Ever wonder what would happen if Wikileaks’ Julian Assange sat down for a five hour chat with Google’s Eric Schmidt? Well, wonder no more! Yesterday, I decided to read through the entire transcript of their secret meeting and it was worth every minute. While the interview took place back on June 23, 2011 at the rural house where Assange was staying at the time, it was only released this past Friday. The topics discussed were incredibly wide ranging including the future of journalism, how Bitcoin is changing the monetary system (kind of interesting how Schmidt had no idea what Bitcoin was, or at least claimed ignorance), teaching nuclear synthesis through interpretive dance, and how humans are tricked into war. I found his most profound observation expressed in one simple statement:
I think that the instincts human beings have are actually much better than the societies that we have.
I totally agree with this assessment and I wrote about it last year in my piece Humanity is Rising.
Despite mainstream media demonization, what this transcript proves to me is just what a thoughtful, brilliant and deep individual Julian Assange is. History will look very kindly upon him and very unkindly upon his oppressors.
*Note: All of the passages below are Julian Assange’s words. Where helpful I provide context about the topic is he addressing. Enjoy!
It’s mostly self censorship. In fact I would say it’s probably the most significant one, historically, has been economic censorship. Where it is simply not profitable to publish something. There is no market for it. That is I describe as a censorship pyramid. It’s quite interesting. So, on the top of the pyramid there are the murders of journalists and publishers. And the next level there is political attacks on journalists and publishers. So you think, what is a legal attack? A legal attack is simply a delayed use of coercive force.
Which doesn’t necessarily result in murder but may result in incarceration or asset seizure. So the next level down, and remember the volume… the area of the pyramid…. volume of the pyramid! The volume of the pyramid increases significantly as you go down from the peak. And in this example that means that the number of acts of censorship also increases as you go down. So there are very few people who are murdered, there are a few people who suffer legal… there is a few number of public legal attacks on individuals and corporations, and then at the next level there is a tremendous amount of self censorship, and this self censorship occurs in part because people don’t want to move up into the upper parts of the pyramid. They don’t want to come to legal attacks or uses of coercive force. But they also don’t want to be killed.
I think that is an inevitable and very important way forward, and where this… where I saw that this was a problem was dealing with a man by the name of Nahdmi Auchi. A few years ago was listed by one of the big business magazines in the UK as the fifth richest man in the UK. In 1980 left Iraq. He’d grown rich under Saddam Hussein’s oil industry. And is alleged by the Italian press to be involved in a load of arms trading there, he has over two hundred companies run out of his Luxembourg holding unit. And several that we discovered in Panama. He had infiltrated the British Labour political establishment to the degree that the 20th business birthday in London he was given a painting signed by 146 members Commons including Tony Blair. He’s the same guy who was the principal financier of Tony Rezko. Tony Rezko was the financier and fundraiser of Rod Blagoyevich, from Chicago. Convicted of corruption. Tony Rezko has been convicted of corruption. And Barack Obama. He was the intermediary who helped Barack Obama buy one of his houses and then the money not directly for the house but it bouyed up Tony Rezko’s finances came from that… [indistinct]. So during the – this is detail, but it will get to a point. During the 2008 presidential primaries a lot of attention was turned to Barack Obama by the US press, unsurprisingly. And so it started to look into his fundraisers, and discovered Tony Rezko, and then they just started to turn their eyes towards Nadhmi Auchi. Auchi then hired Carter Ruck, a rather notorious firm of London libel solicitors, whose founder, Carter Ruck, has been described as doing for freedom of speech what the Boston strangler did for door to door salesmen.
