While a lot of people waiting for the next release of the Embassy cables documents including the documents from Ethiopian Embassy the founder of the infamous website Wikileaks.org/s Julian Assange sit with Forbes’s Andy Greenberg for an interview.
In this Interview with Forbes Wikileak’s Julian Assange tells that the release of Pentagon and State Department documents are just the beginning. His next target: Big business.
Early next year, Julian Assange says, a major American bank will suddenly find itself turned inside out. Tens of thousands of its internal documents will be exposed on Wikileaks.org with no polite requests for executives’ response or other forewarnings. The data dump will lay bare the finance firm’s secrets on the Web for every customer, every competitor, every regulator to examine and pass judgment on.
When? Which bank? What documents? Cagey as always, Assange won’t say, so his claim is impossible to verify. In a rare, two-hour interview conducted in London on November 11, Assange said that he’s still sitting on a trove of secret documents, about half of which relate to the private sector. And WikiLeaks’ next target will be a major American bank. “It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume,” he said, adding: “For this, there’s only one similar example. It’s like the Enron emails.”
Here is an edited transcript of that discussion:
Forbes: To start, is it true you’re sitting on trove of unpublished documents?
Julian Assange: Sure. That’s usually the case. As we’ve gotten more successful, there’s a gap between the speed of our publishing pipeline and the speed of our receiving submissions pipeline. Our pipeline of leaks has been increasing exponentially as our profile rises, and our ability to publish is increasing linearly.
You mean as your personal profile rises?
Yeah, the rising profile of the organization and my rising profile also. And there’s a network effect for anything to do with trust. Once something starts going around and being considered trustworthy in a particular arena, and you meet someone and they say “I heard this is trustworthy,” then all of a sudden it reconfirms your suspicion that the thing is trustworthy.
So that’s why brand is so important, just as it is with anything you have to trust.
And this gap between your publishing resources and your submissions is why the site’s submission function has been down since October?
We have too much.
Before you turned off submissions, how many leaks were you getting a day?
As I said, it was increasing exponentially. When we get lots of press, we can get a spike of hundreds or thousands. The quality is sometimes not as high. If the front page of the Pirate Bay links to us, as they have done on occasion, we can get a lot of submissions, but the quality is not as high.
How much of this trove of documents that you’re sitting on is related to the private sector?
About fifty percent.
You’ve been focused on the U.S. military mostly in the last year. Does that mean you have private sector-focused leaks in the works?
Yes. If you think about it, we have a publishing pipeline that’s increasing linearly, and an exponential number of leaks, so we’re in a position where we have to prioritize our resources so that the biggest impact stuff gets released first.
So do you have very high impact corporate stuff to release then?
Yes, but maybe not as high impact…I mean, it could take down a bank or two.
That sounds like high impact.
But not as big an impact as the history of a whole war. But it depends on how you measure these things.
When will WikiLeaks return to its older model of more frequent leaks of smaller amounts of material?
If you look at the average number of documents we’re releasing, we’re vastly exceeding what we did last year. These are huge datasets. So it’s actually very efficient for us to do that.
If you look at the number of packages, the number of packages has decreased. But if you look at the average number of documents, that’s tremendously increased.
So will you return to the model of higher number of targets and sources?
Yes. Though I do actually think…[pauses] These big package releases. There should be a cute name for them.
Megaleaks. That’s good. These megaleaks…They’re an important phenomenon, and they’re only going to increase. When there’s a tremendous dataset, covering a whole period of history or affecting a whole group of people, that’s worth specializing on and doing a unique production for each one, which is what we’ve done.
We’re totally source dependent. We get what we get. As our profile rises in a certain area, we get more in a particular area. People say, why don’t you release more leaks from the Taliban. So I say hey, help us, tell more Taliban dissidents about us.
These megaleaks, as you call them, we haven’t seen any of those from the private sector.
No, not at the same scale as for the military.
Yes. We have one related to a bank coming up, that’s a megaleak. It’s not as big a scale as the Iraq material, but it’s either tens or hundreds of thousands of documents depending on how you define it.
Is it a U.S. bank?
Yes, it’s a U.S. bank.
One that still exists?
Yes, a big U.S. bank.
The biggest U.S. bank?
When will it happen?
Early next year. I won’t say more.
What do you want to be the result of this release?
[Pauses] I’m not sure.
It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume.
Usually when you get leaks at this level, it’s about one particular case or one particular violation. For this, there’s only one similar example. It’s like the Enron emails. Why were these so valuable? When Enron collapsed, through court processes, thousands and thousands of emails came out that were internal, and it provided a window into how the whole company was managed. It was all the little decisions that supported the flagrant violations.
This will be like that. Yes, there will be some flagrant violations, unethical practices that will be revealed, but it will also be all the supporting decision-making structures and the internal executive ethos that cames out, and that’s tremendously valuable. Like the Iraq War Logs, yes there were mass casualty incidents that were very newsworthy, but the great value is seeing the full spectrum of the war.
You could call it the ecosystem of corruption. But it’s also all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest. The way they talk about it.
How many dollars were at stake in this?
We’re still investigating. All I can say is it’s clear there were unethical practices, but it’s too early to suggest there’s criminality. We have to be careful about applying criminal labels to people until we’re very sure.
Can you tell me anything about what kind of unethical behavior we’re talking about?
You once said to one of my colleagues that WikiLeaks has material on BP. What have you got?
We’ve got lots now, but we haven’t determined how much is original. There’s been a lot of press on the BP issue, and lawyers, and people are pulling out a lot of stuff. So I suspect the material we have on BP may not be that original. We’ll have to see whether our stuff is especially unique.
The Russian press has reported that you plan to target Russian companies and politicians. I’ve heard from other WikiLeaks sources that this was blown out of proportion.
It was blown out of proportion when the FSB reportedly said not to worry, that they could take us down. But yes, we have material on many business and governments, including in Russia. It’s not right to say there’s going to be a particular focus on Russia.
Let’s just walk through other industries. What about pharmaceutical companies?
Yes. To be clear, we have so much unprocessed stuff, I’m not even sure about all of it. These are just things I’ve briefly looked at or that one of our people have told me about.
How much stuff do you have? How many gigs or terabytes?
I’m not sure. I haven’t had time to calculate.
Continuing then: The tech industry?
We have some material on spying by a major government on the tech industry. Industrial espionage.
The U.S. is one of the victims.
What about the energy industry?
Aside from BP?
On environmental issues?
A whole range of issues.
Can you give me some examples?
One example: It began with something we released last year, quite an interesting case that wasn’t really picked up by anyone. There’s a Texas Canadian oil company whose name escapes me. And they had these wells in Albania that had been blowing. Quite serious. We got this report from a consultant engineer into what was happening, saying vans were turning up in the middle of the night doing something to them. They were being sabotaged. The Albanian government was involved with another company; There were two rival producers and one was government-owned and the other was privately owned.
So when we got this report; It didn’t have a header. It didn’t say the name of the firm, or even who the wells belonged to.
So it wasn’t picked up because it was missing key data.
At the time, yeah. So I said, what the hell do we do with this thing? It’s impossible to verify if we don’t even know who it came from. It could have been one company trying to frame the other one. So we did something very unusual, and published it and said “We’ve got this thing, looks like it could have been written by a rival company aiming to defame the other, but we can’t verify it. We want more information.” Whether it’s a fake document or real one, something was going on. Either one company is trying to frame the other, which is interesting, or it’s true, which is also very interesting.
That’s where the matter sat until we got a letter of inquiry from an engineering consulting company asking how to get rid of it. We demanded that they first prove that they were the owner.