The defense for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange alleged that the director of a Spanish security company known as Undercover Global was contracted by Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire who is one of President Donald Trump’s biggest donors.
The allegation was made during the first day of a week-long extradition hearing unfolding at Woolwich Court in London. It is adjacent to Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh, where Assange is detained.
What happens this week will be a kind of prequel to a more substantial hearing scheduled to occur in late May and early June.
As the Spanish newspaper El País previously reported, Undercover Global targeted Assange when he lived in the Ecuador embassy in the United Kingdom on behalf of the CIA.
Personnel spied on privileged meetings between Assange and his lawyers. He met with his legal team in the women’s bathroom to ensure privacy, but it did not matter. They planted microphones in the women’s bathroom too.
Edward Fitzgerald, a defense attorney for Assange, alleged Morales returned from Las Vegas in 2017 after attending a security trade fair. The contract was to provide security for Adelson’s private yacht, but while he was in the United States, he inked a “side agreement” to go to the “dark side” and spy on Assange for U.S. intelligence.
A whistleblower, who worked for Undercover Global and was referred to in court as “Witness #2,” revealed data was collected and uploaded daily to a remote server. That information was accessed by U.S. intelligence. Original recordings, including sound, were collected from several microphones every 14 days.
“Extreme Measures” Considered Like Kidnapping Or Poisoning Assange
There were apparently conversations within the company about employing more extreme measures, such as kidnapping or poisoning Assange. The kidnapping scenario that was discussed involved leaving the door of the embassy open so that officers or agents on behalf of U.S. intelligence could rush in and take Assange.
Witness #2 found the suggestions of “extreme measures” shocking, and multiple employees came to believe the course Morales was taking was dangerous.
Around December 21, 2017, Assange was granted “diplomatic status” by the Ecuador government. U.S. intelligence was spying and knew about this development. This same date, a criminal complaint of “computer misuse” and extradition on a “provisional warrant” was sought. His prosecution became a “political imperative.”
The espionage operation was not limited to Assange. Reports were compiled on journalists, attorneys, doctors, and any Russians or Americans who visited Assange.
At a security checkpoint, visitors were instructed to “hand over their bags, computers, electronic devices, and cellphones,” according to El País.
While visitors met with Assange, employees of the company put together reports that could be shared with the CIA via a server in Juarez de la Frontera. The FBI allegedly had access to files, too.
Assange was expelled from the Ecuador embassy in April 2019. Upon expulsion, his confidential papers were seized and passed on to the U.S. government by the right-wing Ecuador government led by Lenin Moreno, who initiated a pressure campaign to force Assange out of the embassy.
Defense Argues Trump Administration Politicized Assange’s Case
Fitzgerald argued this was evidence of how the Trump administration has politicized the case. Given the espionage operation, Assange has “reason to fear” Trump’s political motivations. And if extradited, he would face real risks once brought to the United States given these extreme measures.
The defense outlined what they described as a “strange interlude” in the timeline of the case, where former Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher and a right-wing activist named Charles Johnson met with Assange at the embassy in August 2017.
Assange’s attorneys said there was a discussion about a preemptive pardon “in exchange for personal assistance to President Trump in the inquiry” into alleged Russian involvement in the hacking and leaking of the Democratic National Committee emails.
They apparently told Assange that Trump was aware they were meeting and approved of a proposal that would benefit Trump politically, while at the same time preventing Assange’s indictment and extradition. However, after the defense teased this allegation last week, Rohrabacher denied it was at the direction of Trump.
“The Threat of Prosecution As a Means of Extortion”
“President Trump himself denies everything. But in the immortal words of Mandy Rice Davies: ‘Well he would, wouldn’t he?’” Fitzgerald said to the court. “And there may yet be further developments in relation to this particular aspect of the case, prompted by the public reporting of this allegation last week.”
“We say that this whole pardon business shows that, just as the prosecution was initiated in December 2017 for political purposes, so too the Trump administration [was] prepared to use the threat of prosecution as a means of extortion to obtain personal political advantage from Mr. Assange,” Fitzgerald added.
The defense pointed to Trump’s obsession with power, along with attacks on media, to assert that the court must stay the extradition request. They likened what has happened to Assange to cases loosely tied to Russiagate allegations, where Trump has promised pardons if he can extract some kind of benefit from defendants.
Assange’s case shows how the “dividing line between the high executive, the political executive, is being blurred as has happened in many other examples recently.” And according to the defense, the history provides the clearest evidence that extradition is an “abuse of process” that constitutes bad faith and abuses of power on the part of Trump.
In 2013, then-Justice Department spokesperson Matthew Miller spoke about the decision under President Barack Obama not to indict Assange. “If you are not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.”
To the defense, the Trump administration’s reversal of this decision is another glaring example of how officials are playing politics—and likely politicizing the case because they dislike Assange and his political opinions.
As the defense recalled the “sheer scale and significance of the revelations” brought about by Assange and WikiLeaks, they told the court, “They range from the video of American soldiers shooting unarmed civilians from a helicopter to the brutal torture of detainees in Iraq and the exposure of the true figures of civilian deaths resulting from the invasion of Iraq. Such revelations obviously put him in the sights of the aggressive ‘America First’ ideologues of the Trump Administration.”
High-ranking officials, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have said WikiLeaks is a non-state hostile intelligence agency and that Assange has no First Amendment rights. They have publicly denounced him in ways that the defense believes are prejudicial and defy the ethics officials are expected to uphold by showing restraint in their remarks when speaking about ongoing cases.
Professor Noam Chomsky, who submitted expert testimony for the court, declared, “In courageously upholding political beliefs that most of [us] profess to share, he has performed an enormous service to all those in the world, who treasure the values of freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know what their elected representatives are doing.”
“So Julian Assange’s positive impact on the world is undeniable,” Chomsky argued. “The hostility it has provoked from the Trump administration is equally undeniable.”