WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told reporters in a 75-minute telephone conference call on Monday that Edward Snowden is “healthy and safe.” Assange also made clear he is relishing Snowden’s defiance of the U.S. “I have personal sympathy with Snowden, having gone through similar personal experiences,” he said.
But Assange had few new details to offer about Snowden’s dramatic voyage. He couldn’t say where Snowden is now, where he’s going or even whether Assange had spoken directly to the former NSA contractor. “As a result of the security situation, we cannot talk about commutation methods or time,” Assange said in the call with reporters. “If we lived in a better world we would be able to go into those details. Unfortunately, we live in a world, as illuminated by Mr. Snowden, where most communications are intercepted unlawfully.”
The call’s stated purpose was to highlight WikiLeaks’ help of Snowden, though Assange and his lawyers declined to say much on that topic. Assange did say WikiLeaks had helped facilitate Snowden’s Sunday departure from Hong Kong, and that Assange’s lawyers were applying their three years of experience on his own battle with angry governments to Snowden’s case.
Speaking from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has spent the past year fighting extradition to Sweden on sexual-assault charges, Assange also confirmed reports that Snowden has been given travel papers by Ecuador pending his asylum claim there — an important development given that Snowden’s U.S. passport has been revoked. WikiLeaks lawyers in the call said Snowden has also applied for asylum in other countries, which they declined to name.
Assange did tie Snowden’s case closely to that of Army private Bradley Manning, now on trial for leaking millions of pages of classified documents to WikiLeaks, in the episode that has made Assange an international celebrity. Assange said the U.S. government’s harsh treatment of Manning — who was held for months in solitary confinement — helps to explain why Snowden stepped forward in such a visible way. “In a situation where the U.S. government perceived wrongly or rightly that eliminating Mr. Snowden would eliminate the threat on its worldwide spying program, the kidnapping or incapacitation of Mr. Snowden must have been considered,” Assange said. “Pursuing Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning is not the way to fix the weaknesses of law and process in the U.S. The only way to fix these is to stop surveillance, to stop spying on people.”
Also on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry called Snowden a “traitor.” And he warned Russia and China that their apparent support for Snowden could imperil relations with the U.S. “There would be without any question some effect and impact on the relationship” with both countries, Kerry said while traveling in New Delhi. “There is a surrender treaty with Hong Kong and, if there was adequate notice … It would be very disappointing if he was willfully allowed to board an airplane as a result … With respect to Russia, likewise.”
It is ironic, Kerry said, that Snowden — a champion of transparency and critic of government surveillance — has sought help from politically repressive nations like China and Russia. “I wonder if Snowden chose China and Russia in his flight from justice because they’re such powerful bastions of Internet freedom,” Kerry said. “And I wonder if while in those countries he chose to raise the subject of Internet freedom that he says he champions.”
“I simply do not see the irony,” Assange countered when told of Kerry’s remarks. “Mr. Snowden has revealed information about mass unlawful spying, which has affected every single one of us,” Assange said. “The United States has issued a series of bellicose threats against him and against others attempting to support his rights. Any country seeking to assist him should be applauded in doing so.”