EVERYONE can agree that Julian Assange only has himself to blame. Whether he’s a hero or a villain to you is an increasingly subjective question. But he is still the hacker prodigy who chose to enable the theft of classified material on an unprecedented scale before disseminating it with an arsonist’s indifference to damage. Nobody forced him to do so and he knew all along it was highly illegal. At the time, it was hard to discern in the man any obvious philosophical passion for causes; it was as if he discovered the technical formula for something – let’s call it embarrassing governments – that gave him fame, importance, praise and respect. He created a mission for himself and was suddenly a globally important person. His complete unwillingness to face his accusers and stand tall in a US court to make a case for the licitness of what he did, however, proves he is no martyr to a great cause. The rape charges brought against him in Sweden may or may not have been fair (opinions vary) but he wouldn’t face those either. Assange has lived above the law for years. He makes outwardly moral statements of justification – about transparency and the deadly lies of war – but not legal ones.
Until now. A very strange and suspicious series of events in the lead-up to Assange’s first extradition hearing (beginning Monday, today, UK time) to answer a US indictment in the Chelsea Manning matter makes an already byzantine case even murkier. From evidence presented in court during the investigation in Spain of UC Global – a Spanish company contracted to install security features in Ecuador’s London embassy – it emerged in October last year that Assange’s meetings with his lawyers (including left-wing celebrity, Geoffrey Robertson) were filmed and bugged. After falling out with his Ecuadorian friends in April 2019, Assange was sent packing from the embassy and arrested. UC Global’s director, David Morales, is accused (inter alia) of overseeing the alleged spying for the CIA – which is now presumed to be privy to the content of the conversations. Instructive dates are vague, if not absent, in some news reports but the surveillance likely started in earnest in mid-2017 – just as WikiLeaks began to publish the ultra sensitive Vault 7 documents.
The case against Morales was initially made by the reporters of Madrid’s left-leaning El Pais newspaper whose theories about his movements and motivations are, at best, tenuous. Their own summary of the purported ties between Morales and the Agency in the latter days of the Obama administration in 2016 and the first days of the newly elected Trump administration is embarrassingly circumstantial. This background was left out of the ABC’s Sunday report on the Assange-Robertson video. Yesterday, the ABC reported that human rights lawyer Robertson believes revelations of the secret recording of the meetings are a “lifeline.”
His reasoning is that a violation of Assange’s privacy during such discussions could sink the US government’s prosecution at any future trial. The QC cites the Pentagon Papers and the 1971 burglary at the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. The weakness of that as precedent is obvious: the Ecuadorian embassy is not the United States of America. Hence the attempt to exploit (or co-concoct) a legally exploitable connection to the CIA via Ecuador … via UC Global. The best even three ABC reporters could do for this evidence-free tale was to claim Assange and Robertson “were allegedly being targeted in a remarkable and deeply illegal surveillance operation possibly run at the request of the US Government.” Allegedly deeply possibly. Assange appeared in Woolwich crown court in London today. If extradited, he faces 175 years in prison for espionage.