Secret Power and the Persecution of Julian Assange

Yves here. The UK (and US) have managed to disappear Julian Assange just as effectively as Gitmo detainees. Yet those terror suspects, who overwhelmingly were low level individuals who happened to be in the wrong place in the wrong time, were kept successfully in a legal limbo. Here Assange, who hasn’t been found guilty, is being treated on a par with a convicted Hannibal Lechter level serial killer. An objective of his torture during his pre-trial detention appears to be to render him incapable of assisting in his defense.

This interview reviews the case and the effort to enlist Big Media as allies.

By Talia Baroncelli. Originally published at

Talia Baroncelli

Hi, I’m Talia Baroncelli, and you’re watching I’ll shortly be joined by Stefania Maurizi to speak about Julian Assange and her recent book on WikiLeaks called Secret Power: WikiLeaks and Its Enemies. If you’re in a position to donate, please go to our website, and hit the donate button at the top right corner of the screen. If you’re not getting some of our notifications on YouTube, please sign up for the newsletter on the website; that way, you won’t miss any future content. Back in a bit.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is currently languishing in Belmarsh Prison, a high-security prison in London, in conditions which the former UN Special Rapporteur on torture,  Nils Melzer, has deployed and documented in his book, The Trial of Julian Assange. Following the release of the Iraq and Afghan war logs, the Obama administration decided not to take legal action against WikiLeaks for fear of the chilling legal precedent it would set for press freedoms. Yet the Biden administration has stuck to the Trump administration’s move to prosecute Assange under the espionage act for releasing documents exposing brutal war crimes committed in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as documentation that revealed the true death tolls in these wars.

The United States has charged Assange with 18 different counts, including conspiracy to commit computer intrusion under the U.S. computer fraud and abuse act. This is the first time that the U.S. is using the espionage act to charge an individual for publishing secret documents. Assange argues that he is being charged with committing political offenses. An existing U.S., and U.K. treaty bans the extradition of individuals for such political crimes. Nevertheless, the British courts and government continue to uphold the U.S. extradition order, despite medical testimony illustrating his grave psychological state. Extradition to a U.S. prison would exacerbate Julian Assange’s condition and would be in violation of international norms preventing torture and inhumane treatment. Given evidence of how access to justice has been eroded in the U.S., U.S. government assurances that he would receive a fair trial are laughable.

I’m very excited to be joined by Stefania Maurizi. She’s an investigative journalist who works for the Italian publication Il Fatto Quotidiano and is the author of a recent book on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks called Secret Power: WikiLeaks and Its Enemies. Thank you so much for joining me, Stefania.

Stefania Maurizi

Thank you for having me. Thanks so much.

Talia Baroncelli

So much of your work as an investigative journalist has shown how governments trample on their own laws, which are meant to protect freedom of the press and the public interest. What would you say is the state of freedom of the press in the West?

Stefania Maurizi

Well, I think our freedom of the press is shrinking, and not just because of the usual constraints, [inaudible 00:03:02], but because we are looking at a situation in which we have important cases. I would say the Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks case is the most prominent among these cases. It makes me very worried, I would say terrified. It makes me realize that we are at a crossroads; that’s why I have invested so much in this case– to go deep and unearth crucial facts. I think that if the United States, the United Kingdom, and all of the countries involved in this case can win this case, the consequences will be gigantic for the freedom of the press.

Talia Baroncelli

Very recently, actually, five different journalistic outfits, including The Guardian, El País, Der Spiegel, and New York Times, they wrote a petition which they signed, which stated that if Julian Assange were to be extradited to the U.S., that it would set a terrible precedent for press freedoms, and that it would also implicate them, that they would be found guilty of the work that they do in the service of the public interest. Do you think this particular letter or petition was signed too late?

Stefania Maurizi

I think so, unfortunately. I mean, it’s positive that at the end of the day, at the 11th hour, they decided to go out with this letter.  It certainly had a positive impact on the case. Finally, newspapers around the world realized that– the biggest news outlets are finally asking, are finally calling on the Biden administration to drop the case, but they did it after 12 years. If they had done it before, Julian Assange’s health wouldn’t be destroyed. We wouldn’t be in this situation. Unfortunately, they didn’t. So now the states involved in this persecution, I have no doubt whatsoever that this is a persecution, this is a terrible persecution, they realized how little solidarity there is between journalists. So they can play these cards of lack of solidarity. They can play the divide-and-conquer strategy to go after other journalists. It has been really, really unfortunate, I would say, a disgrace that they waited 12 years before coming out with his letter and before taking Julian Assange seriously. He had been saying this. He had been trying to get attention on his persecution since 2010. Everyone was blaming him and was treating him as a narcissist and paranoid. He was absolutely right from the very beginning. The United States was determined from the very beginning to go after him. It’s not just him. Even the WikiLeaks journalists and the organization for unleashing this revolution. So if he had been taken seriously from the very beginning, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Of course, now his health is seriously compromised. All this time, after all these lengthy legal procedures, which have been going on for over a decade, finally, he was charged in 2019. The Obama administration decided not to charge him. The Trump administration charged him. Now he’s been waiting since 2019 in a very tough, the toughest prison in Britain, and his health is going down, and he is collapsing. So even if he comes out alive, he’s seriously undermined.

