London yesterday lawyers for WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, argued against his extradition to Sweden. They say Swedish prosecutors have already had ample opportunity to question Assange about possible charges of sexual misconduct and that in Sweden he could not be guaranteed a fair trial. Supporters of Assange claim the probe is, in part, retaliation for the release of a thousands of classified documents – documents that have embarrassed U.S. diplomats and are also said to have played a role in recent protests in the Arab world. Join us for a discussion of Wikileaks, the internet and democracy
- Marc Rotenberg executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center
- Michael Nelsen visiting professor, in the department of Communication, Culture, and Technology Program at Georgetown University and works closely with the Internet Society
- Ravi Somaiya reporter, New York Times
- Evgeny Morozov cisiting scholar at Stanford University and contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A second day of hearings wrapped up in London yesterday on the possible extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The case involves allegations of sexual misconduct. As founder of the WikiLeaks site, Julian Assange is responsible for posting thousands of classified documents on the Web. Joining me to talk about what easier access to information may or may not mean for the empowerment of citizens and democracy, Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Mike Nelsen, he's visiting professor at Georgetown University. Joining us from a studio at NPR in New York City, Evgeny Morozov. He is visiting scholar at Stanford University.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd we do invite your calls, questions. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. And before we begin our conversation with our guests, we're joined from London by Ravi Somaiya. He's a reporter for The New York Times. Good morning to you, Ravi -- or afternoon, in your case.
MR. RAVI SOMAIYAIndeed. Hi, Diane.
REHMI gather you've been sitting in on these hearings about Julian Assange. What can you tell us about what's going on now?
SOMAIYAWell, the case centers around pretty kind of -- pretty narrow points of law. An extradition warrant was issued last December. Assange's defense team are arguing that it's somehow unjust, and the prosecution point out that it's just an extradition warrant. And if he has any case to (word?) feel he has a grievance, he should go back to Sweden and face it. And the case has now been extended, actually, for a third day, and so we'll hear more on Friday.
REHMIt's interesting that we were supposed to -- or we understood that the case was to be finished yesterday or today. But now it's going on until Friday?
SOMAIYAIndeed, yeah. Well, I don't -- we won't get a decision on Friday either. And Assange's lawyers told us that they don't expect a decision for at least a week after Friday. And beyond that, whoever loses, whether it's the prosecution or whether it's the Assange team, are almost certainly going to appeal. Assange's lawyers have signaled they may get all the way to the European courts, which means we're in for months, or maybe even years, of this.
REHMHis lawyers have said that if he's extradited to Sweden, he won't get a fair trial. Why would that be?
SOMAIYAWell, they're arguing that because rape trials in Sweden are held in closed -- are held in camera -- closed to the public and the press, that it's somehow unjust. I mean, the Swedish (unintelligible) argued in court that the reason they do that is because -- for the protection of the claimant and, indeed, for the protection of the defendant. But it's one of the major planks in their case that the idea of a hearing held in camera is unjust.
REHMDid the accusations of sexual misconduct arise after the release of the papers from WikiLeaks?
SOMAIYAThey rose very shortly after the release of the Afghan documents. He released, I think, 77,000 documents on the Afghan war and then was flown to Sweden to give a speech, where he met these two women -- I mean, he doesn't dispute that he had sexual relations with the women. What he disputes is that they were -- he says they're consensual. The women said they weren't exactly consensual. And so we're getting into a lot of he-said-she-said, I think, very shortly.
REHMIs there any indication that the two accusations are linked, that is, those of the two women in Sweden and the case against him regarding WikiLeaks?
SOMAIYAWell, we've been looking at it since August. So, for five or six months now, we've been working very hard to try and find a link that would be a great story. And we like great stories, and we can't find anything. So it doesn't appear so.
REHMAnd you say there could be an appeal if the case goes against him. How far could that appeal go? And how long might it take?
SOMAIYAWell, it's not entirely clear how far the appeal can go. There's definitely an automatic right of appeal after this hearing. Beyond that, you get into kind of arcane points of law as to how far they could take it in the British and European courts.
REHMRavi, you wrote earlier this week about one of Assange's former colleagues who starting a brand-new leak organization. How will that differ from WikiLeaks? Who is it who's starting this up? What are its prospects?
