Julian Assange: ‘NSA has grown to be a rogue agency’

The Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on Saturday told an audience in Texas that people power is the key to rolling back the power of the National Security Agency and other surveillance agencies. “We have to do something about it. All of us have to do something about it,” he said, in an interview at the SXSW conference in Austin. “How can individuals do something about it? Well, we’ve got no choice.”
Assange was speaking in a “virtual” conversation conducted by video from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been confined since June 2012. The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald will appear in similar sessions over the coming days. Interviewed by Benjamin Palmer of the marketing agency the Barbarian Group, Assange discussed issues including government surveillance, online democracy and the future of the internet.
On life within the embassy, he said: “It is a bit like prison. Arguably prison is far worse in relation to restrictions on visitors, for example, and the level of bureaucracy involved.” Noting that at any given point there are about a dozen police officers stationed outside, he said: “The UK government has admitted to spending $8m so far just on the police surveillance of the embassy.”
Asked for his views on what governments should be doing, after the NSA revelations, about the way surveillance agencies interact with people, Assange said: “The NSA has grown to be a rogue agency. It has grown to be unfettered … the ability to surveil everyone on the planet is almost there, and arguably will be there within a few years. And that’s led to a huge transfer of power from the people who are surveilled upon, to those who control the surveillance complex.”
Assange talked about a historical “PR campaign based on not existing” for the NSA, which he said had been swept away by the revelations prompted by Snowden’s leaking of thousands of documents to media outlets including the Guardian. “That let everyone see that somehow this was an important element of power, and it had been developed unnoticed to people,” he said. “How had it come to this? How is it that the internet that everyone looked upon as perhaps the greatest tool of human emancipation there had ever been, had been co-opted and was now involved in the most aggressive form of state surveillance ever seen?”
Assange said the NSA’s traditional practice of not responding to press reports – “to give no oxygen” – would have to be replaced, although he suggested the Pentagon rather than the NSA would guide any new strategy. “The internet four years ago was a politically apathetic space,” he said, noting that exceptions included the Anonymous group, albeit on an “amateur” basis. Assange suggested that publicity around some of his own organisation’s bigger revelations had opened the eyes of more internet users.
“Many people developed a sense that this space that they had enjoyed, the place where people communicated ideas [was] where all their friends were; [it was] their community’s interface with the regular power community of what we might call the geriatric quo: the old men with guns who control all the money. “That spread out in different places in different ways, not just because of our [Wikileaks’] efforts, but through others as well. Through the Arab Spring, though Occupy … and the internet became a political space.”
Asked about the motivation behind Wikileaks, Assange talked about the importance of revealing information that had hitherto been kept secret. “It became clear to me that one of the best ways to achieve justice is to expose injustice. And you can be simplistic about it, which some people are. It’s not that when you expose something automatically there is justice,” he said. Instead, he said: “There’s always a really decent chance that they’re not going to get away with it, and the people affected can take some kind of action. And there’s no confidence in the power being deployed. No confidence in the injustice.”
Assange was asked about whether, thanks to the NSA revelations, the web was under threat. He pointed to comments made this week by a US military figure about a bill being put to Congress to try to “stop publication of material about the National Security Agency”, backed by new cyberterrorism legislation. “There is a really serious attempt to try and stop these revelations and others, and introduce a new international regime of censorship,” he said, pointing to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement as a particular threat.
“Now that the internet has merged with human society … the laws that apply to the internet apply to human society. This penetration of the internet by the NSA and [British spy agency] GCHQ is the penetration of our human society. It means there has been a militarisation of our civilian space. A military occupation of our civilian space … is a very serious matter.”.. read more:

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