Talia Baroncelli

Right. He has said that he would rather commit suicide than be extradited to the United States, where he would be placed in solitary confinement and probably tortured in some way or another. What is the current state of things with regard to his appeal? I believe in the summer, the former British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had approved of the British extradition to the U.S., and then that was again appealed by Julian Assange’s lawyers. Is there any update on that?

Stefania Maurizi

No update, unfortunately. We have been waiting for months. We were supposed to do it here in November, then December, then January. We are almost at the end of February, and still, we don’t know. That’s why I’m telling you that all these lengthy legal processes have been used to break him down. Even if he comes out of this prison alive, even if he comes out free, he’s basically broken. That’s why this game has been played from the very beginning. Even with the Swedish case, unfortunately, they have kept him arbitrarily detained, both in Sweden and the United Kingdom, since 2010, for almost a decade. This is not my opinion. My opinions don’t matter. My opinions are not really relevant. This is what the UN body in charge of establishing who is arbitrarily detained established. So it’s not my judgment.

Talia Baroncelli

Right. A lot of the work you’ve been doing recently involves litigating a freedom of information request, which would actually highlight some of the circumstances in which Julian Assange was kept in the Ecuadorian embassy. So I think this must have been around 2013 or 2014 when the Crown Prosecution Service was headed by Keir Starmer. There was so much at the time that they were trying to do to prevent the Swedish authorities from asking him questions in the U.K., and they wanted to ensure that he would be sent to Sweden, where he could then be potentially sent back or sent to the U.S.. Maybe you could speak about the role, the really shady role the U.K. government has played in this whole saga and how they’ve basically done the bidding of the U.S. the entire time.

Stefania Maurizi

Yes. Basically, in 2015, after five years, he remained arbitrarily detained. I decided I needed to access the full documentation on the case because no other journalists have tried to get access to this documentation. Of course, you know, we journalists are supposed to acquire documentation in order to reconstruct a case factually. This man has been in the Ecuadorian embassy for years without an hour outdoors, without being allowed to go to the hospital when he needed to go to the hospital. This was an incredible treatment for a journalist who reviewed war crimes. I told myself, I have to do it because no one did it, and this is unbelievable. Without facts, you just have an opinion. You just have guesses, maybe educated guesses, but you don’t have facts, so you have to access the documentation. So my strategy was I have to start with Sweden because, at the time, basically, there was no U.S. indictment openly known. I mean, we knew, of course, that the U.S. authorities were after Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for publishing U.S. classified documents. We knew that the Obama administration had opened an investigation, a criminal investigation on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for publishing those documents. But there was no public indictment for publishing those documents.

The only arrest order was from Sweden, the European Arrest Warrant, and no one understood why Sweden was basically not willing to go to London to question Julian Assange and to decide whether to charge him with rape or whether to drop the case and close the investigation. No one understood why he was trapped in the embassy. We knew there is no end in sight because the Swedish prosecutors didn’t want to go there to question him.

My guess was, my strategy was, if I can access the documentation from Sweden, which is an opening, which is quite transparent when it comes to government documentation, maybe I can get documents from the U.K., from the U.S., from Australia, from all jurisdictions involved in this case. I was right. I got a few documents from Sweden. Those documents were absolutely crucial because, for the first time, they allowed us to discover why the Swedish prosecutors didn’t want to go to London to question him. By doing so, they basically created this [inaudible 00:13:39] in which he was under perennial investigation with the label of a rapist, but there were not even charges. There were absolutely no charges, nothing.

So the reason was that the Crown Prosecution Service, at the time, headed by Keir Starmer– basically in this space, Keir Starmer is the current leader of the British Labor Party, a centrist, contrary to Jeremy Corbyn, who is on the Left, a pacifist and so on. Basically, the Crown Prosecution Service advised the Swedish prosecutors not to travel to London, and to question him only after extraditing him. By doing so, they created this legal paralysis that kept Julian Assange [inaudible 00:14:39] for years. When he basically went and took refuge in the embassy, the legal paralysis became a diplomatic paralysis because, of course, many countries were involved in this case.

The role of the Crown Prosecution Service was definitely crucial. I have no evidence that Keir Starmer personally was involved in taking this position. I really have done all I could to try to acquire the documentation, but I discovered that they destroyed it, which is an incredible thing. Even in countries like Italy, we have all sorts of judicial scandals and legal scandals. But even countries like Italy never had the scandal in which a public authority destroyed documentation on a controversial, highly controversial, high-profile legal case as the case is ongoing.

Since then, when I discovered this in 2017, since then, I have been fighting in the U.K. tribunals, Upper Tribunals, and all sorts of tribunals in London to try to get information on why they destroyed this documentation, on whose instruction, and what the document contains. I also discovered that the Swedish authorities destroyed key documents, a large part of these documents. So we have both sides who destroyed this documentation, which is highly anomalous. So I’m trying to dig. And you know, Talia, you might think, okay, now the Swedish case is gone, it’s closed. It was closed after nine years. It was managed and handled in a nonsense way because they kept him under investigation, preliminary investigation for nine years. Basically, there was justice for no one. There were millions of public money spent. There was no justice for no one. [inaudible 00:17:00] Julian Assange was destroyed. So the way the Swedish prosecutors handled the Swedish case makes no sense at all.