SOMAIYAWell, there's -- Assange's former deputy is a guy called Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who's a German computer programmer. And he left last September, along with about a dozen other WikiLeaks volunteers who got sick of Assange's leadership style. They thought he was imperious or dictatorial, and they didn't like the fact he was conflating these Swedish allegations with the work of WikiLeaks. And so they all left. And, according to people I spoke to, they carried on talking, decided they wanted to leak more information and form something they call OpenLeaks.
SOMAIYAAnd the whole idea of OpenLeaks is to step away from the WikiLeaks model. Assange says that he seeks as much publicity as he can because that feeds in to the document releases. And what OpenLeaks says, we don't want to have editorial control. We don't want to be in the news. We'd like to be a neutral and extremely boring conduit between leakers and those who want to receive leaks. And so it's kind of a battle of philosophies.
REHMSo what are its prospects, in your opinion?
SOMAIYAWell, it's very difficult to say. I think it all comes down to what leaks they get. If they get fantastic leaks, then no one is going to really mind what their philosophy is. If they don't get any leaks, then it's all going to be moot. In my experience as a reporter is it's very hard to get scintillating secret documents on a regular basis. But then I don't -- I'm not a mass leaker. So who knows?
REHMRavi Somaiya, he's a reporter for The New York Times. Thanks for joining us.
REHMAnd turning to you now, Marc Rotenberg, to what extent do you believe that political retaliation is at work here?
MR. MARC ROTENBERGI don't think it's been established yet, Diane, that there is political retaliation taking place. But the coincidence of the prosecution at the same time that the U.S. government has expressed so much concern about the public disclosure of the secret State Department cable is remarkable. And I think it has fueled a public perception that these two events may be related.
REHMHow do you see it, Evgeny Morozov?
MR. EVGENY MOROZOVWell, I think that, regardless of whether these cases are related, we should expect that there will be pressure on both the government of Sweden and the government of the U.K. coming from America because, again, there are certain government agencies here which deal with this, like Assange. So, even if the cases are not related, I think there is a good argument to be made that there will be pressure. And, I think, in Sweden, especially, the situation is probably more challenging because the government there is very pro-American. It's center-right. And, I think, Assange has made a very good argument that he did make an effort to get in touch with the prosecutor while he was still in Sweden, and they didn't want to talk to him. And, suddenly, now they do. So, I think, there are some inconsistencies in that story that are worth watching.
REHMAnd, Michael Nelsen, of course, the U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal probe of WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange. To what extent do you believe the sexual accusation and Julian Assange's WikiLeaks are connected?
MR. MICHAEL NELSENWe have no evidence that they are. I think it's relatively sort of a -- it's sort of...
REHMPretty coincidental, you've got to say.
NELSENBut we don't really know. And the fact that...
REHMYou're more cautious than I.
NELSENI'm a little cautious, but I think it's more interesting to see what else is going on to put pressure on WikiLeaks. The efforts to close down their use of credit card companies to get donations, the phone calls to Amazon to get them to take WikiLeaks off of their servers -- there are a number of other things that are going on, I think, that are probably more important and might be used as models in the future to put pressure on organizations like WikiLeaks.
REHMSo, Evgeny, to what extent do you think that this whole case against Julian Assange -- the sexual allegations -- has really overshadowed what WikiLeaks has done more generally?
MOROZOVWell, I think, to the disappointment of Assange, it actually has overshadowed it. And in any interview that he has done, as we have noticed, whenever reporters try to ask him about the sexual allegations, he would just walk off the set or complain to the reporters, to think he himself feels that the second story now overtook his struggle for transparency. I think it's also very unfortunate, but that's just the reality of how modern media works. And, you know, he should have been more careful probably while he was in Sweden if he didn't want that story to overtake his primary fight.
REHMMarc Rotenberg, explain the question being considered by a federal judge in Alexandria, Va., about Twitter data and how that relates to this whole case.
ROTENBERGWell, one of the interesting side stories in the investigation, Diane, is that the U.S. government is now gathering up information about individuals who contributed money to WikiLeaks. For example, they used the popular payment systems like MasterCard and Visa and PayPal, as Mike mentioned. Companies that provided computing services, cloud-based services to host WikiLeaks in the U.S. are also being investigated. And, I think, most significantly is the investigation of users of Twitter who have worked with WikiLeaks. And, now, the federal government has actually asked the company -- the company as Twitter -- to turn over information about its customers.
REHMWhat happened to democracy and free speech?
