Monday 23rd July 2012
When Julian Assange arrived in Sweden in August 2010 he was greeted like a conquering hero. But within weeks there was a warrant out for his arrest and he was being investigated for rape and sexual molestation. Today he is taking sanctuary in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, arguing he won’t receive justice if he’s taken to Sweden and that US authorities are building a case for his extradition.
Is a man like Julian Assange be treated fairly in the legal system?
Next, Four Corners reporter Andrew Fowler examines in detail what happened in those crucial weeks while Julian Assange was in Sweden. What was the nature of his relationship with the two women who claim he assaulted them? And what did they tell police that led the authorities to seek his arrest?
“I will not tell any media how I am going to represent the women in court.” Lawyer for Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilén
Both Assange and his supporters believe the attempt by authorities to force his return to Sweden is simply the first step in a plan to see him extradited to the United States.
“Sweden has frankly always been the United States’ lapdog and it’s not a matter we’re particularly proud of.” Assange supporter
“The US has nothing to do with the issue here, it’s simply a matter between the UK and Sweden.” Jeffrey L. Bleich, US Ambassador to Australia
Four Corners looks at claims the United States is working hard to unearth evidence that would lead to a charge of “conspiracy to commit espionage” being made against Assange – which in turn would be used in his extradition from Sweden. The program also documents the harassment experienced by Assange’s supporters across the globe – including his Australian lawyer – and the FBI’s attempts to convince some to give evidence against him.
“Sex, Lies and Julian Assange”, reported by Andrew Fowler and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 23rd July at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is replayed on Tuesday 24th July at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 at 8.00pm Saturday, ABC iview and at 4 Corners.
Sex, Lies, and Julian Assange – Monday 23 July 2012
KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: He humiliated the most powerful country in the world. But his relationship with two Swedish women, and their claims of sexual assault, may yet destroy Julian Assange.
PER E. SAMUELSON, SWEDISH DEFENCE LAWYER FOR ASSANGE: You shouldn’t write such text messages if you had been raped by that person the night before.
CLAES BORGSTROM, LAWYER FOR ANNA ARDIN & SOFIA WILEN: I will not tell any media of how I am going to represent the women in court. I’m sorry.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Sex, lies, the Swedish justice system, the founder of WikiLeaks – and, somewhere in the background, an angry and embarrassed US government. A tangled web indeed. Welcome to Four Corners.
Julian Assange may have suspended his fate at the hands of a Swedish court by claiming political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, but the Swedes are not going away anytime soon. Nor are the British police, who are waiting to arrest him and extradite him to Stockholm the minute he attempts to leave his temporary sanctuary. Assange’s troubles in Sweden go back almost exactly two years. The first sensational intelligence of diplomatic leaks had already hit the public domain. In the American government’s eyes, Assange had become public enemy number one. But for many others around the world, he was a cause célèbre. But for all their power and influence in the world, they had seemed impotent to stop the leaks, or somehow make Assange pay for what they saw as espionage.
When it emerged that two young Swedish women were pressing charges against him, alleging rape and molestation in somewhat curious circumstances, an extradition proceedings began in the British courts, Assange alleged that America was somehow manipulating the whole process behind the scene, in order to in turn extradite him back to the US to face the judicial music there.
On the assumption that Assange can’t wait in his Ecuadorian sanctuary forever, and while we await the outcome of that standoff, Four Corners has gone back to Sweden, where the drama began, to pin down what actually happened there, and take a closer look at the inconsistencies in the various versions of events. Here is Andrew Fowler’s report.
ANDREW FOWLER, REPORTER: In late 2009 WikiLeaks set up home in the Iceland capital of Reykjavik. It was a perfect fit. Iceland has world class internet. Its constitution forbids censorship. Julian Assange was made welcome. It was here that Assange received the first leaked cable of the now famous Cablegate documents. It centred on the US embassy in Reykjavik. Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic MP was working with WikiLeaks. She received an invitation to a cocktail party at the Embassy
BIRGITTA JONSDOTTIR, MP, ICELAND: Cocktail parties are mind-numbingly boring, and I only go if I have a reason. So I actually decided… I thought it was sort of funny and I’m a bit of a prankster sometimes, so I decided it would be quite funny for me to go with one of the WikiLeaks people to the Embassy.
ANDREW FOWLER: She invited Julian Assange, but on the day of the cocktail party she couldn’t find him. Birgitta Jonsdottir decided not to go, but Assange did.
