He has been a refugee in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for nearly 500 days and consequently doesn't give many interviews. But I was one of a handful of journalists who took part in a 90-minute, wide-ranging interview with him via Skype during which he slammed The Fifth Estate, the movie about him which stars Benedict Cumberbatch, spoke of the dangers of the U.S. security complex and gave a revealing insight into his daily life in the Embassy.
The WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief said the Embassy staff were "like family" and added: “We’ve gone through a lot together and we understand we are all in this together. Some staff have been here nearly 20 years. We have lunch together, celebrate people’s birthdays and other details I don’t want to go into because of the security situation.
“Of course the working environment has changed a lot because there are still police surrounding the embassy and it’s a difficult situation for the staff.”
investigative journalism it is always best, if you have any language skills, not to admit them.”
He lives in a small office room converted into living quarters equipped with a bed, telephone, sun lamp, computer with internet connections, shower, treadmill and a small kitchenette.
He receives frequent visits from celebrity supporters including musician Graham Nash ---“an unexpected supporter but a good one” ---who, he said, stopped by on Friday and who wrote a song about Bradley Manning; Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, actors Peters Sarsgaard, Maggie Gyllenhaal and John Cusack and the rapper MIA. “There’s been a wide range,” he said. “It’s interesting to go through this experience and see who walks the walk and who just talks the talk.”
For relaxation he watches the Australian television series Rake about a brilliant but self-destructive Sydney barrister and, he said, he also enjoyed the movie There Will Be Blood. He watches U.S movies such as Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, he said, mainly to see how they affect WikiLeaks.
Looking thin and pale and wearing a blue tracksuit with a Wikileaks logo, he said:
“Of course it’s difficult to wake up for 500 days and see the same walls but on the other hand I am doing good work and I have no time for anything else so it’s a bit counter-productive to trap me here, because what else can I do but work?” he asked.
“I have my heart and soul in this work. I have a very capable and loyal staff and we have a lot of supporters around the world and people who believe in what we do and want to see if it continues. So although I am trapped in these walls, intellectually I am outside with our people today and that to me is important.
“While I am imprisoned here there is a developing prison where you are living as well. It would be pretty bad if when I finally get out of here I find it’s actually better here than outside. At least in here there are no sudden raids by police, there is a rule of law and not an arbitrary breakdown as there is in many countries now.”
While he appears relatively untroubled by his current situation he admitted he was concerned for the safety of his family.
“I have a family and that situation is difficult,” he said. “My family has had to move and change their name and have been subject to threats from right wing blogs calling for my son, for example, to be killed to get at me. We take security precautions to deal with it and it is dealt with. I’m not scared about it.”
The 42-year-old Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge since June 2012 when he was granted diplomatic asylum. The British government wants to extradite him to Sweden under a European Arrest Warrant for questioning in relation to a sexual assault investigation. Metropolitan police officers have been stationed outside the embassy since Assange entered the building and have been ordered to arrest him if he attempts to leave.
The statute of limitations on the sexual case in Sweden expires in August 2020 but Assange is more concerned about the problems he faces in the U.S.
“My focus of attention is on the U.S. case---the continuing grand jury investigation,” he said. “That is what I have received full political asylum in relation to. I assume the Swedish case will disappear of its own accord in due course.”
The Australian-born Assange burst into public consciousness in 2010 with WikiLeaks’ release of the video of the July 12 2007 Apache helicopter attack on Baghdad which showed U.S. military killing Iraqi civilians.
Since then it has been involved in the publication of material documenting extrajudicial killings in Kenya, the Afghan war diaries, a report on toxic waste dumping on the Ivory Coast, Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay detention camp procedures and material involving large banks such as Kaupthing and Julius Baer, among other documents.
Hollywood has been intrigued by the saga and at one time there were five major films about Assange in development with only the documentary We Steal Secrets and the feature film The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, eventually being produced.
Assange, who arranged the release through WikiLeaks at the weekend of the organisation’s own documentary, Mediastan, described The Fifth Estate as “opportunistic and hostile….a geriatric snooze fest doomed for failure.”
And as for We Steal Secrets, directed by Alex Gibney, he said: “The bias is right there in the title because no one claims in the entire documentary that we steal secrets, not even our critics. Fortunately it is not being taken seriously as a historical or intellectual work.
“Underground, a feature film that was produced in Australia about me as a teenager is extremely positive and similarly, documentaries out of Germany and France have been overwhelmingly positive. It appears that there is an aspect coming out of the United States that reflects the wounded feelings---for want of better words---of the security establishment in the U.S.”
Assange insists he has no regrets about the actions which led to his present situation.
“Small tactical decisions go one way or another but I wouldn’t have done any of the major decisions differently,” he said.
“All the major decisions I believe were correct and I cannot see any way I could have done things differently.”