ROTENBERGWell, I think this is a great concern. And it's not just the chilling impact that this type of investigation has on people who engage in political activities -- as many people on the Internet do -- but also the fact that in the first instance, the government tried to do this secretly. And now it has been opened up, and that's a step forward.
REHMMarc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. We'll take a short break. When we come back, we'll invite your comments and questions.
REHMAnd here's our first posting on Facebook from Carolyn, who says, "I don't think Assange should be extradited. This is part of an effort by the powerful to distract, smear and silence someone who's embarrassed them and, in some cases, exposed their crimes. Multiple governments have struggled for months, or even years, to find some basis for charging WikiLeaks or Assange under any law of any nation without success. I only wish they'd devote the same resources to investigating and prosecuting the crimes revealed by WikiLeaks publication." I wonder how you feel about that, Michael Nelsen.
NELSENWell, I think it's incredibly important that we look at what's revealed by these WikiLeak cables and find out where we can put pressure on governments to take action against some of the corrupt officials that are mentioned. I think, in the long run, the WikiLeaks episode -- which is going to lead to many more similar episodes, whether at WikiLeaks or OpenLeaks -- could lead to a lot of court cases in countries around the world to go after corrupt officials, illegal activities and the like.
REHMBut, Evgeny, if, in fact, government officials are looking at Twitter, who's been on Twitter, looking at WikiLeaks, isn't there some danger of a fear factor going on here, the government trying to intimidate people who are interested in what these documents have disclosed?
MOROZOVDefinitely. I mean, I think there will be chilling effects on freedom of expression in the U.S. because of this. Just look at Twitter itself. WikiLeaks has more than 700,000 followers on Twitter. It's almost a million people who follow it. And, again, we don't know whether the government would also like to know everything about them. Right, again, it's a lot of people. And, of course, I think the fact that it's happening in America also sends a certain signal to authoritarian states.
MOROZOVI mean, imagine if now we have this happening in the U.S., would then should we expect it to happen in China or Russia or Iran with their governments being even stricter when it comes to freedom of expression? So, I think, officials in the U.S. have to be much more careful in terms of what kind of signals this persecution of WikiLeaks is actually sending to the rest of the world.
REHMWell, and I gather you've argued that just as ordinary people can become empowered, so can governments. Give us some examples.
MOROZOVSure. Well, governments turn to social media sites like Facebook, like Twitter to monitor protests, for example. What happened in Iran in 2009 was that, after the protests in the country quieted down, the secret police actually went on Facebook and Twitter and analyzed many of the messages exchanged by activists. They analyzed the connections between activists and their supporters abroad. They used this information to damn them in court hearings.
MOROZOVAgain, text messaging, for example, has been used even in Egypt by the government to send pro-Mubarak messages. Just last week, you know, they turned to Vodafone, a foreign company, and they forced them to send pro-government messages, basically urging people not to participate in protests. So the governments are not just monitoring these tools. They are also very actively using them to either spread propaganda or, often, to intimidate protesters and activists. They often use cyber attacks, for example, to target the websites of NGOs. We've seen that happen in Russia. We've seen that happen in China. Again, it's -- there is a whole toolkit that a dictator can use to intimidate his opponents online.
NELSENI agree with Evgeny that we are seeing governments use Facebook to track dissidents, but we're also seeing this technology used to empower tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people at once. The chilling effect works when there's dozens or hundreds of people who are trying to make noise and trying to make -- cause social change. It's a lot harder for a government to track tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, particularly when they're willing to go out into the central square and sit there for days on end.
NELSENAnd that's why, I think, this technology is going to change the game, going forward. We tend to underestimate what's going to happen in the short term. But -- overestimate what's happening in the short term, but underestimate what happens in the long term. And, I think, in five or 10 years, these technologies are going to sow the seeds of democracy all over the Middle East and far beyond.
REHMSo you would disagree with Evgeny that, in fact, the government can make equal use of these technologies to clamp down.
NELSENIn the short term, for a few months, a few years, they'll be able to do some things that will make it more difficult for dissidents. Already, the technologies are being launched that will allow large groups to mobilize...
REHMPeople who go around those.
NELSEN...as effectively as they are now and better.
ROTENBERGWell, I don't know if I agree with Mike. I mean, it's certainly a hopeful view and an optimistic view that, over time, these technologies will empower people and promote democracy. And, certainly, I hope that becomes the case. But, I think, Evgeny's insight is really an important one, one we need to understand. One of the things we've learned, for example, is that it's not just a few dozen or a few hundred people that can be monitored by governments through technology.
