Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said Wednesday that he’s trying to broker asylum in Iceland for Edward Snowden, the leaker who provided The Guardian and The Washington Post with top-secret documents he obtained as a contractor at the National Security Agency.
On a conference call with reporters, Assange was joined by Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, and James Goodale, the paper’s general counsel at the time.
Assange declined to discuss too many details of his interactions with Snowden, but the announcement suggests Assange and the anti-secrecy site he founded are reaching out into new territory: protecting leakers from law enforcement. “It has been necessary for us to defend people we perceive to have a common cause with such as Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Edward Snowden,” Assange said, referring to the documentary filmmaker and the Guardian columnist who have helped publicize Snowden’s disclosures.
Assange would not say during his call with reporters whether he was in touch with Snowden directly. But the Australian-born activist has some experience in running from the law. On the conference call, Assange said he was confident the Justice Department was preparing an indictment of him on the grounds that he conspired to disclose classified information with Bradley Manning.
“President Obama must do the right thing,” he said. “He must immediately drop the immoral investigation against Wikileaks, its staff, and its sources before a precedent is set which will spell the end of national-security journalism in the United States.”
The call Wednesday came on the one-year anniversary of Assange’s own decision to accept asylum. He currently resides at the Ecuadorian embassy in London and is pressing the British government to allow him to leave for Ecuador. On the phone call, Assange at times slurred his words and sounded exhausted.
In his first interview with The Guardian, Snowden said he would like to seek asylum in Iceland. The former NSA contractor gave the interview from a hotel in Hong Kong, which he has since left. He is taking some precautions to hide his movements, accessing his laptop with a cover over his head to hide the screen from anyone who may be watching. Snowden has also said the U.S. government may try to kill him because of his recent disclosures.
While no U.S. officials have called for Snowden’s murder, several Republicans and Democrats have called him a traitor, a crime punishable by death. Assange, on the other hand, praised Snowden for, among other things, telling the South China Morning Post that specific computers in China and Hong Kong were hacked by the NSA.
“One might create some artificial distinction between people who hold U.S. citizenship and people of another nation,” Assange said. “However that is a ... racist interpretation quite frankly of international human-rights law that the United States and many other nations have signed up to that state, people are people.”
Others have criticized the disclosure of foreign NSA hacking targets. In an interview with USA Today, former NSA technical director and whistleblower William Binney praised Snowden’s leaks about domestic-surveillance programs as a “great public service” but said information on the overseas targets wasn’t in the same category. “That's not a public service, and now he is going a little beyond public service,” Binney said.