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Transcript of secret meeting between Julian Assange and Eric Schmidt
April 25, 2013 4:38 PM   Subscribe

On the 23 of June, 2011 a secret five hour meeting took place between WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who was under house arrest in rural UK at the time and Google CEO Eric Schmidt. We provide here a verbatim transcript of the majority of the meeting; a close reading, particularly of the latter half, is revealing.
Also in attendance was Jared Cohen, a former Secretary of State advisor to Hillary Clinton, Scott Malcomson, Director of Speechwriting for Ambassador Susan Rice at the US State Department and current Communications Director of the International Crisis Group, and Lisa Shields, Vice President of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Schmidt and Cohen requested the meeting, they said, to discuss ideas for "The New Digital World", their forthcoming book to be published on April 23, 2013.
posted by palbo (40 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oooh, this looks fascinating. Thanks for posting.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 4:52 PM on April 25, 2013


Ha, I get the impression Schmidt wanted to talk tech. Tor (which was initially developed by the navy as Schmidt alludes to), onion routing and anonymity networks in general may throw a monkey wrench in Google's traditional business model. One more reason to have your users logged in and identified instead of aggregating tons of possibly anonymized search data. Assange derailed that pretty quick.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:06 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I swore I found the link to this here earlier this week. There's some really fascinating bits in this. Apparently Assange introduced Schmidt to the idea of bitcoins, which seems almost unbelievable.
posted by lownote at 6:01 PM on April 25, 2013


And I wanted there to be more just acts, and fewer unjust acts. And one can sort of say, well what are your philosophical axioms for this? And I say I do not need to consider them. This is simply my temperament. And it is an axiom because it is that way. And so that avoids, then, getting into further unhelpful discussions about why you want to do something. It is enough that I do.
Uff. Insufferable.

It is enough that you talk like an ass to make me close my browser window right quick, more like.
posted by DLWM at 6:06 PM on April 25, 2013


Eric Schmidt does not sound very smart or knowledgeable about technology which is pretty astonishing for a guy in his position.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:15 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


You could probably start wherever 'Bitcoin' is first mentioned and skip all the fluff and muttering at the beginning. Assange starts from somewhere in the vicinity of 'Currency Without State' and quickly builds up to HEADLINES ARE POWERFUL via public hashes. Indeed it is fascinating.
posted by carsonb at 6:28 PM on April 25, 2013


Eric Schmidt doesn't have to sound very smart or knowledgeable about technology anymore now that Google's no longer primarily a tech company, but rather primarily an advertising company.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:29 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah, that surprised me too about Schmidt. Not that I am so knowledgeable myself, but I did come away from this feeling like I understood the point of Namecoin for the first time. Neat.
posted by Lorin at 6:31 PM on April 25, 2013


I like the part where he comes very very close to promising legal assistance to Assange via Google's counsel.

So ... not so worried about following @wikileaks on Twitter anymore, dudes.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:50 PM on April 25, 2013


"collateral murder didy"?
posted by unliteral at 6:56 PM on April 25, 2013


I enjoy the transcript of reasonable, powerful people (Schmidt) discussing important ideas. I hope their book is as good as the raw interviews they're collecting for it. Assange repeated his old manifesto thesis of "leaks cripple the cognitive ability of organizations that conspire against the public", but later rephrased it in a more philosophical tone:
"it is the nature of human beings that human beings lie and cheat and deceive and organized groups of people who do not lie and cheat and deceive find each other and get together... and because they have that temperament, are more efficient. Because they are not lying and cheating and deceiving each other. And that is an old, a very old struggle between opportunists and collaborators"
Love it. Reminds me of what little I know of the English Civil Wars.
posted by anthill at 7:06 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Eric Schmidt does not sound very smart or knowledgeable about technology which is pretty astonishing for a guy in his position.

To me Schmidt reads like a guy who is interested in encouraging Assange to talk. Which makes sense, if he's there gathering material for a book, that isn't a moment where he needs to speak a lot, just engage enough with him to keep him talking.

I think it's also somewhat possible he's indulging Assange, and might not be engaging him more because he isn't really convinced that internet publishing really *is* going to be important to the future, it's just that Wikileaks and its key figure are part of a good story which would fit in with a digital future narrative.

I also think it's somewhat possible that Schmidt really is less technical than you might expect from a Google CEO, but the above seems equally/more likely to me.
posted by weston at 7:07 PM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


Uff. Insufferable.