ROTENBERGIt's actually equal to the size of the public movement. I mean, the same tools of communications are also the tools of surveillance. And we will need to get a much better handle on this problem if we're going to realize the opportunities that technologies provide. When the U.S. government, for example, can go to Twitter and say, well, if there's 700,000 people who are followers of WikiLeaks, we might be interested in knowing who they are. We have to have some rules and some laws and some techniques to prevent that kind of activity from taking place.
REHMWhat kind of defense might Twitter have in saying no to the federal government?
ROTENBERGWell, I think, with a lot of credit to Twitter, they did take a courageous stand at the outset. The government wanted a secret disclosure. They wanted no publication of the fact that they were pursuing this investigation, no notice to the individuals, most critically, whose personal information Twitter was being asked to turn over. Now, Twitter did the right thing. They said, just a moment. You know, the privacy interests of our customers are implicated by this order, and so we're going to try to make public this fact so that they at least have the opportunity to contest it. That was a step forward. We're going to need lots of more reactions like that from U.S. firms and companies around the world, I think, to safeguard the users of these new services.
MOROZOVCan I jump in here? I mean...
NELSENAnd we need citizens to support this transparency. We need citizens to say we want our representatives to fight for freedom of information...
NELSEN...and to ensure that there is transparency. I think that's something all three of us can agree wholeheartedly on.
MOROZOVSure. And I just will jump in and say that we don't even know if the U.S. government has approached Google and Facebook with similar requests that they sent to Twitter. It's just that Twitter chose to fight this fight. But, again, Google and Facebook, in most -- you know, in all likelihood, received similar requests, and we don't know if they disclosed any information about WikiLeaks supporters to the government. So I do think we need to applaud Twitter's stance on it. But we also have to remember that there are plenty of other Internet companies who chose not to disclose this. I think we do have to be very careful in terms of investment firms, which often actually assist authoritarian regimes in tracking many of these dissidents.
MOROZOVAgain, I would like to agree with Mike, but I can't. I mean, the scale here is not really an issue. Given enough technology and given enough resources, certain governments can build very powerful tracking technologies building on techniques developed on Madison Avenue to track brands and to track consumer goods. There is no problem in most marketing firms tracking millions of people, what they say online about Coca-Cola. It's just that now we can use the same tools to monitor what people are saying about Ahmadinejad, not about a brand.
MOROZOVSo I think we have to be very careful here.
REHMIt's interesting, Evgeny, that you talked about pro-Mubarak messages being sent out by the government in the last few days in Egypt. We've certainly heard from portions of the population saying it's time to end this. Mubarak is a good leader. We need to just get back to normal. Time to end this. I wonder how much of that is connected to the government's own propaganda.
MOROZOVOh, I think much of it is connected. Again, it's not just text messages. We've also seen a lot of Mubarak supporters go online on Facebook and Twitter and deliberately spread misinformation.
MOROZOVWell, you know, saying that the protests have been cancelled or that Mubarak gave certain concessions -- which he didn't -- or even tried to deliberately, you know, spoil some of his own conversations by taking them and their actions, which will, you know, lead to a dead end. So we see -- it's known as trolling. You know, we see a lot of trolls going on these Facebook groups and basically try to talk about subjects which protesters don't want to talk about. And then I think the upside here...
REHMMarc Rotenberg, what about statements by high officials in the U.S. government? Hillary Clinton, for example, seeming to be, perhaps, on two sides of this issue.
ROTENBERGWell, I think, Diane, you've pointed here to the larger diplomatic issue, which has put the United States in a somewhat difficult position. It's not so much about the technology. It's about trying to anticipate the future of Egypt and how to maintain relations with whatever government is in place in a few years out. I think what Secretary Clinton is trying to do -- as is the president -- is to show support for the people of Egypt while also trying to establish some stability, and it's a difficult line to walk.
MOROZOVWell, yes. I think that is -- what I see is this disconnect between the broader U.S. foreign policy and the State Department's promotion of Internet freedom policy. Again, at the same time, the U.S. government is training Egyptian bloggers to oppose the Mubarak regime, but it's also training the Egyptian police to basically oppose the bloggers. And I think this huge disconnect between, on the one hand, idealistic Internet freedom agenda and very, you know, politic -- you know, the rest of the U.S. foreign policy makes the U.S. look extremely hypocritical.