In a moment of monumental chutzpah Julian Assange inveigled his way into the cocktail party here at the US embassy. He struck up a conversation with US diplomat Sam Watson. Several weeks later Assange published confidential cables authored by the very same diplomat. Now Sam Watson hadn’t leaked and neither had any of the other US Embassy staff. Nonetheless, there was a massive internal investigation.
BIRGITTA JONSDOTTIR: I think that many people thought that he had actually gone in and mysteriously sucked out the cables with some spy device or something.
ANDREW FOWLER: Once the document came out, it was convenient to say it might have come from the Embassy?
BIRGITTA JONSDOTTIR: Of course, yeah.
ANDREW FOWLER: Which would have driven the United States intelligence agencies crazy trying to find out where this leak came from?
BIRGITTA JONSDOTTIR: Yes. Well you know, they all need to have a reason to earn their bread.
ANDREW FOWLER: It was the first act of humiliation by WikiLeaks of the world’s greatest superpower, but it was nothing compared to what was to come: Collateral Murder; the gunning down of unarmed civilians in a Baghdad street; and the Afghan War Logs. Eight months after his taunting of the US in Iceland, Assange landed in Sweden. He was now a cyber-celebrity.
THOMAS MATTSSON, EDITOR, EXPRESSEN NEWSPAPER: I would say he was… it was a like a pop star, ah, arriving in Sweden. He made public appearances and many media companies wanted to, to talk about… talk with him about eventual co-operation with WikiLeaks.
ANDREW FOWLER: Assange had come to Sweden to speak at a conference, but he was also there for more intriguing reasons – to negotiate the use of a former underground nuclear fall-out shelter that stores Internet servers. It would provide first class security against the prying eyes and ears of the world’s intelligence agencies. The bomb shelter houses the computer hardware of Rick Falkvinge’s Swedish Pirate Party.
RICK FALKVINGE, SWEDISH PIRATE PARTY: We contacted them first, as in just offering server space – right?
ANDREW FOWLER: It might sound like a whacky organisation, but in Sweden it’s taken seriously enough to have a member in the European Parliament. The Party’s close to WikiLeaks.
RICK FALKVINGE: So we knew about them, they knew about us. We saw they were in trouble and we said, “Hey guys we might be able to help you out here.”
ANDREW FOWLER: Falkvinge offered WikiLeaks some space in the bunker.
RICK FALKVINGE: It’s an amazing place, to be honest. But, yeah, that’s where we offered them hosting space. I don’t know how they’re using it. I shouldn’t know how they’re using it. That would interfere with my interests. But I understand it got quite some attention worldwide that WikiLeaks is now hosted in a nuclear bomb-proof fallout shelter.
ANDREW FOWLER: Assange was on a roll. Stockholm August 16th, 2010. Julian Assange caught a train from the central station. All the years of hard work were finally paying dividends for Julian Assange. Collateral Murder had been released, so too had the Afghan War Logs. But what would happen in the next few days would derail the WikiLeaks juggernaut.
Assange was not travelling alone. His companion was Sofia Wilen, a 26-year-old admirer. As Assange and Wilen left the train to spend the night together, they could have no idea of the repercussions that would flow from their one night stand. Assange’s life would later descend into turmoil.
Two days earlier, the faithful and adoring had gathered at the L.O. building – Stockholm’s Trade Union Headquarters. In the audience were two women: Sofia Wilen – in the pink cashmere sweater – and Anna Ardin. Assange was staying at Ardin’s flat. They’d slept together the previous night. Later she would tell a friend she had a “wild weekend” with Assange.
Sofia Wilen was enthralled by the Assange phenomena – she texted during his talk, “He looked at me!”
PER E. SAMUELSON: He came to Sweden on the 11th of August 2010, and he had this apartment where one of these women lived. She was supposed to be away so he could stay there, but she came home on the that Friday night – 13th of August – and then they had co…sensual sex and he continued to stay in that apartment until the 18th of August. But in the meantime he made acquaintance with the other woman, and and one night he travelled to her town in Sweden and they had co-co-co…
ANDREW FOWLER: Consensual.
PER E. SAMUELSON: Consensual sex.
ANDREW FOWLER: The sex with Sofia Wilen in her apartment might have been consensual, but critically there was a question over whether Assange had used a condom. The next day, Assange caught the train back to Stockholm. Wilen stayed at home, worried about the possibility of an STD infection. She later rang Anna Ardin, Assange’s lover of the previous week.
