WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos of ABC News with questions on the Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower story. Assange is asked what the situation currently is with Snowden.
Also present at the interview is Jesselyn Radack, National Security & Human Rights Director of the Government Accountability Project, a leading whistleblower organization.
Below is an unofficial transcript:
ABC: Mr. Assange, thank you for joining us. What can you tell us about where Edward Snowden is right now and where he's expected to go?
Assange: Thank you, George. I wish I could answer these questions of yours in more detail. The situation now with Edward Snowden is a very sensitive one.
It's a matter of international diplomatic negotiations. There is little I can productively say about what is happening directly. But look, let's pull back a bit.
Why is it that Mr. Snowden is not in the United States? He should feel that he should be afforded justice in the United States.
But his situation is very similar to a situation that I face, and that my staff face, where we have been sucked into a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia. That's where the charges came from. What do we know about that district?
It's six kilometers away from Washington, DC. The jury pool is made up of CIA, Pentagon, etcetera.
In the legal community in the United States it's known as the rocket docket because of the lack of scrutiny procedures they have there. There's a 99% chance that - a 99.97% chance that if you're a target of the grand jury you'll be indicted.
And a 99% chance if you're indicted by a grand jury you'll be convicted. This is not a situation, ignoring all the political rhetoric which has been terrible over the past two weeks, where Mr. Snowden can feel he would be afforded justice in the United States.
ABC: But Is there any country that would grant him asylum?
Assange: Well under UN Conventions, Mr. Snowden has the right to apply to nearly every country for asylum. It's always a mixture of the political and the legal.
And I think there are several countries where it is politically possible for Mr. Snowden to receive asylum, and many countries, of course, where he's legally entitled to that kind of protection. It's .. no one is alleging that any of his acts are anything other than political.
That he has acted in a manner to draw attention to a very serious problem in the United States where without the will of Congress, without the will of the American population, we now have a state within a state, we have the transnational surveillance apparatus. Glenn Greenwald spoke about the new technology to evolve out of the National Security Agency is going to attempt to intercept 1 billion mobile phone calls a day. No one signed up for this, Obama does not have a mandate.
No one has a mandate. They have been taken for a ride.
ABC: Secretary of State John Kerry said that Snowden's revelations are putting people at risk. Take a look.
"Kerry: People may die as a consequence of what this man did."
"It is possible the United States will be attacked because terrorists may now know how to protect themselves in a way they didn't know before."
ABC: Does that concern you at all?
Assange: We have heard this rhetoric.
I myself was subject to precisely this rhetoric two, three years ago. And it all proved to be false. We had this terrible discussion about - which even exists in some of the tabloid press today - about it causing harm, but not a single US Government official, no one from the pentagon, any government said any of our revelations in the past six years has caused anyone to come to physical harm. And the revelations by Snowden, these are even more abstract.
ABC: Have you spoken to Mr. Snowden? Are you confident he's safe right now?
Assange: Our legal people have been in contact with Mr. Snowden. I can't say anything about the present situation.
But, you know, the United States cancelled his passport. Joseph Biden, the day before yesterday, personally called the President Correa trying to pressure him. That's not acceptable.
Asylum is a right that we all have. It's an international right. The United States has been founded largely on accepting political refugees from other countries and has prospered by it.
Mr. Snowden has that right. Ideally he should be able to return to the United States. Unfortunately that's not the world that we live in and hopefully another country will give him the justice that he deserves.
ABC: Edward Snowden's father has spoken out, he fears that you and WikiLeaks are manipulating his son. He said that WikiLeaks' "focus is not necessarily the constitution of the United States. That's a concern for me."
How do you respond to his father?
Assange: He didn't say that. He said might be.
Mr. Snowden's father as a parent, of course he is worried in this situation. Every father would be worried in this situation.
We are established contact with Mr. Snowden's father's lawyer to put some of his concerns to rest. But, I mean, this isn't a situation that, you know - that WikiLeaks is in charge of, if you like.
This is a matter for states at a very serious level to understand and sort out and behave responsibly. Because we've had some experience in the past, publishing, with attacks and political rhetoric from the United States with asylum and so on, and I have personal sympathy for Mr. Snowden. We did what we could and continue to do it.
ABC: But you have put yourself in the middle -
Assange: and help him through.
ABC: And I'm going to ask a further question on that. Meanwhile, no matter what happens, the secrets he's taken will get out. How, and does WikiLeaks have possession of those secrets right now?