Arrogrant, yes, but I for one sympathize with a desire to eschew philosophical wrangling (even if it's important not to ignore it) in favour of just getting on with things.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:20 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Eric Schmidt was not CEO at the time of the interview and is not the CEO now, so I am not sure why they refer to him as the CEO of Google.
posted by kiskar at 7:25 PM on April 25, 2013


Schmidt doesnt need to know shit he doesnt need to know, thats why you hire experts and the purpose of the exercise isn't to travel the world getting into pissing matches, or hear yourself talk, it is to get Assange to expound on some next shit.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:30 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eric Schmidt is a total tech dude. This is the guy that wrote lex, was the director of software engineering at Sun Microsystems etc. Most likely when you are the 138th richest man in the world bitcoins simply are not on your radar--you are dealing with radically transformative aspects of the "real" global economy.
posted by kuatto at 7:36 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I thought it was decent, even though I wound up skimming. Assange's idea of a new encrypted name-space was a little bit hard to wrap my brain around, but pretty fascinating.
posted by codacorolla at 7:38 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eric Schmidt goes out and talks to people like Jullian Assange to learn about things like Bitcoins because he's smart enough to know he doesn't know everything, even though he is super rich.
posted by humanfont at 8:00 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Court orders Visa partner to allow donations to WikiLeaks. Credit card blockade begins to crack
posted by homunculus at 8:35 PM on April 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


Related: Assange's conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, which Assange actually references in the Eric Schmidt interview:

"So we need a way of consistently and accurately naming every piece of human knowledge, in such a way that their name arises out of the knowledge itself, out of its textual, visual, or aural representation, where the name is inextricably coupled to what it actually is. If we have that name, and if we use that name to refer to some information, and someone tries to change the contents, then it is either impossible or completely detectable by anyone using the name.

I think this interview was absolutely fantastic and amazing. Assange here, in this interview, is performing as politics incarnate, or activism incarnate. The ideas are fantastic - hashed URL/naming systems that are not only identifiers but safeguards against tampering/secret editing. The possibility of being "truthed" into peace. The effective powerlessness of free speech in the face of "intense fiscalization." Etc.

Every time I read his writing it strikes me that he's a very intelligent observer about how the way things 'end up working', or how things perform in the world, rather than about 'how things work'.

For example: I read a blog post he wrote about ten years ago, when he was musing about the possibility of alternative password systems that would safeguard against the torture of the password-holder. He was arguing that the password's nature as a sequence of letters and numbers enables the password-holder to be tortured, for arms and limbs to be cut off, since the password-holder only has to provide that piece of information. Biometric data puts the finger digit at risk. But if you have a kind of a password that requires the well-being of the password holder -- for example, a 'password' that requires the holder to play some music on a piano -- then the nature of the password effectively tries to ensure the mental well-being of the holder, since it would be against the torturer/coercer's interest to force any kind of mental or physical torture that would disable someone's ability to play the piano. Brilliant.

And here also: it's clear that he's not only conscious of the value of the information, but also the role of the perception of the information, or how the knowledge of the leak itself may modify how governments react, or how people may react, etc..
posted by suedehead at 8:43 PM on April 25, 2013 [18 favorites]


Eric Schmidt does not sound very smart or knowledgeable about technology which is pretty astonishing for a guy in his position.

The "Thor" question was jaw-dropping — "Thor", and you are in a leadership position at what people assume is a tech company? But then again, he as a figurehead of Google is on record about being creepy about an individual's right to privacy, so it's not surprising that Tor would be a mystery to him.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:59 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eric Schmidt is awesomely smart - and I didn't know he'd written lex. I've met him a few times.

He certainly passed the "remembered my name every time" criterion, amazing considering how peripheral a role I played in his world.

If he didn't know about Tor, well, I imagine he spends less time on Metafilter than the rest of us do... :-D

Asking a lot of basic questions is characteristic of good engineers talking to domain experts. If I'm in that situation, I might have some ideas about what is going on but I don't want to propagate my possible misconceptions, so I start off by asking stuff I'm pretty sure I already know - if only to learn what the correct language is.

It's so characteristic that Schmidt sees journalistic reputation as a ranking problem - and really, not terribly inaccurate in some ways.

Also - see this.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:37 PM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


Not knowing about Tor -- he was either lying or words fail me.
posted by unSane at 9:40 PM on April 25, 2013


And, to add, pretending you don't know about something is a classic interview technique that I've used a bazillion times. Try it yourself -- the next time someone starts talking about something you know a lot about, don't tell them, just feed them lots of 'tell me more' and 'that's interesting'. You will soon discover exactly how much they do or don't know about the subject. Errol Morris used to say, if you let someone talk for five minutes uninterrupted they will show you how insane they are. SO true. Really, try it.
posted by unSane at 9:45 PM on April 25, 2013 [17 favorites]


> Not knowing about Tor -- he was either lying or words fail me.

