The site on Friday released a five-hour transcript of a June 2011 meeting between Julian Assange, one of the whistle-blowing site’s founders, and Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman.
The meeting was also attended by Jared Cohen, who was an advisor to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Cohen has been working with Schmidt on a book called “The New Digital World” due to be released next Tuesday.
At the time of the chat, Assange was staying in Norfolk, England, with Vaughan Smith, the founder of the journalism organization the Frontline Club while his extradition case continued. Assange remains in the U.K. today, holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy although Britain has approved his extradition to Sweden related to sexual assault allegations.
The lengthy transcript of the meeting with Schmidt offers an interesting fly-on-the-wall account of a wide-ranging conversation between two technology luminaries, with Assange recounting anecdotes of his Wikileaks work and weaknesses in computer security that have rendered Wikileaks much less active.
Assange told Schmidt that the system for issuing SSL certificates — which cryptographically verify that a web site is legitimate — is flawed. Hackers have been able to break into companies that issue the certificates and generate their own, which could compromise the secrecy of submission to websites such as Wikileaks.
“The browser-based public key system that we have for authenticating what websites you are going to, it is awful. It is truly awful,” Assange said. “The number of people that have been licensed to mint keys is so tremendous.”
Near the end of the transcript, Schmidt asks Assange how he is able to communicate with Wikileaks’ staff. Assange goes on to say he tends to meet people in person.
“I mean I assume you can do email and all that, no?” Schmidt asks.
“I don’t use email,” Assange responds.
“Why not, because it’s…?” Schmidt asks.
“Too dangerous,” Assange said. “And encrypted email is possibly even worse, because it is such a flag for end point attacks … but we do have encrypting phones. Unfortunately they don’t work in all countries, but the SMSs work in all countries.”
Assange also recounted an amusing story of a Wikileaks volunteer who was being stalked.
In 2008, the Wikileaks staff member was approached in a supermarket parking lot by a person Assange claims in the transcript may have been with British intelligence. The confident, well-dressed agent told the Wikileaks volunteer that it would be in his best interest to have a chat over coffee, which Assange said was “a clear threat.”
The agent, Assange said, was told by the Wikileaks worker that he “wasn’t interested in men. See you later! Sorry buddy!” according to the transcript.