In June 2011, Julian Assange received
an unusual visitor: the chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, arrived from
America at Ellingham Hall, the country house in Norfolk, England where
Assange was living under house arrest.
For several hours the besieged leader of the
world’s most famous insurgent publishing organization and the
billionaire head of the world’s largest information empire locked horns.
The two men debated the political problems faced by society, and the
technological solutions engendered by the global network—from the Arab
Spring to Bitcoin.
They outlined radically opposing perspectives:
for Assange, the liberating power of the Internet is based on its
freedom and statelessness. For Schmidt, emancipation is at one with U.S.
foreign policy objectives and is driven by connecting non-Western
countries to Western companies and markets. These differences embodied a
tug-of-war over the Internet’s future that has only gathered force
In this extract from When Google Met WikiLeaks Assange describes his encounter with Schmidt and how he came to conclude that it was far from an innocent exchange of views.
Eric Schmidt is an influential figure, even among
the parade of powerful characters with whom I have had to cross paths
since I founded WikiLeaks. In mid-May 2011 I was under house arrest in
rural Norfolk, England, about three hours’ drive northeast of London.
The crackdown against our work was in full swing and every wasted moment
seemed like an eternity. It was hard to get my attention.
But when my colleague Joseph Farrell told me the
executive chairman of Google wanted to make an appointment with me, I
In some ways the higher echelons of Google seemed
more distant and obscure to me than the halls of Washington. We had been
locking horns with senior U.S. officials for years by that point. The
mystique had worn off. But the power centers growing up in Silicon
Valley were still opaque and I was suddenly conscious of an opportunity
to understand and influence what was becoming the most influential
company on earth. Schmidt had taken over as CEO of Google in 2001 and
built it into an empire.
I was intrigued that the mountain would come to
Muhammad. But it was not until well after Schmidt and his companions had
been and gone that I came to understand who had really visited me.