By SARAH ELLISON
Every afternoon, at four oclock, a small group of demonstrators gathers outside 3 Hans Crescent, in Londons Knightsbridge district, to protest the confinement of a man inside the embassy at that address. The man hasnt set foot beyond the embassy since June 19, 2012, the day he walked through its doors to avoid extradition from Britain to another country, where he is facing allegations that, he contends, are merely a first step in his eventual extradition to the United States.
The man is Julian Assange, the 42-year-old Australian who is best known as the founder (in 2006) and public face of WikiLeaks, the nonprofit Web site that publishes previously secret material. In April, the organization released its largest trove to date, a database of approximately 1.7 million declassified diplomatic records from the years 1973 to 1976 that WikiLeaks refers to as the Kissinger Cables. In 2010, in partnership with The Guardian, Der Spiegel, The New York Times, and others, WikiLeaks began releasing more than 450,000 military documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables. The documents had been provided by Bradley Manning, an army private stationed in Iraq, who, when tried in military court, was found not guilty of aiding the enemy but guilty of espionage, theft, and computer fraud. Despite Mannings statement that he had first tried to get his information to both The Washington Post and The New York Times, the prosecution argued that it was obvious that Manning pulled as much information as possible to please Julian Assange, and said that Assange had found the right insider in Manning. WikiLeaks is under investigation by the Justice Department, and there are reports that a sealed indictment exists for Assange himself. In the meantime, for the past year, he has been living in a small roomreportedly 15 feet by 13 feetat the Ecuadoran Embassy, largely unseen by the public. He has most recently surfaced as a prominent adviser to Edward Snowden, a former infrastructure analyst at National Security Agency contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, who last June leaked details about top-secret U.S. surveillance programs to The Guardian and The Washington Post.
Assanges living space, a former embassy office, is located on a ground-floor corner overlooking a small dead-end street. His window sits above one of the hundreds of thousands of security cameras that blanket London, and when I visited the embassy in June, two Metropolitan Police vans were parked just outside. WikiLeaks says the building is watched by about a dozen British police officers at any one time. According to Scotland Yard, the authorities have so far spent $6 million to keep Assange under a watchful eye (and to keep him in place at the embassy). Early on, officials from Britains Foreign Office were threatening to remove Assange from the embassy against his will. In his first two months there, the Ecuadoran consul, Fidel Narváez, slept at the embassy to serve as a diplomatic presence at all times and thereby protect Assange from the aggressive police attention. Narváez told The Prisma, a London-based newspaper published in both Spanish and English, that he got to know Assange well during that time. Its certainly true that we talked a lot over those months, especially at times when we were alone, at night, Narváez said. In July, Ecuadoran intelligence found a microphone hidden in the office of the ambassador, Ana Albán. The intelligence officials were doing a routine search in preparation for a visit from the countrys foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, who said that the device appeared to have been planted by a private investigation company, the Surveillance Group, Ltd., adding that the bugging represented a loss of ethics at the international level in relations between governments. The company has denied involvement.
Assange took refuge at the embassy in June 2012, shortly after he lost his bid in the British courts to prevent extradition to Sweden, where he is sought for questioning in relation to the alleged sexual assault of two women. (He has yet to be charged with a crime.) At first, Assange slept on an inflatable mattress on the floor that the ambassador brought from her own apartment nearby. Assange found that the noise from the street outside his window disturbed his sleep. After exploring the embassy for a quiet room, he settled on the womens bathroom, where the embassy staff reluctantly removed the toilet so he could sleep there. He has a lamp that mimics natural light, to enhance his psychological well-being, and he jogs every day on a treadmill, a gift from the film director Ken Loach. The embassy has installed a shower for Assanges use. There is a fireplace with a Victorian white mantel in his room, and a small round table of blond wood, on which Assange keeps his computer. Several shelves line the walls. Assange eats a combination of take-out foodhe keeps the restaurants from which he orders secret, for fear his food might be poisonedand simple Ecuadoran dishes prepared by the embassy staff. He is able to receive visitors, including Sarah Harrison, the 31-year-old WikiLeaks researcher who met up with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, where Snowden initially hid from the American authorities, and helped deliver to him a temporary Ecuadoran travel document that Assange and Fidel Narváez had reportedly secured.