And he started writing letters to all of the London papers who had records of his 2003 extradition to France and conviction for corruption in France over the Elf-Acquitaine scandal. Where he had been involved in taking kickbacks on selling the invaded Kuwaiti governments’ oil refineries in order to fund their operations while Iraq had occupied it. So the Guardian pulled three articles from 2003. So they were five years old. They had been in the Guardian’s archive for 5 years. Without saying anything. If you go to those URLs you will not see “removed due to legal threats.” You will see “page not found.” And one from the Telegraph. And a bunch from some American publications. And bloggers, and so on. Important bits of history, recent history, that were relevant to an ongoing presidential campaign in the United States were pulled out of the intellectual record. They were also pulled out of the Guardian’s index of articles. So why? The Guardian’s published in print, and you can go to the library and look up those articles. They are still there in the library. How would you know that they were there in the library? To look up, because they are not there in the Guardian’s index. Not only have they ceased to exist, they have ceased to have ever existed. Which is the modern implementation of Orwell’s dictum that he controls the present controls the past and he who controls the past controls the future. Because the past is stored physically in the present. All records of the past. This issue of preserving politically salient intellectual content while it is under attack is central to what WikiLeaks does — because that is what we are after! We are after those bits that people are trying to suppress, because we suspect, usually rightly, that they’re expending economic work on suppressing those bits because they perceive that they are going to induce some change.
On the publishing end, the magnet links and so on are starting to come up. There’s also a very nice little paper that I’ve seen in relation to Bitcoin, that… you know about Bitcoin?
And very important, actually. It has a few problems. But its innovations exceed its problems. Now there has been innovations along these lines in many different paths of digital currencies, anonymous, untraceable etc. People have been experimenting with over the past 20 years. The Bitcoin actually has the balance and incentives right, and that is why it is starting to take off. The different combination of these things. No central nodes. It is all point to point. One does not need to trust any central mint. If we look at traditional currencies such as gold, we can see that they have sort of interesting properties that make them valuable as a medium of exchange. Gold is divisible, it is easy to chop up, actually out of all metals it is the easiest to chop up into fine segments. You can test relatively easily whether it is true or whether it is fake. You can take chopped up segments and you can put them back together by melting the gold. So that is what makes it a good medium of exchange and it is also a good medium of value store, because you can take it and put it in the ground and it is not going to decay like apples or steaks. The problems with traditional digital currencies on the internet is that you have to trust the mint not to print too much of it.
And the incentives for the mint to keep printing are pretty high actually, because you can print free money. That means you need some kind of regulation. And if you’re gonna have regulation then who is going to enforce the regulation, now all of a sudden you have sucked in the whole problem of the state into this issue, and political pushes here and there, and who can get control of the mint, push it one way or another, for particular purposes. Bitcoin instead has an algorithm where the anyone can create, anyone can be their own mint. They’re basically just searching for collisions with hashes.. A simple way is… they are searching for a sequence of zero bits on the beginning of the thing. And you have to randomly search for, in order to do this. So there is a lot of computational work in order to do this. And each Bitcoin software that is distributed.. That work algorithmically increases as time goes by. So the difficulty in producing Bitcoins becomes harder and harder and harder as time goes by and it is built into the system.
The public key structure is a tremendous problem, so in the same way that domain name structures are a tremendous problem. The browser based public key system that we have for authenticating what websites you are going to, it is awful. It is truly awful. The number of people that have been licensed to mint keys is so tremendous.. there’s one got bankrupted and got bought up cheaply by Russian companies, you can assume, I have been told actually that VeriSign, by people who are in the know, although I am not yet willing to go on the public record, cause I only have one source, just between you and me, one source that says that VeriSign has actually given keys to the US government. Not all, but a particular key. That’s a big problem with the way things are authenticated presently. There are some traditional alternative approaches, like PGP has a web of trust. I don’t think those things really work. What I think does work is something close to what SSH does, and that’s probably the way forward. Which is it is opportunistic key registration. So there is part of your interaction, the first time you interact, you register your key, and then if you have a few points of keying or some kind of flood network, then you can see that well lots of people have seen that key many times in the past.
