Three protected witnesses accuse Spanish ex-marine of spying on Julian Assange

Former employees of David Morales tell a judge in Spain that his company was making recordings of the cyberactivist and his lawyers for the CIA

Julian Assange in a still from one of the videos recorded inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Video: Details of the spying operation against Assange.Video: EPV
José María Irujo

Spain’s High Court, the Audencia Nacional, is closing in on David Morales, the head of the Spanish security company US Global S. L., and who is under investigation for spying on cyberactivist Julian Assange while he was living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Three people who worked for the company have testified as protected witnesses before High Court Judge José de la Mata that Morales handed over material collected from the diplomatic headquarters to US intelligence services. The three witnesses say that Morales, a former marine in the Spanish Navy, bragged about the collaboration. “I am a mercenary and I make no bones about it,” he said to one of them.

Two of the witnesses confirm what EL PAÍS revealed before the legal investigation began – that in December 2017, the owner of UC Global S. L. ordered workers to change the surveillance cameras in the embassy and replace them with others that could capture audio. From that moment on, they recorded and monitored conversations between the WikiLeaks founder and his lawyers, as well as all of his visitors.

During the meetings with the lawyers, Assange prepared his legal defense against the extradition order from the United States. The Australian cyberactivist is wanted in the US for allegedly committing 18 crimes for leaking classified information on secret military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq via the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. He faces a total of 175 years in prison.

Under Morales’s express orders, the security team photographed the passports of all of Assange’s visitors

According to the evidence provided by the witnesses – videos, audio tapes and dozens of emails, some of which were published in advance by this newspaper – the spying operation was intensive. Under Morales’s express orders, the security team photographed the passports of all of Assange’s visitors, took apart their cellphones, downloaded content from their iPads, took notes and put together reports on each meeting.

Morales outlined in writing the objectives and the “high priority” profiles that had to be “under control at all times” – in particular visitors from North America and Russia, as seen in emails. The list of Assange’s visitors did not include any Russian citizens, but did include a visitor from Serbia and another one from Belarus. “All this has to be considered top secret to limit its distribution,” the owner of UC Global S. L. wrote to one of his trusted workers. The Ecuadorian diplomats who worked in the London embassy were also spied on, according to the evidence provided by the witnesses.

The three witness statements all spoke of the phrases Morales used with his most-trusted workers in reference to the alleged collaboration with the US secret service: “We are playing in the first division,” “I have gone to the dark side,” “Those in control are the American friends,” “The American client,” “The American friends are asking me to confirm,” “The North American will get us a lot of contracts around the world,” and “US intelligence.” The obsession over any Russian visit or sign of a link between Assange and Russia was also reflected in the photographs that were taken of the passport visas of some visitors.

Morales traveled to the US once or twice a month allegedly to hand over the material to “the Americans”

The recordings from the cameras installed in the embassy were extracted from the hard drive every 15 days, along with other recordings from microphones placed in fire extinguishers, and delivered personally to Morales at the headquarters of UC Global, located in Jerez de la Frontera in the south of Spain. They were always original recordings, not copies.

Morales traveled to the US once or twice a month allegedly to hand over the material to “the Americans.” A microphone was installed on the PVC plastic base of a fire extinguisher near the meeting room where Assange met with his lawyers. The cyberactivist had placed a device that created white noise in this room, and activated it when he thought he was being spied on. He placed another device in the women’s bathroom, where he sometimes met with his lawyers.

UC Global S. L. was hired by Ecuador’s Senain secret service to provide security services to the embassy when Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa was in power. But according to the three witnesses, Morales ordered the Australian to be spied on and created remote-operated computer servers that collected the illegally obtained information, which could be accessed from the United States.

Trips to Virginia and Las Vegas

The witnesses said that they were able to prove that the US was accessing the information. A study of the emails sent by Morales to several of his workers shows that the former marine traveled to Alexandria, a US city in Virginia with around 145,000 residents, on March 1 and 2, 2017. The IP addresses of these messages, to which this newspaper has had access, show that they were from the place that was processing the extradition order against Assange.

According to the witnesses, the material on Assange was handed over to the CIA by a member of the security service of magnate Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the casino and resort company Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Adelson is a friend of US President Donald Trump and one of the main donors to the Republican Party. Morales had reached an agreement with Adeleson to strengthen the security on his boat when he sailed in the Mediterranean. The main person responsible for Adelson’s security is a prominent former CIA chief.

The witnesses said that they were able to prove that the US was accessing the information

Morales sent his workers an email on December 10, 2017, asking them to restrict Ecuador’s access to the server, where the information was stored, so that they would not discover that the “American client” has access. The IP of this email shows that it was written from The Venetian, the leading hotel from Adelson’s resort chain in Las Vegas.

“They tell me that if the Ecuadorians are to access the remote system, we should take into account that it must be programed so that they only see what we want them to … it must look as though they have access,” the email read. These technical recommendations were sent to employees in Jerez de la Frontera in English.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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