REHMSo, Michael, you would describe yourself, I gather, as a kind of cyber-utopian while your colleagues here don't have as grand an outlook as you.
NELSENI'm at least a cyber-optimist. I'm also a cyber-libertarian, in that I believe that we don't want governments trying to control the Internet and trying to shape it for its own purposes.
REHMBut they're already doing that.
NELSENWell, those of us in the Internet community, particularly the technical community, have been working very hard to make sure they can't. I've worked with the Internet Society for more than a dozen years. And we talk about the six abilities -- the ability to innovate, the ability to choose, the ability to connect, the ability to share, the ability to trust. And these are all critical things that have to happen if the Internet is going to keep growing the way it has in the past. And we're opposing those efforts of government to try to redesign the Internet so that you can't have anonymous speech.
NELSENFifteen years ago, the technical community was designing the next Internet protocol. It's called IPv6, and it's been in the news a lot now because it's being deployed so that we can keep up with the growth of the Internet. There were those who wanted to build in automatic identification, so every bit that you sent over the net would have a return address, and people could track every bit of information. The technical community rose up and said no. We don't want to do that. We want anonymity at the fundamental layer of the Internet.
REHMMichael Nelsen, he's visiting professor at Georgetown University and, as you've heard, an active participant in the Internet Society, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Grand Rapids, Mich. Good morning, Brian.
BRIANGood morning, Diane and guests. First, I wasn't a fan of WikiLeaks. But then, a couple days ago on World News International, they painted a picture of Karl Rove, who's got associations with the Swedish government and close ties with the prosecution there. And they drew some pretty strong links between the American government's end in keeping a lid on WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange. And I'm wondering if your guests have anything to say about that.
MOROZOVWell, I mean, it's true that Karl Rove has been an adviser to the Swedish government, as far as I know, and there are a lot of right-wing think tanks in Sweden which have taken on WikiLeaks as a target. I don't necessarily, you know, think that it implies anything improper in terms of the Swedish government going after WikiLeaks. I mean, you also have to understand that Swedish has a very strong law on rape. Its law differs from many other European countries.
MOROZOVSo, I mean, there is a decent legal case why this is happening, and the timing looks very suspicious. But they also showed on both sides of the fact that, you know, things are just done differently in Sweden on many occasions. And, you know, it's nice to try to come up with a conspiracy theory that will get Karl Rove into that, but I think it's much more simple. It's a different law.
REHMAll right. To St. Louis, Mo. Jonathan, you're on the air.
JONATHANYes. I want just to mention this. From "60 Minutes" last -- couple of Sundays ago, they gave the WikiLeaks mission statement, which is free press activism, meaning they want free press for the entire world, a transparent government -- not transparent people -- in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and Madison. Why we -- the American statement, he's a spy is because of what's called psywar or psywarfare. It has been initiated since 2003 with the military through CNN in Atlanta. It's online. You can look it up.
JONATHANThe reason all this is happening is because of something that's been on the Web called transparency is the apocalypse -- not death and destruction, like the Bible would have you say or interpret -- transparency, meaning truth, apocalypse, meaning change. And if you want -- in my opinion, what's going on is governments are very, very afraid of transparency. But the problem is that's what the people want.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Marc Rotenberg.
ROTENBERGWell, I think it's certainly true that, for many people, Julian Assange is a hero, and the mission of WikiLeaks is consistent with a mission that favors openness and transparency and sometimes does lead to the embarrassment of governments. And that's actually something, I think, that, in this country's tradition, we've respected, even recognized, and that, at times, there can be real cost. Now, other people, of course, have been more critical of Assange in certain disclosures that have created particular problems for U.S. diplomatic efforts. My own view is that, on balance, I think we should favor openness. I think, over time, it is something that strengthens our country.
NELSENI agree with Micah Sifry. He's the head of the Personal Democracy Forum, and he's got a new book coming out next week entitled, "Transparency and the Age of WikiLeaks." And he says, I'm not sure if I'm pro-WikiLeaks, but I know that I'm anti-anti-WikiLeaks. That's my position. I think WikiLeaks is opening the door to a lot of new exciting services like OpenLeaks, Brussels Leaks, Indoleaks and encouraging people who have interesting information that could lead to the persecution of corrupt officials or changes in bank practices or changes in government regulation, giving them the courage to make that information available and to change society for the better.
REHMSo, in the meantime, what happens to Gordon Manning, who is the person allegedly responsible for giving all this information to Julian Assange?
