The Nation’s Greg Mitchell joined Sam Seder to discuss his ongoing 110 day Live Blog of WikiLeaks on The Nation’s website and his new book THE AGE OF WIKILEAKS: From Collateral Murder to Cablegate (and Beyond).
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Note: This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
Sam Seder: On the phone we are fortunate enough to have Greg Mitchell. He is the author of The Age of WikiLeaks. He is also a writer at The Nation magazine and you could check out his blog at The Nation. On a daily basis he’s been updating WikiLeaks. How many days have you’ve been doing that now?
Greg Mitchell: One hundred and nine today and it’s been kind of hourly. I think it’s the only live blog that didn’t end after four days and for better or worse it’s still going on one hundred and nine days which gives you a away to judge how many days it’s been since the CableGate releases began.
SS: Now releases are coming out every day is that right?
GM: Right. They’re still coming out. The latest today is they announced that one of the big news outlets in Turkey is going to start releasing the cables related to Turkey and as we all know it’s a very important ally and one of the biggest the troves of cables actually relate to Turkey so it shows how this is almost a never ending process.
SS: Let’s start with this – When we talk about the cables, when we talk about information that came from Iraq we’re talking about information that was allegedly uploaded to WikiLeaks’ servers by Bradley Manning. Is that correct?
GM: Right, right. Well, this goes back and my book really covers the whole past year. It’s been almost exactly a year now since WikiLeaks really became a household name – started to become a household name in the US. The first thing of course was the collateral murder video from Iraq showing the killing of civilians on the ground and then we went into the Afghanistan war logs and then the Iraq war logs and finally at the end of November the CableGate. So the book really traces the whole past year and what some would say ties it all together besides Julian Assange becoming kind of a superstar is Bradley Manning is accused of leaking all of that. Now there’s some people say you know maybe he’s totally innocent and their others that say maybe he’s totally guilty of all that and then there are others who say that he couldn’t have possibly leaked all of that. Those are the four major releases from the past year. Bradley Manning allegedly at the center of all of it.
SS: So what would you say are the most important – I mean are there any “most important” leaks or is it sort of the totality? The interesting thing to me I noted at one point is occasionally you do these pundit hits on television and it got beyond sort of meta-story of these being leaks from WikiLeaks and the information that we have gleaned from these leaks just became information that was out there. I mean just off the top my head the US government relationship with [Omar] Suleiman was revealed through the WikiLeaks cables or at least a lot more expansive of information about the US relationship with Suleiman who was the vice president…
GM: Briefly, briefly.
SS: briefly appointed by Mubarak. That just started being quoted as sort of a fact as opposed to like “This is a story that WikiLeaks has presented.”
GM: Right. Well that that’s been the amazing thing in this whole process. If you go back – even if you just ignore the rest of the year and all the revelations about Afghanistan and Iraq and so forth just looking at the cables is – you know there’s a tremendous amount of publicity the first few days and then I think people expected again that it would fade as it as it had done earlier but because cables kept coming out and pertaining to different parts of the world, I think that’s in some way what you’re referring to in the sense that things have become so scattered and for all different countries of the world and WikiLeaks has been savvy and releasing cables sometimes when different parts of the world became hotspots. So they became very much part of the discussion and you know it was sort of amusing as I point out in the book but so many times the same newspapers; The New York Times and The Guardian and The Washington Post and so forth would be would be ripping Assange or WikiLeaks and then they would be a very happily quoting from the new cables on their front pages. But in terms of the what’s the most important – of course it depends what part of the world. There are a lot of cables that didn’t cause much of a ripple in the US but were gigantic in scattered parts of the world. For example who in the US knows that there’s a real government crisis in Indonesia over WikiLeaks cables published in Australia going right now. But I think most people would agree that in terms of full impact – and you really can’t – you don’t know the full impact but it is potentially so mammoth it’s staggering is the cables on Tunisia which certainly at the minimum helped fuel the rebellion there. I think everyone agrees to that extent. That rebellion of course then spread to Egypt and then throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In Egypt again we can’t say the cables that were released there fueled, sparked the revolt, but they certainly again helped frame it for the media, helped inform, helped blow Suleiman out of the water. All the cables about Mubarak corruption, police torture, of other abuses. Then we moved on to Bahrain and Yemen and Libya. Those cables all had an impact to some extent and possibly great extent in the last couple months of rebellion there.
SS: I think it’s important too to point out that there were something like over two hundred thousand cables and at this point we’ve only seen a fraction of these, is that right?
GM: Yeah it might be up to ten thousand. I mean it was five thousand out of a quarter million as of a week or so ago. There’s been a lot that’s come out this week. I think the India – again who in the US knows about the cables in India? Well about two days ago they released fifty-one hundred cables in India, which again mammoth coverage there, mammoth impact in India in its relations with others, relations with the US and so forth. That was five thousand cables there so I imagine there are over ten thousand by now.
SS: So we are talking about less than five percent.
GM: Yeah, well I’m not that great at math but ten-thousand maybe twelve-thousand by now out of two hundred and fifty thousand. But I said early on I was interviewed – this has been going on three months now – I was interviewed early on when it seemed like cables were starting to fall back and people were saying well do we think the other two hundred and forty eight thousand are meaningless and I said we really don’t know. We don’t know whether they haven’t been published by the major news outlets because they’re trivial or they just haven’t gotten to them. Well it turned out that largely they hadn’t gotten to them. The New York Times had to admit that it totally blew the Egypt cables because they had them and they didn’t even bother to search them and when Egypt blew up suddenly there’s all these damning cables. So that was an example of not searching.
