Earlier this year MintPress News published an article about how Australian journalist and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning had “brought the U.S. government to its knees,” by revealing the U.S. torture program, war crimes, and “Cablegate”. At the time it appeared that the Trump administration was “more than ever willing to exact full revenge upon those who exposed the truth,” and now we know just how far they’ve been willing to go to make that happen.
Working directly with Ecuador’s corrupt government, the U.S. government abandoned all sense of legality and moral decency by spying on Assange twenty-four hours a day via an illegal livestream surveillance operation set up by a private security firm and approved by Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno. The revelation was made by Spanish news outlet El Pais, and it’s as stunning as the corporate media’s complicity.
Ecuador granted Assange asylum under former President Rafael Correa but after the 2017 election — and despite Moreno’s running as a left-wing PAIS Alliance candidate — the country’s political landscape shifted dramatically to the right. When Moreno wasn’t busy renegotiating Chinese loans, he was making backroom deals with the U.S., and Julian Assange was the bargaining chip. Moreno’s cooperation with the Trump administration was bought and paid for by massive IMF loans and in April 2019 Moreno illegally revoked Assange’s political asylum and allowed British authorities to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange had sought protection for over seven years, and seize him.
After Assange’s arrest, Moreno refused to return Assange’s belongings from the embassy, instead turning over his documents, equipment, cellphones, personal effects, and more to the United States. The Canary’s John McEvoy recently published an interview with the former foreign minister of Ecuador, Guillaume Long, who described Moreno as “a Shakespearean traitor” who he says “betrayed Correa, he betrayed his party, he betrayed his electorate…he betrayed Ecuadorians, and he betrayed democracy, and he certainly betrayed Assange.”
Surveillance at the embassy
According to El Pais, Judge Jose de la Mota of Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, is currently investigating UC Global S.L., a security company headquartered in Spain, and the activities of its founder, David Morales, for what has been exposed as a mind-blowing, complex, and invasive surveillance operation set up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London by UC Global in order to monitor Assange’s every move. They’re also being investigated for misappropriation, bribery, and money laundering.
According to sources and court documents examined by El Pais, meetings that Assange took with his attorneys, family, friends, and colleagues were all monitored. Fire extinguishers, “decorative elements” in the embassy, and even the women’s bathroom were all bugged. The scandal seems to have reached peak insanity when the Ecuadorian government took it upon itself to steal a used diaper from a baby who was seen occasionally at the embassy and have it tested for DNA, which begs the question of what exactly the government planned on doing if the test showed Assange to be the father. Blackmail? Threaten the wellbeing of the child? What exactly?
In Edward Snowden’s words:
Not a joke: the CIA allegedly ran an operation to livestream surveillance of women in the toilet, hoping to overhear them planning the legal defense for an asylum seeker. This is skulls-on-hats level villainy; simply indefensible for people claiming to be ‘the good guys.’”
UC Global, the company that initially set up the security apparatus at the embassy, was hired and paid directly by the Senain, Ecuador’s now-defunct intelligence service established by former President Correa in 2009, because he feared that the U.S. had co-opted Ecuador’s existing intelligence services. However, Fidel Narvaez, the former ambassador to the U.K. assigned to the embassy in London, admitted that after the Senain was created the agency became “an animal without god or law,” and that neither he nor the-Foreign Minister Long had any control over its activities and security operations within the embassy. But the Senain wasn’t the only thing out of control.
UC Global’s Morales admitted that he was working for the United States at the same time the Senain was paying him and that he sent “documents, videos and audios” of meetings Assange held at the embassy directly to the CIA. He was quoted as saying, “We are playing in another league. This is the First Division.” El Pais reported that Morales first met “the Americans” at a 2015 security fair held in Las Vegas — which may have been the 2015 ICS West International Security Conference held at the Sands Expo and Convention Center owned by Sheldon Adelson, a Zionist billionaire who, interestingly enough, is on Morales’ roster of clients.