ROTENBERGWell, one of the most interesting things about this case, Diane, is that we don't actually have indictments yet in the United States. I mean, there's been a lot of speculation now for several months, both about Assange and Manning, but, at the moment, no criminal charges.
REHMMarc Rotenberg, he is executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Short break and more of your calls, comments when we come back.
REHMAs we talk about WikiLeaks, the freedom of information, here's an e-mail from Atticus in Washington. He says, "Number one, we should remember that the two women were interviewed by the Swedish media early in this case. And they said the following, number one, they only ask for police help to find Assange to ask him to take an HIV test. Two, they did not want to press charges. And, three, Assange was a gentleman to them." And Atticus goes on, "We should remember Assange contacted the Swedish police, and they did not want to pursue the matter. It was only after revelations about the U.S. that the Swedish authorities had further interest in Assange." Atticus says, "It sounds like political pressure to me." Marc Rotenberg.
ROTENBERGWell, I think, Diane, it's difficult to assess these statements. Ultimately, this is what trials are for, so there's an opportunity to look at the evidence on both sides. But I will point out -- and it is an irony in this case -- one of the documents made available through WikiLeaks concerns another matter where the U.S. government conspired with the Swedish government to extend a provision called data retention. In other words, they said to the Swedish government that they wanted the government to keep information on Internet users for political investigation and prosecution. This is very controversial in the Internet world. Sweden was out in front promoting this. People were critical of the Swedish government.
ROTENBERGAnd then we subsequently learned, through the cables of the State Department made available by WikiLeaks, that behind the scenes it was actually the U.S. government that had encouraged the Swedish government to adopt this controversial proposal. Now, I don't think this answers the question of what Julian Assange did with respect to these two women. But I think it is a clear indication that there are backroom discussions, negotiations, deals that are made between governments that can adversely impact some of the rights we're talking about today.
NELSENI think Marc's story is a case study in, what I call, mutually assured exposure. We've got governments who are going to have to assume that some of their behaviors, some of their actions will be exposed. And they'll have to think twice about asking for things that aren't appropriate, trying to push the boundaries of law, doing corrupt acts. And, I think, at the same time, all of us are going to live in a world of mutually assured exposure. There's a classic book by David Brin called "The Transparent Society." It was really a prophetic book about -- it's about 10 years old now. Back then, we had very little broadband, very little video, but he forecast a world in which you're going to be on camera 500 times a day.
NELSENYou're going to have all this data being collected about you, whether you try to hide yourself or not. It's not just about buying things online. It's about walking down the street. And he forecast two options -- 1984, where the government is going to know everything about you, and you're not going to know what they know, or the truly transparent society, where everybody knows everything about everyone, and we know about our government. So we can have the Rodney King effect, where, if somebody beats up somebody in the streets of L.A., there's a camera there to see it.
NELSENIf somebody talks to -- if some diplomat talks to the Swedish government and pressures them, we know about it.
REHMEvgeny, before you weigh in here, I want to correct myself. It is Bradley Manning who's being held in jail in terms of having released these documents to Julian Assange in WikiLeaks. Now, Evgeny, weigh in on that e-mail and the speculation that it is, indeed, a connection that exists between the charges against Assange and the release of documents.
MOROZOVWell, if you look at the behavior of this -- the women -- since August, there was definitely a little of inconsistency and incoherence there. One of them posted a message to Twitter, after her encounter with Assange, that she actually had a great time, and then she deleted that message afterwards, once things really heated up. So there is definitely that. There is no coherence to some of their statements at least. And there was also a little of internal squabbling in the Swedish justice system. There were different statements coming from different prosecutors. So, I think, there is someone institutional politics here in Sweden that we need to be aware of.
MOROZOVBut, I think, one of the assumptions that was made in the e-mail you've just read was that Assange was somehow not really, you know, a target or a threat until he published the cables. And, I think, this is not the case. WikiLeaks itself published some documents from the U.S. government, which clearly showed that, as early as 2008, Assange was perceived by the Defense Department as almost as a national security threat -- and WikiLeaks itself, not just Assange, the entire organization. And by the time events happened in Sweden, there was already -- it released all of the collateral murder video. In Iraq, there was already a release of the Afghanistan war diaries. So I think there is definitely, you know, something that the court should examine. I think this is, again -- as Marc said -- this is what court hearings are for.
MOROZOVThe question is how just those hearings would be and, I think, this is a very big question...