You can say, well, now it’s closed. Now the Swedish investigation is gone. Why are you still investigating these matters? I’m investigating these matters because the Crown Prosecution Service basically told the Swedish prosecutors don’t travel to London to question him, question him only after extraditing him, is the very same public authority which today acts in the U.S. extradition. In the current extradition case, the United States is acting through the Crown Prosecution Service, precisely like the Swedish prosecutors who were acting through the Crown Prosecution Service, because a foreign state cannot act directly in the British courts. It’s in London, so they have to deal with the Crown Prosecution Service. So this public authority, the Crown Prosecution Service, is still a crucial authority when it comes to the Julian Assange case.

Talia Baroncelli

Right. That’s super fascinating because I think in your book you were also detailing how when you were requesting information on why they had deleted these communications or what was even in the communications, the U.K. authorities responded by saying they didn’t know what the content of the emails was. Which is another level of–

Stefania Maurizi

It’s unbelievable. They didn’t know the contents. They have no way to know whether– they claim they don’t know what the content was and they have refused to provide precise information. The other authorities, British authorities, refused to investigate. So it is really something highly anomalous. We have the destruction of documents, we have the reluctance, the refusal to reply and to answer journalists asking for an explanation and information. You have British authorities refusing to investigate it, and you have the Swedish authorities, which are doing the very same thing. So clearly there is something deeply wrong here. Otherwise, they would address my question, they would address my request.

Talia Baroncelli

Your book documents the work of WikiLeaks over the years and also addresses the political significance of the Iraq war logs and the Afghan war logs. The Iraq war logs were comprised of over 300,000 documents, and the Afghan war logs, I think, slightly less, 76,000 documents. At the time when they were released in 2010, they basically shook the political landscape. The collateral murder video showed two U.S. soldiers in an Apache helicopter in Baghdad gunning down a Reuter’s journalist along with his cameraman, as well as innocent civilians who were just trying to help them. So would you say that the release of these documents, as well as the release of Cablegate, which is over 250,000 diplomatic correspondences, whether these documents created this ‘aha’ moment, which showed just how terrible these wars were and what the real death count was?

Stefania Maurizi

Yes, absolutely. This documentation, for the first time, allowed revealing the true face of the wars in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and without any– and we could access secret information. Never before, except with the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers in 1971, with Daniel Ellsberg revealing top secret information about the war as the war was ongoing. So it was amazing. It was really unbelievable for us journalists who could not just access secret information, but we could compare what the propaganda machine was telling the public, was telling the media, was telling the journalists, and what really happened on the [inaudible 00:21:45]. It was amazing to be able to compare this and see how the propaganda machine– and to obtain evidence of the killing of innocent civilians, to obtain evidence of torture, and to obtain evidence of pressure to grant impunity for horrific human rights violations like the CIA’s extraordinary rendition. I remember when I got access to the documentation on the extraordinary rendition of a [inaudible 00:22:21].

This is a very important case in Italy where the CIA kidnapped an Egyptian cleric in Milan in the middle of the day as if it was in [inaudible 00:22:36]. Our prosecutors were amazing. They were able to identify these CIA agents which who had cooperated with Italian intelligence and military intelligence. So they were able to identify all of them involved in this extraordinary rendition, which means basically a kidnapping. These people were kidnapped and brought to countries where torture was the norm, like Egypt, and they were brutally tortured. So our prosecutors were amazing. They were able to identify them. They were able to charge them and bring them on trial. The judges basically obtained final sentences for all of them. However, none of them went to prison. None of them were extradited from the U.S. because, in the meantime, they had left Italy, of course. None of them were extradited, and none of them spent any time in prison. So we could imagine, of course, pressure on Italian authorities. Of course, we could. But it is one matter to imagine, it is another matter to get evidence, the evidence of this pressure.

When I obtained this documentation and read the conversation between the U.S. diplomacy and the Italian politicians– the U.S. authorities didn’t intervene on judges, and prosecutors said they were looking at them as highly independent. They knew they had no chance to put pressure on judges and prosecutors. So they put pressure on Italian politicians, both progressive and conservative. So in this documentation, you could read the conversation. You could realize how these people were willing to accept this pressure. Of course, they could have told the U.S. authorities, okay, if you don’t want to extradite them, fine. We will send out an extradition request. Then you can do whatever you want. We cannot put a gun to your head, of course, but we have the duty to send this request. Quite the opposite. They were saying, oh, sure. Talk to the Minister of Justice. Talk to this. Talk to another one. You could obtain evidence of how the Italian authorities received this pressure and accepted this pressure. This is unbelievable. You have no chance whatsoever to obtain this evidence.