Adelson is a self-made American businessman who made most of his money in the casino business and was last estimated to be worth around $34 billion. In 2006, he co-founded the newspaper Israeli and then later established Israel Hayom, a free daily newspaper created to support all things Netanyahu. He also purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal,
where three of its own investigative journalists uncovered “the secret sale of the newspaper” to Adelson. NPR later reported that “a flood of reporters and editors left the paper after it was bought by the Adelson family, citing curtailed editorial freedom, murky business dealings and unethical managers.”
Adelson is also a pro-Israel Zionist fanatic who donated $5 million to the “Friends of the Israel Defense Forces” in 2014, rejects the idea of a two-state solution and continued aid to the Palestinians, and believes in establishing Jewish sovereignty throughout the “biblical land” of Israel — which means more illegal land grabs, annexation, settlements, and violence for Palestinians.
Adelson was close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but leaked transcripts from a corruption investigation into Netanyahu revealed he told police that he had cut ties with Netanyahu and “vowed he would never meet with him again.” Of course this could just be a means to distance himself from the corruption allegations being lodged against Netanyahu.
Adelson is also considered one of the “most generous and influential Jewish philanthropists” in the world and, according to a WikiLeaks cable, once donated $54 million to Israel in a three-month period. He’s a member of the Republican Party and, in case anyone was wondering who the biggest influencer of the Trump campaign was in 2016, that would be Adelson, along with his wife, Miriam. They donated $5 million to Trump’s inauguration fund, making it Trump’s largest inaugural contribution as well as the largest individual donation ever made to a presidential inaugural committee.
When it came to Trump’s campaign, the Adelsons were his second largest donor after Robert Mercer and, according to the New York Times, Adelson and his wife were the “biggest spenders on federal elections in all of American politics.” The Times went on to report:
Mr. Adelson in particular enjoys a direct line to the president. In private in-person meetings and phone conversations, which occur between the two men about once a month, he has used his access to push the president to move the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and, more recently, cut aid to the Palestinians, according to people familiar with their discussions, who spoke anonymously to discuss private matters. Mr. Trump has done both, triggering a backlash from some American allies.”
Like John Bolton, who was recently fired, Adelson pushed Trump to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, proposed dropping a nuclear bomb on Tehran, and once said that he wanted his son to grow up to be a sniper for Israel’s IDF. He’s also been accused of allowing the CIA to use his casinos as a front for spying; and, according to reports, Adelson encouraged Trump to focus on the “embarrassing disclosures about the Clinton campaign and Hillary Clinton’s dealings with major banks found in [a] recent WikiLeaks documents dump,” reinforcing speculation that Trump’s “I love WikiLeaks” rant on the campaign trail was merely a tactic to get elected.
Trump administration complicit in illegal spying
It’s clear that Adelson, a client of Morales’ UC Global, has a close relationship with Trump, leaving little to the imagination about what Trump knew in terms of the surveillance operation at the Ecuadorian Embassy. And, regardless of how Trump-thumpers or Q zombies want to twist what he said or did on the 2016 campaign trail, Trump has always been anti-leaks, anti-WikiLeaks, and anti-Assange. In 2010, he called for the execution of WikiLeaks’ staff and in 2017, his long-time close friend Ivonne Baki, an Ecuadorian ambassador now stationed in Qatar, brokered meetings between Paul Manafort and President Moreno, who expressed his desire to expel Assange from the embassy in return for U.S. concessions.
After Assange’s arrest earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed a superseding indictment against Assange that included 17 charges under the Espionage Act. This will be the first time in American history that an administration has charged a journalist under that draconian law for committing acts of journalism. Although Trump has the Constitutional power to pardon Assange of all charges and end his extradition case in the U.K., it appears he’s washed his hands of any responsibility to consider such an option by claiming he now “knows nothing about WikiLeaks,” despite the dozens of times he invoked the name on his campaign trail.
