Julian Assange | Sam Adams Awards | Oxford Union
Assange participated via video link from the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
JULIAN ASSANGE: So I would just firstly like to say congratulations to Tom Fingar and the very important talk that he gave, of course well made and politic, though I think there are nuggets in there that are quite important to understand.
I was involved in 2007 and 2008 at looking at what was happening to Iran. Now, from that process I am fully aware of some of the pressures that were on Tom. A lot of people did a lot of good work, perhaps the most important was Tom Fingar’s, in trying to correct the movement towards war with Iran based on lies. It is incredible to think back at those times that it was only in 2003 where the worst modern deception of the Western world occurred, where we went to war in Iraq based on lies in 2003 and over 100,000 people were killed and millions of Iraqi refugees displaced as a result. Just three years later, the drums for war with Iran were being whipped up not just in the United States but also in this country, and it’s thanks to journalists like Sy Hersh and professional truthful insiders like Tom and our sources and the sources for journalists that that war hasn’t happened yet.
For example, at the beginning of 2008 we published Iraq’s classified rules of engagement for the U.S. Army. In those rules there was a section that was apparently designed, or at least permitted, for border skirmishes to start up, permitted U.S. troops to go into Iran under a variety of circumstances, and at the time there were disputes in the Gulf with ships approaching one another, a very heated moment, and the U.S. mainsteam media and the White House ramping up any little small incident. One of our sources provided us with those classified rules of engagement. We published them in a deal that we set up with the New York Times to get greater impact for it, and as a result the Iranian government held a press conference and said, “Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare come over into our territory like that.” We then got hold of the next edition of these classified rules of engagement and that part had been removed from it. The procedures had been tightened up. And if you look back in the history of war, something between 20 and 50 percent of all wars have started as a result of these border skirmishes. That source has never been revealed. I assume that he or she is happy to have contributed to history and to human rights in that way and he goes about his business.
As opposed to what is sometimes put about, WikiLeaks is not an organization that hates intelligence agencies. Far from it. At its very base, the idea of intelligence is an optimistic one. It’s that one can understand the world, one can apply intelligence to understand. The problem is the corruption of those agencies, and that corruption comes about because of secrecy. When Tom spoke about, in somewhat glowing terms, the improved process that he put down, and I believe him that that is a significant improvement from what was there before, it all rests upon one thing. It rests upon the abilities of people in those agencies to get out information to the public when those processes are not followed. We might have depoliticized analysts working in intelligence agencies who are to all intents and purposes mere robots, perfect machines with perfect accuracy. They are tasked, they engage in the task, they analyze, they pass up information higher up the food chain. And what if, in Tom’s case, for example, his National Intelligence Estimate, there was not a threat that it would be released, because our sources say that in fact the White House knew that if it did not release a version immediately, another version would be released, and the White House would have to get – would then come in second, and its opponents would have their spin on it, so the White House wanted to get their spin on it first. It’s only through this pressure of producing analytical product to the public that these sorts of agencies are kept honest and don’t become simply robots that are, in effect, perhaps this is drawing the bow too far, but some kind of Hitler’s willing executioners, mere people who act as robots who are told to carry out a task and do it. That is not enough. It is not enough to agree to carry out a task for superiors. That is the Nuremberg defense. We must all look to ourselves and understand whether what we are doing is right and just not just according to the views of our superiors but according to the long view of history, according to human rights and to our feelings of compassion, if we have any.
Now the push to war with Iran is far from over. The push for war with Iran is far from over and the debate now is occurring in the public sphere as well as in various maneuvers by different intelligence agencies, the machinations that are happening in Syria and so on. Now I want to look at some of those. Our cables revealed, for example, that this country, the United Kingdom, engaged in a conspiracy to kill off Press TV, the Iranian state TV station, the Iranian equivalent to the BBC, from being able to broadcast into the United Kingdom. They cut off its satellite feed, which is one of the Sky satellites to this country, the death penalty, effectively, for a national broadcaster. What does that mean? Well, it means that the Iranian government can’t get out its view. Iran is surrounded by 45 military bases that are hostile to it on every side. There is no border that Iran does not have that is not already hostile or will probably shortly become so. That produces an atmosphere of intense fear. It produces an atmosphere where they think that there is a war. And as a result, we all know that Great Britain in World War I, in [7:58 ____ ] for example, and in World War II there were similar abuses. Iran’s fears means that the sort of human rights abuses that we claim about, the human rights abuses that are correctly looked into in Iran, have very little chance of resolution because the leadership of that country is so terrified about being invaded.
