WikiLeaks has produced a transcript of a “secret” meeting between Google CEO Eric Schmidt and WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who at the time was under house arrest in the United Kingdom. Schmidt and Jared Cohen, a former advisor to Hillary Clinton, were researching a book, “The New Digital World,” scheduled for publication next week.
Schmidt kicked off the interview by asking Assange about the WikiLeaks architecture evolved to keep its sources anonymous. Instead of answering with technical detail, Assange launched into a speech justifying his work (“I thought there were too many unjust acts”) and detailing a bit of his overarching philosophy. Only with that out of the way did he talk about the structure of WikiLeaks, which publishes loads of sensitive material delivered from anonymous sources.
“We took the position that we would need to have a publishing system whose only defense was anonymity,” he said, according to the transcript. “That is it had no financial defense, it had no legal defense, and it had no political defense. Its defenses were purely technical. So that meant a system that was distributed at its front with many domain names and a fast ability to change those domain names.”
A lot of protection for publishers, he added, comes from publishing data quickly: “You get the information out quickly it is very well read, the incentive for people to go after you in relation to that specific piece of information is actually zero.”
Assange went on to suggest that evidence of suppression is a good indicator of a particular piece of data’s ultimate value. “It is a very suggestive signal that the people who know the information best—[i.e.,] the people who wrote it—are spending economic work in preventing it going into the historical record, preventing it going into the public. Why spend so much work doing that?” WikiLeaks is selective in pursuing that sort of suppressed information.
Assange also alluded to an encrypted store of information unreleased by WikiLeaks. “Not as some people have said so that we have a “thermonuclear device” to use on our opponents,” he said. “But rather so that there is very little possibility that that material, even if we are completely wiped out, will be taken from the historical record.” While WikiLeaks had the key, he told his interviews that he hoped it would never be used.
The conversation shifted again, drifting into the realm of Bitcoin. Assange predicted Bitcoin’s rising popularity, telling Schmidt and the others in the room that the virtual currency “actually has the balance and incentives right, and that is why it is starting to take off.” He praises its decentralized format, with no central nodes or “mint.” Whereas most virtual currencies have problems with trusting some sort of authority not to print too much of it, Bitcoin’s scarcity-enforcing architecture—thanks to its underlying algorithm, “producing Bitcoins becomes harder and harder and harder as time goes by”—makes it a more reliable product, in terms of actually having some sort of worth.
It’s clear that Schmidt is there primarily to listen to Assange—he offers relatively little commentary of his own on the transcript, except for the occasional “Yeah” or “That’s so clever.” The two drift into conversations about hosts and networks, and the challenges facing those who tried to keep the Internet running in Egypt during the initial stages of the Arab Spring.
With regard to that, Assange praised the “radicalization of Internet educated youth” as an optimistic development. “The people I’ve dealt with from the 1960s radicals who helped liberate Greece and… Salazar,” he told Schmidt. “They are saying that this moment in time is the most similar to what happened in this period of liberation movements in the 1960s, that they have seen.”
At another point, he offered what could be viewed as a philosophical summation: “I think that the instincts human beings have are actually much better than the societies that we have.”
Other topics of discussion included governments, darknets, journalistic processes, and much more. The full transcript is available on the WikiLeaks Website.