The Ecuadoran Embassy itself is modesta suite of 10 rooms on a single floor of a red-brick Victorian pile, with no bedrooms and no facilities except a small kitchenette. For atmospherics, imagine the offices of a private upscale medical practice that for some reason is partial to flags of yellow, red, and blue. Assanges diplomatic immunity does not extend to the lobby of the building, which is shared with the Colombian Embassy and some 15 well-appointed private apartments upstairs. The entrance to the Mens Fragrance department at Harrods department store is just half a block away. The door to the embassy is thick black metal and opens immediately onto a full-body metal detector. A portrait of the Ecuadoran president, Rafael Correa, hangs on the walls, along with paintings of tropical birds. The government of Ecuador has stated that Assange is welcome to stay in its London embassy for centuries.
Last year, on July 3, the day he turned 41, Assange sent 12 pieces of birthday cake to the 12 protesters standing outside the embassy. On his birthday this year, people outside carried a sign noting that the number 42, in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. On ordinary days, protesters carry small signs with photos of Assange, his mouth taped shut by an American flag, and bearing slogans such as Dont Shoot the Messenger. From time to time Assange appears in vaguely papal fashion at the front window, silver-haired and pale, and waves. He gives the occasional press conference from a small balcony. He recently showed up for an interview with Agence France-Presse wearing a coat and tie but no shoes, a gesture to underscore the fact that he has little need for them.
Even before the Snowden affair brought him back into the limelight, Assange had been busy. During his year of confinement at the embassy, he has released a vast cache of documents, written a book, addressed the U.N., founded a political party in Australia and launched a bid for a Senate seat there, entertained socialites and celebrities, maintained contact with leakers and whistle-blowers all over the world, and worked behind the scenes to influence depictions of him that are now hitting movie screens (the most high-profile being a DreamWorks production starring Benedict Cumberbatch). As for the Snowden case, Assange and WikiLeaks have served, in effect, as Snowdens travel agents, publicists, and envoys; it is still not clear how far back the Snowden connection goes, or precisely how it originated, though the filmmaker Laura Poitras likely played the key role.
Assange cannot move from his quarters, but he is either at his computer or in conference, working in an impressive number of spheres. He is like any other C.E.O.plagued by constant meetings, WikiLeaks told me. He employs sophisticated encryption software, which anyone wishing to make contact with him or his circle is encouraged to use. To gain a sense of his life and work, during the past months I have spoken to Assanges lawyers and to many longtime or former friends, supporters, and professional associates. (Some have requested anonymity.) Daniel Ellsberg, the former U.S. military analyst who brought the Pentagon Papers to light, has met with Assange and speaks with personal knowledge about the lonely life of a leaker and whistle-blower. We are exiles and émigrés, he told me.
But the fact that Assange has had to take himself physically out of circulation has had the effect, oddly, of keeping him more purely at the center of things than he was before. His legal perils have not receded, but his state of diplomatic limbo means that he is no longer being hauled out of black vans and in front of screaming reporters and whirring cameras. The U.S. government has tried to decapitate his organization, which has only made him a martyr. No one is talking, as they were when he was free to mingle with the outside world, about his thin skin, his argumentative nature, his paranoia, his self-absorption, his poor personal hygiene, his habit of using his laptop when dining in company, or his failure to flush the toilet.
If anything, I think hes stronger and more sophisticated than he used to be, and so is the organization, Jennifer Robinson, an Australian human-rights lawyer best known for her work defending Assange in London, told me. Theyve weathered three years of intense pressure and all forms of legal and political attacks, and they are still here and still publishing and still making headlines. Today, Assange is alone and unbothered, but not isolatedthe unquiet center of a web whose vibrations he can both detect and influence.
II. Work, Work, Work
Recently, on the occasion of a WikiLeaks-hosted conference call to mark his one-year anniversary in the embassy, Assange was asked by a reporter whether his ability to work had been hindered by his confinement. Assange said that of course confinement made some things more difficult, but that is contrasted by my complete inability to do anything else but work.
