Former Secretary Of Defense Leon Panetta Discusses Arrest Of Julian Assange
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We're joined now by Leon Panetta. He was former defense secretary and CIA director. Secretary Panetta, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
LEON PANETTA: Good to be with you.
SHAPIRO: What was your reaction when you saw the news today of Assange's arrest?
PANETTA: Well, my reaction was that it's time to basically proceed with the indictment against Assange. You know, he spent seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and he has avoided prosecution for the alleged taking of classified information. So I think it's probably time for Assange to face our judicial system and find out whether or not he bears responsibility for the taking of those classified documents. It could be a very interesting court case in which you'd have to decide the issue of whether or not this really was a journalistic effort or whether it really was the stealing of classified information.
SHAPIRO: You, of course - you've come down on the latter side of that, saying that this is stealing of classified information. How do you view Assange's legacy now that he is finally in custody?
PANETTA: Well, there's no question that what was involved here was probably the largest compromise of classified information in history. And when you combine that with the release of material by Snowden, it has had a pretty significant impact on both the sources and methods that were used in the intelligence community to be able to gather information. So I think that as a result of that and as a result of the impact of releasing this classified information that he ought to be subject to the laws of the United States and face our system of justice. He'll have the opportunity to present his defense, but it's pretty clear that we need to have him face the indictment that has been rendered by our court system in this country.
SHAPIRO: When you were in government, you were very critical of Assange's behavior. From the perspective of where you sit now as a civilian, is there any part of you that admires the scale of what he was able to accomplish?
PANETTA: Well, there's no question that there was a huge amount of attention, particularly to WikiLeaks and the impact of WikiLeaks on the 2016 election. There's no question that as a result of the information that he was able to release, it had a huge impact in terms of our politics, and it had a huge impact in terms of our intelligence community. And, you know, there's no question, as well, that there obviously was some relationship and coordination with Russia in dispersing this information.
So I think there are a lot of important issues here that need to be looked at because in the end, if we care about classified information, if we care about what our intelligence people are doing to try to derive that kind of classified information, then I think it's important that we decide whether or not somebody has the right, on his own, to not only gather that kind of information, but release it. That's an important issue that I think the courts need to look at.
SHAPIRO: I'd like to read you something that Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee who leaked classified material to WikiLeaks - something Snowden tweeted today. He wrote, images of Ecuador's ambassador inviting the U.K. secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of, like it or not, award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books. Assange's critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom, Snowden wrote. How do you respond to that?
PANETTA: Well, frankly, I don't have a lot of appreciation for Snowden, who is hiding in Russia and sitting there in a country that doesn't recognize press freedom or the rights that we have in this country and somehow using that argument to defend Assange. If Snowden wants to talk about the rights that we provide in this country, he ought to be brave enough to come here to the United States to face justice along with Assange.
SHAPIRO: You know, Assange's arrest does not necessarily mean the end of WikiLeaks. Do you think this is a final chapter, or do you think the organization will continue?
PANETTA: No, I suspect that, as Churchill said, this is not the end. And it's probably not even the beginning of the end, but it may be the end of the beginning. And I think there's a lot more that we're going to see about WikiLeaks and its impact.
SHAPIRO: Secretary Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA and former secretary of defense. Thanks so much.
PANETTA: OK. You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.