Now, I want to draw this back to something that is personal to us and personal to WikiLeaks. The Internet has become the most important device for revealing the truth, at least since the beginning of the printing press. It has become the number one antidote to TV. Democracies are always lied into war. The Iraq war was a result of lies. The increased involvement in the United States in Vietnam was a result of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, another lie. It’s not just lies by intelligence analysts, it’s lies by the big media machine. And what is in the big media machine? Well, it’s the various institutions that get too comfortable and too close to the table of power, the very table that they are meant to be reporting on and policing and getting into the historic record. When Tom spoke about process and removing political bias from analysts, there is also cultural bias. What is the cultural wind and is culturally accepted? That also flows into analysts. Now, producing cultural bias is something that we must watch more closely. It’s not just about what facts are reported on the BBC News. Those are important, but there are mechanisms of propaganda which go under the surface. They’re not direct factual claims, and those are things like Hollywood movies.
Now I’ve seen this directly. When we looked at intelligence reports at low level coming out from Iraq in 2003 reporting what was happening there with the Badar Corps or [10:08 ____ ] or Iranian influence, the full package of culture bias that exists in the United States for people who are not properly educated in assessing what they are understanding came with them. Eventually those reports and analysts did learn more about what was happening and by the middle of 2003 were in fact sometimes passing out true reports of what was happening, that there is going to be a sectarian crisis in this country – that was known by Marines G-2 intelligence, for instance, halfway through 2003. Completely denied by the political leadership. So it’s not enough to produce accurate reporting, because if political leadership won’t let it out, what are you going to do? No, analysts must be responsible not to political leadership. Analysts must be responsible to the public and they must be responsible to the historical record.
Now, we have something here which is a recent acquisition of WikiLeaks, although we have been following the matter for some time, and this is the script to a tens of millions of dollar budget Dreamworks movie. What is it about? It is about us, nominally. It is about WikiLeaks the organization. It is a mass propaganda attack against WikiLeaks the organization and the character of myself and our activities and so on. But it is not just an attack against us. It is an attack against Iran. It fans the flames to start a war with Iran, and it’s coming out in November. It’s being filmed now. Benedict Cumberbatch is playing me. This movie has British involvement and people in Britain should be concerned about it. How does it open? Well – and this has not been previously disclosed before – the opening scene is in a military complex in Tehran. The camera comes in, closes up on a file, and it is a design for a nuclear bomb marked with nuclear symbols. There’s notes and whispers all around and they are in Farsi, they’re in Persian. There’s an older scientist speaking. A high-speed camera will measure the explosive charge we have designed to trigger the chain reaction. It is then revealed by the camera four scientists in white coats walking in a windowless corridor. The youngest, “Simsana” – remember that name, “Simsana” — writes on the file: “The dimensions of the payload are consistent with a Shabab missile.” Okay. That’s the opening scene. Iran is working on an atomic weapon. The opening scene of a film about WikiLeaks. How does this have anything to do with us? Well, we’ll come to it.
The next scene concerning Iran is in Cairo where that Iranian nuclear scientist is meeting a U.S. CIA agent, Kate. Closeup again on the handwritten diagram of a nuclear bomb, the same diagram as we saw in the opening. And “Siman” says, “I copied it from memory. They’re testing the explosive in the next six months.” Now, remember what Tom’s National Intelligence Estimate found. Iran did not have a nuclear program. All sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies feeding into that report said that was the case, with high confidence, and has been reconfirmed every year since that point. The senior diplomat who’s also at the table with the CIA agent says, “Shit! We thought they were at least three years away from a bomb. Another lie.” Tom’s report does not say that they’re three years away from a nuclear bomb. So it’s a lie upon a lie, a great big budget thing that’s going to be pushed out in November. The Iranian nuclear scientist then says, “If it works, they won’t hesitate to sell the technology, and even if one of these things” – sorry – “If it works, they won’t hesitate to sell the technology, and even if one of these things gets into the wrong hands, they’ll sell it anyway.”
So that’s the reality of where we’re at. Not merely a war of intelligence agencies, but a war of corrupt media, corrupt culture. That war, we have got to understand, people who have appeared on this panel have been involved, sometimes with great sacrifice, at revealing the truth about important parts of the world, how the world is unfolding, how the world is shaping, the nature of institutions – they have revealed it, heroically in many cases, to the historical record, to our civilization as a whole, to you.
You have to understand that where there’s great powers at work – I don’t mean shadow conspiracies, I mean enormous cultural powers, enormous industrial powers, the vast network of corporations that interact with government agencies around the world selling them products, shipping their logistics from one place to another. The National Security Agency, for example, now has approximately 70% of its expenditure pass through Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, etcetera. This produces a lobby that pushes in particular directions. How is it that such a lie got into a script about WikiLeaks? How is it that in the light of that National Intelligence Estimate that anyone could think that it was tolerable, acceptable, to foist that lie upon the public, that it would make it all the way through the Hollywood system, that distributors would pick it up? Because they perceive that that is where the power lies in the United States. They perceive that it’s perfectly okay to slander an entire nation, that it’s perfectly okay to beat the drums of war like that, because people in that system want the war. They want it.