And work he has. The physical Assange may be restricted to a few hundred square feet of real estate, but his avatar and his organization remain actively engaged with the world. It has been a very busy year. In September 2012, Assange addressed the United Nations via satellite, urging the U.S. to end what he calls its persecution of Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks. In November, he released a book, Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, based on a lengthy conversation between himself and several Internet activists from around the world who, like Assange, consider themselves part of the cypherpunk movement. (The movement grew out of hacker culture and advocates using strong encryption codes to ward off government surveillance; it has promoted civil disobedience to advance the cause of privacy.) Cypherpunksopens with characteristic understatement: This book is not a manifesto, Assange writes. There is not time for that. This book is a warning. He and his three collaboratorsJacob Appelbaum, a vocal supporter of WikiLeaks; Andy Müller-Maguhn, a member of the hacker association Chaos Computer Club, in Berlin; and Jérémie Zimmermann, the spokesperson for and co-founder of the Paris-based La Quadrature du Net, a French Internet-advocacy groupdiscuss the importance of keeping the Internet free from government intrusion. The book depicts Facebook and Google as part of the greatest surveillance machine that ever existed and describes a world spiraling toward a new transnational dystopia.
Assange has been meeting regularly with other activists and whistle-blowers. In December 2012, at Appelbaums invitation, Thomas Drake, a former senior official at the N.S.A. who had been prosecuted for allegedly mishandling government documents (all felony charges were dropped; he pleaded out to the misdemeanor of exceeding authorized use of a government computer), and his attorney, Jesselyn Radack, of the Government Accountability Project, flew to Hamburg to appear at the Chaos Communication Congress, the annual meeting of the international hacker community. On the way, Radack and Drake took advantage of a layover in London to meet with Assange, who gave them tea at the embassy on the day after Christmas. Radack had been initially skeptical about Assange, but over time, whenever he would give a speech, he would always mention my clients, Radack told me, and this is counter to the government meme that Julian is only about Julian. Radack came away from the meeting with a firsthand sense of the fishbowl claustrophobia that constitutes Assanges current life. At one point Radack went to use the restroom, and Assange deflected her. He said, Dont go in there, because people can see you. And, sure enough, I looked out the window and they could see inside from various angles. So he took me to an internal bathroom. When Drake returned to London a month later, Assange hosted a potluck dinner for him. Drake, a registered Republican and an air-force and navy veteran, says that the governments prosecution of him shredded my life and that he feels extraordinary affinity for Assange. It should be noted that WikiLeaks itself is not a whistle-blowerit is a publisherbut because of its chosen subject matter, it has become the subject of one of the U.S. governments largest investigations ever of a publisher and its source. WikiLeaks no longer accepts new submissions on its site but says it works through private networks. It adds, N.S.A. mass spying changes the game for public online submissions of sensitive disclosures.
In July 2013, Assange formally launched his candidacy, in absentia, for a Senate seat in his home country, Australia. Speaking by videolink from his quarters in the embassy, Assange addressed supporters gathered in Melbournes Fitzroy Library. He appeared in a white shirt and maroon tie against the backdrop of a white screen displaying the WikiLeaks logo: a cross between an hourglass and a lava lamp, with a globe on the top dripping into an unformed sphere at the bottom. Assange outlined the WikiLeaks Partys principal policiestransparency, accountability, and justiceand said that, if he is elected and cant make it to Australia to take his seat, another member of the party could replace him. The secretary of the WikiLeaks Party is his biological father, John Shipton, who raises funds and recruits volunteers. Shipton has visited Assange at the Ecuadoran Embassy, and indeed spent Christmas Day with him there last year. The WikiLeaks Party is headquartered in Melbourne in a 40,000-square-foot building called Kindness House, where the environmental activist group Greenpeace also maintains an office. The party, which claims 2,000 members, has announced a platform that includes calling for greater transparency in Parliament, greater restrictions on the countrys security agencies, and greater protection for whistle-blowers. It is fielding a total of seven senatorial candidates in the states of New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia. They are accepting donations by credit card, PayPal, and Bitcoin, the digital currency. WikiLeaks candidates have shown strong polling support among younger voters, and its chances are helped by the turmoil in Australian politics. The new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is far less hostile to Assange than his predecessor (and rival), Julia Gillard, had been. (Several of the WikiLeaks cables showed Gillard plotting against Rudd, which proved deeply embarrassing to her.) An election in Australia is scheduled for September 7. Even as he announced the formation of the WikiLeaks Party, in April, Assange was readying the release of another cache of government documentsthis despite a massive drop-off in donations received by WikiLeaks in recent years, owing largely to a blockade by credit-card companies such as Visa and MasterCard, which stopped processing payments to WikiLeaks in 2010. (In July, following a court order in Europe, the companies quietly started processing payments again.) Critics say the falloff in donations coincided with the beginning of Assanges legal troubles in Sweden, after which WikiLeaks supporters could not be sure if their money was going to WikiLeaks or to Assanges lawyers. The government documents published last April, the so-called Kissinger Cables, had been previously declassified and released by the American government, but WikiLeaks for the first time made them easily searchableand, the organization said, by putting them out independently ensured that they could never be reclassified, as the George W. Bush administration had done with 55,000 U.S. National Archives document pages. One cable from 1975 reveals Secretary of State Henry Kissinger explaining to Turkish officials and the U.S. ambassador to Turkey how to circumvent a congressional arms embargo. According to the cable, Kissinger observes, I used to say at meetings, The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer. [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, Im afraid to say things like that.