REHMWell -- and the question becomes, if he were extradited to Sweden, would he then be extradited to the United States? And what kinds of charges could he and, perhaps, even The New York Times, face in this country?
MOROZOVWell, as far as I know, it's actually much easier to extradite him from the U.K. than from Sweden, just because of the nature of the treaties between the U.K. and Sweden. So I don't think he is safe, even if he stays in the U.S. The question is how the U.S. government will go about prosecuting him. And, again, they haven't yet been able to come up with a coherent strategy here, which, you know, if they go after Assange, as you've pointed out, that may also take down all of its media partners.
MOROZOVAnd it may have a load of chilling effects on freedom of expression, whistle-blowing, leaking and on journalism itself. So I think that it's not clear that the U.S. government will pursue this case because they haven't managed to link him to Bradley Manning, which was one of the key arguments. They haven't managed to prove that Manning deliberately leaked it to Assange and Assange assisted him in the leaking process, that he solicited those leaks of the cables. And, as long as they can't prove it, their case is very weak.
ROTENBERGWell, in the United States, a lot of the discussion has been about the possibility of a prosecution under the Espionage Act. This is a broad law. This is a law that criminalizes the possession or transmission of classified documents with the intent to cause some injury to the United States. But you think about those phrases for a moment and you imagine, of course, that The New York Times could have been prosecuted for the Pentagon Papers. Any reporter who gets access to classified information that's somehow critical of the United States, presumably, could be prosecuted as well. So a prosecution under the Espionage Act in the United States, I think, would be, you know, unpopular. It could be done. But there's also the view that it would probably, ultimately, fail and could provoke a bit of a backlash.
REHMAll right. To Indianapolis. Good morning, Gideon.
GIDEONGood morning, Diane. Thanks for having me.
GIDEONI have a question or comment. Some time last year, the Chinese government went at Google. And the U.S. government, other western government criticized Chinese heavily for that. So how do they explain this? How do they explain what they are doing, the WikiLeaks and Twitter, for the Chinese?
MOROZOVWell, they can't. And, I think, this reveals the hypocrisy in the Internet freedom crusade that Hillary Clinton has been on for the last year. Again, it's very hard for the U.S. to balance this idealistic push to promote Internet freedom with the reality of domestic Internet policy, where it's not just WikiLeaks. It's also, you know, NSA and FBI wanting to have more surveillance oversight over the Internet, you know. The director of FBI was touring Silicon Valley companies in late November, trying to convince them to build secret backdoors into their software to make it easier to monitor what their customers are discussing online. I mean, there are many other developments happening in the U.S., which make it look more like China and Iran.
MOROZOVAnd, I think, this is what troubles many other governments. They look at what's happening in the U.S. domestically, and they want to have the same power. They want to have the same Internet kill switch button, which the United States -- you know, many senators have been debating for quite sometime, and, you know -- and Egypt just actually want to have and use their own kill switch. And now that there are similar plans in America, it will be very hard to stop Iran, China, Russia and many other countries from wanting the same capabilities. So, I think, the U.S. government needs to be better aware of how domestic policies and how domestic politics actually constrain feasibility to promote Internet freedom abroad.
ROTENBERGWell, I think Evgeny is right to point out the contradiction, but, at the same time here, I think I would agree with Mike Nelson. And that is to say we should not lose sight of the important initiatives that the U.S. government is pursuing to promote Internet freedom. Secretary Clinton has said Internet freedom is important. I think we should support that. President Obama, at the United Nations, quite remarkably, a year ago, talked about the need to provide new technologies of privacy and security for online activists. He was absolutely right when he made that statement. So even where we see these...
MOROZOVBut not the WikiLeaks, right? He doesn't want WikiLeaks to be anonymous.
ROTENBERGYes. But I think the point, Evgeny, here is that, even though the U.S. may be inconsistent in its position, I think we who favor freedom on the Internet need to continue to emphasize those positive statements that will promote the type of Internet we would like to see emerge.
REHMLet's go to Kent, Ohio. Good morning, Jim.
JIMYes, Diane. I'd like to suggest that maybe you invite Julian Assange on your program for one show and then follow it up with an interview with the women who accuse him of those crimes in Sweden. I think that would be a very compelling program. But, in the meantime, I'd like to say that I have high admiration for Julian Assange and what's he's doing. I think the transparency in government and exposing crimes like that, the war crimes in particular, are very important for the public.