Let me tell you that when I received this documentation and I was working on a new revelation, I was contacted by the families of people who had loved ones who died in terror attacks in Italy during the ’70s. We have a history of political violence due to the fascists putting bombs on trains, on stations, and so on. They were contacting me because they are still looking for justice. They still don’t have justice. They don’t have truth. So they don’t have crucial information. No matter 60 years of criminal investigations and so on, still they have no truth. So they were contacting me saying could you please check the WikiLeaks databases, whether there is any information? They realized that when you deal with this level of state criminality, the ordinary justice cannot get evidence of these state criminalities. These state criminalities are shielded by thick layers of secrecy, and there’s no way unless someone from the inside steps out with evidence, with secret documentation; that’s why WikiLeaks is crucial. It’s important because it goes far beyond what WikiLeaks revealed.

What is absolutely crucial about the work of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, is the fact that the battle for secrecy, when secrecy is used not to protect the citizens but rather to protect state criminality, can be won. Before, we could not even imagine that this battle could be won. Before, we assume, all of us journalists and the public assume that, well, of course, we will never know. We will never know because there is state secrecy. But they provided a way for whistleblowers, for people who were inside and had a conscience. The people inside intelligence communities are not all criminals. Of course, there are criminals. Of course, there are torturers. Of course, there are very bad people, but there are also people who deeply disagree with these brutalities. If there is a media organization who have a system to protect the whistleblowers and has the courage to protect them, because it’s not just a matter of being able technically. It’s also a matter of having courage. In fact, after publishing this revelation, Julian Assange has never walked as a free man again. So it requests tremendous courage. This is why we never have the thought, well, it’s Chelsea Manning that deserves the credit. Of course, Chelsea Manning deserves the credit. She’s the source, but it’s not enough to have an amazing source. You also need a media organization. You also need journalists who have the courage and the skills to get this information out to the public. Otherwise, you can have the most explosive revelations, but they don’t come out.

Talia Baroncelli

Yeah, the Abu Omar case, for me personally, is incredibly revealing as to how the U.S. operates on NATO territory. This isn’t even in a country far away like Indonesia or something that we can’t imagine from our perspective being in the West. This is in Italy, 26 CIA officials, along with four other Italian intelligence officials, responsible for extraditing an Egyptian citizen in the middle of the day in broad daylight in Milan in 2003. This is a case that I studied in a law course, and it was just totally absurd. But what is even more important, as you explained, is how the documents which they published illustrated how the U.S. puts pressure on other governments and how democracy is actually so weak in so many of our Western countries, such as Italy. Italy has such a weak democracy when you see how, I believe it was Enrico Letta from the Partido Democrático, the Democratic Party, and how he just caved to the request of the U.S. government to put pressure on Italian officials to not issue this request to extradite 26 CIA officials to Italy to face justice.

In this case, it wasn’t an instance of the prosecutors not doing their job. They actually convicted these 26 CIA officers, but they just weren’t able to extradite them. It just brings it home. These aren’t just instances of intervention or surveillance in faraway countries that we can’t even imagine. This is on U.S. and European soil. For me personally, the Abu Omar case is just mind-blowing.

Stefania Maurizi

Absolutely. I completely agree. It’s absolutely crucial, this case, not just because it tells you how fragile our constitutional rights, our freedom, our liberties, our human rights are, but even in modern countries, in the most important Italian cities, Milan, well advanced, even when you have the best judges, even when you have the best prosecutors, these people can get impunity. This is horrific. They can get impunity even when you have judges who are independent and prosecutors who are amazing. So it really scares me. It really scares me how fragile our democracy is. You know what is really important about this case; the WikiLeaks documents, the cables, because you can find information about the Omar case on U.S. diplomatic cables, they have classified this secret. Secrecy has nothing to do with security. Secrecy is used to protect horrific human rights violations. It’s used to grant impunity to state criminals who are responsible for extremely serious state criminality. So what WikiLeaks has done is not compromising secrecy when secrecy protects citizens, protects their security. They have not revealed the security measures for a nuclear power plant, an airport, or a train station. They have revealed how state secrecy has been abused to protect state criminality.

Talia Baroncelli

Another revelation which you detail in your book Secret Power relates to the Vault 7 CIA trove of documents, which was the largest loss of CIA data in history. The Vault 7 documents show the different tactics that the CIA uses in terms of surveillance, but also how governments work with private security firms and basically hire and employ all sorts of different surveillance programs on journalists and activists around the world. Perhaps you can explain how this relates specifically to the case of the Saudi journalist who’s unfortunately now murdered, Jamal Khashoggi.

Stefania Maurizi

Yes, this is a very important part of WikiLeaks’ work. From the very beginning, even before, immediately after the U.S. classified documents, they started working on the surveillance industry, initially the private surveillance industry, and they were the very, very first to put the hacking team, the infamous Italian surveillance company, on the radar screen of the public opinion. As a consequence, many tech experts who have investigated these surveillance companies focus on them, and try to get evidence of these surveillance technologies being used, not to investigate terrorism, not to investigate the mafia or dangerous criminals, but unfortunately, had been sold to horrific regimes, authoritarian regimes who were using these technologies to persecute incidents, persecute journalists, and persecute human rights defenders. So it was thanks to WikiLeaks and many followers, of course. I’m not saying that it was just WikiLeaks who did it, but they did it in such a prominent way, bringing the evidence, bringing the documentation. This documentation inspired many researchers, researchers from the labs, and researchers in this day work with Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, to document how these technologies get abused on a regular basis by democratic countries selling it to regimes. So this is absolutely important work.

