Daniel Ellsberg

Julian Assange and Daniel Ellsberg mount Snowden defense

June 20, 2013: 7:39 AM ET

Harsh criticism for the Obama administration.

By Sameepa Shetty, reporter

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FORTUNE -- Famous whistleblowers and journalists, including Julian Assange and Daniel Ellsberg, held a conference call on Wednesday, to express concern about the freedom of press, in the light of the latest whistleblowing scandal.

"With the Obama administration's prosecution of WikiLeaks, [Julian] Assange, [Bradley] Manning and [Edward] Snowden and also their cases against publishers of the content, they are criminalizing the process of investigative journalism," said Ellsberg, the first person prosecuted under the Espionage Act, for revealing top-secret Pentagon papers in the 1970s.

Calling the President the most active in concealing information from the public compared to predecessors, Ellsberg said, "Obama has prosecuted twice as many people, under the Espionage Act, as all the earlier Presidents put together." Six people have been prosecuted under the act so far; Ellsberg believes Assange could be number seven and Edward Snowden number eight.

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For his part, Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, vehemently defended his staff, saying the administration must immediately stop their "immoral" investigation against them. The U.S. wants to prosecute Assange for espionage and for conspiring with security officials, including Bradley Manning -- on trial now for releasing secret documents to WikiLeaks. Wednesday marked a year in confinement at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for him.

Assange holds the Government's "conspiracy theory" is preposterous, claiming that he was only doing his job as a journalist and content publisher. "Is the United States a country where journalists need asylum, in relation to their work?" He also attacked what he calls the administration's "control" of what it wants the public to know.

As for Snowden, the man responsible for what the Guardian calls "the most significant leak in U.S. political history," Ellsberg and Assange support him. "We are in touch with Snowden's legal team and are working to get him asylum in Iceland," says Assange. On the safety of Snowden's flight, from Hong Kong to Iceland, the tired and downbeat sounding Assange only offered "we are looking into all issues."

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Ellsberg says there is a basic similarity between all the whistleblowers, including himself, Manning and Snowden. "We saw the administration covering up unconstitutional, inhumane, and reckless behavior, and each one of us took them [the administration] on." Ellsberg says he feels great affinity for each one of them.

But when does whistleblowing cross the line and hamper national security? Ellsberg believes that in most cases the need for public information outweighs any valid requirement for secrecy. "National security has become public religion and any questioning of it, sacrilegious," he says.

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