PER E. SAMUELSON: Somehow the two women started to exchange text messages which… with each other and started to discuss what had happened, and they ended up at the police station, but they did not file any charges against Julian.
ANDREW FOWLER: Ardin and Wilen went to Central Stockholm’s Klara police station to see if they could compel Assange to take an STD test should he refuse.
PER E. SAMUELSON: But the police interpreted what one of the girls said as some sort of sex crime having been committed and that resulted in a prosecutor the same night issuing a warrant of arrest for Julian.
ANDREW FOWLER: It would become a tabloid journalist’s dream: sex, politics and international intrigue.
(to Thomas Mattson) How big a story has the Assange case been here?
THOMAS MATTSON: The Assange story has been huge, of course…
ANDREW FOWLER: Thomas Mattson is the Editor of Expressen.
THOMAS MATTSON: The story has so many aspects. You have the political question whether this is a case created to damage WikiLeaks…
ANDREW FOWLER: At the time though, Mattson thought it was little more than salacious scandal.
THOMAS MATTSSON: I think that many people… in the beginning, people were, like, shaking their heads, thinking that if you are innocent, well in that case, this is, cannot be a problem. Just show up, say that you’re innocent and you will most probably be cleared, if that’s the case.
ANDREW FOWLER: Assange in fact did go to the Swedish Police ten days after the first allegations were made. He was interviewed but not charged with any offence, and he was free to leave the country while the inquiry continued.
PER E. SAMUELSON: In mid-September he got a message from his then-lawyer, but the prosecutor did not want him and… that he was… for an interview, and that he was free to leave Sweden, and under that assumption he left Sweden in the afternoon of the 27th of September in good faith that he had sought for and got approval from the prosecutor to leave the country.
ANDREW FOWLER: Assange made his way to London, holing up at the Frontline Club for journalists. He had unfinished business with America.
JULIAN ASSANGE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, WIKILEAKS (October, 2010): This disclosure is about the truth.
ANDREW FOWLER: Assange was at his peak, working with some of the most prestigious and influential media outlets in the world – including the Guardian and New York Times. But ominously, 12 days after giving Assange clearance to leave the country, the Swedes issued a warrant for his arrest. Three weeks later WikiLeaks launched the third big hit against America: The Iraq War Logs.
Then the Swedish prosecutor upped the ante – with Assange now working on the biggest and most sensitive cache of US cables yet, Sweden issued an Interpol Red Notice for his arrest.
JENNIFER ROBINSON, UK LEGAL ADVISOR TO ASSANGE: You only need to look at the way that Red Notices are used around the world. Red Notices are normally the preserve of terrorists and dictators. The president of Syria does not have a Red Notice alert. Gaddafi in Libya, at the same time Julian’s arrest warrant was issued, was not subject to a Red Notice but an Orange Notice. It was an incredibly… it was incredibly unusual that a red notice would be sought for an allegation of this kind.
ANDREW FOWLER: The timing of the Red Notice could not have been worse. US Army soldier Bradley Manning had allegedly leaked WikiLeaks more than a quarter of a million classified documents, and Julian Assange was anxious to get them out. They became known as Cablegate.
JULIAN ASSANGE (September 2012): There are so many thousands of stories that have come from that and have influenced elections and have been involved in the course of revolutions.
HILLARY CLINTON, US SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information. It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens out national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.
ANDREW FOWLER: An outraged Washington set up a crack team of Pentagon investigators to take on WikiLeaks. It even launched a legally questionable financial blockade to starve WikiLeaks of funds. For America, Cablegate was the final straw. Some even wanted Assange dead.
(Excerpt from Fox News, December, 2010)
FOX PANELLIST: This guy’s a traitor, a treasonous, and, and he’s broken every law of the United States, the guy ought to be… and I’m not for the death penalty, so if I’m not for the death penalty there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son-of-a-bitch.
FOX PRESENTER: Paul what about it?
FOX PANELLIST II: This little punk… now I stand up for Obama. Obama, if you’re listening today you should take this guy out, have the CIA take him out.
(End of excerpt)
ANDREW FOWLER: If Assange was looking for support from home, he didn’t get it.
JULIA GILLARD, AUSTRALIAN PM (December 2010): I absolutely condemn the placement of this information on the WikiLeaks website. It is a grossly irresponsible thing to do – and, an illegal thing to do.
