06/18/2014 01:53 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2014

2 Years After Seeking Refuge In Embassy, Julian Assange Says He's Staying Put

ANDREW COWIE via Getty Images

With British police still surrounding the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he is holed up, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange joined an international conference call Wednesday to speak out about his complicated and seemingly intractable diplomatic and legal saga.

The call came one day ahead of the two-year anniversary of Assange taking refuge in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning in an investigation about alleged sexual offenses. Assange argued his embassy stay is also necessary to avoid extradition to the U.S. for publishing files leaked to him by former U.S. Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning.

Although the call addressed his relationship with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Assange refused to reveal whether the two have been in any direct contact.

"The security situation in relation to myself here at the embassy, where the British government admits to spending more than $10 million so far on police encircling the embassy, and Edward Snowden's situation in Russia and in relation to the National Security Agency, means that I cannot discuss what types of communication we use or do not use," said Assange.

Assange and WikiLeaks lawyers engineered temporary asylum in Russia for Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong last year before revealing he was the source of leaked NSA reports. The organization's most high-profile success in the last year was getting Snowden the proper travel document for his flight from Hong Kong to Russia.

Assange has also signed up as a trustee for the Courage Foundation, which is raising money for Snowden's legal defense. But beyond his role in that group, it's not clear to what extent -- if any -- the WikiLeaks leader has an ongoing relationship with the NSA leaker.

Assange declined to answer a question about whether he has any access to Snowden's files. But after a media organization with access to Snowden's files recently published an article on NSA surveillance in two countries, WikiLeaks claimed to identify one country whose name had been redacted. WikiLeaks was vague about its sourcing.

"In relation to an issue revolving around sourcing, as a matter of longstanding policy to protect our sources, we cannot comment," he said.

Beyond the daring Snowden caper, WikiLeaks has made few of the global splashes it did when relying on the files of Manning, who is now serving the beginning of a 35-year sentence for leaking to the organization. But Assange pointed to files WikiLeaks published in January detailing negotiations for the Trans-Pacifc Partnership, a planned global trade agreement, as one success.

Asked whether the group is still relevant, Assange replied, "I think the best answer to that question was given by the author of Catch-22, when it was put to him that he hadn't eclipsed his novel. And the response, of course, was, 'Neither has anyone else.'"

WikiLeaks' role as a publisher has been overshadowed in recent years by the continuing drama surrounding Assange, who is wanted for questioning over sexual offenses in Sweden. Assange referred to that case as "the Swedish matter."

Assange declined to answer a question he has been asked time and time again since he sought refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy from those charges: why he will not travel to Sweden to answer a prosecutor's questions.

Assange's lawyers maintain that he is more than willing to answer questions about the allegations, but that it must happen in Britain. Traveling to Sweden or leaving the Ecuadorian Embassy "will more than likely be a one-way ticket to the United States, which is continuing an investigation," said Assange's U.S. lawyer, Michael Ratner.

Anonymous Justice Department officials told The Washington Post in November that Assange was unlikely to face prosecution under the Espionage Act for publishing Manning's leaked files. But Ratner pointed to a U.S. government filing in a related legal case that stated the investigation of WikiLeaks is "active and ongoing."

"It is against the stated principles of the United States, and I believe the values that are supported by its people, to have a four-year criminal investigation against a publisher," said Assange. "The ongoing existence of that investigation produces a chilling effect not just in relation to Internet-based publishers, but to all publishers."

Another of Assange's lawyers, Jen Robinson, said his team would be making a legal filing in Sweden on Tuesday with "new information" about the case there, but declined to elaborate. Assange suggested that he likely would remain at the Ecuadorian Embassy to ward off possible extradition to the U.S. even if the Swedish case was dropped.

"I think politically it will enable a more direct confrontation with the U.S. Department of Justice," he said. "There would have to be negotiations, I imagine there would be negotiations between the government of Ecuador and the government of the U.K."


