The following article by Nick Miller and published In the Sydney Morning Herald (10 April 2019), outlines a disturbing new twist in the saga of the efforts to get Julian Assange for leaking sensitive information. Hole up in the Ecuadoran embassy for 8 years, he has consistently maintained, and many say for good reason, that if he gave himself up[, he would be extradited to the United States will not get a fair hearing. Now elements connected to the Ecuadoran embassy have been revealed that some persons have engaged in criminal conduct and blackmailing for money.
WikiLeaks has discovered an extensive “spying operation” against Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy, gathering data that was used in an extortion attempt, WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson has revealed.
The resulting trove of audio, video, photographs and even copies of private legal documents and a medical examination turned up in Spain, where a group threatened to start publishing them if WikiLeaks did not pay them three million euros.
Wikileaks has discovered an extensive ‘spying operation’ against Julian Assange. From left Fidel Narvaez, former consul of Ecuador to London; Kristinn Hrafnsson, Editor-in-chief, WikiLeaks; Jennifer Robinson, Julian Assange’s barrister.Credit:Nick Miller
But WikiLeaks tipped off Spanish police who set up a “sting” and are investigating.
“Extortion is a very serious matter but of much greater concern to me is this material gathering and spying on Julian Assange by the [Ecuador] government and the officials who work on his behalf in the embassy against an individual who was granted asylum and full protection,” Hrafnsson said.
“That is in my opinion, Not only illegal but extremely unethical.”
He speculated that the material gathered on Assange would already be in the hands of the US government, which would use it to help get the WikiLeaks founder extradited to face charges as soon as he leaves the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said it was a severe breach of lawyer-client privilege and undermined his legal team’s ability to properly defend their client.
At a press conference in London, Hrafnsson showed copies of photos, videos and documents from the alleged extortionists’ hoard.
They included a copy of a lawyer’s notes, images from a medical examination and video and photos taken inside embassy rooms showing Assange in various meetings, including with Hrafnsson.
‘We have this and a lot of more’
Hrafnsson said WikiLeaks heard a few weeks ago that “some individuals” in Spain were passing around information on Assange, apparently sourced from inside Ecuador’s London embassy, and that they claimed to have “a massive trove of documents” on him.
He contacted a member of the group, who identified himself as “PM”, who said “this information has a price” and sent through samples of what they had, including a snapshot from a video recording of Hrafnsson meeting Assange inside the embassy in November last year.
The alleged extortionist told Hrafnsson “we have this and a lot of more [sic], apart of very important (committed) audios. The price is from 3,000,000 euros, or we’ll start to publish by our own way (media, press, etc…)”.
The message the alleged extortionist sent to WikiLeaks’ editor Kristinn Hrafnsson.Credit:Nick Miller
“It’s not hard to see that as extortion and that’s how I viewed it,” Hrafnsson said.
He contacted Spanish police and 10 days ago travelled to Spain to review the material, secretly recording a three-hour meeting with four members of the group. He said he had discovered the name of one of those people.
In the meeting he was shown “hundreds of thousands of documents” in 103 folders, including gigabytes of videos of “sensitive meetings” and even copies of the passports of visitors to the embassy.
Hrafnsson said last year the embassy installed new high-definition cameras which could record audio as well as video.
“It entailed pretty much everything on the life of Julian Assange,” Hrafnsson said.
It also included a copy of a confidential legal note that one of Assange’s lawyers brought to the embassy when assisting Julian to give video evidence in a hearing in Quito, and which recalled he had briefly left unattended in a meeting room.
And there was a video of an entire medical examination of Assange by a visiting doctor.
‘Worse than any prisoner has to endure’
Spanish police set up a “sting” operation in co-operation with WikiLeaks, and an investigating judge has been appointed to take over the case.
Most of the material WikiLeaks saw appeared to be from last year. Hrafnsson said he had been aware of the upgraded surveillance cameras in the embassy, and had taken steps to bypass them by, for example, taking in a radio with the volume turned up when meeting Assange, and “we basically sit whispering in each other’s ear”.
And he said he did not see any irony in relation to WikiLeaks’ usual treatment of classified and secret material, saying “everyone agrees” that there is some material that should not be made public.
Hrafnsson said he did not want to speculate on how the material came into the hands of the Spanish group, but he said WikiLeaks had more material from its recording of the Spanish meeting that “will possibly cast more light” on the connection to Ecuador, and which WikiLeaks will publish in the future.
Last week Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said Assange had “repeatedly violated” the conditions of his asylum.
He said there was “proof of espionage, of hacking, of the fact that phones have been intercepted and private conversations, there are even pictures of my bedroom”.
WikiLeaks then claimed a “high-level source within the Ecuadorian state” had revealed a plan to expel Assange from the embassy within “hours to days” – and that it already has an agreement with the UK for his arrest.
Assange’s team have canvassed that their client may move back to Australia if he leaves the embassy. He has reportedly been granted a new Australian passport, after the government renewed consular visits to the embassy to check on his welfare.
Assange, 47, has been in the embassy, a small office in an apartment block behind Harrods in Knightsbridge, for almost seven years. He entered on June 19, 2012 and was granted political asylum after exhausting his appeals against an extradition order to go to Sweden to face rape and sexual assault allegations.
Swedish authorities have since closed their investigation saying that it couldn’t continue without Assange’s presence in their country.
Assange still faces arrest by London police, however, if he steps out of the Ecuadorian embassy for breach of his bail conditions, after failing in a 2018 bid to have the arrest warrant cancelled by an English court.
Assange’s lawyers say he cannot leave the embassy due to the likelihood of being extradited to the US, where they say he would not receive a fair trial.