ANDREW FOWLER: The then-Attorney-General threatened to revoke his Australian passport. It was only because the Federal Police believed that Assange’s passport was the best way to track him that he kept it.
JULIAN ASSANGE (September 2012): Well the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General are US lackeys. I mean, it’s a simple as that. They had a whole of government task force involving every intelligence agency and the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Defence and him trying to work out how to deal with WikiLeaks and me personally.
ANDREW FOWLER: Though the task force found that Assange had broken no law, his more immediate worry was that his extradition to Sweden would be a backdoor to onward extradition to the United States.
For more than 500 days Julian Assange and his legal team fought his extradition. Through the magistrates courts to the High Court and on to the Supreme Court, the most powerful court in the land. But on June the 14th Julian Assange lost his final appeal. The Supreme Court ruled he’d have to be extradited. Five days later, Assange fled to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
Last month, we managed a brief phone call from a London hotel with Assange in the embassy.
(on phone to Julian Assange) Ok, hang on, I’m just going to put the speaker phone on, one second, sorry…
He revealed why he was seeking political asylum.
JULIAN ASSANGE (on phone): Yes, there are a number of dramatic events that occurred just beforehand. First of all, the Swedish government publicly announced that it would detain me without charge in prison under severe conditions. On the same evening, the UK government security contractors that maintained the electronic manacle around my leg turned up unannounced at 10.30pm and insisted on fitting another manacle to my leg, saying that this was part of routine maintenance – which did not sound to be credible.
ANDREW FOWLER: Assange sensed that the net was tightening around him.
JULIAN ASSANGE (on phone): Then the next day, the Crown Prosecution Service, acting we believe on behalf of the Swedish government, requested that the 14 days that I had to apply to the European Court of Human Rights, be reduced to zero.
Assange is safe all the time he remains inside the embassy. But once he steps out, it’s almost certain he’ll be arrested and extradited to Sweden.
PER E. SAMUELSON: The minute he hits Swedish soil he will be arrested. He will be brought to a custody jail. He will be kept there in isolation for four days. He can only meet with me and my co-lawyer. On the fourth day he will be brought into a courtroom in handcuffs in front of a custody judge, and they will decide whether he will be kept in custody up until the final court case is tried, or if we if he will be released. I will try to get him released of course. But at least four days in Sweden in Swedish prison is… we can’t avoid that.
ANDREW FOWLER: At the heart of the matter is whether the Swedish judicial authorities will treat him fairly. Certainly, events so far provide a disturbing picture of Swedish justice. Using facts agreed between the defence and prosecution and other verified information, we have pieced together what happened during those crucial three weeks in August.
On August 11th, 2010, Assange arrived in Sweden to attend a conference organised by the Swedish Brotherhood – a branch of the Social Democratic Party. He was offered Anna Ardin’s apartment while she was away, but Ardin returned home a day early on Friday the 13th. She invited Assange to stay the night, and they had sex. She would later tell police Assange had violently pinned her down and ignored her requests to use a condom. Assange denies this.
The following day, Assange addressed the conference with Ardin at his side. Later that afternoon Ardin organised the Swedish equivalent of a top-notch barbeque – a Crayfish Party. She posted a Twitter message. “Julian wants to go to a crayfish party. Anyone have a couple of available seats tonight or tomorrow?”
The crayfish party was held that night in a court yard off her apartment. It went on until the early hours of the morning. Ardin tweeted at 2am: “Sitting outdoors at 02:00 and hardly freezing with the world’s coolest, smartest people! It’s amazing!”
A guest at the party would later tell Swedish Police the event was a very hearty evening. When he offered to put Assange up at his apartment, Ardin replied, “He can stay with me.”
In the past 24 hours, Ardin had worked closely with Assange, had sex with him, organised a crayfish party on his behalf – and, according to one witness, turned down alternate accommodation for him. It is during this same period that police will later investigate whether Assange coerced and sexually molested Anna Ardin.
PER E. SAMUELSON: Well, if you send text messages like that, “I’ve just spent some time with the coolest people in the world”, the night after you then say you were raped – I mean you shouldn’t write such text messages if you had been raped by that person the night before.
ANDREW FOWLER: Your client described Julian Assange as a “cool man”. I think, one of the “coolest men in the world” that she’d had in her bed.
CLAES BORGSTROM: I will argue in court. I have of course arguments concerning exactly what you’re talking about now, but I will not tell any media of how I am going to represent the women in in court. I’m sorry.
