MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
I'm Robert Siegel.
And now a talk with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. His website's release of more than 90,000 documents about the war in Afghanistan has been much commented upon this week. Those documents were extensively quoted during yesterday's debate in Congress on a bill to finance the war. The bill passed, but many opponents claim the leaks supported their cause.
Mr. Assange joins us from London. Welcome to the program.
Mr. JULIAN ASSANGE (Founder, WikiLeaks): Good day. Good to be with you.
SIEGEL: And first, I'd like to put to you what a Washington Post editorial said this week about the WikiLeaks' Afghan war diary. It said it, and I quote, "hardly merits the hype offered by the website's founder," - you, that's a quote "because while it is voluminous," and I'm quoting again, "the WikiLeaks material tends to fill out and confirm the narrative of Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009 that most Americans are already familiar with." Is that a fair appraisal?
Mr. ASSANGE: Not really. I mean, the New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian and us worked on this material. I assume this Washington Post line is simply because they didn't have access to the great, big scoop.
This material is the compendium of information from the last six years of the war in Afghanistan. So has the Washington Post read all 91,000 reports? Of course not. This is such a tremendous historical archive that the full story is only going to emerge over the coming weeks as that material is correlated to the witnesses who are on the ground, both U.S. soldiers and Afghanis.
SIEGEL: But you've compared this to the leak of the Pentagon Papers. In that case, what was leaked was an edited analysis that had been done for the Pentagon that documented, for example, how the president of the United States had decided to expand a war while publicly promising the contrary.
These are raw reports that were not confirmed and edited, and they don't seem to have demonstrated anything so dramatic as the lies of Lyndon Johnson in those days.
Mr. ASSANGE: Well, in that particular case you refer to, you're talking about a personality whose words can be quickly and easily grasped onto. This material has its strength in that it is not an analysis. It is not written at the higher levels so it can be publicly massaged. It is, in fact, the raw facts of the war, the same facts that have been passed up the Pentagon chain of command the generals and policymakers are trying to make their decisions on.
These raw facts can be interpreted by others who are trying to propose alternative policies, by academics, by journalists and by the people concerned with the war directly: soldiers and the Afghanis.
SIEGEL: But some people would dispute your use of the word facts, or indeed that there might be something oxymoronic in raw facts. These, your critics here say, are raw material which hasn't been confirmed. They haven't been established in the way that, say, a journalist would consider something to be a fact.
Mr. ASSANGE: Well, that is a journalist's job, of course, is to take the material and turn it into some story and put their reputation behind it.
But let's not be fooled. There's some reports in this collection from informers of various kinds. If you read the material carefully, you will see that intelligence units in Afghanistan have given those informers ratings.
But the majority of reports are immediate reporting from the field from U.S. military operations, operations by Special Forces, for attacks on U.S. positions, collaboration between the U.S. and allies.
SIEGEL: What do you make of the conclusion that many journalists who have read as much as they can of this material so far and who are familiar with having covered the war or things in Pakistan say, which is the use of Stinger missiles, or heat-seeking missiles, rather, by the Taliban is new, had been denied. It is in direct contradiction to what the Pentagon had been claiming.
Generally, though, the questionable reliability of the Pakistanis is something we've been reading about now for a couple of years, and there's been much discussion of. The problems of inflicting civilian casualties, which have terribly angered the Afghans, is something that our reporters report on quite often. We're getting tremendous detail, often, as you've said, perhaps not always accurate, a grunt's-eye view of a war but not a radical revision of what we thought was going on in Afghanistan.
Mr. ASSANGE: Well, I don't think it is a radical revision. Rather, it is a concretization, or if you like, a strong confirmation of a view that was already developing. And these confirmations can be exceedingly important.
I mean, it's one thing, as an example, to believe, say, that the U.S. Senate is corrupt. It is another thing to actually know the names of the corrupt senators and when the transactions took place and how much. That leads to a sort of firmness in the understanding of the situation, and from that firmness, one can go on to make concrete decisions because you're standing on something that you have confidence in.
SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Assange, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Mr. ASSANGE: Thank you. Bye-bye.
SIEGEL: That's Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, speaking to us from London.