Russian and US visitors, targets for the Spanish firm that spied on Julian Assange

The CIA had access to the server where the company stored the profiles of hundreds of people who visited the WikiLeaks founder during his stay in the Ecuadorian embassy in London

Assange after his arrest in London. Video: The Spanish security company UC Global opened up and photographed the cellphones of American journalists who visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.Video: REUTERS | EPV
José María Irujo

David Morales, the director and owner of Undercover Global S. L., the Spanish defense and security company in charge of protecting the Ecuadorian embassy in London during Julian Assange’s long stay there, called on his team to catalogue “the Russian and American citizens” who visited the cyberactivist as a maximum priority, according to testimonies and documents to which EL PAÍS has had access. The company allegedly spied on the WikiLeaks founder for the US intelligence services, and in the wake of revelations published by this newspaper is being investigated by the Spanish High Court, the Audiencia Nacional.

Morales gave written instructions to his employees in London for them to give advance warning of the priority targets from both countries. All of the information collected about these and other visitors was sent to an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server in Jerez de la Frontera, the headquarters of UC Global S. L., in southern Spain. This kind of “big brother” was the place were all of the information collected was stored in an orderly fashion, including files from cellphones, profiles by nationality (Russians, Americans, Germans, etc.), professions, and documents from attorneys, diplomats, journalists, doctors, and so on.

Employees who worked for UC Global S. L. have told this newspaper that the CIA had access to this server

Employees who worked for UC Global S. L. have told this newspaper that the CIA had access to this server, and that Morales did not want to reveal the identity of “his American friends” when there were technical problems and there was a request for contact with the client.

The IP numbers registered come from the US and one of them matches a company that provides security services for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). A study of the reports that were created over a period of years by this company reveals that international current affairs and events surrounding the cyberactivist defined and modified the objectives of the company and its “American clients.”

The Spanish company’s interest in Russian citizens multiplied due to suspicions that the WikiLeaks founder had a relationship with the Russian intelligence services, something that he has always denied. Former special counsel for the United States Department of Justice, Robert Mueller, investigated the attempts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 elections via the hacking of accounts belonging to the Democratic Party and its candidate, Hillary Clinton. Tens of thousands of mails were published by WikiLeaks and its founder became the primary target of the CIA and its director, Mike Pompeo, according to reporting from The New York Times in 2018. The Mueller investigation eventually proved the interference from Moscow, although it did not find evidence to confirm that there was a conspiracy with the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, his colleagues or any American citizen.

The Spanish company’s interest in Russian citizens multiplied on suspicions that the WikiLeaks founder had a relationship with Russian intelligence services

The focus on the WikiLeaks founder’s Russian visitors intensified when there were suspicions that he was trying to get out of the embassy in 2017 with Ecuadorian diplomatic status and head to Russia, something that his lawyers and Assange himself deny. Glenn Greenwald, the man whom Edward Snowden turned to in order to reveal the mass espionage being carried out by the NSA, had photos taken of the Russian visas in his passport, as well as his cellphone. There were similar steps taken with the Russian journalists who visited the Australian.

The spying on the American visitors is explained by the interest in finding out who was supporting the cause of the man who uncovered the most secret military actions by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. The distribution of that confidential information has prompted the US justice system to have Assange extradited from the United Kingdom, and he is facing charges that carry a total of 175 years in jail.

Objective: photograph the ‘IMEI’

The monitoring of the dozens of people who visited Assange during the seven years he was in the embassy was comprehensive. But in the case of the priority targets – Americans, Russians, attorneys and journalists – it was intensified as much as possible. Employees of UC Global S. L. took apart and photographed the cellphones of American journalists who visited the founder of WikiLeaks, according to testimony and graphic documents to which EL PAÍS has had access. Their visits were monitored, the video and audio were recorded, and reports about the conversations were drawn up and were sent to the server in Jerez de la Frontera, to which the CIA allegedly had access.

All of the people who visited the cyberactivist during his stay at the diplomatic building were obliged to hand over their bags, computers, electronic devices and cellphones at a security checkpoint. What the assortment of attorneys, journalists, politicians, doctors and friends of Assange who visited the embassy were unaware of is that some of them had been designated by Morales as “priority targets.”

And that involved a report for each of them with the date of the meeting, a copy of their passport, the content of the conversation and a video of the meeting. And on some occasions, opening up the casing of their cellphone in order to locate and photograph its International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, a unique code that identifies a device and is one of the most valuable pieces of information for anyone looking to hack a phone. When a cellphone connects to a network, this identity number is automatically transmitted.

The focus on the WikiLeaks founder’s Russian visitors intensified when there were suspicions that he was trying to get out of the embassy in 2017

Morales, who is a former member of the Spanish Marines’ Special Infantry Operations Unit, requested in a “confidential” email that his team send him information about the composition of the walls that surrounded Assange’s room, photographs of its interior, the characteristics of the furniture, data about the embassy’s Wi-Fi, and the official list of phone numbers at the embassy. He also wanted to know who lived in and occupied the rest of the building, which is located in the central London neighborhood of Knightsbridge.

In private meetings with his colleagues, the owner of UC Global S. L. told them that his company “was playing in the first division” and that he “had passed over to the dark side.” His visits to the US multiplied and in one of his mails he requested that his colleagues “manage my location with care, in particular my visits to the United States.” References to “the American friends” were constant.

The video cameras with built-in microphones recorded non-stop in different areas of the embassy from the fall of 2017 onward, and the original hard disks were taken to Spain and handed over to Morales. The director of UC Global S. L. has not responded to calls from this newspaper to request his version of events.

Pamela Anderson’s secret passcodes, and stripped-down cellphones

The Canadian actress and model Pamela Anderson, who is a friend of Julian Assange and was a regular visitor of the WikiLeaks' founder in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, was also spied on by the team from UC Global S. L. Their meetings were recorded and during one of them, Anderson, who was concerned about her security, wrote her secret passcodes for her cellphone, iPad and other electronic devices by hand on a piece of paper, a document that was photographed by the employees of the Spanish security company.

Among the members of the press whose cellphones were photographed are Lowell Bergman, 74, a veteran investigative journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize and worked at The New York Times. He visited Assange on October 9, 2017.

Ellen Nakashima, a specialist in national security at The Washington Post, and Evgeny Morozov, a doctor at Harvard University and specialist in technological issues, as well as being a contributor at EL PAÍS, had both sides of their cellphones photographed. The same thing happened to Timothy Eric Ladbrooke, the cyberactivist's main doctor, according to images that are in the possession of EL PAÍS.

The written account penned by an employee of UC Global S. L. on December 15, 2017 about the visit by the journalist from The Washington Post, reads: "I took her phone, her recorder, I took out the battery, I tried to keep it, but the woman remembered it at the exit."

Andy Müller-Maguhn, the well-known German hacker, was one of the people who aroused the most interest among the UC Global S. L. security staff. During his visits, photos were taken of the inside of his travel bag, his phones were opened and they took pictures of the numbers of his cellphones and cameras.


English version by Simon Hunter.

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