But the truly vile and nefarious element of this case, which has exposed the Trump administration’s true colors, is the fact that in December 2017 UC Global installed new video cameras in the embassy along with “an external streaming access point in the same area so that all of the recordings could be accessed instantly by the United States.” Instantly accessed by the United States. Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was head of the CIA at the time.
The administration’s direct involvement in an illegal, livestream surveillance operation of a publisher, journalist, and political prisoner who at the time had never been charged with a single crime is beyond shocking and reveals just how corrupt that administration is and how critical the situation has become for press and media workers around the world.
Meanwhile, Trump has spent his presidency tweeting about a “witch hunt” the Democrats have been carrying out against him since before the 2016 election and initiating conspiracy theories like “Spygate.” Just this year Trump tweeted (his emphasis):
[R]eally bad people SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!”
“They got caught spying on my campaign”
“SPYING did occur on the Trump 2016 campaign”
“It is now finally time to turn the tables and bring justice to some very sick and dangerous people who have committed very serious crimes, perhaps even Spying or Treason.”
“My campaign was seriously spied upon by intel agencies and the Democrats.”
“THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN (We will never forget)!”
“Was this person SPYING on the U.S. President? Big Consequences!”
And while the Trump administration was secretly watching a political prisoner via a livestream in one of the grossest voyeuristic intelligence games America has seen, it egregiously breached his privacy and violated attorney-client privilege — and not just with the livestream but with audio, documents and files handed over to them by UC Global and President Moreno’s government.
There’s a reason Ecuador shut down Assange’s communication on March 27, 2018, after he tweeted out “the forgotten message” about the Senain, and a reason he was arrested 24 hours after WikiLeaks held a press conference about the spying operation at the embassy: the U.S. government in no way wanted Ecuador’s spy operation — which was likely initially shared with former CIA Director John Brennan and then taken over by his successor and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who once called WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service” — exposed.
A suspicious timeline of events
When Assange was granted asylum in 2012, the Ecuadorian government hired UC Global, a private military company founded by David Morales, a former member of the Spanish Defense Marine Infantry who was once described as “the perfect mercenary.” As previously reported, most of UC Global’s employees come from the NATO military sector and the company operates around the world, including in Spain, France, U.K., Qatar, and the United States.
Three years after UC Global was hired, WikiLeaks published the emails of Italian malware vendor Hacking Team, which rocked the Ecuadorian government. The technology company specializes in spyware, such as monitoring online activities, decryption of files and emails, and remote activation of microphones and cameras on targeted computers. The emails not only revealed that the Senain had purchased a three-year spyware package from Hacking Team, but that the intelligence agency had been spying on citizens, activists and detractors.
Opposition forces decried former President Correa’s government while Ecuadorian political activist Fernando Villavicencio, an opposition mouthpiece for the U.S., published an article entitled, “Assange Spied on by the Intelligence of Ecuador,” detailing the Senain’s spying operation at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, which was dubbed “Operation Hotel.” Villavicencio’s article was likely a joint intelligence effort to deflect from U.S. involvement in the operations, deride Correa’s government, dismantle his support base, and turn public opinion against Assange by describing him as a “bad houseguest” and releasing alleged derogatory intelligence reports from the Senain.
Fast forward to March 13, 2018, when welivesecurity.com published an article reporting that the Hacking Team’s Remote Control System had been detected in the systems of 14 countries. Less than a week later, President Moreno rescinded Ecuador’s contract with UC Global, hired PromSecurity Cía. Ltd. to surveil the embassy in London, and announced that he was shutting down the Senain and that a new intelligence agency would be established.
Exactly two weeks later, on March 27, 2018, when Assange was still in control of his Twitter account, he tweeted what has since been described as “the forgotten message:”
Senain bought spy packages from Hacking Team for 3 years.”
