The former hacker and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tells Forbes that his next big leak will target a major U.S. bank and explains the potential of leaks to keep capitalism ethical and markets free. "We’re creating a tremendous reputational tax on the unethical companies," Assange says.
Early next year, a major U.S. bank will find itself in the same public relations fire storm as the State Department and the Pentagon, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Forbes in an interview released yesterday .
A day removed from embarrassing the U.S. State Department with the biggest diplomatic document dump in history , Forbes' Andy Greenberg posts an interview with Assange and discovers WikiLeaks isn't just concerned with government secrecy and malfeasance. The private sector is on the chopping block next.
Asked by Greenberg what percentage of WikiLeaks' documents relate to the private sector, Assange responded "About fifty percent."
It's impact? "I mean, it could take down a bank or two," the former hacker tells Greenberg.
Describing the forthcoming financial leak, Assange says "It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume."
Assange likens the release to the "Iraq War Logs" his organization disclosed in late October . While the Iraqi war documents did unearth abuses, its real value he says was providing "the full spectrum of the war."
In the U.S. bank leak, WikiLeaks will disclose the "ecosystem of corruption," he says, describing the information as similar to the Enron e-mails. "[I]t’s... all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest. The way they talk about it."
But dirt on a major U.S. bank isn't the only sensitive information from the private sector that Assange says he has the goods on. Assange confirmed WikiLeaks has secrets relating to the financial industry (its most significant data set); the energy industry, including BP; and the pharmaceutical industry.
Assange, however, tells Greenberg that his motivation for releasing this private-sector information isn't knee-jerk anti-capitalism. Instead, he says he's a strong proponent of free markets and that all he's doing is providing the information necessary for markets to function efficiently. The full exchange is worthy of a read.
Forbes: Would you call yourself a free market proponent?
Assange: Absolutely. I have mixed attitudes towards capitalism, but I love markets. Having lived and worked in many countries, I can see the tremendous vibrancy in, say, the Malaysian telecom sector compared to U.S. sector. In the U.S. everything is vertically integrated and sewn up, so you don’t have a free market. In Malaysia, you have a broad spectrum of players, and you can see the benefits for all as a result.
Forbes: How do your leaks fit into that?
Assange: To put it simply, in order for there to be a market, there has to be information. A perfect market requires perfect information.
There’s the famous lemon example in the used car market. It’s hard for buyers to tell lemons from good cars, and sellers can’t get a good price, even when they have a good car.
By making it easier to see where the problems are inside of companies, we identify the lemons. That means there’s a better market for good companies. For a market to be free, people have to know who they’re dealing with.
In the grand scheme of things, Assange argues, leaks are good for the market because it rewards ethical companies that do the right thing and treat their employees well.
This, he says, is the goal of WikiLeaks.
"It just means that it’s easier for honest CEOs to run an honest business, if the dishonest businesses are more effected negatively by leaks than honest businesses," Assange tells Greenberg. "That’s the whole idea. In the struggle between open and honest companies and dishonest and closed companies, we’re creating a tremendous reputational tax on the unethical companies."
♦ Photo by espenmoe/Flickr