House Intelligence Committee questioned about alleged surveillance of WikiLeaks founder

A Spanish judge has asked the US House Intelligence Committee to provide information regarding the alleged surveillance of Julian Assange and his visitors during his seven-year-long stay in the Ecuadorian embassy in London

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets photographers from a police van upon leaving his trial in London, circa May of 2019.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets photographers from a police van upon leaving his trial in London, circa May of 2019.Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (AFP)

Judge Santiago Pedraz of Spain’s National High Court has filed a request for judicial assistance with the United States House Intelligence Committee. He is asking the committee – charged with overseeing the US intelligence community – to provide his office with information pertaining to a Spanish firm that may have surveilled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

While Assange was protected by the Ecuadorian embassy in London – in an attempt to avoid extradition to the United States to face charges over leaking thousands of classified documents – he was allegedly subjected to espionage by the Spanish security firm Undercover Global SL. Pedraz has pointed out that the CIA may have been a possible recipient of the material that was collected on Assange.

In October of 2021, Adam Schiff – a Democratic congressman and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee – demanded that all American security agencies inform him about espionage activity that took place concerning Assange during his seven-year-long stay (2012-19) in the Ecuadorian embassy, before he was turned over to British police. Schiff’s initiative came after Yahoo News published a report, in which unnamed former US officials acknowledged the existence of a plan to kidnap Assange from the embassy in 2017. They also claimed that US spies had been

monitoring the communications and movements of numerous WikiLeaks personnel.

Undercover Global SL is a Cádiz-based security firm, owned by retired Spanish military officer David Morales. It was hired by the Ecuadorian embassy to the United Kingdom to provide security.

An investigation by EL PAÍS revealed that, in 2019, Morales and his employees may have recorded several months worth of private conversations between Assange and his lawyers, while spying on

dozens of his visitors, including medical personnel, politicians and journalists.

The publication in this newspaper of the audios and videos of the alleged espionage led to the arrest of Morales. Since 2019, Spain’s National High Court has been investigating him for crimes against privacy and for violating the confidentiality of attorney-client privilege. Morales is currently out on bail.

The surveillance of Assange, an Australian citizen, supposedly took place while American officials were trying to extradite him, to face charges for revealing classified information about the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite repeated attempts to have Assange transferred to the United States, Rafael Correa – then-president of Ecuador – kept the hacker under his protection.

The situation changed in 2019. President Lenin Moreno – Correa’s successor, who broke with the anti-American rhetoric of the previous administration – decided that he was no longer keen on antagonizing foreign countries by granting Assange exile. In April of that year, Ecuador’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expelled the Australian from the compound. He was subsequently detained by London Metropolitan Police.

In June of 2022, former Home Secretary Priti Patel approved Assange’s extradition from the UK to the US. Assange, however, has not exhausted all his legal options in the British court system. He is currently still appealing the extradition order from Belmarsh, a high-security men’s prison in southeast London.

In his formal legal request for information, Pedraz describes, in detail, the espionage to which he believes Assange was subjected to at the Ecuadorian embassy. He notes that some of the alleged victims of espionage include former US congressman Dana Rohrabacher and former-president Correa.

Pedraz has also previously requested the testimony of Mike Pompeo. A Trump appointee, Pompeo was the Director of the CIA from 2017 until 2018, before being appointed Secretary of State. William Evanina’s testimony has also been requested: he was the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center from 2014 until 2021, serving under a portion of the Obama administration and the entirety of the Trump administration.

This is not the first time that the National High Court of Spain has requested judicial assistance from the US government to investigate this case. Retired judge José de la Mata – Pedraz’s predecessor – previously asked American authorities to provide him with the IP addresses from which the UC Global SL server had been accessed. But the US Justice Department demanded that

De la Mata first reveal the identities of the whistleblowers within UC Global SL, who gave him the details about the alleged espionage.

“Conclusive statements are not enough… we need real facts and the sources of the facts,” read the response. It also asked De la Mata to explain why the IP addresses were “relevant and substantial to the investigation.” So far, nothing has come of this request.

Pedraz continues to ask US authorities for the same data and testimonies that De la Mata requested. He has explained to the House Intelligence Committee that, after three years of investigations, all signs point to US intelligence agencies having been the recipients of whatever UC Global SL gathered while surveilling Assange.

This past August, a group of US citizens who visited Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy sued former CIA director Mike Pompeo for alleged espionage. The lawsuit was filed by lawyers Margaret Ratner Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek, as well as journalists John Goetz and Charles Glass, both specialists in national security issues.

The suit claims that all four plaintiffs – along with dozens of other individuals – were spied on while visiting Assange during Pompeo’s tenure at the CIA. It cites statements made by Pompeo, in which he said that the WikiLeaks founder was a “target.”

The lawyers and journalists suing Pompeo believe that the CIA hired David Morales and his company to spy on Assange, his communications and his visitors, in order to learn his defense strategy in the face of the US extradition request.

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