He included a link to an article published earlier that day that reported, “While developers suspect that the Hacking Team (HT) spy program is still working, the National Secretariat of Intelligence of Ecuador (Senain) has not confirmed whether or not it terminated its relationship with this Italian company.” Approximately four hours after Assange’s tweet, President Moreno cut all of Assange’s communications, including visitors to the embassy and phone and internet access. A few days later WikiLeaks tweeted,
Although Ecuador claims it isolated Assange over his Tweeting about the detention of [Basque rebel leader Carles] #Puigdemont in Germany, the political context is his breaking the “Watergate” of Ecuador, #HackingTeam, which led to the implosion of the national spy service this month.”
Two weeks later, The Guardian went on a one-week propaganda spree about “Operation Hotel” (read Tom Coburg’s “Julian Assange’s lawyers were placed under surveillance. But that’s not the whole story” via thecanary.co), the same operation that Fernando Villavicencio reported on back in 2015 after WikiLeaks published the Hacking Team emails.
This time, however, Villavicencio and The Guardian’s Luke Harding reported that the Senain had spent an extraordinary amount of money protecting Assange rather than surveilling him and that Correa’s government had been “rife with corruption, working hand-in-glove with Assange” to build some sort of elaborate war room to meddle in the 2016 U.S. elections — which apparently no surveillance camera picked up:
Moreno has gone to extreme lengths to convince the public that he’s rooting out government corruption. With the shutdown of the Senain, the revocation of UC Global’s contract at the embassy…the Guardian articles, and the creation of a new intelligence agency, he would have everyone believing that he saved the country from the evil trappings of Rafael Correa’s former government if he could.”
But now we know that the U.S. government, including the Trump administration, was directly involved in the operation at the embassy and it seems obvious that at every turn where they may have been exposed, Ecuador took steps to protect itself as well as the United States. And sure, maybe Trump didn’t know — but his secretary of state was likely heading up the operation stateside while he was the director of the CIA and his second biggest campaign donor is a client of the guy who was running the actual operation within the embassy so any deniability would be, at best, implausible.
The UN investigates Ecuador’s human rights violations
On March 29, 2019, the UN special rapporteur on privacy, Professor Joe Cannataci, received a complaint filed by Assange’s legal team from the Special Procedures Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, which stated that Assange’s right to privacy during his stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London had been violated. Cannataci immediately requested that a meeting be set with Assange that day and he contacted the Ecuadorian Embassy three times with no response. Two days later, he emailed the Ecuadorian ambassador in London, Jaime Marchán, again to no avail.
Then, in a conspicuous attempt to distract the public and distance themselves from the PR shit-storm they knew was coming with the inevitable disclosure of Moreno’s spying operation, on Tuesday, April 2, Ecuador’s minister of foreign relations, Jose Valencia, filed a complaint with the OHCHR Office in Geneva claiming that President Moreno’s privacy was also violated. He cited the “INA Papers” — a leaked batch of documents that included Moreno’s personal emails, text messages, and family photos, and exposed his involvement in corruption and money laundering via an offshore company — giving the impression that Assange was behind the leaks.
The meeting between Assange and the UN Rapporteur never took place in the Ecuadorian Embassy (although they subsequently met at Belmarsh prison) and only five days after Assange’s legal team lodged the privacy complaint with the UNCHR, they caught wind of President Moreno’s plan to revoke his asylum and hand him over to British officials.
The entire spying operation at the embassy, sans U.S. involvement, was first disclosed by WikiLeaks during an April 10, 2019 press conference, at which WikiLeaks informed the public about the large-scale operation, as well as about a group of individuals who attempted to extort the publishing outlet with material obtained from the operation. According to WikiLeaks Editor in Chief Kristinn Hraffnson:
We learned about some individuals in Spain who were peddling around that they had a massive trove of documents relating to Julian Assange from inside the embassy and that it entailed audio, video, photographs, and documents.”