Assange: Look, there is no stopping the publishing process at this stage.
Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can't be pressured by any state to stop the publication process. I mean, the United States by cancelling his passport has left him for the moment marooned in Russia.
Is that really a great outcome by the state department? Is that really what it wanted to do? I think that's every citizen has the right to their citizenship.
To take someone's principal component of citizenship, their passport, away from them is a disgrace. Mr. Snowden hasn't been convicted of anything.
There are no international warrants out for his arrest. To take a passport from a young man in a difficult situation is a disgrace. He is a hero.
He has told the people of the world and the United States that there is mass unlawful interception of their communications, far beyond anything that happened under Nixon. Obama can't just turn around like Nixon did and say it's okay if the president does it, if the president authorizes it.
Jesselyn Radack, Government Accountability Project
ABC: He has also broken the law. Let me bring it to Jesselyn Radack who is also with us right now.
Julian Assange mentioned his father.
His attorney has written a letter to Eric Holder, the attorney general, saying that he believes that his son would be willing to come back to the United States if he would not be detained or imprisoned prior to trial, no gag order, tried in the venue of his choosing. Do you think it would make sense to return under those circumstances?
Radack: I actually don't.
I have represented people like Thomas Drake who was an NSA whistleblower who actually did go through every conceivable internal channel possible, including his boss, the inspector general of his agency, the defence department inspector general and two congressional committees and the US turned around and prosecuted him, and did so for espionage. And to tie him up for the rest of his life in jail.
I think Snowden's outlook is bleak here. Instead of focusing on Snowden and shooting the messenger, we should focus on the crimes of the NSA. Because whatever laws Snowden may or may not have broken, they are infinitesimally small compared to the two major surveillance laws and the fourth amendment of the constitution that the NSA violates.
ABC: But these laws were passed by congress and overseen by a court.
Radack: Both of those are incorrect. Congress has not been fully informed. Only the...
ABC: .. they passed the law for the oversight.
Radack: But there's a secret interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act which nobody knows except for the intel committee of congress, and even they say that they think that most Americans would be appalled by that. And to say it's been approved by the courts is misnomer, because it gives the impression that all courts have approved this, when in reality it's the foreign intelligence court which has rubber stamped every single ...
ABC: Which is a federal court...
Radack: No, it is a secret court set up by the Justice Department that has federal judges on it but last year it approved 2,000 out of 2,000 applications. They hear only the government's side and they have rejected an application one time since 1978.
ABC: Let me bring this back to Julian Assange. Back in 2010, an e-mail was revealed from you by Bart Gelman from Time magazine said that you hope the revelations from WikiLeaks would bring about quote, the total annihilation of the current US Regime. Is that your goal and what did you mean by that?
Assange: I didn't say that. There is no such e-mail. Its simply false....
ABC: According to Time Magazine in December 2010.
Assange: Yeah, well, I mean, Time Magazine. It's very interesting that you raise such a thing like that. We are in a situation where we have these extraordinary revelations that are causing great embarrassment to a new national security state that is arising in the US. Its not just the US. Similar national security states are arising in other countries. But it is trying to evade democratic will. It's treating congress like a bunch of fools.
We saw Clapper up there lying, bold-faced lying to congress. We have secret interpretations of the law. What does the law mean if there's secret interpretations and secret courts?
We have Bradley Manning's trial continuing tomorrow. A young man, a good man, as far as anyone can tell, motivations were entirely political as far as anyone argues, same with snowden. Being put through this meat grinder where a new precedent is trying to be set, which is communicating with the press is is committing espionage.
It's not just a precedent trying to be set on these whistleblowers, it's a precedent that's trying to be set on journalists and publishers as well.
ABC: Mr. Assange, meantime you have safe harbor by the Equadorian government.
The Correa administration has been admonished for restricting press freedoms, prosecuting journalists. They said the media law is the most serious setback for freedom of the press in the recent history of Latin America. Does it make you uncomfortable to be harbored by a government that goes after journalists and do you see a double standard there?
Assange: Well, these accusations are largely blown up. There are problems in every country. But why are they being spoken about? What has happened here is a mass revelation of illegal transnational spying by the national security agency, the collection of the communications records of every single person in the United States, laying out the entire community structure of the United States. And these sort of attempts are merely a mechanism to try and shift ground. But, you know, go to CPJ in New York. It lists the number of journalists in Ecuadorian prisons as zero. It has been zero for a very long time.
There's 48 in Turkey, so we've got to keep things in some sort of perspective.