A new report from Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff alleges that the US hasn’t been super helpful to Spain as it attempts to investigate whether a local security firm spied on Julian Assange at the behest of the CIA.
The notorious hacktivist’s lawyers have accused Spanish security firm Undercover Global (UC Global) of being in cahoots with the CIA, alleging the spy agency used the security firm to surveil Assange while he was holed up at London’s Ecuadorian embassy (Assange lived in the embassy from 2012 until 2019 after losing an extradition battle with Sweden regarding a sexual misconduct case).
UC Global was hired by the Ecuadorian government to provide security for its London embassy but the firm’s employees allegedly engaged in a number of shady and likely illegal practices to keep tabs on Assange, including installing a series of secret cameras and microphones to monitor his interactions with embassy visitors.
Spain’s High Court has been investigating UC Global ever since several whistleblowers from the firm came forward in 2019 to make claims about the company’s spying efforts on Assange. The firm’s CEO, David Morales, was arrested in 2019 but was subsequently released. It’s unclear whether he will face official charges in connection to the case, as Spanish officials are still investigating, and he maintains that the spying was done at the behest of the Ecuadorian intelligence service, SENAIN.
As Spain attempts to get to the bottom of all this, the U.S. isn’t making it particularly easy to put the pieces together. Spanish authorities have reportedly reached out to the U.S. Justice Department a total of three times over a period of 17 months in the hopes of clarifying whether the U.S. ever had a relationship with UC Global. According to the Yahoo report, the DOJ has blown them off.
Instead of answering the requests, the DOJ has “asked Spanish authorities for more information about the basis for the inquiry,” Yahoo reports. This response — or lack thereof — would appear to skirt a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) between the U.S. and Spain. MLATs are supposed to facilitate the exchange of information between governments for law enforcement purposes.
Assange has been on the US government’s shit list ever since 2010 when Wikileaks published a trove of secret military documents and diplomatic cables that had been obtained by Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, a former military intelligence analyst. The documents showed, among other things, evidence of potential “war crimes” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Publication of the documents kicked off various diplomatic and public relations crises for Western governments.
In 2019, a 17-count indictment against Assange was unveiled by the Justice Department in connection to the Manning leaks. The indictment controversially charged Assange under the Espionage Act, a federal law that pertains to the dissemination of classified national security information. The move was roundly criticised by newspapers and civil liberties activists as setting a potentially dangerous precedent in regards to press freedoms and the First Amendment.
An investigation by Yahoo this past summer alleged that Assange had also been the target of assassination plots by elements of the Trump administration and the CIA. The report said that, in 2017, several years after Assange had entered the Ecuadorian embassy, the CIA began plotting how to kidnap or murder him. Such plans were apparently partially inspired by the Wikileaks publication of “Vault 7,” a trove of data about the CIA’s hacking tools and procedures. Earlier reporting has suggested that UC Global was privy to some of the plans.
We reached out to the Justice Department for comment on this story and will update when we receive a response.