After this, in 2017, WikiLeaks revealed the secret documents, the so-called Vault 7, the secret cyber weapons, which are weapons made consisting of software, which the CIA and intelligence agencies used to penetrate computers, to penetrate mobile phones, and so on. I remember how tense it was. It was very tense to work on it. When you have documents, secret documents belonging to the CIA, you are very terrified, very concerned about being discovered and being unable to publish them. Maybe something will happen to me. I was one of the very few, and I remember it was very, very tense to publish those documents. I was wondering, will we be able to publish this documentation before we get discovered by the CIA? Of course, we did. We published it. Only after we published it, the CIA realized that they had lost control of thousands and thousands of documents, which is highly embarrassing for them. You wonder how they can protect themselves if they cannot even control their secrets. How can they protect the community, the citizens, if they don’t even control their secrets.

So I understand that the CIA was so furious after WikiLeaks published Vault 7 secret documents in cooperation with some media partners, and I was one of the very, very few media partners. The CIA was so upset that the then head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, basically considered some plans to kill him or to kidnap him, which is quite shocking because this was not happening in China. This was not happening in Russia. This was not happening in Iran. This was happening here in Europe, in our democracies. They weren’t just considering, they were planning to kill him for revealing truthful information in the public interest, which is what journalists do, basically.

Talia Baroncelli

Right. They were trying to find ways to potentially kill him while he was in the Ecuadorian embassy, or maybe to poison him. He wasn’t even in detention then. He was benefiting from asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, and that’s technically on the territory of another sovereign state because it’s the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Maybe we can speak about the–

Stefania Maurizi

They wanted to do it because he had revealed, he and WikiLeaks had revealed truthful information in the public interest. They didn’t want to kill him for other reasons, just for doing his job as a journalist, which is I think the most serious, the most outrageous thing about this story.

Talia Baroncelli

The company that was in charge of his surveillance at the time was UC Global. The current head of UC Global, David Morales, is being investigated by Spanish authorities at the moment for the different things that they were doing when they were surveilling the embassy. I believe that you had some very disconcerting experiences when you went to the embassy to visit Julian when he was still there. Maybe you can speak about some of the things you experienced when you were visiting him.

Stefania Maurizi

Yes, he was– I remember that. Until Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorian President who had granted asylum to Julian Assange, the atmosphere in the embassy was friendly. We were welcomed. We could visit him. We could work inside the embassy, and we did. Many, many times, there was no– sometimes there was some tension, but it was a friendly atmosphere. Whereas when Lenín Moreno became the new Ecuadorian President, the situation completely changed. We realized we were no longer welcome. We realized that there was always tension. He got isolated for many months in 2018. I remember I tried for months to access him in March 2018. Of course, it was pretty clear that Ecuador and Lenín Moreno didn’t want to protect Julian Assange anymore.

I remember when we were targeted, basically, it was December 2017. I had just discovered that the U.K. authorities and the Crown Prosecution Service had destroyed key documentation on Julian Assange. So I went to the embassy. I wanted to discuss many things with Julian Assange, including the destruction of documents which was completely suspicious, as I said. I realized as soon as I arrived, I realized there was something deeply wrong because never before had I been asked for my backpack, for example. My backpack was confiscated. I had very important things and I didn’t want to give the security guards my backpack, but they were quite clear that I was supposed to give them my backpack. So I gave them my backpack, and I went to meet Julian Assange in the meeting room. While I was meeting him, I didn’t know, but someone accessed my devices, someone accessed my phone, my U.S.B sticks, and my digital recorders. They unscrewed my phone, opened it, extracted the sim, and they took pictures. Fortunately, they took pictures, so we got evidence of these activities. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to discover them. So I discovered they were recording our conversation. They were filming us. Two years later, in 2019, we discovered this. We discovered this activity, spying activity targeting all of us, especially Julian Assanges defense team, the lawyers, the family, and the current wife of Julian Assange, Stella Assange. She was heavily targeted. They tried to discover whether their child was actually their child. They wanted to access his DNA. They wanted to acquire information on Stella. They wanted to acquire information on all the journalism, despite the lawyers very heavily got access to the legal documentation which tells you how can you hope to have a fair trial when the U.S. authorities know the legal strategy? How can you hope to get any fair trial? There is no way to have a fair trial when the legal strategy is open, it’s public, and the counterpart knows this detail.

So I remember that we got evidence only because there was a police operation in this Spanish company which was UC Global. Now we have a criminal case in Spain. I was one of the journalists who accused them of rying to get information. Who did it? Someone did it. We have evidence, we have videos, we have audio, and we have pictures. Someone opened the phone, someone accessed the full device.

You know, Talia, these are the things you expect in an authoritarian society. If you go to an authoritarian society, you expect this talk, in terms of journalists, which happens almost on a daily basis. In our democratic society, it’s a massive scandal that they have done this. They did it trying to acquire all sorts of information, legal information on Julian Assange, personal, deeply private information on his private life, information on the journalists, information on the lawyers, information on the weekly journalists. It is very disquieting what happened. I hope this criminal investigation which is going on in Spain will bring some evidence and some important information about who did what. Apparently, according to the protected witness, it was done by the UC Global company on the CIA’s behalf. Apparently, UC Global was working for the CIA. So let’s hope the criminal investigation in Spain will come out with solid information about this case.

