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UC Global Employee Thwarted Plan To Massively Bug Ecuador Embassy To Spy On Assange

An IT expert who worked for UC Global, the Spanish security company which engaged in an espionage operation against Julian Assange while he was in the Ecuador embassy, refused to install numerous microphones and camera systems with “streaming capabilities” because they believed it was illegal.

UC Global director David Morales was told Assange would discover the cameras were streaming in order to “restrain Morales.”

“I did not want to collaborate in an illegal act of this magnitude,” the IT expert referred to as “Witness #2” told a British magistrates’ court during Assange’s extradition trial.

According to Witness #2, “The entire embassy was to be bugged,” and, “Morales indicated the purpose of installing the microphones, as per the request of the United States,” were for targeting Assange’s defense attorneys.

Gathering intelligence on Baltasar Garzón, a Spanish former judge and member of Assange’s legal team, was prioritized. “The security guards at the embassy were requested to search for evidence of travels to Argentina and Russia in Garzón’s passport pages, which were photographed.”

“Security personnel that were physically deployed in the embassy were specifically asked to monitor these meetings of Assange with his lawyers, as this was required by our ‘U.S. friends,” Witness #2 added. “Morales always ended these instructions commenting that he was the only one who had full knowledge of the contract and who knew the measures that were necessary to take in order to fulfill it.”

Assange was charged by the U.S. Justice Department with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer intrusion that, as alleged in the indictment, is written like an Espionage Act offense.

The charges criminalize the act of merely receiving classified information, as well as the publication of state secrets from the U.S. government. It targets common practices in newsgathering, which is why the case is widely opposed by press freedom organizations throughout the world.

Key details about the espionage operation were previously reported by El Pais in July 2019 and The Grayzone in May 2020. 

In October 2019, a Spanish high court charged Morales with offenses “related to violating the privacy of the WikiLeaks founder and passing the information on to the United States’ intelligence services,” according to El Pais.

Two former employees, Witness #1 and Witness #2, submitted evidence in that case, and the Spanish court granted them anonymity and protection, given the threat of retaliation from Morales.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who is presiding over Assange’s extradition case, “respected” the decision of the Spanish court and deemed it was “appropriate” to allow the witnesses to remain anonymous during extradition proceedings.

The prosecution instructed the court that it would not confirm or deny whether the statements of the witnesses were “right or wrong.” They argue the evidence is “irrelevant” to the charges against Assange.

A ‘Real Obsession’ With Spying On Assange’s Legal Team

Witness #1 said Morales “showed at times a real obsession in relation to monitoring and recording the lawyers who met with the ‘guest’ (Julian Assange) because ‘our American friends’ were requesting it.”

They informed the court that the company’s work for the Ecuador government was practically the company’s “sole contract” in October 2015. They were to provide “security services for the daughters of then-President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa.” A second contract was signed afterward for security at the Ecuador embassy in London.

“Ecuadorian security personnel had to travel to the United Kingdom” and experienced difficulties obtaining a visa in a timely manner. “UC Global on the other hand had employees with Spanish nationality, who were able to move freely and reside in the United Kingdom by virtue of their EU citizenship,” according to Witness #1.

Morales traveled to Las Vegas for a “security sector trade fair” in July 2016 and insisted Witness #1 not accompany him. He obtained a contract with Las Vegas Sands, the casino owned by Sheldon Adelson, who was a major bankroller of President Donald Trump’s campaign. 

“The contract did not make sense because its purpose was to provide security to the luxury boat that belongs to Sheldon Adelson, the Queen Miri, when the boat entered the Mediterranean Sea. That is to say, the contract was to provide security to the luxury boat during the short period during which it found itself in Mediterranean waters,” Witness #1 shared.

“But the most striking thing about it was that the boat had its own security, which consisted of a sophisticated security detail, and that the contract consisted in adding an additional person, in this case, David Morales, for a very short period of time, through which David Morales would receive an elevated sum.”

The contract was apparently intended to conceal an agreement with U.S. intelligence. Witness #1 said Morales returned and told employees he had “switched to ‘the dark side,’ referring to cooperating with U.S. authorities, and as a result of that collaboration, ‘the Americans will get us contracts all over the world.'”

“[Once] Donald Trump won the elections, at the end of 2016,” as Witness #2 recalled, “the collection of information intensified as Morales became more obsessed with obtaining as much information as possible.”

“Between June and July 2017, I was summoned by David Morales to form a task force of workers at our headquarters in Jerez. The purpose of this unit was to execute, from a technical perspective, the capture, systematization and processing of information collected at the embassy that David Morales requested.”

Witness #2 added, “I was tasked with executing David Morales’s orders, with the technical means that existed in the embassy and additional measures that were installed by order of Morales, in addition to the information gathered by the UC Global employees who were physically present in the diplomatic mission. This unit also had to travel to London every month to collect information.”

Instructions For Spying From the ‘Highest Spheres’

In 2017, Morales informed the task force that “the contract with Ecuador required that the cameras had to be changed every three years. This made no sense to [Witness #2] because the contract had been in force for longer than three years and the clause had not been fulfilled to date.”

“Although I was not aware of the clause,” said Witness #2, “I considered that its existence was not a reasonable justification. The circuit that was in operation at the time consisted of CCTV security cameras, which obviously did not record sound, were sufficient to provide physical security against intrusion inside the building.”