ANDREW FOWLER: But can you see how that looks as though…
CLAES BORGSTROM: Yes, of course I can.
ANDREW FOWLER: …it’s a fit up. It looks as though they are in fact setting him up.
CLAES BORGSTROM: I’m quite aware of that.
ANDREW FOWLER: Sunday August 15th – the next day. Assange attended a dinner party at Stockholm’s Glenfiddich restaurant, organised by pirate party founder Rick Falkvinge.
RICK FALKVINGE: I think a lot of people at the… at the table had meatballs. I think Julian might have been one of them. Now, Swedish meatballs that, that’s a little bit like mum’s apple pie in Sweden – as in, you can call my wife ugly, you can kick my dog, but the instant you say something bad about my mother’s meatballs I’m going to take it personal.
ANDREW FOWLER: Also at the dinner was Anna Ardin.
(to Rick Falkvinge) So, just to get this straight: Julian Assange arrived with Anna Ardin and he left with Anna Ardin.
RICK FALKVINGE: Yep.
ANDREW FOWLER: What was their behaviour like towards each other?
RICK FALKVINGE: Well, I was discussing mainly with Julian and the… again I can’t go into too much detail here, but it was at least a very professional dinner. There were two high level organisations, both intent on changing the world behaving professionally.
ANDREW FOWLER: The fact that Anna Ardin accompanied Julian Assange through this dinner and left with him – what does that say to you?
RICK FALKVINGE: Well that’s going into speculating on merits of extradition, and I can’t really do that. I think that be… you’re presenting an objective fact, as did I, and if people want to read something into that that’s obviously ripe for doing so, but I can’t spell it out.
ANDREW FOWLER: Four Corners has obtained a photograph, lodged with police investigators, from that evening. Anna Ardin is on the left. Afterwards, Assange would again spend the night at her apartment.
The following day, August the 16th, Assange had sex with Sophia Wilen at her apartment. According to police records, Ardin was aware that he had slept with Sophia. A witness told police he contacted Anna Ardin looking for Assange. She texted back: “He’s not here. He’s planned to have sex with the cashmere girl every evening, but not made it. Maybe he finally found time yesterday?” That same day, the witness asked Ardin, “Is it cool he’s living there? Do you want, like, for me to fix something else?” According to the witness she replied: “He doesn’t, like, sleep at nights so that’s a bit difficult. So he has a bit of difficulty taking care of his hygiene. But it’s ok if he lives with me, it’s no problem.”
Three days later on August 20th, Wilen, accompanied by Ardin went to the Klara police station in central Stockholm to seek advice about whether Assange could be forced to take an STD test. Ardin had gone along primarily to support Wilen. Sometime during Wilen’s questioning the police announced to Ardin and Wilen that Assange was to be arrested and questioned about possible rape and molestation. Wilen became so distraught she refused to give any more testimony and refused to sign what had been taken down.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: The circumstances leading up to the issue of the arrest warrant gave cause for grave concern for Julian about the procedures that were adopted in the investigation. We have to remember that when the announcement was put out that he would be subject to a warrant, one of the complainants was upset by that, and later said that she felt railroaded by the police.
KARIN ROSANDER, SWEDISH PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE: Well what happened is what was that the duty prosecutor got a phone call from the police and the duty prosecutor decided that he should be arrested.
ANDREW FOWLER: And what happened?
KARIN ROSANDER: He was arrested in his absence, but he… they never got in… got in contact with him so, but he was arrested in his absence. It’s a technical… technical thing in Sweden, Swedish law, yeah.
ANDREW FOWLER: The Prosecutor’s Office might not have contacted Assange but within hours they let the whole of Sweden know what was going on – leaking to the Expressen Tabloid the statements of Ardin and Wilen. The newspaper front page read: “Assange hunted for rape in Sweden”.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Julian wakes up the following morning to read the newspapers to hear that he’s wanted for double rape and he’s absolutely shocked.
THOMAS MATTSSON: Two of our reporters had information about Julian Assange, and we also had a confirmation from the prosecutor which confirmed on record that there was a police investigation against Julian Assange.
ANDREW FOWLER: It was now the case took a strange twist. Within 24 hours, a more senior prosecutor dismissed the rape allegations, leaving only the lesser accusation of molestation. Assange willingly went to the police on August 30th and made a statement.
