(SI) — Last year, media reported that US officials had allegedly discussed the possibility of assassinating Julian Assange during his stay in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2017. The alleged plot presupposed kidnapping the WikiLeaks founder from the diplomatic mission or capturing him if he tried to escape.
Mike Pompeo, the former US secretary of state, has been summoned by a Spanish court to testify over claims the US had plotted “at the highest level” to assassinate WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange, reported The Telegraph.
Judge Pedraz had sent a request to US authorities to call Pompeo as a witness, a spokesman for Spain's National Court was cited by The Telegraph as saying, adding that, "There has been no reply as yet."
Judge Santiago Pedraz, of Spain's National Court, is leading a probe into whether Spanish security firm UC Global spied on Assange while providing security for the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
The Australian citizen had sought refuge at the embassy in 2012 in order to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape charges, which he denies. The whistleblower remained there until April 2019, when Ecuador’s new government revoked his asylum.
Lawyers representing Assange in Spain, including the former judge Baltasar Garzón, have accused Washington of "orchestrating" the espionage effort targeting the whistleblower. The claim that UC Global placed microphones and cameras in the embassy to spy on Assange’s private conversations and meetings.
The legal moves involving Mike Pompeo come as part of a petition filed by Aitor Martínez, one of the lawyers representing Assange in the proceedings against UC Global. In addition to summoning Pompeo, Judge Pedraz is also seeking to question William Evanina, a former US counterintelligence official who is said to have confessed to viewing security camera footage and audio recordings from inside the Ecuadorian Embassy.
‘Vengeance on Assange’
Last November Yahoo News had claimed that senior CIA and then-president Donald Trump administration officials had discussed at the "highest levels" the possibility of kidnapping or killing Julian Assange, who was then holed up at Ecuador’s embassy in London.
Mike Pompeo, who was the director of the CIA under republican POTUS Donald Trump from 2017 to 2018, “wanted vengeance on Assange”, according to one cited former national security official. The furious reaction was said to have been triggered by the publication by WikiLeaks of documents known as Vault 7. The leak – deplored as “the largest data loss in CIA history” -revealed how the CIA would hack Apple and Android mobile phones in overseas spying operations.
Speculative options allegedly considered by senior officials at the time were prompted by fears that Assange might try to escape the embassy hidden in a laundry cart. There were also concerns that Russia might try to bail Assange out of the UK and whisk him off to Moscow.
“We had all sorts of reasons to believe he was contemplating getting the hell out of there,” a source was cited by Yahoo News as saying, adding, “It was going to be like a prison break movie.”
Furthermore, according to a former senior counterintelligence official, “there was a discussion with the Brits about turning the other cheek or looking the other way when a team of guys went inside and did a rendition. “But the British said: ‘No way, you’re not doing that on our territory, that ain’t happening.’”
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No plans were ever approved, reported Yahoo, claiming that White House lawyers had also raised concerns about the legality of such a “plot.”
Mike Pompeo refused to confirm the veracity of the report, saying during an appearance on Megyn Kelly’s podcast in 2021:
“I can’t say much about this other than whoever those 30 people who allegedly spoke to one of these [Yahoo News] reporters — they should all be prosecuted for speaking about classified activity inside the Central Intelligence Agency.”
However, he confirmed that “pieces of it are true,” in reference to a CIA campaign to target WikiLeaks in the aftermath of the organization’s publication of highly sensitive docs.
“When bad guys steal those secrets we have a responsibility to go after them, to prevent [that] from happening,” Pompeo said.
However, the report on the alleged plot targeting Assange spurred his lawyer, Barry Pollack, to call on UK court in 2021 to consider the information and allow it to “further bolster its decision not to extradite to the US.”
As we now know, this did not happen.
‘Accomplice to US'
WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange on 4 October 2006, rose to prominence in 2010 when it began to publish leaks of classified government information, especially from the US.
Ever since WikiLeaks made public thousands of classified documents that shed light on war crimes committed by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Assange has been wanted by the US for alleged violations of the country's Espionage Act.
Assange has been on remand at the Belmarsh high-security prison in southeast London since October 2020, after serving an 11-month sentence for breach of bail after staying in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for seven years.
The journalist had entered the building in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex offence allegations which he has always denied. However, in 2019, two years after the Swedish prosecutor dropped the case against Assange, Ecuador revoked his citizenship, greenlighting UK police to enter the embassy to arrest him.
In April, the UK Westminster Magistrate's Court formally approved the extradition of Assange to the United States. In May, Assange's defense filed a representation to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to block his extradition. However, on 17 June Priti Patel approved Julian Assange's extradition to the US to face trial, with WikiLeaks slamming her as an “accomplice to the US'.
The decision to extradite him has been roundly condemned by several countries, including Russia and China, and a plethora of rights activists. Assange is set to appeal the decision.