Ecuador’s $5 Million Surveillance Program Used To Spy On Julian Assange

Ecuador’s $5 Million Surveillance Program Used To Spy On Julian Assange

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is no stranger to persecution. Nearing his sixth year inside London’s Embassy of Ecuador (claiming diplomatic asylum for sexual assault allegations in Sweden which have since been dropped), an article from The Guardian and Focus Ecuador reveal the same country giving him refuge is spending millions of dollars to potentially violate his fundamental human rights.

During his interview with The Intercept this past Wednesday, the country’s former president Rafael Correa condemned actions taken by the government to make their asylum seeker feel more like a prisoner — calling the government’s decision to restrict Assange’s internet access and visitors from the London embassy a form “torture”, violating Ecuador’s duties to protect the well-being of their persecuted guests.

The former president also responded to the controversial article claiming, under his administration, Ecuador spent a total of $5 million on a secret intelligence program “Operation Hotel,” where around $66,000 a month was spent on undercover agents and a security company to monitor the journalist’s day-to-day activities and visitors.

Speaking to award-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, the former president simply mocked the story as highly “sensationalistic,” alleging the newspaper want to frame “routine and modest embassy security measures” as a scandal. This isn’t necessarily false given they claim the security was to “protect and support” Wikileaks’ lead journalist.

Why the government must overtly surveil these visitors, which include right-wing U.K. politician Nigel Farage, left-wing political philosopher Noam Chomsky, as well as “hackers, activists, lawyers and journalists” said to be monitored during their time with Assange, is unclear.

Correa told Greenwald these decisions are during a time where Ecuador no longer has “normal sovereign relations with the American government — just submission,” which could potentially be rectified if they decided just to give up the controversial truth-teller.

As of the 27th of March, the Ecuadorian Embassy made the decision to cut off internet access for Assange, having made a name for himself with shitposting content on social media websites like Twitter, regularly contacting employees for his publication and making streamed appearances on political programs like HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, RT and Fox News. The Washington Post claims jamming devices were installed to prevent Assange from online activity, paired with the government claiming Assange violated a 2017 agreement he signed with his hosts vowing not to use these communications to “interfere in the affairs of other states.”

Proof of this agreement has not been provided.

“The Ecuador government warns that the conduct of Assange via his messages on social media puts at risk the good relations that Ecuador maintains with the United Kingdom, the European Union and other nations,” the statement said, failing to cite any examples as to which posts caused this.

Wikileaks scandals are centered around journalism produced during the 2016 presidential election, releasing emails from both the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, which provided evidence of the campaign contradictions on policy, unethical relationships with the media, and financial-political corruption that stacked the Democratic primary in favor of Clinton against her former rival candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). What they claim happened during 2017–2018 has nowhere near the amount of meaningful impact.

Tensions with between Ecuador and Western-European governments has existed for years. Understandably, Assange refused to accept extradition to Sweden for the sexual assault investigation because of fears this would result in another extradition to the U.S., where he could face the death penalty under The Espionage Act of 1917 for committing the grave crime of journalism. The Swedish government had the power to conduct this extradition.

Correa told The Intercept that Ecuador was willing to make a compromise, telling Swedish investigators they were more than welcome to interrogate Assange in their embassy, which happened in 2016 prior to the charges being dropped. Now Assange remains in detention for skipping bail on these dropped charges after his supporters paid £240,000 in cash. Police still circle the embassy after the courts ruled he must be sent to Sweden, despite there no longer being a sexual assault case to decide.

Even after a United Nations panel ruled in 2016 that the actions of the U.K. government were a form of “arbitrary detention,” violating Assange’s rights on very little legal grounds, British officials decided to ignore the ruling regardless, which could be used as a pretext to hand him over to the most powerful country in the world for prosecution.

There’s no doubt it’s within the United States’ interest to have Assange prosecuted on their soil. TrigTent has previously reported on the DNC lawsuit brought against the Russian government, Russian oligarchs, hackers they suspect are Russian, members of the Trump campaign, regular Infowars contributor Roger Stone Jr., and Wikileaks for the outcome of the 2016 presidential election where their candidate lost.

Under Paragraph 170 of the lawsuit, Wikileaks is accused of  “economic espionage” between their sources who obtained the DNC-Podesta emails and the publication. Some of journalism’s greatest stories come from government accusations of espionage. Examine the backlash behind The Pentagon Paper, the heavily classified military documents from the Eisenhower days to Nixon, which was leaked to the Washington Post and The New York Times by former government analyst turned Vietnam War whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. A supreme court lawsuit ruled 6–3 in favor of The Washington Post and The New York Times’ right to publish the military material that exposed the use of “agent orange,” the highly toxic chemical now considered illegal under international law.

Back then, the government claimed this was espionage because it could potentially aid a Congressionally declared enemy like Vietnam militants. With the DNC claim against Russia, the charge is less credible, having yet to prove Russia was behind the release of the emails any more than China, Iran or an inside DNC source. The source behind the emails is still a secret, yet Assange, whose outlet has never retracted a story, has denied it was Russia. This has been largely ignored, however. Correa, who denounced Ecuador and western governments for “basically attacking Julian’s mental health,” is still adamant the protection of the journalist is both legally and morally important.

“We don’t agree with everything Assange has done or what he says,” Correa told The Intercept. “And we never wanted to impede the Swedish investigation. We said all along that he would go to Sweden immediately in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the U.S., but they would never give that. And we knew they could have questioned him in our embassy, but they refused for years to do so.” With new reports that show the removal of extra security from the embassy, Correa now wonders if Ecuador, under the administration of President Moreno, will continue to uphold their status as an independent country, or whether they’re akin to western puppets who will push the journalist further to the edge of political prosecution.