Shadowproof and Project Censored present a conversation between Kevin Gosztola and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg to mark the release of Kevin’s book Guilty of Journalism: The Political Case Against Julian Assange. The book is available from Censored Press and Seven Stories Press. It is a crucial and compelling guide to the United States government’s case against the WikiLeaks founder and the implications for press freedom.
“Kevin Gosztola is a rare journalist who understands the abominable threat that the case against Assange poses to press freedom,” says Daniel. “I rely on his indispensable reporting not only to stay informed about Assange, but also to follow developments in the wider war on whistleblowers.” Read the full interview at RCReader.com/y/ellsberg.
GOSZTOLA: We’re fast approaching the fourth anniversary of Julian Assange being thrown out of the Ecuador embassy and put into jail. Though we don’t have to get into all the details, especially given the life announcement you made recently, I just want to ask you about the passage of time as it applies to Julian Assange because it’s something that I think about as I follow this case.
What I wrote about in my book, we’re talking about events that unfolded 13-14 years ago. The passage of time has usually factored into criminal cases. Sometimes it is weighed against hem when you’re considering bringing a case against a person. But Julian Assange has considered figures like Michael Ratner, who is no longer with us who was a really good human rights attorney who represented him, [as a mentor]. He’s lost Gavin MacFadyen, who was a figure in some way that he looked up to. So I’d like to get your view about what you consider most alarming about the fact that this keeps marching onward and doesn’t have a resolution yet.
ELLSBERG: On the one hand, [the U.S. government] would be very happy to bring him to trial in Alexandria in particular, to extradite him and get him on trial, and with the expectation that in the post-9/11 world of law and attitude that he would be convicted. The Supreme Court has never yet ruled on the constitutionality of applying the Espionage Act to anyone other than a spy, who gives secret information to a foreign power generally with intent to harm the United States especially in wartime. That’s where it’s been used exclusively before my case in 1971.
I was the first one tried as they said for a non-espionage case under the so-called Espionage Act. That’s not it’s official name, as you know. It’s 18 U.S.C. 793, especially paragraphs (d) and (e). As a non-lawyer – I’m not a lawyer, I’m a defendant – that’s the one law I can trip off my tongue easily because I was the first non-spy, and they didn’t accuse me of being a spy. People misreported that often. But the [first] person who was not being charged with espionage to be charged under the act, and both paragraphs (d) and (e).
[793(e)] is particularly for people who did not have authorized access to the material for which they were a source. I was an authorized person with the Pentagon Papers to have it, as was Chelsea Manning when she had access to the material that she gave over. That’s true in most of the cases that have been brought.
It’s never been brought before against a journalist, as you know – and despite [former New York Times executive editor] Bill Keller’s despicable, I would say, allegation that he doesn’t recognize Julian Assange as a journalist. That’s partly due to the fact that most journalists do not really regard sources as part of the process.
Journalism begins with the person I give it to, and the source is sort of, I’ve come to realize, is sort of like a policeman’s criminal informant, a snitch who disobeys the rules of his organization. If he’s in the Mafia, he’s subject to death. Even if he’s not in the Mafia, he’s a criminal. And he’s very, very useful to the policeman. [The police don’t] want to share him with any other police person because it’s useful information. He wants to build his career on that information, but he doesn’t really have much respect or concern.
I will say that journalists do show a great deal of concern for concealing the identity of a source, and I’m sorry if I sound cynical here. I’m talking out of a good deal of experience of talking to whistleblowers other than myself. They don’t feel that journalists in the end have shown as much concern as they expected, often in the beginning.
I actually don’t know a whistleblower who regrets what she or he has done. Even when they’ve almost all – you know them only when the law has entrapped them, not the anonymous ones. But I’ve talked to a lot of them. I’ve made it my effort to meet a lot of them because I identify with them, and I’ve been through the mill and I can give them some advice and reassurance and generally my admiration for what they’ve done. I’ve found that it’s very hard to find one who ends the process without great complaint against the journalist they’ve dealt with.
I don’t think that I’ve ever seen that before as a generalization, or even as a selective case. Because they don’t fight them. They’re happy that the material got out, as certainly I am for example. But they all are, they’re happy the material got out in nearly all cases. There’s a few where they didn’t really intend it. And they generally start out with a really friendly relationship with the journalist, and in some cases, certainly mine and others, you feel you’re part of a movement, say against war or nuclear weapons or invention or [for] the Constitution.
You sort of assume that the journalist is on your side as a liberal. That’s who you’re dealing with. Or a progressive, even if their editors are not that liberal or progressive. But you sort of start out with the assumption – and they encourage this assumption – that we’re together on this somehow. We’re getting this out. It seems a very natural presumption. If people are against the war, they welcome the opportunity to put out some truth that might shorten it.
But it turns out, as these people nearly all find out, that the concern either for keeping their identity, or how they present the materials, does not really extend to the source very much. They don’t really regard them as being on the same team as the source may originally mistakenly imagine.
The Times Treated Assange in A Manner That Was Familiar
Coming back to Assange, I perceived immediately that he was treated in a way very familiar to me by the Times, even terribly [and] contemptuously. Bill Keller may be in some ways that I don’t know a very fine person and a good journalist. From what I do know of him and his treatment of Chelsea Manning and Assange and others, he’s a horse’s ass, one of the jerks of the world. [chuckles] Elon Musk is revealing himself in those terms.