JIMAnd it seems to me that our government's opposition to Julian Assange and exposure by WikiLeaks is comparable to the response that Nazi Germany would have had to any publication of what's going on in Auschwitz, for example, because that publication would demoralize the troops in the field as our government says WikiLeaks does to our troops and -- by exposing the crimes of the government.
NELSENI don't think you need to have an interview with Julian Assange and his accusers because some of the court documents were leaked.
REHMOh, I'd like to talk with them. No question.
NELSENYou could actually see exactly what both parties were saying. But getting back to the point about morale and the impact on diplomacy, it's been fascinating to see that a lot of the documents that have come out have actually had a positive outcome for the U.S. We've actually shown that we're doing the right thing. The U.S. diplomats are following the policies that they've publicly claimed.
REHMYeah, but this -- you know what Marc Rotenberg said earlier, you know, there are two sides to this. And I'm not completely satisfied, considering what I've heard this morning, that the U.S. is playing with open hands.
NELSENWell, I was just saying that if you look at the cables, the U.S. government comes off looking a lot better than most of the other governments that are reported about in those cables.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Chepatchet, R.I. Good morning, John.
JOHNGood morning. I just wanted to say I'm pretty much pro-leaks, and I'm pretty liberal in my views. But the problem I had with Julian Assange is that, you know, he dumps all this stuff out of the Internet. It exposes all -- any person that talk to our military, that maybe, you know, al-Qaida was doing bad things in their neighborhood, and they try to work with the U.S. to help. Now, they're on a hit list with al-Qaida. The New York Times said they wouldn't publish those names, but by giving legitimacy to Assange, those names are on the Internet. If al-Qaida wants to get it and find those people, they can kill them. The editor of The New York Times himself said that when he brought this up with Julian Assange, Assange said that those people are collaborators, and they deserve what they get.
MOROZOVI think that's right. I mean, there was definitely very little thought, I think, on behalf of WikiLeaks when they published the first batch of documents from Afghanistan, where they did choose to publicize many of the names and other information that actually helped to identify some of the informants. But, I think, we also should give them credit. I mean, they have been getting battered since that release. I think -- there was no dump, as many people in the media claimed, when it came to the U.S. cables. Those were very carefully deducted. Those were not -- the entire batch was not a list. It was first just in 2,000 documents. Now, I think it's somewhere near 4,000.
MOROZOVBut, again, they were carefully scrutinized, and they were not scrutinized by WikiLeaks. They are mostly scrutinized by its media partners, by journalists who actually know the situation on the ground. So while, of course, they committed a lot of mistakes at the very beginning -- and I think those are probably unforgivable -- we should also look to the brighter side, that they have improved over time, and they are getting smarter. They are getting more professional.
NELSENWe're certainly on leaks version two, and, I think, we're going to see leaks version three with OpenLeaks and some of these other services. But what's really important, I think, is that organizations are going to start realizing they can reveal more about what's going on behind the scenes to positive benefit, both for themselves and for the people they work with.
NELSENAnd that's going to be -- I'm doing a report on that right now, to look at what this means for organizations, for government agencies, for nonprofits, because, I think, there's a push towards transparency that WikiLeaks is going to help foster.
REHMMarc Rotenberg, what about profits or potential profits? What do they have to do with all of this controversy that's going on about the leaks that have taken place?
ROTENBERGI'm sorry, profit -- commercial profits?
REHMYeah, absolutely. Money exchanging hands.
ROTENBERGOh, well, that's an interesting question. I think what you may be suggesting is that when we look at some of these cables a little bit more closely, we got a better understanding of who benefits from certain policies. Is this the point, that we need to be able to examine a government's policy to the extent that we have some people who are benefiting we may not know about currently?
NELSENI think the more interesting story is going to be what happens when there's a major data dump from some large corporation that may be doing things that aren't quite ethical, aren't quite legal.
REHMIsn't that what Julian Assange had said he was going to do next, dump huge amounts of material about the banks and corporations in this country?
ROTENBERGFinancial crisis, yes.
REHMDo you expect that soon?
ROTENBERGWell, I guess we'll have to see. One of the things, I think, that makes people uneasy about Assange's behavior is this desire to kind of control how governments respond through disclosures.
REHMMarc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Michael Nelsen, visiting professor at Georgetown University. Evgeny Morozov, he is visiting scholar at Stanford University, contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine. Thank you all for a very interesting but, I must say, unsettling hour. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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