Witness #2 was also asked around this same time to “contact providers that sell security cameras with sophisticated audio recording capabilities. He even indicated that insofar as possible, the cameras should not show that they are recording sound, or at least that the appearance of the cameras should not show that they are recording sound.”

“Because of this, and in accordance with the orders of David Morales, who claimed that all of this was necessary to fulfil the contract, I sought providers for these types of cameras, insisting in, to the extent possible, concealing audio-recording capabilities,” Witness #2 shared.

“Around June 2017, while I was sourcing providers for the new camera equipment, David Morales instructed that the cameras should allow streaming capabilities so that ‘our friends in the United States,’ as Morales explicitly put it, would be able to gain access to the interior of the embassy in real time. This request alarmed me greatly, and in order to impede the request, I claimed that remote access via streaming the camera circuit was not technically achievable.”

As Morales insisted it be done “for the Americans,” and emailed him a PowerPoint document in English that contained instructions on how to install this system, Witness #2 alleged this was “manifestly illegal.” They also told Morales it “would clearly be discovered by Mr. Assange” because the argument would “restrain Morales.”  

The security cameras with audio-recording capabilities were installed in early December 2017, but Witness #2 was instructed not to share information about the system and to deny that the cameras were recording audio.

“I was told that it was imperative that these instructions be carried out as they came, supposedly, from the highest spheres. In fact, I was asked on several occasions by Mr. Assange and the Political Counselor Maria Eugenia whether the new cameras recorded sound, to which I replied that they did not, as my boss had instructed me to do,” Witness #2 recalled.

“From that moment on, the cameras began to record sound regularly so every meeting that the asylee held was captured. At our offices in UC Global it was mentioned that the cameras had been paid for twice, by Ecuador and the United States, although I have no documentary evidence to corroborate this assertion.”

The installation of cameras with audio-recording capabilities occurred during the same month that Assange received a diplomatic passport from Ecuadorian authorities and planned to leave the embassy on Christmas Day.

“I recall that the security personnel of UC Global deployed at the embassy were closely monitoring the then-consul of Ecuador, Fidel Narvaez, who was in charge of the relevant documentation with which he entered and exited the embassy,” Witness #2 mentioned.

US Intelligence Neutralizes Assange’s White Noise Machine

In January 2018, Witness #2 said Morales urged them to “place certain stickers on all the external windows of the embassy. Specifically, he requested that I place them in the top left corner of all the windows. The stickers were rather rigid. They indicated that CCTV was in operation.”

”I found this strange because there had been a closed-circuit system for several years, and it didn’t make sense to now have to advertise this on the windows of the embassy. Nonetheless, during my visit to London I placed the stickers that had been supplied in the upper left-hand corner of the windows of the embassy.”

“Our American friends,” Morales said, had laser microphones that were directional and pointed at the windows. They would “capture all conversations.” But according to Witness #2, since Assange used a white noise machine that “produced a vibration in the window that stopped the sound being extracted via the laser microphone, which US intelligence had installed outside.”

With the stickers placed in the upper left-hand side of each of the windows, they eliminated the vibration allowing the laser microphones to “extract conversations. Witness #2 was upset Morales had not informed them of the real reason for the stickers.

‘The Americans’ Desperate For End To Assange’s ‘Permanence In the Embassy’

During November 2017, Morales spoke about breaking into the legal office of the law firm headed by Baltasar Garzón.  

“Two weeks after this conversation, the national media reported that men in balaclavas had entered Garzon’s law offices. I recall that the news was shared amongst the employees in the Jerez office, and we speculated whether this could have to do with what our boss, David Morales, had suggested,” according to Witness #2. 

“The Americans” supporting UC Global grew increasingly desperate for an end to Assange’s “permanence in the embassy.” Around December 2017, Witness #2 recalled Morales’ proposal to leave the door open to the embassy, as an “accidental mistake,” so persons could be allowed to enter and “kidnap” Assange. Poisoning Assange was also discussed “with his contacts in the United States.”

“We employees were shocked at these suggestions and commented amongst ourselves that the course that Morales had embarked on was beginning to become dangerous,” Witness #2 stated.

Microphones were already planted in a fire extinguisher in the meeting room of the embassy and a bathroom, where Assange would meet with his legal team. In January 2018, Morales tried to convince Witness #2, as part of his “dealings with US intelligence,” to install microphones in all the fire extinguishers.

“Once again, I challenged Morales on the legality of these measures and I tried to dissuade Morales indicating that, in addition to it being completely illegal, installing microphones at this scale would be discovered for sure,” Witness #2 stated.

Witness #2 believed installing so many microphones would be a “crazy act,” and he does not believe the plan was ever carried out. 

Following the arrest of Assange, Witness #1 said they alerted Assange’s lawyers that Morales “betrayed both the terms of the contract and the trust that had been given to him by the Government of Ecuador, by systematically handing over information to U.S. intelligence agencies.”

“During a period of time, he handed all information relating to security of the embassy and eventually also in relation to Rafael Correa. Thus, I came to realize that David Morales decided to sell all the information to the enemy, the United States, which is the reason I put an end to my professional relationship with him.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."