During the interview he expressed his fears that anything he said would end up in the tabloid newspaper Expressen. The interviewing police officer said: “I’m not going to leak anything.” The interview was leaked.
PER E. SAMUELSON: Why did you leak his name to a tabloid paper? How… how can you drop the case and reopen the case and how can you… how can you not say that he waited for five weeks in Sweden voluntarily to participate in the investigation? Why do you have to arrest him? Why do you have to keep him in handcuffs? Why can’t you conduct this in a proper manner? The rest of the world sees it, but Sweden unfortunately doesn’t.
ANDREW FOWLER: It is perhaps understandable that Assange had doubts he would receive fair treatment from the Swedish authorities. On September 15th, the prosecutor told Assange he was permitted to leave Sweden. Assange, back in England, would later offer to return within a month. The Swedish Authorities said too late – a second warrant had already been issued for his arrest.
ANDREW FOWLER: He says that he left the country and then was prepared to come back at any time. Is that your understanding?
CLAES BORGSTROM: I don’t believe that.
ANDREW FOWLER: He says that he was prepared to come back in October but the prosecutor wanted him back earlier.
CLAES BORGSTROM: I don’t know. I don’t believe he wanted to he was he wanted to come freely back to Sweden. I don’t think so.
ANDREW FOWLER: Can you understand that the Australian people may not understand how somebody can be accused in their absence when they haven’t even been interviewed, then have that rape case dropped, the arrest warrant removed and then have it re-instituted, all in the space of a few days?
KARIN ROSANDER: Yeah I can very well understand the confusion and, and, I… that is very difficult to understand, well, exactly how it works.
ANDREW FOWLER: Well you call it confusing, it’s… it may be slightly more than that.
KARIN ROSANDER: Well that’s the way it works here in Sweden so, well… but I can understand the confusion, definitely.
ANDREW FOWLER: Assange, still hunkered down in the London embassy, has no doubt what his fate will be if he is extradited.
JULIAN ASSANGE (on phone): If I was suddenly taken to Sweden, I would not be in a position to apply for political asylum in relation to United States. it would be the end of the road. I would just be taken from one jail to another.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: the US has said specifically, the US ambassador to London said, they would wait to see what happened in Sweden. And so we are very concerned about the prospect that once matters are resolved in Sweden, he will… there will be an extradition request from there and he will not be able to travel home to Australia and will have to fight extradition in the Swedish court.
ANDREW FOWLER: The US Ambassador to Australia suggests that Washington isn’t interested in the Swedish extradition.
JEFFREY L. BLEICH, US AMBASSADOR TO AUSTRALIA (May 2012): It’s not something that the US cares about, it’s not interested in it, it hasn’t been involved in it – and frankly, if he’s in Sweden, there’s a less robust extradition relationship than there is between the US and the UK, so I think it’s one of those narratives that has been made up – there’s nothing to it.
MICHAEL RATNER, US LAWYER ASSANGE: That’s diplomatic speak. That doesn’t mean anything. Their last statement three days ago by their spokesperson Linn Boyd says we are continuing our investigation of WikiLeaks. So you can’t accept those words.
ANDREW FOWLER: Michael Ratner, Assange’s New York lawyer, believes there’s an easy solution to the issue.
MICHAEL RATNER: If they flatly said, “We do not… we will not prosecute Julian Assange” that would be a very different kind of statement – and… and they, in my view, is they should that I think they should say it, one, because then Julian Assange could leave the Ecuadorian Embassy, go to Sweden, deal with Sweden and continue on with his life.
ANDREW FOWLER: But Ratner thinks that’s not what the United States wants. He’s convinced a Grand Jury is investigating WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Four Corners has obtained a copy of a subpoena from a Grand Jury which is examining evidence for possible charges relating to “conspiracy to communicate or transmit national defence information” and obtaining “information protected from disclosure from national defence”. Critically the subpoena contains the identifying codes “10” and “3793′.
MICHAEL RATNER: There’s a Grand Jury currently sitting in Alexandria Virginia and the Grand Jury’s number – and it’s interesting the Grand Jury’s number is 10 standing for the year it began, GJ which is Grand Jury and then 3793. Three is the Conspiracy Statute in the United States. 793 is the Espionage Statute. So what they’re investigating is 3793: conspiracy to commit espionage.
ANDREW FOWLER: Certainly, anyone associated with Assange is feeling the heat of the US authorities. Icelandic activist, Smari McCarthy, worked on the Collateral Murder video. We caught up with him at a Reykjavik hotel.