We have to understand that everything that we see, read and hear is produced for a purpose. It’s produced as a result of incentives. And other material is not produced. There are disincentives to not produce it. We walk almost sleepwalking, almost blind, every time we open a newspaper and read an article. That particular journalist wrote about that for a particular reason. They felt that their editor would accept that, that they wouldn’t have to argue with him. The editor felt that the proprietor would accept it. The journalist felt that the people that they deal with in their community would like it and in fact might even pat them on the head and take them to a fancier cocktail party or perhaps even give them a better position in Oxford. All these things influence how our society, our civilization, is documented.
Now, working against that trend and against that current of corrupt powerful organizations producing a distorted perspective of the world has been the Internet. For the first time in history, that has allowed one person with some truth to speak to every single person who wants to hear that truth. It is the great antidote. There is a war on for control of the Internet. That war takes place on the one hand by producing incredible propaganda and hyping up threats about how the Internet is dangerous. On the other hand, it involves introducing mass surveillance systems to surveil all of the Internet. You know, different countries see the effects being brought by the Internet and the political liberations being brought by the Internet and powerful groups in those countries feel fearful and they feel destabilized, and as a result they want to find some way to control it and to know it. The knowing part of it comes from surveilling every transborder communication that occurs, between Great Britain and the United States, between almost every country in Latin America and the rest of the world because their communications have to pass through the United States to reach Europe, pass through the United States to reach Asia, and sometimes even pass through the United States when one Latin American country talks to another simply because the communications infrastructure has been passed that way. This is collectively the greatest transfer of wealth that has ever happened, the greatest theft of information that has ever happened from every single one of us who uses the Internet into the bowels of secret agencies.
Now if those secret agencies were working on our behalf, perhaps we could accept it. If as soon as possible that material would enter into the historical record, would enter into the record of our civilization, where we could all individually make decisions using that information to produce a better, more harmonious world, then perhaps it would be tolerable. But it is not tolerable in its current form, and so it is up to decent people, good people, still working inside of government, inside of private contractors that are engaged in these sorts of behaviors, to get it out to the public, to get it into the historical record, either by doing it anonymously, which is of course what we favor, stay in there 30 years, work with us for 30 years getting out this sort of information, or by going public and standing up and fighting to describe the truth of what they’re seeing.
QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: I would like to ask you to comment briefly on how governments turn to this noun “cyberterrorism” and how they deal with these networks like Anonymous and its operations and what you think about it.
JULIAN ASSANGE: As I said before, the Internet has become this generation’s, the Internet generation’s, primary tool of emancipation. Now, there’s a lot of effort been put into trying to stop the Internet working as the way it was meant to work, which is to be a universal communications medium with which we can all communicate with each other across the world to share our knowledge of the world and together deal with the most significant problems that we have at an individual level, at a group level, and at international level. The crackdown against the Internet, I think, is futile. I mean, we can see a lot of people whipping up further to try and get money for various so-called cyberterrorism outfits. We hear a lot about cyberterrorism. How many times have you heard about cyber peace building? We hear lots of talk about cyberwar and cyberdefense – I mean, this is a hype. It always comes from somewhere. It doesn’t just pop into a journalist’s brain. It comes as a result of organizations lobbying to influence the public opinion and influence the public record.
What is fantastic and unavoidable is that the Internet generation is developing its own culture and its own consensus and its own political view, and it is so much better informed than anything that existed before, so much more nuanced, so much more sophisticated. Young people are vastly more worldly and sophisticated than even ten years ago as a result of the Internet. Their views about what is wrong and what is right are being internationalized as a result of education about how we are all living our lives. All those people, all those young people, these people in this audience at Oxford, are going to go into the CIA, they’re going to go into MI6, they’re going to go into GCHQ, they’re going to go into the National Security Agency, they’re going to go into Whitehall, they’re going to be inside all these organizations before they even know it. They’re going to be the technicians that control the great databases of the National Security Agency, the great databases of the CIA, and those people can act to reveal information to the rest of the world fairly easily, through us or through others. Sometimes there’s risk involved but they can be worked out and you can work through it. They can act to sabotage. This is a new pre-revolutionary moment just like when you had industrialization and as a result you developed skilled workers, and once skilled workers developed a political consciousness as to their own power and position in society, they could act to change their society. The Internet generation is in exactly that same position, perhaps in a much more advantaged – even more advantageous position, because the Internet is also involved not merely in the control structure of these great and powerful institutions, but it is involved intimately in spreading our culture, spreading our knowledge about the world. It is a replacement media and it is unignorable. These institutions will be reformed as a result of young people going into them. There is no other option. You cannot hire a technician who has not been educated by the Internet. You cannot hire any educated person now who has not been educated by the Internet, who has not been influenced by the Internet, who has not started to absorb the culture on the Internet, who doesn’t have friends that they’ve made and developed over the Internet.