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Foiled Escape: UC Global, the CIA and Julian Assange

However described, the shabby treatment of Julian Assange never ceases to startle. While he continues to suffer in Belmarsh prison awaiting the torments of an interminable legal process, more material is coming out showing the way he was spied upon while staying at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Of late, the Spanish daily El País has been keeping up its exemplary coverage on the subject, notably on the conduct of the Spanish-based security firm, UC Global SL.

There is a twist in the latest smidgens of information on the alleged bad conduct by that particular company. As luck would have it, UC Global was commissioned by Rommy Vallejo, the chief of Ecuador’s now defunct national intelligence secretariat, SENAIN, to give the London embassy premises a security and technological touch-up.

Vallejo may have sought their services, but seemed blissfully ignorant that he had granted the fox access to the chicken coop. This access involved the installation of hidden microphones throughout the embassy by UC Global at the direction of its owner, David Morales. Morales, it seems, was updating the US Central Intelligence Agency with information about Assange’s meetings with his legal team throughout.

Much of this was revealed in the trial against Assange conducted at the Central Criminal Court in 2020, though the presiding Judge Vanessa Baraitser seemed oddly unmoved by the revelations, as she was by chatter among US intelligence operatives to engineer an abduction or assassination of the WikiLeaks founder.

The link between UC Global and the CIA was the fruit of work between Morales and one of his most notable clients, the casino company, Las Vegas Sands. Morales was responsible for supplying the owner of the company, the late billionaire magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, with personal security. In the merry-go-round of this field, one of those on Adelson’s personal security detail was a former CIA officer.

On December 20, 2017, Michelle Wallemacq, the head of operations at UC Global, penned a note to two technicians responsible for monitoring security at the embassy. “Be on the lookout tomorrow to see what you can get… and make it work.” The request was related to a scheduled meeting between Assange and Vallejo. The theme of the discussion: to get the Australian publisher out of the embassy, grant him Ecuadorian citizenship and furnish him with a diplomatic passport. This had a heroic, even quixotic quality to it: the grant of a diplomatic passport would not have necessarily passed muster; and the chances of Assange being arrested could hardly be discounted.

Eleven months prior to Morales passing on the tip that scuttled Assange’s escape plans, Morales was already chasing up his staff from one of Adelson’s properties, The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. One technician received the following: “Do you have status reports on the embassy’s computer systems, and networks? I need an inventory of systems and equipment, the guest’s [Assange] phones, and the number of networks.” He also warned his technicians to be wary “that we may be monitored, so everything confidential should be encrypted… Everything is related to the UK subject… The people in control are our friends in the USA.”

On June 12, 2017, Morales, enroute to Washington, DC, requested his contact to activate a File Transfer Protocol server and web portal from their Spanish headquarters. The portal in question: the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Material began being collected on Assange’s guests, eclectic and of all stripes: journalists, doctors, lawyers, diplomats. Mobile phone data was also hoovered up. After his Washington stop, Morales popped into Las Vegas Sands, where he met his eager “American friends” to reveal the information so far gathered about Assange.

Over this time, it becomes clear, in Morales’s own words, that “he had gone over to the dark side” and that “they were working in the Champions League”. Emails sent on September 8 speak of offering “our information collection and analysis capability to the American client.” Discussions with a UC Global technician focus on gathering information from the microphones in the embassy. “The guest [Assange] has three rooms and uses two quite frequently… We would have all the audio from there except in one room.”

On September 21, it was clear to Morales that they had gotten sufficiently mired in the business of spying on Assange to be wary of any potential surveillance from SENAIN. “I would like my whereabouts to be kept confidential, especially my trips to the USA.” Instructions are distributed to gather data on the embassy’s Wi-Fi network, photos of the interior and furnishings of the embassy, and any data on Assange’s primary visitors, notably any members of his legal team.

The recording of one meeting would prove critical to upending plans to get Assange out of the embassy. Present Assange, his lawyer, now wife Stella Morris, Ecuadorian consul Fidel Narváez and Vallejo. The date for the getaway was slated for December 25, with the plan that Assange leave via one of the ambassador’s cars which would make its way through the Eurotunnel to Switzerland or some designated destination on the continent. “It’s very late,” wrote one of the technicians a few hours after the meeting’s conclusion to Morales. “Because it’s so big, I put the file in a shared Dropbox folder. Someone with experience in audio can make it more intelligible.” While Vallejo could be heard fairly clearly, the voices of Assange and Morris were “very muffled”.

Within a matter of hours, Morales had relayed the material to those “American friends” of his, greasing the wheels for proceedings that would culminate in Assange’s expulsion in 2019 and the indictment listing 18 charges, 17 of which are drawn from the Espionage Act of 1917. The plan to leave the embassy was never executed.

There are two significant events that also transpired before Vallejo’s visit to Assange. The first involved an advisor to the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister who is said to have had information about the plan regarding Assange’s escape. He was assaulted by a number of hooded men at Quito Airport on his return from the United States.

On December 17, 2017, it was time for hooded assailants to turn their attention to the Madrid law offices of Baltasar Garzón and Aitor Martínez. Their target: a computer server. The timing was ominous; both lawyers had just returned from meeting Assange in the London embassy. The intruders proved untraceable by the Spanish police, despite leaving prints.