When Bill Keller says I don’t recognize him as a journalist and then he prints a [New York Magazine] story introducing the world to Julian Assange, which describes him as this unkempt character looking like a bag lady … . Look, we’re talking about a computer guy who lives at night on his computer, pretty much. Or around the clock. He was originally a hacker, as some of the others. This is his life. So he didn’t look like a Times reporter, which I guess has some of the standards of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI agents. And he smelled bad.
Now when was the last time you saw that described of anyone? Have you ever heard anyone described as smelling bad? This is a source. So Julian didn’t expect that kind of treatment. He was rather dismayed by it, and I had to say Julian. I could have told you what would come here.
I haven’t ever publicized it at all. I can tell you why. But I was treated even worse than that by the New York Times Magazine section in a disastrous profile that was done of me, which was misleading in almost every paragraph. And I’ve never talked about that publicly.
Why don’t any of the leakers or sources come out like me and criticize the dealing with the papers, or the papers as they see them? Because we want to get the word out. It’s got to be through a newspaper. No one wants to antagonize media. And like any profession, they don’t like criticism, even of their colleagues. Even if they don’t like those particular colleagues. It’s like lawyers and doctors. They don’t testify against each other, and they don’t like to hear it. You may want to get something else out, as certainly I did.
I never wanted to antagonize the New York Times. As you know, I’m coming to a point here, where I don’t have to worry whether I antagonize the New York Times. So I will say, and I’m not going to go into details, my dealings with the New York Times were not less frustrating than those of Julian Assange and some of the others. I do think of that as a defect because of their craft. Because they could get an awful lot more information if they had more respect for sources, and if they probed for what’s there, which they generally don’t.
Sometimes they do. Good investigative reporters, certainly, [like] Sy Hersh, who doesn’t try to maintain to government officials by dining with them, and playing tennis with them, and being part of their club, the officials club.
“We Have Only A Small Chance”
I’ll say right now. Anyone in the government, in the Russian government – a citizen can’t even object to this without getting imprisoned and in many cases tortured, like Navalny, in Russia. That’s not true here. So people who object to his policy can say you should not be threatening or preparing to blow the world up. That’s a shorthand for it doesn’t kill everybody, but 90-98 percent yes – from the smoke in the stratosphere that shuts out all the sunlight and destroys all the harvests.
No nation in the world should accept without the utmost condemnation and resistance. If anyone, as I have said before in other occasions, any American I’ll speak to, but this is just as true in any other country – some of which the dangers of doing what I’m saying are much greater.
Anybody who knows that the public and the world is being lied to by their officials or that preparations are being made that may well be carried out to cause nuclear winter or to initiate nuclear war. Of course, a Russian who knows that now or someone in the U.S. who knows that about Taiwan should consider at any cost personally to tell the truth that may avert a nuclear war, or any kind of war, actually.
I can’t say they should individually do it, but if they think, they should consider doing it, what I wish I had done earlier in 1964 or ’61, when I had top secret information or access to it that could have averted the Vietnam War. Of course, I should have put that out earlier. So I say don’t do what I did. Don’t wait til the bombs are actually falling. And get it out. Get it to the New York Times, if they’ll print the documents. Get it to El Pais, Der Spiegel, even the Guardian. [chuckles] They behaved so badly with respect to Assange. Don’t expect respect or concern from the Guardian or these others, or the Times. That’s not an issue.
It’s not a question of whether you should be called names, which have kept Democrats from opposing wars for generations here; not only Vietnam but all the others. That’s not a sufficient reason for not telling the truth. So people should have the moral courage that our soldiers routinely exhibit in combat with respect to their lives. But it’s very rare to find an official who will risk her or his career, or clearance or access. Or re-election or any of this. Unless there is more moral courage in the press, in Congress, and in the military than we’ve seen in the past, I don’t think we’ll survive the consequences of climate change or avoiding nuclear war. Everything depends on it.
Even a small chance of affecting the ripping apart of the Constitution, as in Snowden’s case, or of ending a war and avoiding a war’s worth of lives at stake, of course it’s worth any personal cost to consider, and to do it. We have only a small chance, but everything is at stake. It’s worth pursuing it.
You’re in a potentially noble confession, Kevin. And you didn’t mention in this excellent article in Harper’s by Andrew Cockburn, who is terrific on the question of the military industrial-complex and on how the media failed Julian Assange, terrific article … . You naturally didn’t mention that you were the single investigative journalist who is singled out by name in your book and in your reporting for having covered this properly, courageously, and meticulously and so, I give you that tribute too just as Andrew does. And I think others will avail themselves of your information in your book.
GOSZTOLA: Let’s end there, Dan. I really appreciate your time, and I thank you again for the endorsement that you gave to the book. I wish you the best. You seem like you’re at peace, and I’m very happy for you.
ELLSBERG: Well, the world is not at peace. But we’re doing what we can.
GOSZTOLA: John Shipton, Julian Assange’s father, calls it the difficulty of destiny. This is what is chronicled in the film Ithaka that’s touring the country right now in the United States. That Julian Assange’s brother [Gabriel Shipton] produced. I’m just mentioning it and plugging it in addition to my book because there are screenings that people who watch this stream or broadcast will be able to go see in different locations.
But the difficulty of destiny. Not the idea that an individual can be a hero and change the world but the idea that people who are trapped in these predicaments, in these circumstances, have to struggle and try to transform it. These Belmarsh tribunals that we participated in, rallies, the pressuring of Congress people. We’re all trapped in these predicaments, and it’s all up to us to try and transform it. Thank you very much, Dan.
ELLSBERG: Thank you for the chance.