Talia Baroncelli

I think if I understood correctly, you also speak about how it was due to UC Global’s illegal surveillance that the strategy which was being designed by Assange’s lawyers and Ecuadorian officials to give him diplomatic status or diplomatic passport was foiled because of this surveillance. They somehow found out that his lawyers were speaking to Ecuadorian officials to perhaps get him a diplomatic position in a country such as Venezuela, China, or whichever other country would agree to it. No one else knew about this. So it was quite apparent that it was a result of their surveillance and passing on that information to the CIA, that they were unfortunately able to stop that. Otherwise, he might have been able to go to another country and be safe there.

Stefania Maurizi

Absolutely. It was only through the spying and targeting the Julian Assange’s lawyers that they acquired this information, which was highly secret. It was information which the Julian Assanges defense had not discussed publicly. There was no way unless they spied on the lawyers. The whole story is very disquieting because whenyou realize that– we think in our democracies, you can reveal what your government does secretly with your money, in your name. But this case demonstrates that even in our democracies, you cannot do it safely. You cannot do it freely. You have to pay a price which is unbearable. Julian Assange has paid a price which is unbearable. He has never known freedom since 2010. It’s unacceptable that the price is so high. It shouldn’t be so high. We should be able to reveal state criminality at the highest level and be free and safe. That’s why I’m telling you we are at a crossroads. With this case, the United States is ready to put in prison for life a journalist who has revealed war crimes, torture, and extra judicial killings. If they do it, if they win this case, the consequences will be devastating. It means we no longer live in a democracy in which you can reveal state criminality at the highest level. A country in which you cannot is clearly not a democracy.

Talia Baroncelli

You’ve worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner. I think after the Afghan war logs and the Iraq war logs were released, the Pentagon and Admiral, Mark Mullen, rather, said that Assange had blood on his hands and that the ways in which WikiLeaks were releasing these documents were uncoordinated and not done in a way to prevent harm towards other journalists or to other military personnel on the ground. What would you say to those critics?

Stefania Maurizi

Well, I want to say that I was there. They were not. I was there and I was there from the very beginning. That’s why newspapers pay you to be there when things happen and to see with your own eyes and to be a witness of what’s happening. I was there. I can tell you that we worked very, very consciously on these documents. We were able to to reveal important information which is absolutely in the public interest and which keeps informing the public, even to this day, 13 years after it was published.

Ten days ago, Seymour Hersh revealed the alleged U.S. sabotage of the Nord Stream Pipelines. The first thing I did was to go to the WikiLeaks cables and try to understand, to acquire information on the Nord Stream Pipelines, because this information is still valuable. When the Ukraine war and the gas crisis exploded, the first thing I did was to consult the WikiLeaks table. They are still relevant. When the Jamal Khashoggi was killed, the first thing the Washington Post did was access the WikiLeaks documents and hacking team. They found important information on these documents, even if they were published many years ago.

This documentation keeps informing the public, and we published it safely. After 13 years, the U.S. government has been unable to provide a single example of a person who was killed, who was injured, who was put in prison as a result of these publications. So they have tried hard to find victims, to find people who were seriously damaged by this publication. After 13 years, they have been unable to bring a single example. Had they found an example, it would have been disseminated around the world, but they haven’t. So it tells you a lot about how serious we worked on these documents, how we protected the names of the people mentioned in this documentation, and how this campaign of blood on their hands has been a demonization campaign to one of the many, unfortunately, to the pride and empathy, public empathy. Julian Assange with the [inaudible 00:53:18].

I have seen so many demonization campaigns. This was one of the very first. They have blood on their hands, and of course, there is no blood. Then another demonization, well, he’s a rapist. Again, he was never charged and the investigation was closed with no charges whatsoever. Then there was the demonization campaign that Julian Assange was in bed with the Russians. Again, no evidence whatsoever. Then the demonization that he was in bed with Trump. Again, we can see that it was the Trump administration that charged Julian Assange. So all these demonization campaigns have seriously impacted the perception of the public and have denied him solidarity and empathy for the last decade.

Now people have started looking at what’s going on because now they cannot deny that it has always been about the U.S. It has always been about revealing war crimes, and revealing torture. So now people can no longer deny that this case is about revealing dirty secrets, revealing state criminality. So now we see a lot of public support. But it took so long. It took over a decade. In the meantime, his health has been destroyed. His life has been destroyed.

Talia Baroncelli

You mentioned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, and it’s quite interesting that it was because of the WikiLeaks documents that they were able to corroborate a lot of the 2004 Abu Omar revelations. So these trove of documents have been so essential to corroborate past cases and past revelations and the ways in which they’ve served the public good. In my view, it is something that you can’t really question.