In hindsight, it does seem remarkable that Vallejo and SENAIN remained ignorant of the rotten apples in UC Global. As things stand, Morales is facing a formal complaint filed by Assange in the Spanish National Court. He is also facing an investigation for alleged breaches of privacy, the violation of attorney-client confidentiality, misappropriation, bribery and money laundering. The presiding magistrate on the case, Santiago Pedraz, has requested the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to press the CIA in supplying information about the embassy spying.

Even better will be the abandoning of the entire proceeding, the reversal of the extradition order made in June 2022 by then Home Secretary Priti Patel, and a finding by the UK authorities that the case against Assange is monstrously political, compromised from the start and emptied of legal principle.

 

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8 comments

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  1. Williambtm

    The USA is a threat to the people as well as a threat to all the countries in our world.
    How can one neutralise the destroyer of of the world?

  2. New England Cocky

    FREE JULIAN ASSANGE IMMEDIATELY!! IT IS NEVER A CRIME TO EXPOSE ALLEGED WAR CRIMINALS EVEN WHEN ONE OF THE SUSPECTS IS POTUS.

  3. Regional Elder

    Of course in the perspective of the U.S. Assange’s mistake as a non-citizen of the country, was to not have studied the Espionage Act of 1917, and been thoroughly chastened by it.

    The special shame however lies with the failure of all Prime Ministers from Gillard to Albanese to act in the interests of this Australian citizen.

  4. Andrew Smith

    I don’t think Assange should be extradited to the US, but…. he started well then became a very naughty and naive narcissist who indirectly cooperated with Fox News, RW grifters etc. based on emails allegedly leaked to Assange by Seth Rich, to denigrate Hillary Clinton & her campaign; then were Clinton/Democrats accused of a supposed cover up of Seth Rich’s murder (investigated by Fox News & RW grifters).

    ‘WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange fueled the suspicions, aided by such extremist (far right) blogs as Gateway Pundit.’

    https://www.npr.org/2022/06/15/1104511732/fox-news-seth-rich-murder

    Then who provided or ‘leaked’ emails to Assange? According to NPR (2016) the DNC Democratic National Committee alleged it was the Russians who hacked, accessed and leaked emails of the DNC.

    According to investigative piece by Peter Jukes at Byline Times UK (2019) ‘Cohen’s Explosive Testimony on Trump and Wikileaks Puts Farage back in the Spotlight

    ….In April and May 2016, Russian hackers stole large numbers of files from the Democratic National Committee’s network and email servers, and Trump adviser Roger Stone began interacting with Julian Assange in the spring, according to The Washington Post. By June 12 Assange himself was telling ITV that Wikileaks had Clinton emails which could be used to indict the democratic candidate.’

    Cohen’s Explosive Testimony on Trump and Wikileaks puts Farage back in the Spotlight

    Lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas….

  5. Jon Chesterson

    Whatever the political and media rantings, the merits of this case and holding Assange illegally is totally corrupt and corrupted, depraved. It borders on revenge and rendition with utter hypocrisy and bastardisation of US constitution and Rule of Law. The British hand in this is no less damnable, and as a British citizen I reject my home country’s stand on this outrageous violation of human rights. As an Australian citizen, I am equally outraged by our government’s abandonment of its citizenship, legal, political and human rights obligations, pretending instead to condone and convenience the criminalisation of Assange and his case, thereby doing the grand Pontius Pilate thing, what Australia does best in silence, cowardice and reaction formation. No-one is innocent of everything they do with many shades of grey in between right and wrong, but this wrangle and fit of revenge, rendition and reframing is not worthy of even three failing democracies to tell the truth, represent and protect its own citizens under the Rule of Law and UN Charter of Human Rights to which we are all signatories. To ignore and lose this battle is to sign away our democratic principles to the highest bidder, to bury the foundations of all we believe in and our citizens with it, to the despicable hypocrisy of even our most favourable governments. The horse bolted years ago and now our three ”constitutional democracies’ play spies on all its own citizens in grave violation of their birth and state of nationhood – they wallow like fat greedy pigs in mud by the political and Orwellian minority that pull our strings, not unlike the rendered soft hand and mercenary hard porn of Putin. Who are ‘we’ to judge when all of us have ourselves been silenced, misrepresented and disenfranchised by our respective ruling hierarchies?

  6. Roswell

    Top comment, Jon.

    About 10 years ago a young English bloke hacked into NASA looking for confirmation of UFOs – got caught – and an extradition order would see him sent to the USA to face charges.

    The British govt intervened claiming that the bloke was suicidal and thus at risk if he had to rot in an American prison.

    And Assange isn’t? 🤷🏻‍♂️

  7. Pingback: This week in nuclear news – all about war-mongering | Nuclear Australia

  8. leefe

    WTF haven’t Morales and UC Global been prosecuted for covert surveillance within the Ecuadorian Embassy? That sort of thing is illegal, isn’t it? And if it is, how can the material they acquired be acceptable in a prosecution of Assange, or even in the extradition hearings?

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