  • Still Friends: Vaughan Smith
    Soldier turned journalist Vaughan Smith lost the £12,000 he put up as surety for Assange's bail when he sought refuge in Ecuador's embassy. Smith also put the Wikileaks founder up at his Norfolk estate for more than a year while Assange's legal challenge to extradition went through the courts. Smith said he was "shocked" at Assange's flight to the embassy and was "troubled" by the loss of the money but stood by his old friend. He told ITV: "It's a considerable sum and I don't think there are many people who could afford to lose that amount of money. "It's a balance between Julian's interests and my family's interests, but at least my family aren't facing extradition or a life sentence, so I feel that now is not the time to abandon Julian as a friend. "I'm convinced that Julian really believes that if he is sent to Sweden he will be sent to the US. I don't know whether that's true but if he were that would obviously be perilous."
  • Still Friends: John Pilger
    The most aggressive supporter of Julian Assange is also just about the only journalist he has not ended up hating. John Pilger has kept the faith over Assange and repeatedly, publicly defended him and attacked his critics. He attacked Wikileaks documentary We Steal Secrets as "abusive". When Wikileaks was described as an Assange cult, he wrote a piece saying "Assange hate is the real cult." When former close supporter Jemima Khan distanced herself from Assange, Pilger claimed she had "ended her support for an epic struggle for justice, truth and freedom".
  • Still Friends: Ken Loach
    The film director has been relatively tight-lipped about Assange but we think there's ample evidence he's still a fan. Loach has compared the noble hero of his latest film, Jimmy's Hall, to the Wikileaks founder. The film is the story of an Irishman who reopens a community hall in his village so everyone can dance and discuss left-wing politics to their heart's content, incurring the wrath of nearly everyone in authority. The Telegraph's two-star review called it "exasperatingly thin".
  • Still Friends: Phillip Knightley
    Ok, so weren't quite right when we said Pilger was the only journalist Assange had not fallen out with. Phillip Knightley, the legendary investigative reporter who lost £15,000 when Assange skipped bail, said he did not regret it at all and said Assange sought asylum only after "exhausting every other possible remedy" He said: "I'm not worried about my commitment. I would do it again. He's an Australian and he deserves my compatriot's support. He's been treated terribly by the British and Swedish justice systems and I think he's the victim of a conspiracy."
  • Drifted Apart: Birgitta Jonsdottir
    The Icelandic MP and Assange have drifted apart and no longer speak but, as they did not have a huge public falling out, we think they still count as friends by Assange's standards. Jonsdottir has passionately defended Wikileaks and said Assange has "every reason" to fear extradition to America if he goes to Sweden. She told The New Republic: "I am not speaking with Julian, I haven’t spoken with him for a while. ... I left Wikileaks a long time ago and our friendship soured, so I’m just doing my thing and he’s doing his."
  • Frenemy: Andrew O'Hagan
    The first of our ex-Team Assange people. If you're going to piss people off, don't piss off your mild-mannered ghost writer who will write a 26,000 word essay about how difficult you are. O'Hagan's piece described the nightmarish experience of trying to get Assange to put in the legwork into his autobiography, which O'Hagan was meant to ghostwrite after Assange received a six-figure advance. He wrote: "The man who put himself in charge of disclosing the world's secrets simply couldn't bear his own. The story of his life mortified him and sent him scurrying for excuses. He didn't want to do the book. He hadn't from the beginning." The fiasco ended with the publisher putting out a draft of the autobiography, after Assange stopped co-operating, and dubbed it his "unauthorised autobiography".
  • Friend Turned Foe: Jemima Khan
    Jemima Khan, The associate editor of the New Statesman, lost £20,000 she put up for Assange's bail. She wrote a piece attacking him, saying he had "alienated" his allies. She said: "WikiLeaks... has been guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as those it sought to expose, while its supporters are expected to follow, unquestioningly, in blinkered, cultish devotion." She compared Assange to the founder of Scientology, saying: "It would be a tragedy if a man who has done so much good were to end up tolerating only disciples and unwavering devotion, more like an Australian L Ron Hubbard."
  • Friends Turned Foes: Everyone In The British And American Press Wikileaks Has Worked With
    Assange loathes The New York Times and The Guardian, the two principal media partners that helped Wikileaks get the story about the atrocities of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars out to a large raudience. At one point, Assange threatened The Guardian with legal action over the publication of the cables. Then editor of the New York Times Bill Keller called him "arrogant and thin-skinned". The Guardian's Nick Davies was a particular focus of his ire, especially after he reported leaked details of the rape case against Assange that awaits him, if he ever sets foot in the country.
  • Friend Turned Foe: Daniel Domscheit-Berg
    The former Wikileaks spokesman fell out with Assange about the direction of the organisation and their public spat has continued ever since. Domscheit-Berg's memoir of his time with Assange became the basis for the feature film The Fifth Estate, which Assange vehemently attacked. He wrote the film was a "massive propaganda attack". It depicts Domscheit-Berg as an integral player in Wikileaks but Assange played down his role in the group, saying it was minimal. He said of the film: "How does this have anything to do with us? It is a lie upon lie. The movie is a massive propaganda attack on WikiLeaks and the character of my staff."