eanwhile, Assange and the actor Benedict Cumberbatch were e-mailing about the upcoming movie The Fifth Estate, which depicts the early years of WikiLeaks and also Assanges falling-out with his former colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg. The film, directed by Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls) and due out in October, is based on two books: one written by WikiLeaks defector Domscheit-Berg, titled Inside WikiLeaks,and another by Guardian investigative journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding, titled WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assanges War on Secrecy. Assange was certain that the depiction of him in the movie would be damning, given its source material. (For instance, Leigh and Harding allege that, initially, Assange refused to redact the names of Afghan informants from the secret American documents he was releasing, saying that the informants would deserve it if they were killed. Assange has vehemently denied this charge.) At one point, Assange pre-emptively called The Fifth Estate a massive propaganda attack. Assange contacted Cumberbatch late last year in the hope that he might persuade the actor to withdraw from the project. That did not happen. Cumberbatch had wished to meet with Assange in person, in order to inform his portrayal, but Assange refused: He didnt want to condone the film because he thoughthopefully erroneously when he sees the end productthat the project would castigate him and portray a negative side of his enterprise, Cumberbatch told the Telegraph. He didnt want to meet me because he feels the source materials weve based the movie on were poisonous to his account of the events. When he sees it I hope he feels that its more balanced. I think he will. I hope he will.
The Fifth Estate is not the only movie project Assange has had on his mind. There is also the documentaryWe Steal Secrets, by Alex Gibney, which Assange disliked before he even saw it, starting with its name. An unethical and biased title in the context of pending criminal trials, WikiLeaks tweeted in January when the film was screened at Sundance. We Steal Secrets ultimately paints a dark portrait of Assange; in essence, as aMother Jones writer succinctly put it, the movie is about what happens when an admirable cause is headed by a thin-skinned, combative prick. Gibney goes into the sexual-assault allegations against Assange and also the staff defections from WikiLeaks. He also notes Assanges refusal to be interviewed for the documentary, and states that Assange told him that the market rate for an interview with him was id=”mce_marker” million. (WikiLeaks has released an annotated script of the film, claiming it to be full of inaccuracies.)
Although he did not cooperate with Gibney, Assange granted an interview for a documentary made by Tarquin Ramsay, the 17-year-old grandson of Gavin MacFadyen, who runs Londons Centre for Investigative Journalism. Assange lived for a short time with MacFadyen and his wife, Susan Benn, at their apartment in Pimlico when he held his first meetings in London with editors of The Guardian, back in 2010. Snowden and all the others came through a door that had been pried open by WikiLeaks, MacFadyen says today. He and his wife remain some of Assanges most steadfast supporters. Benn refers to herself, only half joking, as a WikiLeaks mother. MacFadyen says the impression of Assange as difficult and an atrocious houseguest is wrong. He played with our grandchildren and they loved him, MacFadyen told me.
Then there is a forthcoming documentary by the independent filmmaker, Academy Award nominee, and MacArthur genius Laura Poitras, who has been at the heart of the Snowden affair from the outset. The film will deal broadly with government surveillance in the aftermath of 9/11, and Poitras has spent many hours interviewing Assange. On April 8, 2012, Glenn Greenwald, a columnist and lawyer who was writing for Salon,wrote that Poitras had been repeatedly detained at the border when returning to the U.S. In August 2012,The New York Times posted an eight-and-a-half-minute video by Poitrasadapted from the films footageon its Web site. The video, called The Program, featured William Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency, who had been dismayed that software he helped design to spy on the Soviet Union was now being used to spy on everyone in this country. Binney left the agency in 2001 and was the target of an F.B.I. investigation in 2007 into an alleged leak of N.S.A. secrets to a reporter. (The F.B.I. eventually dropped the effort.) Poitras filmed Binney in 2012 at a diner, sitting between Daniel Ellsberg and Jennifer Robinson. In the credits, Poitras thanks Assange.
