The investigation was conducted by Yahoo! News, which relied on interviews with more than 30 former Trump administration officials.
The CIA allegedly conspired to kidnap Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2017, and some senior officials in the US Foreign Intelligence Service and former President Donald Trump’s administration reportedly went so far as to consider options on how to assassinate the WikiLeaks founder, reveals an investigation conducted and published Sunday by Yahoo! News, which is based on interviews with more than 30 former US officials.
Discussions about kidnapping or killing Assange occurred “at the highest levels” of the former president’s administration, a former senior counterintelligence official said. “There seemed to be no limits,” he added.
Mike Pompeo’s revenge?
As the report details, Mike Pompeo – then director of the Central Intelligence Agency – was apparently motivated to get back at WikiLeaks after the website published confidential ‘hacking’ tools used by the agency, which officials considered to be “the largest data loss in CIA history”, known as ‘Vault 7’.
Pompeo and other senior agency leaders “were completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed by Vault 7,” a former National Security official during Trump’s tenure told the news outlet. “They were seeing blood,” he added.
In addition, the CIA’s multifaceted projects reportedly included extensive spying on WikiLeaks associates, sowing discord among the group’s members and stealing their electronic devices, the report reveals.
“As an American citizen, I find it absolutely outrageous that our government would contemplate kidnapping or murdering someone without any judicial process simply because he published truthful information,” Barry Pollack, Assange’s US lawyer, told Yahoo! News.
“It was going to be like a prison break movie.”
But in late 2017, in the midst of the debate over the alleged kidnapping and other extreme measures, the agency’s plans were upended when US officials picked up what they considered alarming reports that Russian intelligence agents were preparing to smuggle Assange out of the UK and send him to Moscow, according to the investigation.
“We had every reason to believe he was contemplating getting out of there,” said a former senior Trump administration official, adding that one report said Assange might try to escape from the embassy by hiding in a laundry cart. “It was going to be like a prison break movie,” he added.
Meanwhile, an intelligence official called the possibility of carrying out a rendition or assassination “ridiculous” because of the location. “This is not Pakistan or Egypt, we are talking about London,” the source said. He added that there was also resistance in the Trump administration.
“Fierce debates over legality of CIA plans.”
According to the Yahoo! News investigation, the agency’s plans for Assange and WikiLeaks – which would have begun as early as Barack Obama’s tenure with the definition of some of the website’s journalists, including Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, as “information agents” – allegedly led to fierce debates over their legality and some officials were so concerned that they felt the need to brief members of Congress on the former service director’s suggestions.
It adds that it was a campaign that “bent important legal constraints, potentially jeopardized the Justice Department’s work to prosecute Assange and risked a damaging episode in the UK, America’s closest ally”.
Assange was eventually dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy and is currently being held in a high-security British prison. The US has appealed a court’s decision to deny his extradition request on hacking-related charges. The trial is expected to resume next month.
Concern about jeopardizing the US case against Assange was one of the factors that prevented the CIA’s plans from going ahead, according to Yahoo! News. Assange’s defence team hopes this is true. “My hope and expectation is that the UK courts will consider this information and this will further strengthen their decision not to extradite him to the US,” Pollack told the news outlet when asked about the CIA’s alleged plans against his client.
- Julian Assange is being held in Belmarsh maximum security prison in the UK, where he was transferred after being arrested in April 2019.
- In the US, Assange is accused of publishing hundreds of thousands of pages of secret military documents and diplomatic cables about US activities in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were released by his leaking portal WikiLeaks. The charges against him carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
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