Wikileaks: Advocate and Travel Agent for Fugitive Snowden

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. What a wild couple of days it's been for Edward Snowden. He's the former NSA contractor who leaked information about US government surveillance programs. Snowden's wanted by the US government for espionage, and yesterday he left his hideout in Hong Kong on a flight for Russia. Then today at the Moscow airport he was booked on a flight leaving for Cuba, but the flight took off without him on board. Meanwhile, Ecuador is considering a request to grant Snowden political asylum. More about that in a few minutes. Ecuador is already giving refuge to another wanted man, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and earlier today Assange spoke from inside Ecuador's embassy in London, where he's been given shelter. Assange made it clear that Wikileaks is helping Snowden because he's a fellow anti-secrecy whistleblower.

Julian Assange: We are aware of where Mr. Snowden is. He is in a safe place, and his spirits are high. Due to the bellicose threats coming from the US administration we cannot go into further details at this time.

Werman: As the headline in The New York Times today put it, "Wikileaks Gets Back in the Game." That story was written by Scott Shane and Scott joins me now. First of all, Scott, how is Wikileaks actually helping Edward Snowden?

Scott Shane: Well, according to Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, Snowden approached the group, we're not exactly sure how, apparently after he was already in Hong Kong, and asked for their help and legal advice, and the Wikileaks legal team, they referred to it, and that's a little bit mysterious as to who's exactly on it, went to work advising him on places to seek asylum, and made contact in particular with Ecuador. Now Wikileaks had good connections with Ecuador to help Mr. Snowden.

Werman: So they played no role in Snowden's disclosure of classified documents, it seems, so it's your understanding that they're kind of simpatico with him and kind of working as a travel agency/advisor?

Shane: Exactly. I think the, as far as I know and as far as Assange has said in a conversation I had with him yesterday, they did not play any role in publishing or obtaining the Snowden documents. But once he sort of found himself in a bit of a predicament, that's when he apparently made contact with the Wikileaks organization.

Werman: What's in it for Wikileaks?

Shane: Well, Wikileaks was founded in 2006 and got relatively little attention until Private Bradley Manning, that Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, decided that he was unhappy with some of the documents he was seeing and began feeding them to Wikileaks, and in 2009-2010 when those were published, including by my newspaper, The New York Times, they made a huge splash and they kind of put Wikileaks on the map. Julian Assange became a bit of a celebrity. Since then their profile has been much lower. They have continued to put out some documents from time to time, but none of them has had quite the impact of those Bradley Manning documents. Snowden, obviously, had made a very big splash, and so for Wikileaks this was a bit of an opportunity to share the limelight with him, and to pronounce common cause with him. You know, he certainly approves of the Wikileaks philosophy that governments are too secret, that they're doing things that if we knew about them, we the citizens knew about them, we wouldn't like, and therefore they should be made known.

Werman: As long as Wikileaks has people like Manning and Snowden, whistleblowers at an industrial scale, it's got import and weight and gets attention. Without high profile defectors, for lack of a better word, is Wikileaks still relevant?

Shane: Well, I mean, without people willing to feed fresh information to The New York Times, are we relevant? Every media organization obviously depends on sources, and one of the interesting points about Edward Snowden, this NSA contractor, is that in recent months there's been a lot of discussion in the community of national security reporters here in Washington about how the series of leak prosecutions by the Obama administration, it's known being seven, was chilling exchanges between government officials and reporters. More officials were reluctant to even get close to a sensitive subject for fear of getting in trouble. And so the whole discussion was about how this was in a way working on behalf of the government, at least those people in the government who wanted to chill those exchanges and keep the number of disclosures about national security programs down. But in fact, Snowden seems to be, with Snowden this seems to have backfired, because these kind of hero leakers, martyrs, that have been created by the crackdown on leaks were perhaps the reason Edward Snowden decided to go public with his document.

Werman: That was Scott Shane of The New York Times speaking with us from the Times bureau in Washington.