‘Who controls the past controls the future’: Assange presents massive Project K leak
Speaking via Skype from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Assange introduced Project K on Monday morning to a group of journalists at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Nearly three years earlier to the day, Assange spoke at the Press Club in person to debut “Collateral Murder,” a video of US soldiers firing at Iraqi civilians that has since become one of WikiLeaks’ most well-recognized contributions to journalism. Since that release, WikiLeaks and the organization’s associates have become the target of a number of government investigations, with Assange himself having been confined to the embassy in London for nearly one year while awaiting safe passage to Ecuador where he was granted political asylum. Ongoing attempts to prosecute the journalists for sharing state secrets aside, however, Assange and company have now unloaded the organization’s biggest leak yet.
Project K, says Assange, contains roughly 1.7 million files composed of US Department of State diplomatic communications. And although the material has been classified, declassified and, in some instances, re-classified, the public’s inability to access and peruse the unredacted copies has made them nearly inaccessible.
“One form of secrecy is the complexity and the accessibility of documents,” WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson said during Monday’s event. “You could say that the government cannot be trusted with these documents.”
"He who controls the past controls the future, and he who controls the present controls the past,” Assange chimed in using his webcam in London to quote from George Orwell’s novel 1984.
“The US administration cannot be trusted with its control of its past,” he said. “That is the result of this information being hidden by secrecy, but more often being hidden in the borderline between secrecy and complexity.”
The 1.7 million cables released on Monday span the period of time between 1973 and 1976 when Henry Kissinger sat at the head the State Department under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. WikiLeaks has now combined their latest files with the previously-released State Department diplomatic cables that they published starting in 2010 after US Army Private first class Bradley Manning gained access to military intelligence servers and sent over 250,000 documents to the site, along with “Collateral Murder” and a trove of other documents.
By combining the earlier State Dept. memos with the new collection of Kissinger cables, Assange says WikiLeaks has created a database that gives journalists unprecedented access to roughly 2 million documents that paint a unique picture of the United States’ relationships with foreign nations during a number of presidential administrations.
That infrastructure, dubbed the WikiLeaks Public Library of US Diplomacy (PlusD), “is what Google should be like,” Assange said.
“This is a search system that investigative journalists can use effectively,” he said.
With the publishing of the State Dept. cables credited to Pfc. Manning, WikiLeaks previously brought to the public periphery a tome of material that largely focuses on US foreign policy at the dawn of the twenty-first century. The Kissinger cables though, said Assange, reveals a multitude about the US and other nations during a time when western society as we know it today really began to take form.
“The period of the 1970s in diplomacy is referred to as the ‘Big Bang.’ This is when the modern international order came to be,” Assange said at the press conference. “There is really only two periods: post-World War Two and the 1970s.”
During the ‘70s, vast decolonization caused the number of countries on the planet to go from only 104 to roughly 160. “To understand all of that complexity, the US State Dept. put together a system to harvest intelligence from its diplomats across the world,” Assange said of Project K.
Today, he added, the White House has “more direct control of the periphery.” During the 70s, however, “the relationship between ambassadors and their host government was more essential.” Project K helps shine a light on exactly how those interactions played out during a time when the Vietnam conflict, Watergate and the Cold War warranted the US to embark in a number of conversations with persons of all affiliations around the world.
“The United States makes a priority gaining influence and contacts and informants within opposition movements. Partly in order to corrupt them, partly in order to have bets on both the lead horse and the second in case there is a transition of power,” he said. But while American interest in the Soviet Union was largely a focal point of the US during the 1970s as one might expect, Assange said that the “titanic struggle” between the two bodies represents only a small sampling of the State Department’s interests during that time. The Kissinger Cables, at roughly one billion words, show that the US “is essentially checking the activity and inactivity of other empires,” said Assange. France, Spain, the UK, Australia and Sweden are all discussed in length in the cables, and even politicians still relevant today make appearances.
“Margaret Thatcher died last night and of course there is a great many cables about her,” said Assange, who put the figure of memos relating to the recently passed former prime minister at around 400.
Kissinger, who is alive and active today, is referenced in over 200,000 individual documents included in the trove. Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt — a critic of the whistleblower site and today the nation’s foreign minister — also makes a number of appearances in Project K as well.
Speaking to RT at the conference, Hrafnsson said that neither Kissinger nor the current Department of State has yet to respond to the leak — nor does he expect them to. On his part, however, Assange told RT that any formal federal investigation into this project will likely not dwell on any damages spawned by the leak, but instead will focus on how his organization managed to take 1.7 million documents and reverse engineer them in order to publish them in the public domain.
“Essentially,” said Assange, it’s “what Aaron Swartz was doing.”
“If the Department of Justice was to go after us for this release like they are attempting to prosecute us for previous releases involving US embassies documents, the approach would probably be along the lines of the approach that was taken was Swartz,” said Assange, “which is the sort of manner of acquisition as opposed to the classification for the matter.”
Hrafnsson said that WikiLeaks has been working on Project K and the PlusD database for roughly one year.