ANDREW FOWLER: So what is it about WikiLeaks that changed everything?
SMARI MCCARTHY, ICELAND MODERN MEDIA INITIATIVE: It industrialised the process of leaking.
ANDREW FOWLER: McCarthy flew into Washington earlier this year to attend a conference. Security officials had him in their sights the moment he stepped off the plane.
SMARI MCCARTHY: When I get out through the doorway there’s two bordering customs control officers. One of them takes a look at my passport, says, “Yes this is the guy”, and they walk with me away.
ANDREW FOWLER: McCarthy was questioned for several minutes about the reason for his trip, before the border guards got to the point.
SMARI MCCARTHY: And then about, like, in the last couple of minutes they say, “Well you know we’re actually asking you these question is because we know you’re related to WikiLeaks”, and I say, “Well I was, but I’m no longer”. And they ask, like, “So you’re not in contact with Julian Assange?” And I say, “No, I have no contact with Julian”, and they’re like, “Oh, okay”, and basically let me out. I’m on my way.
ANDREW FOWLER: But it wasn’t the last McCarthy would see of the FBI. After the conference McCarthy had a drink with friends before heading to the Washington Metro. He missed the last train. As he walked out of the Archives Station two men confronted him.
SMARI MCCARTHY: Two guys come up to me and address me by name, and say that they’re FBI agents, and, “We’d like to ask you some questions”, and I say to them, “Well I’ve had some beers and I don’t have lawyers, so no, I’m not going to answer any questions”. They nevertheless give me a piece of paper with a phone number and an email address. This was not a business card, this was a piece of paper. This was just a kind of a card file thing, but it was handwritten and the email address was not at FBI.gov as you would expect from FBI agents.
ANDREW FOWLER: Just why they wouldn’t give an FBI email address puzzled McCarthy .
SMARI MCCARTHY: They say, “Well, they contain our full names”, and I said, “Why is that a problem?” “Well we’re afraid that if our full names… if we give you our full names, then there will be retaliation against us personally from Anonymous.”
ANDREW FOWLER: The two men seemed worried he might be a member of the cyber-hacker group Anonymous which had worked with WikiLeaks.
SMARI MCCARTHY: And I said, “Who the hell do you think I am? I’m not like the grand master of Anonymous. There’s no… I don’t even know anybody in Anonymous,” right?
ANDREW FOWLER: McCarthy’s experience could be dismissed as an oddity, but in the backstreets of Paris we found someone with a very similar story. Jérémie Zimmermann heads up an Internet activist group. He’s a WikiLeaks supporter.
JÉRÉMIE ZIMMERMANN, INTERNET LIBERTY: I’m a friend with Julian. I think he’s a he’s a very intelligent and and very witty person, and I enjoy very much the conversations we have together.
ANDREW FOWLER: Earlier this year, as he prepared to board a plane at Washington’s Dulles Airport, two men approached him about his involvement with WikiLeaks
JÉRÉMIE ZIMMERMANN: They didn’t show any badge. So I didn’t ask for one, but I saw their colleague maintaining the gate of the plane open, so I thought you don’t do that with a, you know, a university library card, so I thought…
ANDREW FOWLER: So you thought they must be FBI?
JÉRÉMIE ZIMMERMANN: I thought they must be FBI – and actually the agent questioning me was a caricature of FBI agent, you know, with a large jaw, short hair, tight suit – and he said, “Well, your name was mentioned in a criminal investigation for conspiracy involving lots of people”, and so which case he was referring to it’s the Grand Jury in Virginia. And so I ask him, thinking aloud, if I understand correctly: “Either I talk to you or I take full responsibility for my actions in front of a judge during a fair trial”. And this is where he replied immediately: “Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever been to jail?” – in an obvious attempt to intimidate me.
ANDREW FOWLER: What do you think they were trying to achieve?
JÉRÉMIE ZIMMERMANN: Maybe it was to turn me into an informant, try to send me, get information from Julian, or whatever. I don’t know. I will never know, probably.
MICHAEL RATNER: Zimmermann was stopped roughly at the same time coming back from a similar thing with McCarthy, so I don’t know who would be tricking them into thinking they were FBI agents. What we’ve seen in a couple of these stops in the Assange WikiLeaks case is people introduce themselves as Homeland Security – at least in one instance – and not as FBI and then when they get pushed a little they have to admit they’re FBI. Now, it’s interesting when you think about it: these people have been hit by the FBI and that what it also tells you that this is a Justice Department investigation of civilians.