This video would forever change the life of Edward Snowden. In January 2013, after seeing The Program, Snowden sent an anonymous message to Poitras, asking for her encryption key and suggesting that they find a secure channel through which they could communicate. A month before, he had attempted to contact Greenwald, who was now writing for The Guardian, but Snowden had received no response. He persisted with Poitras, sending a second e-mail, saying that he had some information about the intelligence community, and insisting that talking to him would not be a waste of her time. In an interview with Salon in June, Poitras said she had known how to communicate via encrypted channels because of her work with WikiLeaks.
In February 2013, Poitras contacted a number of people about the anonymous communication, to see if the source seemed legitimate. Among her contacts was Barton Gellman, a veteran national-security reporter who had worked for The Washington Post for most of his career but is currently a writer for Time. Gellman told Poitras that her anonymous source seemed legitimate. Poitras was also in touch with Greenwald, whom, according to The New York Times Magazine, Snowden had encouraged her to contact. In March, while in New York, she called Greenwald. Laura helped in making Greenwald open the e-mails, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, whose dealings with Assange date back to the extensive WikiLeaks document release in 2010, told me. In May, citing a medical issue, Snowden requested time off from his job as an N.S.A. contractor in Hawaii and flew to Hong Kong, where he would reveal himself to The Guardian and The Washington Post (telling his contacts to look for someone holding a Rubiks Cube outside a restaurant near a certain hotel) and work with them to make public what he knew about secret U.S. surveillance programs.
III. Diplomatic Impasse
For much of his time at the embassy, an Assange caretaker and link to the outside world has been Sarah Harrison. She is a graduate of the prestigious Sevenoaks School, in Kent, and guards Assange with ferocious loyalty, a person who has seen them together told me, jumping to his defense at the mildest suggestion of criticism. Two of his supporters told me that a romantic relationship between Harrison and Assange began in 2010, but Assange and Harrison have never publicly acknowledged it. WikiLeaks says it wont comment as to staff personal lives except to say that all reportage so far is speculation. The relationships status at the present time remains unknown, though the two are obviously close. Harrison is the WikiLeaks member whom Assange sent to accompany Edward Snowden out of Hong Kong.
Knowing that she was about to become a very public figure, and in an attempt to front-run any potentially negative information, WikiLeaks posted a profile and photographs of Harrison on its site on June 23, the day Snowden left Hong Kong for Moscow. The profile describes Harrison as a legal researcher for the organization. She is a young reporter who started working with WikiLeaks in August 2010, having been seconded from her position as an unpaid intern for MacFadyens Centre for Investigative Journalism. In addition to the photographs of Harrison on WikiLeaks site, she has been photographed at various WikiLeaks events. She has an open, pretty face, with long, wavy blond hair, a ready smile, and a small gap between her two front teeth. One of the photos on the WikiLeaks site is a blurry shot of Harrison, dressed in a blazer, smiling into the camera. Two others are casual and candid and look like snapshots from a road trip. Assanges supporters are reluctant to talk about the relationship. The Ecuadoreans are very Catholic, one of them told me, meaning that they were put off by the idea of a woman staying with their guest. Assange may have been alluding to this when he stated in late 2012 that security considerations in the embassy had caused severe difficulties to a relationship that was important to me.
Harrison has served as the public face of the connection among Assange, WikiLeaks, and Snowden. The connection was first revealed on June 19 in a WikiLeaks-hosted conference call with reporters. Joining Assange were Daniel Ellsberg, Thomas Drake, and James Goodale, a former lawyer for The New York Timesand the author of a book on President Richard Nixons secret effort to prosecute that newspaper for publishing the Pentagon Papers. On the call, Assange said, We are in touch with Mr. Snowdens legal team and are involved in the process of brokering his asylum in Iceland.
On June 20, an Icelandic businessman linked to WikiLeaks announced that a jet had been chartered to transport Snowden from Hong Kong to Iceland. The Icelandic gambit did not work out, but Harrison duly arrived in Hong Kong. On June 21, U.S. federal prosecutors revealed that they had charged Snowden with violating the Espionage Act and stealing government property. On June 22, Washington revoked Snowdens U.S. passport, and the next day WikiLeaks announced that Snowden had departed Hong Kong, which maintained it had no legal basis to prevent him from doing so.