My last question to you would be something that you mentioned in your book, which I found very powerful but also quite depressing. You say that something even worse than the crimes of the CIA is actually the apathy of the public, and you were speaking about the Italian public because despite all of these revelations, no political movement has mobilized around the WikiLeaks publications, nor has any politician tried to do anything in terms of mobilizing the Italian public. I was just wondering, why do you think that is? Or do you think that it’s a result of the information landscape or the media landscape in Western countries? Or do people not care? Why do you think that would be?

Stefania Maurizi

Thank you for this question because it is really important. At the very beginning in 2010 when I started revealing these documents about the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the cables, I was really shocked. I was stunned by the public apathy. We were revealing unbelievable things and nothing happened. There was not even a parliamentary inquiry. There was not even a grassroots organization going to prosecutors trying to file a criminal complaint. There was absolutely nothing. I was upset because if we had this feedback, this follow up, it would have been different. It would have been tremendously important. So at the beginning, I was really, really upset. One of the reasons, I think, is the inability of the Italian media to team up and to try to put pressure on Italian authorities when important things are at stake. There are petty dynamics. Since your competitor revealed these things, you don’t want to provide coverage or you don’t want to provide support because you don’t want to support a scoop of one of your competitors. So I think this petty dynamics didn’t help.

In addition to this, I realized that it was not just a matter of this. It was not just a matter that our politicians are so compromised, are so in bed with the U.S. authorities. It is also a problem of involving the public. I can see the difference. I apologize. I can see the difference now, 13 years later, after I published this book, and I received three requests a week to discuss the book, to discuss the revelation. These are grassroots organization. These are schools, universities, and small communities. They want to discuss this. They want to understand what they can do.

I think on the one end, it is true that there are these petty dynamics. It is true that the U.S. and Italian politicians are so compromised. On the other end, it is also a matter of finding a way to engage the public. I’m very happy that this book has unleashed and deeply involved the public. They can connect the dots. They can see what happened from 9/11, the last 13 years, 14 years, and they connect the dots. I put together all these things and I go deep into these revelations, and I explain. You see that when you connect the dots, the public reacts, the public wants to be involved, the public wants to ask you, what can I do? I’m a humble teacher. What can I do? I’m a humble student. How can I do something? Because of course, I don’t want to be part of this. I want to help you to make my country accountable for its human rights violations, for its role in torture, it’s involvement in wars.

So I see that now there is big involvement, and this involvement is the result of engaging with the public. So I’m a bit optimistic after all this. I keep receiving three, four, sometimes five requests per week, and sometimes I cannot do it. Every time I can, I really love to engage with them. It gives me hope after so much effort, public apathy and after so much silence and detachment, it gives me hope. So I take every opportunity to engage and to talk to the public and never ask for a single euro. I think this is my duty towards the community.

Talia Baroncelli

To serve the public good and to ensure that people are aware of what is going on behind the scenes and the pernicious things that governments get up to, including in wars such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stefania Maurizi

They don’t feel hopeless because this is precisely what the power wants. The power want citizens to feel hopeless, to feel unable to change the course of our public debate. Whereas I think the public has power and they don’t even realize it. So I’m really happy to help them connect the dots and to realize that they can do something, they can react, they can activate and protest and try to file a criminal complaint. Maybe you will not nail the CIA agents because we have seen how the dynamics works behind the scenes. Maybe you cannot achieve such important results, but certainly you can achieve something. You have the power as a citizen to do something and you should do it because if we look at the world, the world has changed deeply. In the last century, the world has changed deeply. The reason why it has changed is not because of some magic reason. It’s because people have fought hard to change it. With a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of passion, civil passion, and we still have to work hard. I hope with this work, I can contribute to create a world in which you can reveal war crimes, you can reveal torture, and you can be free, you can be safe. I hope so.

Talia Baroncelli

Well, your book is really fascinating and I highly recommend that everyone reads it– Secret Power: WikiLeaks and Its Enemies. Stefania Maurizi, thank you so much for joining us. This was really great to talk to you.

Stefania Maurizi

Thanks so much for this excellent interview.

Talia Baroncelli

Thank you for watching us at You can go to our website if you’d like to donate to Hit the red button at the top of the screen and also get on our mailing list; that way you’ll be notified of all future episodes. Thank you so much.

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  1. timbers

    In a related note, if the FBI has admitted in writing in court that Seth Rich is “integral” to the DNC emails going public, why hasn’t an investigation to his death been re-opened? Could if be it might lead us to some very wealthy powerful donors of our political establishment? Because the FBI apparently knew this early on yet has probably worked to keep the Rich case closed.

      1. timbers

        Naked Capitalism. A link to the FOI suit demanding FBI provide info of content contained in Rich’s laptop. If I recall, the link was a pdf doc in which FBI said Rich was integral to the DNC email “hack” in response to demand by those seeking FOI that FBI clarify its response regarding Rich and his laptop data.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      And Wikileaks did offer a still unclaimed reward for any info leading to conviction of Rich’s murderer –

      I think it was the Vault 7 release as noted in the article that really set the spooks off regarding Assange, but there’s something to the Seth Rich aspect of it too. I believe the offer of a reward is unprecedented for Wikileaks and there must have been a very good reason for them doing so in Rich’s case.