That’s the most optimistic thing that is happening. The radicalization of internet educated youth. People who are receiving their values from the internet… and then as they find them to be compatible echoing them back. The echo back is now so strong that it drowns the original statements. Completely. The people I’ve dealt with from the 1960s radicals who helped liberate Greece and.. Salazar. They are saying that this moment in time is the most similar to what happened in this period of liberation movements in the 1960s, that they have seen
And as far as what has entered into the West, because there are certain regions of the world I am not aware of, but as far as I am aware that — and of course I wasn’t alive in the 1960s — but as far as I can tell, that statement is true. This is the political education of apolitical technical people. It is extraordinary, in the same way that the young…But no, I think that the instincts human beings have are actually much better than the societies that we have.It’s on youtube. It’s great. A wonderful thing. So it is explaining nuclear synthesis through interpretive dance. And so there are like a hundred and thirty Stanford students out there pretending to be DNA, a whole bunch pretending to be a ribosomal subunit and da da da. And all wearing the hippy clothes of the day. But they were all actually very bright people. And I looked at that and thought, could Stanford.. and it was a very good bit of education, so it is not that it was cool and unusual, rather that it was extremely instructive, and before computer animation was the best representation of how a ribosomal unit behaves. Could you see Stanford doing that now? Absolutely impossible. It is far too conservative for it to do that now, even though that was an extremely effective education… you can bet everyone who was in that dance remembers exactly how nuclear synthesis occurs, because they all had to remember their parts. And I remember it having seen it. No, rather that period of peak earnings for the average wage in the United States was, what, like ’77? That certain things simply happened. That those people who were altruistic and not too concerned about finances and fiscalization simply lost power relative to those people who were more concerned about finances and fiscalization and worked their way up in the system. So certain behaviours were disincentivized and others were potentiated. And that is primarily I believe as a result of technology that enables fiscalization. So fast bank transfers. The IRS being able to account for lots of people, it sucks people into a very rigid fiscalized structure. So you can have a lot of political change in the United States. But will it really change that much? Will it change the amount of money in someone’s bank account? Will it change contracts? Will it void contracts that already exist? And contracts on contracts, and contracts on contracts on contracts? Not really. So I say that free speech in many places – in many Western places – is free not as a result of liberal circumstances in the West but rather as a result of such intense fiscalization that it doesn’t matter what you say. ie. the dominant elite doesn’t have to be scared of what people think, because a change in political view is not going to change whether they own their company or not. It is not going to change whether they own a piece of land or not. But China is still a political society. Although it is radically heading towards a fiscalized society. And other societies, like Egypt was, are still heavily politicized. And so their rulers really do need to be concerned about what people think, and so they spend a portion of efforts on controlling freedom of speech.
But I think young people have fairly good values. Of course it’s a spectrum and so on. But they have fairly good values most of the time. And they want to demonstrate them to other people and you can see this when people first go to university and so on. And they become hardened as a result of certain things having a pay off and other things not having a payoff. Studying for an exam, constantly, even though in some cases the work is completely mindless, and pointless, has a payoff at the end of the year, but going and talking to someone and doing a favour doesn’t have a payoff at the end of the year. And so this disincentivizes some behaviours and incentivizes other ones.
And that is basically the offshore financial sector. Censorship through complexity. Censorship of what? Censorship of political outrage. With enough political outrage there is law reform and enough law reform you can’t do it anymore. So why is it that all these careful tax structuring arrangements are so complex? I mean, they may be perfectly legal, but why are they so god damn complex? Well, because the ones that weren’t complex were understood and the ones that were understood were regulated, so you’re only left with the things that are incredibly complex.
Yeah, so I suggested. Well, the way it is right now is there is very… first we must understand that the way it is right now is very bad. Friend of mine Greg Mitchell wrote a book about the mainstream media, So Wrong For So Long. And that’s basically it. That yes we have these heroic moments with Watergate and Bernstein and so on, but, come on, actually, it’s never been very good it’s always been very bad. And these fine journalists are an exception to the rule. And especially when you are involved in something yourself and you know every facet of it and you look to see what is reported by it in the mainstream press, and you can see naked lies after naked lies. You know that the journalist knows it’s a lie, it is not a simple mistake, and then simple mistakes, and then people repeating lies, and so on, that actually the condition of the mainstream press nowadays is so appalling I don’t think it can be reformed. I don’t think that is possible. I think it has to be eliminated, and replaced with something that is better.
