Today, Julian Assange, world-renowned publisher, philosopher, and founder of WikiLeaks, went on the community-sharing website Reddit in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session.
Reddit’s AMA has been used by the likes of US President Barack Obama, English film director Danny Boyle, and Swiss tennis player Roger Federer to answer various questions put forth by the community.
Assange’s AMA is timely as today WikiLeaks released classified information concerning the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), a draft trade agreement which would complement the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) framework while pressuring non-member countries into compliance. Specifically, the formerly-secret draft text concerning the Financial Services Annex would further deregulate global financial service markets and increase the transnational exchange of “personal and financial” data.
In a recap of the AMA, here are some of the most prudent answers Assange offered to the Reddit community during the live session.
madazzahatter: What advice would you give to ordinary citizens in regards to how they can have an impact?
The founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange (L) waves from the window with Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño (R) in the Ecuadorian embassy in central London (photo: Reuters)
Assange: When we are aware of the world and the scale of its inhumanity and stupidity we feel small. It very hard to “think globally” and “act locally”, because by thinking globally we become overwhelmed with the scale of the problems to be solved. However the Internet permits many people to act globally in a way they couldn’t before. WikiLeaks is a realisation of this tension. By releasing materials on many parts of the world, we empower others to think and act.
What can ordinary people do? Support and promote projects that are acting at scale. WikiLeaks is my realisation of this tension, but there are a flood of others starting. The clash between diversity and global uniformity which has been created by wiring the world to itself is now in play. You are the troops.
IKingJeremy: How do you think history will remember you, and how do you feel about that?
Assange: For presidents it is important, but for the rest of us it is more important to get things done and see your legacy in the world. We’re doing well in the more academic or comprehensive histories and outside the worst aspects of the English speaking mainstream press. Smears don’t have much staying power on their own because they deviate from the foundations of reality (what actually happened). They require constant energy from our opponents to keep going. The truth has a habit of reasserting itself.
davec79: If you had a chance to do this all again, would you, and what changes would you make?
Again – definitely; we only live once and every day spent living your principles is a day at liberty. It is clear that history is on our side. Most of our difficult decisions are constrained by resource limits, not ideas. But I was ignorant about the extent of Sweden’s geopolitical reliance with the United States and to some extent the structure of UK society. You can read about that here: http://wikileaks.org/IMG/html/Affidavit_of_Julian_Assange.html#3
UnholyDemigod: Why did you start a website to leak classified information? Surely you can understand that many things kept confidential are for the reasons of national security, and releasing secret documents puts lives and international relations at risk?
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (photo: Reuters)
Confidential government documents we have published disclose evidence of war crimes, criminal back-room dealings and sundry abuses. That alone legitimates our publications, and that principally motivates our work. Secrecy was never intended to enable criminality in the highest offices of state. Secrecy is, yes, sometimes necessary, but healthy democracies understand that secrecy is the exception, not the rule. “National security” pretexts for secrecy are routinely used by powerful officials, but seldom justified. If we accept these terms of propaganda, strong national security journalism becomes impossible. Our publications have never jeopardized the “national security” of any nation. When secrecy is a cover-all for endemic official criminality, I suggest to you, it bespeaks a strange set of priorities to ask journalists to justify their own existence.
Mishatje: What is your opinion on Edward Snowden?
Assange: Edward Snowden performed an intelligent and heroic act. I and others had been calling for exactly this act for years (you can read about that here: http://reason.com/archives/2013/03/12/the-second-great-crypto-war). I am a trustee for his legal defense and co-ordinated his asylum. Our Sarah Harrison kept him secure in his path out of Hong Kong and spent 40 days making sure he was OK in Moscow’s airport. Just last week I co-launched a new international organisation, the Courage Foundation in Berlin. Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire and many other great people are involved. Please support it and Mr. Snowden’s asylum renewal campaign. See https://couragefound.org/. Snowden’s most recent comments on WikiLeaks are here:https://t.co/27YfsDxstQ
When AFellowOfLimitedJest commented, “I think the more interesting question would be the other way around – what Snowden honestly thinks of Assange, since Snowden has done so much to leak responsibly and intelligently, whereas much of Wikileak’s work can easily be called reckless,” Assange responded with a link to the former NSA contractor’s interview with Italian news magazine l’Espresso wherein he states:
“They are absolutely fearless in putting principles above politics. Their mere existence has stiffened the spines of institutions in many countries, because editors know if they shy away from an important but controversial story, they could be scooped by the global alternative to the national press. Our politics may be different, but their efforts to build a transnational culture of transparency and source protection are extraordinary- they run towards the risks everyone else runs away from- and in a time when government control of information can be ruthless, I think that represents a vital example of how to preserve old freedoms in a new age.”
Assange preparing to speak from the balcony of Ecuador’s embassy, where he is taking refuge in London (photo: Reuters)
Though Assange has been at the center of a protracted diplomatic row concerning his extradition to Sweden on charges of rape, forcing him to reside in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, he nonetheless continues to inspire the next generation of journalists, activists, and web surfers through his commitment to governmental transparency and freedom of the press, media, and internet.
Whether one agrees or not with his work regarding WikiLeaks, one thing is for certain: Assange’s AMA on Reddit offers a glimpse into the world of one of the bravest whistle-blowers the twenty-first century has witnessed.