      1. some guy

        Does anyone think a professional assassin will turn himself or herself in to get a reward? If he or she did that he or she wouldn’t get any more contracts, just for starters.

        Does anyone think the person or persons who hired the assassin would burn their assassin by turning him/her in just to get a reward?

        If the assassin ( if that is what the killer was) was an employee of one of the agencies or departments, does anyone think any other knowledgeable people within that department would turn in a fellow employee, knowing the relevant parts of the rest of government would get revenge at its leisure?

        So that would leave innocent bystanders who happened to witness the event, if any. Maybe they will try to turn whatever they may have seen, if anything, into reward money.

        1. Alex V

          The theory pushed by those in power is that Seth Rich was randomly killed in a street crime, not that he was specifically targeted for what he did or knew. The WikiLeaks reward is offered to help find the random killer, in order to eliminate the possibility of a targeted assassination. The fact that none has been found (assuming he was an amateur criminal, not a trained professional, and therefore easier to find) supports the theory it was a targeted murder serving the powerful.

        2. Acacia

          Well reasoned, though I think we also know there are factions in these agencies, and somebody might at some point talk to somebody else, if only to settle a grudge against a rival faction, and that somebody else might at some point might talk to a writer or journalist.

          Or does that seem too unlikely?

  2. The Rev Kev

    Julian Assange’s case is a perfect example of what happens when you abandon international law and go with a rules based order. The US, the UK and Sweden have a lot to answer for. But then this post said the following-

    ”Very recently, actually, five different journalistic outfits, including The Guardian, El País, Der Spiegel, and New York Times, they wrote a petition which they signed”

    I think that these publications have finally worked out they can be snared and shipped the US too. Assange isn’t even an American citizen but he is being tried under an old US law. If a reporter from The Guardian, El País and the Der Spiegel was arrested, there is now a precedent for shipping them of to the US.

    1. Acacia

      …and it only took them a decade to figure this out. They somehow thought they had a ‘special relationship’, or… ?

    2. Johnny Conspiranoid

      Only they aren’t going to be arrested because they fake journalists.

      “They wanted to do it because he had revealed, he and WikiLeaks had revealed truthful information in the public interest. They didn’t want to kill him for other reasons”
      In which western governments reveal their true nature as they have done so many times before. Why the suprise? Everything that western governments do in non-western countries to non-western people they will eventually doin the west to their own citizens.

  3. pjay

    Thank you for posting this. Stefania Maurizi is an invaluable witness. And the examples she discusses make clear why Wikileaks was so important, and why the intelligence community was so enraged at Assange. I admit I am more pessimistic than Maurizi about public apathy and government control of the media. But I greatly appreciate her continuing efforts to combat both.

  4. mrsyk

    I’ve been re-watching Game of Thrones (Winter is Here and I’ve got spare time). Its relevance is depressing and darkly humorous, a primer for today’s power dynamic, required reading for the politically ambitious. And those five “journalistic outfits” are being shown the headman’s axe for sure, and not the for first time. They are just scattering some seed of a false history of journalistic integrity to be referenced in the future.

  5. lyman alpha blob

    Small but important correction to the transcript which says “Until Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorian President who had granted asylum to Julian Assange, the atmosphere in the embassy was friendly.”, which doesn’t really make sense when phrased that way

    Pretty sure that “until” is meant to be “under” – Correa was the guy trying to protect Assange

  6. Cristobal

    And the role of Starmer! All you have to do is look at him and watch him talk and move around to know that he is a spook. If only Corbyn could form new party and take the ¨real¨Labor Party with him. Not being a Brit, I know nothing about politics there and supppose that it is impossible.

    1. some guy

      Here is an 18 second scene taken out of context from the movie The Outlaw Josie Wales which describes the basic attitude and approach Corbyn and his “new party” would have to take if they were to re-enter politics. Is Corbyn capable of it? ( Sanders clearly wasn’t/ isn’t).

  7. Paul P

    I am reading Secret Power: Wikileaks and Its Enemies right now and recommend it. It reads like a thriller. We are moving toward an official secrets act. When I’ve brought up Julian Assange in conversation with people who are not critical of MSM, he is believed to have hurt our security,
    NC is another world.

    1. Acacia

      I get this reaction too. Only a few people I know will admit that Assange is being tortured. It’s like they have never had a “Hans, are we the baddies??” moment. And the uncritical acceptance of MSM discourse has only gotten worse since the Ukraine conflict started.

      Each time this happens, I find myself yet again having “l’esprit de l’escalier” about what I could say to these people. What this interview suggests, though, is that now that a number of large media outlets have finally come around to call upon the US to drop the case against Assange, anybody who says the prosecution and torture should continue is siding with states against journalists.

  8. AG

    this Chris Hedges text as recommendation:

    “Lynching the Deplorables
    The criminal investigation undertaken by the federal government against hundreds of participants in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol is polarizing the country and shredding civil liberties.”

    It is about the Jan. 6th court case and some very inconvenient truths / questions

    – (8 Proud Boys including its leader were informants of the FBI since 2020, recruited to inform on – ! – Antifa, Proud Boys´ enemies – this is all very nuts) –

    – thus Hedges´ broader context, I believe, fits well with above interview – which is great btw.


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