He is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, the statement said, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks. Mr. Snowden requested that WikiLeaks use its legal expertise and experience to secure his safety. Once Mr Snowden arrives in Ecuador his request will be formally processed. WikiLeaks stated that it had paid for Snowdens flight out of Hong Kong. The organization also issued an anti-Washington statement purporting to be by Snowden, though various linguistic usagessuch as employing the British plural for collective nouns, as in the United States of America have suggested that it was in fact written by a non-American. The statement was subsequently edited to remove this Britishism. The suggestion that the statement wasnt authentic, WikiLeaks says, is a conspiracy theory that reveals the unprofessional journalism of its proponents, adding that Mr. Snowden spent time in many British English jurisdictions and WikiLeaks, like other publications, proofs statements into house style before publication. (Snowdens father initially told reporters he was worried that WikiLeaks may not have his sons best interests at heart, but has since backed away from that statement and said he was thankful to anyone helping his son.)
In a June 24 conference call, Assange said, Mr. Snowden was supplied with a refugee document of passage by the Ecuadoran government. Before Snowden could continue his trip from Moscow to Quito, Ecuadors president, Rafael Correa, declared the document to be unauthorized. Correa, in his regular television address at the end of June, said that Consul Narváezs reported actions were probably taken with Assange in desperation that Mr. Snowden was going to be captured but were without the knowledge of the Ecuadoran government. There were reports, based on diplomatic correspondence leaked to Univision and reviewed byThe Wall Street Journal, that the embassy was concerned that Assange could be perceived as usurping the role of Ecuadoran diplomatsthe suggestion, in effect, was that he was walking out of his embassy room and somehow arranging to conduct diplomatic business on Ecuadors behalf. According to a message attributed to Assange, he apologized to the Ecuadoran foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, if we have unwittingly [caused] Ecuador discomfort in the Snowden matter. The message went on, There is a fog of war due to the rapid nature of events. If similar events arise you can be assured that they do not originate in any lack of respect or concern for Ecuador or its government.
For five weeks, Snowden was in the transit zone of Moscows Sheremetyevo airport, with Sarah Harrison hand-delivering his requests for asylum to a Russian official, who then passed them on to the embassies of Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, and Venezuela. Requests had already been sent to Ecuador and Iceland. Most countries turned Snowden down immediately. It wasnt until the official plane of Bolivian president Evo Morales was rerouted, at Washingtons behest, from Moscow to Austria, where it was searched on suspicion that it harbored Edward Snowden, that Bolivia, angered by this treatment, granted Snowdens request for asylum (as had Nicaragua and Venezuela). Ecuador said it would consider Snowdens request when and if he was on Ecuadoran soil. There remained the problem of how Snowden would ever get from Moscow to any of these destinations with a canceled U.S. passport.
On July 12, for the first time since his arrival in Moscow, Snowden appeared in public and held an airport conference for human-rights groups during which he declared that he had no regrets about leaking the information he did. During the conference, Harrison was seated to Snowdens right; a translator was to his left. Despite heavy pressure from the U.S. government to deny his request, Russia has granted Snowden temporary asylum.
IV. His Own Worst Enemy
Assange remains at the center of a motley group of supporters. Some are transparency advocates or whistle-blowers; some promote free speech; some are classic activist liberals; some are outright America-phobes. He occasionally entertains visitors. In October 2012, the Evening Standard took note of the Court of King Julian and mentioned Caroline Michel, C.E.O. of the literary and talent agency Peters Fraser & Dunlop; the film director Ken Loach; the recording artist M.I.A.; and Lady Gaga. According to Daniel Ellsberg, WikiLeaks at that point was almost out of money. That was before donations from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which was co-founded by John Perry Barlow, a retired cattle rancher and former lyricist for the Grateful Dead. (Its board includes Ellsberg, Poitras, Greenwald, and the actor John Cusack, who has also visited with Assange at the Ecuadoran Embassy.) The foundation has so far contributed about $200,000 to WikiLeaks. In June, Barlow and Assange gave a joint interview from the embassy to Britains Sky News. The subject was the Snowden case and the N.S.A.s surveillance of e-mail and other communications.