ANDREW FOWLER: Even Assange’s UK legal advisor, Jennifer Robinson, appears to have been caught in the US dragnet.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: I’d had an incredibly long day at work and I was late to the airport. I rushed out to Heathrow, handed over my passport and the woman behind the desk was having a lot of difficulty. She couldn’t check me in. She looked at me in a strange manner and said “Look, this is odd. You’re Australian, you’re travelling home to Australia, you shouldn’t need a visa”. I said, “Well no, I’m Australian. Here’s my passport, I’m going home”, and she said, “I can’t check you in”.
ANDREW FOWLER: A security officer took Robinson’s passport away
JENNIFER ROBINSON: She came back about 15 minutes later carrying a mobile phone, handed my passport to the woman behind the desk and said, “She’s inhibited. We can’t check her in until we’ve got approval from Australia House.”
ANDREW FOWLER: Though Robinson was eventually allowed to catch the plane, she has still not received an explanation why she is on a so-called “inhibited list”. It does not appear to be an Australian government term. But US Homeland Security uses the phrase to identify people who need to be watched.
Now back in England, she continues to be Assange’s legal advisor. We caught up with her on a visit to the Ecuadorian Embassy.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Look he is now gathering and preparing materials for the purpose of his application to the Ecuadorian authorities, and essentially now it’s a matter for the Ecuadorian government.
ANDREW FOWLER: How is he… what’s his manner like? How’s his humour?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: I have never known anyone to deal with the amount of stress that he’s under as well as he does. He’s in very good spirits and still very committed to WikiLeaks work. He may be confined to the embassy but as he showed during house arrest, that doesn’t stop him. In the last 18 months we’ve seen a television program, we’ve seen further WikiLeaks releases – so I don’t think he’ll let this stop him either.
ANDREW FOWLER: Assange’s primary concern is that the Australian Government has never properly addressed the central question: the near certainty that a Grand Jury is investigating WikiLeaks and the possibility of him being charged.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: We are very concerned about the very prospect of potential extradition to the US. We need only look to the treatment of Bradley Manning. He’s been held in pre-trial detention for more than two years now, in conditions for a large part of that detention which the UN Special Repertoire said amount to torture. We are very concerned about the prospect of him ending up in the US, and the risk of onward extradition from Sweden was always a concern and remains a concern.
ANDREW FOWLER: Once in Sweden he would be at the mercy of a system which has a record of complying with US wishes. And there’s evidence that Sweden has acted illegally in past extraditions involving the US.
RICK FALKVINGE: Sweden has frankly always been the United States’ lap dog and it’s not a matter we are particularly proud of. The Swedish Government has… essentially, whenever a US official says, “Jump”, the Sweden Government asks, “How high?”
ANDREW FOWLER: If that seems like a heavy handed comment, there’s evidence to back it up.
RICK FALKVINGE: There was a famous case in last decade where a couple of Swedish citizens were even renditioned by the CIA in a quite torturous manner to Egypt where they were tortured further, which goes against every part of Swedish legislation, every international agreement on human rights – and not to say human dignity.
ANDREW FOWLER: A United Nations investigation later found against Sweden. The country was forced to pay compensation. For Assange, coupled with his other experiences of the Swedish judicial system, it is perhaps understandable that he fears ending up in Sweden.
MICHAEL RATNER: For me the question really is if I’m sitting in Julian Assange’s if I if I’m sitting in Julian Assange’s position, I’d be very, very nervous because the United States gets their hands on you in this case, and you’re a goner. So, you know, what I get asked all the time is, “Well, how do you know.” To me the question isn’t how I know I know there’s a lot of evidence out there that it looks like that. To me the burden should be on the United States Government to say, “We are not planning to prosecute Julian Assange”. If they just gave that assurance, I can guarantee you that Julian Assange would go to Sweden tomorrow.
KERRY O’BRIEN: We approached Australia’s Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, to pose a number of questions related to the Assange case, but she was unavailable on holidays. Ultimately, some of our questions were answered by a Foreign Affairs spokesman, by email, on behalf of Foreign Minister Bob Carr. They’re on our website.
Next week on Four Corners, the woman who forecast her own brutal death, but could find no one willing to listen. Until then, good night.
End of transcript