Reports of an alleged CIA plot against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange have sparked condemnation from international media freedom organisations, as well as calls for him to be freed.
A new investigative report published by Yahoo News on 26 September cites more than 30 anonymous US officials who blew the whistle on a “supposed vendetta” led by the at-the-time director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo.
The plot against him was started following the 2016 Wikileaks publication of classified documents dubbed the “largest data loss in CIA history”. This was in addition to document dumps published since 2011, which caused significant embarrassment for the US government.
Rebecca Vincent, the Director of International Campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, called the report “alarming” and said it underscores the grave risk he remains in while in detention.
The alleged CIA plot against Julian Assange is alarming, and underscores the very serious risk he remains at in detention. Assange should be immediately released, and the Biden Administration should close the case against him once and for all. #FreeAssange https://t.co/tFeZKyK1Ok
— Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent) September 28, 2021
She called on the Biden administration to close the case and release Assange, citing concerns for his well-being and press freedom.
“The exposed alleged plots that could cause severe harm or loss of life to Assange or his associates are threats to press freedom itself. The Biden administration must act immediately to distance itself from these shocking reports of the Trump administration’s actions, close the case against Assange once and for all, and allow for his release from prison before any further harm is caused.”
It’s alleged that the CIA had planned several scenarios that would deal with Assange. These ranged from spying on him and his associates and escalated to abduction and even murder.
One of the whistleblowers is quoted as saying, “there seemed to be no boundaries” regarding what the CIA would do.
The report also suggested that the alleged plans of the CIA may have influenced the prosecution: “Some National Security Council officials worried that the CIA’s proposals to kidnap Assange would not only be illegal but also might jeopardise the prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder. Concerned the CIA’s plans would derail a potential criminal case; the Justice Department expedited the drafting of charges against Assange to ensure that they were in place if he were brought to the United States.”
The International Press Institute also commented on the story, calling it “disturbing”. They, too, reiterated the call on the US government to abandon its prosecution of Assange.
IPI reiterates its call on the US government to abandon its prosecution of Assange under the Espionage Act.https://t.co/SBOlDxX0xw
— IPI-The Global Network for Independent Journalism (@globalfreemedia) September 28, 2021
This new report is the latest twist in a protracted series of events that have occurred since the first Wikileaks were published.
In August, the lead witness in the US case against Assange admitted he lied in his testimony given to the authorities.
Sigurdur Ingi Thoradarson, an Icelandic national and a convicted paedophile and fraudster, said in an interview with Stundin that he had fabricated accounts of the leak of sensitive information to Assange and Wikileaks.
One of the critical claims of the case and the one on which the extradition order is based is that Assange asked Thoradarson to hack into computers and acquire audio recordings of conversations between high-ranking officials and members of parliament of a NATO country.
The prosecution argued that Assange actively sought this information and attempted to retrieve it through hacking. Thordarson clearly states in his interview that he had no idea what the recordings he passed to Assange were and that he’d never told the FBI he gained them through hacking.
He also confirmed that Assange didn’t ask him to get them, thus blowing a hole in the entire case of the US government.
Assange is currently wanted in the US on 18 charges, including conspiring to hack US military databases and publishing sensitive information. He was then accused of rape and sexual assault in Sweden shortly after Wikileaks was launched, although it’s believed these charges were an attempt to achieve extradition to Sweden, who in turn would send him to the US. The charges were dropped in 2019.
He then sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he remained for seven years until the protection was removed in 2019. British police stormed the embassy, and he was arrested for breaching previous bail conditions.
Since then, he has been kept at maximum-security Belmarsh Prison. UK courts ruled he couldn’t be extradited to the US due to mental health concerns earlier this year. The US government won the right to appeal this decision in mid-August.
The extradition proceedings will continue on 27 and 28 October in London with the US government’s appeal hearing.