Lying? What, he pretended to get the name wrong?

Gosh, guys, get over this. Part of getting shit done is learning to edit. As I said, he probably spends a lot less time on Metafilter and a lot more time in single-minded pursuit of things he wants to accomplish.

This is a guy with absolutely exemplary technical cred - to carp because he doesn't know about some buzzword that you're interested is ridiculous.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:55 PM on April 25, 2013 [13 favorites]


I think it's probably a mistake to draw conclusions about Schmidt's technical qualifications based on his interview technique. It seems very likely to me that he was trying to get Assange to talk about the stuff Schmidt is interested in, rather than just going off on his usual soapbox topics.

Schmidt's responses, particularly when they first start discussing Bitcoin, seem very drawing-out-ish to me.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:00 PM on April 25, 2013


Hmmm, Schmidt had stepped down as Google CEO in April 2011. this meeting is from June, when he would have "just" been Executive Chairman
posted by Bwithh at 11:23 PM on April 25, 2013


I haven't read the transcript yet, but it isn't uncommon for high-level tech executives to feign ignorance on a technical subject that they know well to see how much the other person knows - and how effectively they can communicate it.

On the other hand, I'm fairly sure I introduced several VCs to the idea of Bittorrent a few days before the Bittorrent company actually got funded. So it is entirely possible for people who should know about these technologies to not have a clue until someone beats them with the clue stick. The tricky part is doing so gently.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:06 AM on April 26, 2013


The "Thor" question was jaw-dropping

"And Odin as well." Heh.
posted by homunculus at 12:11 AM on April 26, 2013


"So we need a way of consistently and accurately naming every piece of human knowledge, in such a way that their name arises out of the knowledge itself, out of its textual, visual, or aural representation, where the name is inextricably coupled to what it actually is. If we have that name, and if we use that name to refer to some information, and someone tries to change the contents, then it is either impossible or completely detectable by anyone using the name.

JA is effectively reinventing/popularising Freenet, which has hashes as URLs and operates via shared hard drive space but is infrequently used in the mainstream and is frequently criticised as being a home for all the things that can't get hosting on the regular net including child porn and various other unsavoury things.

On looking at the Freenet site, I note that (remarkably for such a large company) Google non-evilly sponsor Freenet via the Summer of Code.
posted by jaduncan at 2:19 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just had to Google tor, I may have heard of it before but couldn't remember what it was.
posted by octothorpe at 4:18 AM on April 26, 2013


Holy shit, Eric Schmidt wrote Lex? It isn't as ambitious, but in some ways I find that more impressive than having written MS-DOS.
posted by gsteff at 6:04 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Assange is correct that we need any uncensorable link between unique-ish human readable names and content, resource, etc., ala Namecoin and Freenet.

Freenet shares the monolithic architecture limitations of all peer-to-peer applications form the 90s. It rocks if you need to do exactly what it does. And far more people need Freenet than currently use Freenet.

User-unfriendly Bittorrent obliterated all the 90s user-friendly file sharing apps because Bittorrent fit into the technological ecosystem better and made itself useful for more activities.

Is a namecoin .coin url pointing towards a magnet link as secure as Freenet? Nope. Yet, the open pairing lets you create better tools for search or whatever as well.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:45 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


To use an easily understandable Bushism, typically people like Schmidt are "deciders" and leave the ever-changing details stuff to other people.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:51 AM on April 26, 2013


> The Rick Ross institute on destructive cults, an American based outfit had been sued out of America by Scientology and so on.

I did a quick google search and was unable to find any more information about this.
posted by bukvich at 9:08 AM on April 26, 2013


people like Schmidt are "deciders" and leave the ever-changing details stuff to other people.

None of the Googlers I know describe him like that, especially with the inverted commas "deciders"/"too dumb to know" meaning. Eric's all about the metrics and testing.
posted by jaduncan at 10:10 AM on April 26, 2013


The Rick Ross institute on destructive cults, an American based outfit had been sued out of America by Scientology and so on.

He's thinking of the Cult Awareness Network. Rick was affiliated with them early on. Good to know the couple thousand conversations we had back in the day weren't completely wasted on him.
posted by scalefree at 10:49 AM on April 26, 2013


In other WikiLeaks news: San Francisco gay pride rescinds honour for Bradley Manning
posted by homunculus at 12:52 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is great. Thank you.
posted by Muffpub at 10:16 PM on April 30, 2013


Julian Assange reveals GCHQ messages discussing Swedish extradition: WikiLeaks founder uses subject access request to access British agency chatter, which allegedly calls extradition 'a fit-up'
posted by homunculus at 6:30 PM on May 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


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