Yes, and I think things like, you know I have been pushing this idea of scientific journalism that things must be precisely cited the original source or as much of it as possibly available should be put in the public domain so that people can look at it, just like in science so that you can test to see whether the conclusion comes from the experimental data. Otherwise you probably just made it up. You could have just made it up. And in fact that is what happens all the time people just make it up. And they make it up to such a degree that we are led to war. I mean most… Most wars in the 20th century have started as a result of lies. Amplified and spread by the mainstream press. And you go, well that is a horrible circumstance, that is terrible that all these wars start with lies. And I say no, this is a tremendous opportunity, because it means that populations basically don’t like wars and they have to be lied into it. And that means we can be truthed into peace. And so that is the extremely optimistic thing.In response to being asked why he does what he does.
Fundamental justification is that, there is really two. First of all, the human civilization, its good part, is based upon our full intellectual record, and our intellectual record should be as large as possible if humanity is to be as advanced as possible. The second is that in practice releasing information is positive to those engaged in acts that the public support and negative to those engaged in acts that the public does not support.
Well, you can lower the courage threshold, I mean that is one of the nice things anonymity does. But maybe it is not the right way to put it. I mean, people often say, you are tremendously courageous in doing what you are doing, and I say, no no you misunderstand what courage is. Courage is not the absence of fear. Only fools have no fear. Rather courage is the intellectual mastery of fear by understanding the true risks and opportunities of the situation. And in keeping these things in balance. And not simply having prejudice about what the risks are. But actually testing them. There are all sorts of myths that go around about what can be done and what cannot be done. It is important to test. You don’t test by jumping off a bridge. You test by jumping off a footstool, and then jumping off something a bit higher and a bit higher.
The other risks associated with conducting a political life may already be quite high. So one has to keep these risks in proportion. Also the potential rewards are much greater. One might be involved in a very grand historic moment, and become swept up in it. And because we all only live once, we all suffer the continuous risk of not having lived our life well. Every year. Every year that is not used is 100% wasted, it’s not a risk of that, it is a dead bet.
Up until Collateral Murder we were a cause celebre in the United States, actually we are still a cause celebre, but it is in a smaller libertarian or left wing or libertarian right wing community now. But, and across, according to Reuters across 24 countries we have over three quarters support of the general population. 24 countries. It’s the worst in the United States. So we have support of over 40% of the population, which is pretty good actually, considering what has been happening. So, as a result of embarrassing the US military and diplomatic class we have had a counterattack. And that counterattack is significant. This is a very significant power group. And it is a power group that is not just at the top of the White House. It is not just a few generals. Rather it is all the people connected to and profiting from that system. And that’s about a third of the US population. So all the way from Chelsea Clinton down to the someone in the gutters of San Antonio whose brother is deployed in Iraq. There are 900,000 people in the US with Top Secret security clearances at this moment. There are 2 and a half million that have classified security clearances. If we go back over the past 20 years and ask how many people had security clearances, maybe it is 15 million. If you then go and look at all their spouses and business partners and children we are looking at something like 30% of the population of the United States. It is one degree removed from that way of living and that ideological structure and that patronage system. So it is quite different in the United States to say something that is against that system.
On the future growth of Wikileaks.
Right, and we are aware of that problem and we investigate people, and so on. But what that means is that it has tremendously slowed down our growth. Because you can’t just put an ad out and say we want you to have these skills and come into the office, it is absolutely impossible. So growth is constrained in that way. But there is another way of leading, and that is leading through values instead of command and control. And when you lead through values you don’t need to trust people, and values and the number of people who can adopt the value, there is no limit on the speed of adoption. It all happens very quickly. It’s not, supply, in terms of employer supply limited, rather it’s demand limited, as soon as people demand a value they adopt it.
On the question of how do you know when you’ve won.
Well it’s not possible to win this kind of thing. This is a continuous striving that people have done for a long time. Of course, there is many individual battles that we win, but it is the nature of human beings that human beings lie and cheat and deceive and organized groups of people who do not lie and cheat and deceive find each other and get together… and because they have that temperament, are more efficient. Because they are not lying and cheating and deceiving each other. And that is an old, a very old struggle between opportunists and collaborators. And so I don’t see that going away. I think we can make some significant advances and it is perhaps, it is the making of these advances and being involved in that struggle that is good for people. So the process is in part the end game. It’s not just to get somewhere in the end, rather this process of people feeling that it is worthwhile to be involved in that sort of struggle, is in fact worthwhile for people.
Just incredible stuff. Full transcript can be read here.
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