Hraffnson eventually met with the extortionists, who showed him hundreds of thousands of documents, videos, and confidential medical records and legal documents, all pertaining to Assange. They had “pretty much everything on the life of Julian Assange inside the embassy,” he stated. The extortion ring demanded 3 million euros from WikiLeaks for the material, threatening to go to the press if WikiLeaks didn’t pay.
According to Anonymous Scandinavia (@AnonScan) at the time:
We have reason to believe that the attempt of extorsion [sic] in the amount of three million euros, has connections to government officials cooperating with for example C 9 [Senain] and Prom Security.”
In complaints later filed by Assange, a group of Spaniards, Ecuadorian Ambassador Jaime Marchán, and four employees of Promsecurity were all named as taking part in the extortion ring and/or “alleged crimes that would have been committed inside the embassy, especially data leaks, listening and also the dissemination of both audio and video data and thousands of documents.”
President Moreno retaliated against WikiLeaks’ public disclosure of the colossal surveillance operation running at the embassy by illegally revoking Assange’s asylum and allowing U.K. officials to enter the diplomatic embassy in London to arrest him. With El Pais’ latest article, the U.S. may take further steps to distance itself and distract the public by planting articles via corporate media outlets such as The Guardian, more restrictions placed on Assange at Belmarsh, and a general black-PR campaign carried out by British and U.S. intelligence agencies — especially now that the Trump administration has been directly implicated.
This is not the time for dialogue
In light of recent developments, this is no longer the time for debate or dialogue. It’s time that the people in power who have been complicit in Assange’s ongoing torture — and what can only be described as a breach of human rights and privacy violations of epic proportions — be held to account. This includes President Moreno, Ambassador Marchán, President Trump, and Secretary of State Pompeo among many, many others. This also includes the corporate media, who have been spewing U.S. and Ecuador intelligence garbage about Assange for years.
This isn’t just about a journalist who is still sitting in a high-security prison despite his custodial sentence ending last week — although that alone should be enough of an outrage for anyone sitting on the side of justice and a free press. The U.S.-Ecuadorian spying operation in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London is about the precedents that will be set for spying on journalists and media workers if citizens do not rise up and demand accountability.
It’s become an almost macabre comedy of sorts how many journalists and publishers who work with the U.S. and British intelligence agencies and/or side with the Trump administration think they’re immune because the U.S. intelligence community never spies on its allies (insert senior officials of the European Union, Great Britain, Germany, Brazil, France, Spain, Mexico, and on and on). Or perhaps, like so many Americans, they justify it because “they aren’t doing anything wrong,” until they realize they’ve been booted out through Trump’s revolving door over some minuscule infraction like questioning the government.
It’s dangerously naive or ignorant to believe that the president of the United States — who thinks that presidential term limits don’t apply to him; has a former CIA director as his secretary of state; pushed 38-and-counting high-ranking people out of his administration; casually talks about nuking other countries; encourages hatred and violence not only against ethnic groups but against some of our own U.S. congresswomen; calls the press an enemy of the state; wants the staff of WikiLeaks executed; threatened the life of the unnamed “CIA Trump whistleblower;” refuses to pardon Edward Snowden; is holding Chelsea Manning hostage in a federal prison; imprisoned whistleblower Reality Winner for five years and is currently prosecuting Daniel Hale and Joshua Schulte for revealing illegal drone assassinations and CIA hacking weapons respectively; is the first president in U.S. history to prosecute a journalist for journalism; and deliberately and with cold calculation spied on Julian Assange twenty-four hours a day for years via an illegal live-stream — is worthy of any media worker’s trust.
Feature photo | A still from surveillance footage shows Julian Assange resting inside of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Screenshot | El Pais
Jimmysllama is an independent researcher and writer who provides balanced, critical analysis with a focus on the Boston bombings, Magnitsky Act, and WikiLeaks. She is currently trying to stay warm in the Midwest. You can read more of her work at jimmysllama.com and find her on Twitter at @jimmysllama.