SS: That’s pretty stunning that nobody…
GM: Didn’t bother to search.
SS: I would imagine the first thing you do is put these into a searchable database and then you just start putting in terms as the news comes up.
GM: Well they did that but they felt… you know the mainstream media – and remember we talked early on it was just The New York Times, The Guardian and three other places and they are strapped for staff and so forth and I think they sat down and said what are the eight most important areas you know, and Iraq and Afghanistan and so on and so forth and whatever else they saw as hot and left out Egypt and some other places, Libya and so they didn’t bother to search them. So I can believe that the vast majority of the cables that haven’t come out are trivial but given the track record I could also believe that there’s a tremendous amount of a stuff still in there. We’ve seen things on Mexico that have come out recently that there that had incredible impact there. So all you can say is who knows.
SS: Let me ask you this: This push to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks seems to completely fallen by the wayside. I think that probably happened a couple weeks ago when the defense department basically admitted we have we’ve no way of doing this and there may be still some Senators out there who think they can get some mileage out of pretending that Assange is public enemy number one. But my argument at the time was I hadn’t read a single a cable on the WikiLeaks website. Every single cable I ever read was via a newspaper.
GM: Right. Well that was true the first month no doubt and The Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel and two other outlets – that was completely true. WikiLeaks gave up and gave over vetting and the publishing to these news outlets but they basically had a window of one month so now we’ve gone a couple months now with WikiLeaks partnering – I think it’s up to fifty regional newspapers now publishing them and also publishing them themselves on their site. They’re now cases where they put them up on their site I think that was probably true with some of the Egyptian things where they were in a rush to get them out. They put them up on their own sites. So that has changed, but certainly if you’re going to come after and this is the point many people have made and that’s why it’s so important when we see Assange claiming to be an editor, claiming to be a publisher, claiming to be a journalist. He wants to put himself in the same category as The New York Times and of course then in The New York Times you have Bill Keller of The New York Times saying, “No Assange is not a journalist.” So The New York Times is trying to distance itself from Assange because they don’t want the government to come after them and Assange is trying to embrace the media in a sense that he knows they’re much greater protections for the media but sure it’s hypocritical on the one hand to blame the source for these stories when the newspapers have benefited tremendously from all these scoops. They really didn’t do anything except to go through the cables. They didn’t come up with these scoops. They didn’t find out this stuff. They weren’t publishing things about Suleiman and so forth, corruption in Tunisia, and all these other things. It was handed to them and yet they want to claim full protection and not so much for WikiLeaks.
SS: Let me ask you a more broader question. What does it mean in a broader sense this idea that we now have an organization like WikiLeaks and there is other organizations out there that, there’s been one that has branched off from WikiLeaks, I would imagine we are going to see more of this in the future. I mean the idea that it would take just one soldier to basically upload a thumb drive which apparently like two million people had access to that information and it getting out there and we see the work of Anonymous in sort of being this, it’s a completely different type of group in my estimation, but it is an extension at least from an ideological standpoint that there is a sort of this revolt happening with people using the internet as a means for…
GM: For transparency.
GM: Well in the last chapter in my book I talk about how all these around the world there are numerous groups that are claiming to be new leak sites, they usually have “leak” in their name. Sometimes they are organized around niche issues like the environment and other regions or cities or countries but I think that in the more major one you referred to as OpenLeaks formed by the ex- WikiLeaks guy. And now you have The New York Times and The Guardian and others studying and setting up their own leak portals however I have to point out that since CableGate broke and these other organizations started forming there hasn’t been a single leak through any of them. I don’t know whether if they are still processing them or if it is a daunting – you know whistleblowers, I wrote a book on whistleblowers thirty years ago and not much is changed. They are really imperiled once they come out. One of the lessons of the Bradley Manning case – there are people who think the thing the government cares most about and the one reason they are treating Manning so badly is to serve as a lesson…
GM: As a warning to other whistleblowers. Now in fact WikiLeaks did not expose him. He was not arrested because of some wrongdoing by WikiLeaks or someone else. He was arrested allegedly because of what he revealed about himself. Now and we have to see how credible that it is and how that plays out but in any case in the public mind they think – Oh! Bradley Manning, whistleblower. Bradley Manning in prison facing at least life imprisonment if not death and being treated horribly in prison and most people don’t know how he got there. So it is a great warning to others and I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I certainly have covered the other groups that are that are going to be processing leaks but that there hasn’t been a single major leak in these last months and WikiLeaks itself has not leaked anything else. I there are overwhelmed with Assange’s legal case, with financial problems, lack of staffing so yes this may be the era of leaks but so far it’s been more of an era of hacking. The publicity in the last few months has mainly been in the success of Anonymous and the hacking culture not so much the leak culture.
SS: We have to wrap this up, but that quickly which of these new leak organizations would you guess is actually a front for the CIA?
GM: (Laughs) I would not like to speculate.
SS: Right, of course. I understand. Somebody could be listening.
GM: I don’t know. Interesting question.
SS: Well that that really is the question. That’s the next step is to…
GM: Let’s hope it’s not The New York Times.
SS: You could be a little late on that one. Greg Mitchell. Folks you got to check out Greg Mitchell’s blog. He posts every day the new leaks at The Nation website and you can download his book digitally, The Age of WikiLeaks, through Amazon and we will put a link on the blog where you can purchase the actual print version. Greg Mitchell thanks so much your joining us.
GM: Sure, anytime. Appreciate it.