Some onetime supporters have put distance between themselves and Assangeor had it done for them. Jemima Khan, one of those who had put up funds to secure bail for Assange when the sexual-assault allegations first brought him into British custody, came to see him as someone who demanded blinkered, cultish devotion from his supporters. She is an executive producer of We Steal Secrets, the Gibney documentary (and the European editor-at-large for Vanity Fair). Vaughan Smith, whose Frontline Club for journalists, in London, once served as a base of operations for Assange, and whose Ellingham Hall, in Norfolk, was Assanges home in 2011 and 2012, while he was under house arrest, has recently fallen out slightly with AssangeAssanges doingbecause Smith had the temerity to screen We Steal Secrets at the Frontline Club. Smith told me he still has enormous respect for Assange and counts himself a WikiLeaks supporter. What shocks me as much as anything, he said, is the American administrations response to them. Smith told me he had discovered relay stations that intercept phone calls between his house and nearby cell towers when Assange was living with him, and thinks that people who stick their head above the parapet in the public interest are hugely valuable.
The current Ecuadoran ambassador, Ana Albán, is due to conclude her tour of duty in London shortly. Albáns departure could complicate Assanges existence there, given the difficulties of having a new ambassador navigate the reality of a permanent houseguest, especially one as polarizing as Assange. But Patiño recently reiterated his support for Assange. I was able to say face-to-face to him, for the first time, that the government of Ecuador remains firmly committed to protecting his human rights, Patiño said, and that we continue to seek cast-iron assurances to avoid any onward extradition to a third state. Britain has backed away from initial threats to enter the embassy and remove Assange by force. Tracy, Marchioness of Worcester, an activist who has hitherto been known mainly for her efforts against commercial pig farming, is planning a gala dinner this fall to raise money for WikiLeaks. I think he is as important as Gandhi in bringing the truth and being willing to sacrifice his freedom for the truth, Worcester told me.
Assange will be able to leave the Ecuadoran Embassy (most likely for Ecuador itself) only if Britain grants him safe passage, which his lawyers have been pushing for, to no avail. They are also trying to persuade Swedish authorities to conduct their interviews with Assange at the embassy, rather than continuing to demand that he come to Sweden. One of Assanges lawyers, Michael Ratner, of the nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights, pointed out to me that, if one counts his time under house arrest at Ellingham Hall, Assange has been in confinement for almost three years. Even if he had been found guilty of what is alleged in Sweden, Ratner said, he could have served a shorter sentence than this. But it is not the allegations in Sweden that Assange fears. It is the grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, which, Ratner said, has been investigating him for possible violations of the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The Justice Department has acknowledged an investigation into WikiLeaks, and by all accounts it is extensive and aggressive. I have almost no doubt that there is a sealed indictment against Julian Assange, Ratner told me. If Assange is extradited back to the U.S., Ratner said, he will likely receive no better treatment than that accorded to Bradley Manning, who was held in solitary confinement for months and forced to sleep naked and with the lights on while awaiting trial. He would also be denied a computer and an Internet connection, and would likely be subject to special administrative measures that would prevent his lawyers from communicating anything Assange said to the outside world. The assistance that WikiLeaks has given to Snowden has not helped its legal situation; no traditional news outlet has offered Snowden anything near the support that WikiLeaks has, for fear of being prosecuted for aiding the enemy. During a conference call, I asked Assange about WikiLeaks decision to assist Snowden, and he said, Were proud that we have the most aggressive policy on source protection and fighting for the defense of journalistic sources and whistle-blowers. All media organizations should take our lead. Sources see which organizations are willing to defend them and which organizations are not.
On the one-year anniversary of his arrival at the embassy, Assange told Reuters he wasnt sure how much longer he would stay, but we dont intend to leave the situation to fate. The message is that, despite Ecuadoran assurance of unending hospitality, Assange does not plan to follow the example of Cardinal József Mindszenty, who took refuge on the upper floors of the American Embassy in Budapest for 15 years. That said, he has no obvious exit strategy, and the advantages of his predicament are considerable. For one thing, he is insulated from some of his own most damaging tendencies. Julian is his own worst enemy, a supporter told me. He is a truly extraordinary individual who has a lot of problems due to his social skills. If you are prepared to suffer him, he does do good. But no one really has to suffer him now, except a handful of Ecuadorans. He is no longer a public spectacle. He and his work are safe from prosecution. He can serve as a clearinghouse for the whistle-blowers who coalesce around him. He can pick his battles. He has a megaphone whenever he needs one.
You can think of this as a stalemate, but its a stalemate with a winner.