In Russia there’s actually no way, without going through the US, to send WikiLeaks money. I mean I’d send you a 100$ right now if I could, but there’s really no mechanism from the Russian Federation to do that. Without, for example having a Visa Card or something and going through an American gateway!
Hrafnsson: Will since you brought it up it’s worth mentioning what was revealed in the diplomatic cables from Moscow was a discussion: I believe it was in 2006, around the initiative in the Duma to actually create a Russian processing mechanism taking the power from Visa and MasterCard.
It was argued, in the Duma, that this is necessary not just because of financial considerations because of all the money and transactions fees that were being sucked out of the country, also and not less importantly because of the security concerns around the sheer fact that all information about credit card use in Russia is now transferred outside the borders and stored in supercomputers in the United States and is easily accessible. So from a security and national security concern this was a grave concern.
Now, the cables show that Visa and MasterCard were able to mobilize the State Department and the entire foreign service of the United States to put a great effort to try to crush that initiative in the Russian Parliament, and somehow it died down and didn’t materialize. Now there is a thing to investigate for journalists in Russia. How did that come about? I’m curious to know the answer.
Robles: Everything, actually, that happens, financially almost, in the Russian Federation goes right to Langley or wherever. The NSA or whoever is recording and storing all of this information in the United States and for some reason a lot of Russian people have no problem with this, they don’t understand how dangerous that is and how that can be used to control and undermine the government and the country as a whole. How dangerous do you think that is?
One more thing because I have been thinking about this for the last few days, at the beginning of the Internet and everything, everybody was very concerned about their personal information getting onto U.S. servers, of course this includes banking information. And now it seems like people have kind of just begun to ignore that, they upload everything to Facebook and everywhere else, and people aren’t concerned about it. How dangerous and how far-reaching is the information mining by the U.S. Government?
Hrafnsson: It is extremely dangerous. This has been a concern of WikiLeaks all through. We’ve been trying to point out the grave dangers in the growing surveillance society that we live in and with the growing surveillance industry that we have actually exposed, in the Spy Files that we released last year, in December.
We live in a world where information is a commodity that is highly valued. We saw that in the last IPO of Facebook which was the biggest IPO in history, although this year value has dropped somewhat since then. People were eager to buy into information that was being submitted voluntarily for free.
Information is stored in supercomputers in many places, one is in a new facility erected by Visa a couple of years ago in an undisclosed location on the East Coast of the U.S. and it’s interconnected with fiber-optic cables to other computers in the world where all transactions are stored and shared between computers, so within 0.2 milliseconds, whenever a person strikes or slides his card in Moscow, the information is stored in a computer in the United States.
You can imagine what kind of profiling can be made on the basis of the information when it’s added other information available on the net. There’s active work in storing this and doing this profiling and we have that information because of whistleblowers from NSA. Personnel that have stepped out and have had to pay a dear price for that, and have informed how they were disgusted knowing in the last years how the NSA was being transformed into a spying machine, spying on the American public. And of course it is being used and this against information that is accessible from individuals from other nations, as well. It’s an extremely serious trend and something that people all around the world need to wake up to.
Robles: How far away, do you think, is the world from becoming a total cyber-security state and is there anything we can do to stop that?
Hrafnsson: We’re extremely close to that, given the technology. It’s now easy to store the entire telecommunications of an entire nation and to sort and analyze it. We’re getting extremely close to a scenario that George Orwell would never have dreamed of.
Robles: Is there anything we can do to fight that?
Hrafnsson: The most important thing is to start recognizing the problem and the scope of it. And I hope that WikiLeaks can be an instrument in providing information on this. In the hope that information is, will be, the first steps towards liberation.
Robles: Kristinn, thank you very much! Is there anything you want to finish up with?
Hrafnsson: I just want to add that today is Bradley Manning’s 25th birthday his third birthday behind bars without trial. He has been, of course, treated in an extremely shameful manner.
Robles: Shameful! I think that’s putting it very lightly!
Hrafnsson: I want to mention him in my final words and we think of the plight of this young man, who is a hero, in the hope that we’ll be able to meet him as a free man very soon, at least that is my wish. That is if he is indeed the source of the information that he is alleged to have leaked, he is one of the most important whistleblowers of recent times.
Robles: Real quick, I have to ask this question because people want to know. And how is Julian doing in the embassy?
Hrafnsson: He’s doing fine, considering the situation. Of course, it’s not easy to be locked away for all this time; it’s almost six months now. But he’s holding out pretty well, and in good spirits, good fighting spirits. So I would say he is in a relatively good situation given the circumstances.
Robles: Thank you very much for speaking with me again, I really appreciate it.