A group of journalists and lawyers sued the CIA and its former director, Mike Pompeo, over allegations the intelligence agency spied on them when they visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during his stay in Ecuador’s embassy in London.
The lawsuit said that the CIA under Pompeo violated the privacy rights of those American journalists and lawyers by allegedly spying on them. The plaintiffs include journalists Charles Glass and John Goetz and attorneys Margaret Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek, who have represented Julian Assange.
Monday’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The filing said the journalists and lawyers were required to surrender their electronic devices to Undercover Global S.L., a private security company that at the time provided security to the embassy, before their visits to Assange. The lawsuit alleged the company copied and provided that information to the CIA, headed by Pompeo. More specifically:
Beginning in or about January 2017 and continuing until the Ecuadorian government terminated UC Global’s contract in or about April 2018, Defendant Pompeo approved, and UC Global implemented, an extensive surveillance program which: (a) converted video surveillance of Assange to audio-video surveillance by placing hidden microphones on new cameras; (b) placed hidden microphones inside the Embassy and switched out recordings that were downloaded twice monthly and given to the CIA (c) ensured that the CIA could in real time be able to directly observe and listen to Assange’s daily activities at the Embassy; (d) surreptitiously copied and took images of the passports, including pages with stamps and visas, of all visitors; and, as most relevant here, (e) seized, dismantled, imaged, photographed and digitized the computers, laptops, mobile phones, recording devices and other electronics brought into the Embassy by the plaintiffs, including but not limited to IMEI and SIM codes, fronts, backs and insides of visitors’ devices, downloaded stored material (collectively, “Illegally Seized Material”), thereby invading Plaintiffs’ privacy without notice, authorization or consent.
The founder of WikiLeaks, which published clandestine documents showing evidence of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, is wanted in the US on 18 charges, such as spying. Under the Espionage Act, Assange could be sentenced to 175 years.
From the complaint, the “prominent American businessman, now deceased,” who owned the Las Vegas Sands hotel at the time was Sheldon Adelson, a prominent supporter of Donald Trump ally and supporter.
The complaint noted that former UC Global employees have said that the deal with the agency “included selling information obtained through the illegal surveillance of Assange to the CIA.”
As I covered in several articles, UC Global worked with President Lenin Moreno of Ecuador to arrange for the spying. Moreno turned his back on Ecuadorians and Julian Assange after several meetings with Vice President Mike Pence under Trump’s administration. Sources say that former president Moreno lives in hiding now.
When the plaintiffs were asked if their lawsuit would help Julian Assange’s extradition hearing, several described a “potential ripple effect” from the lawsuit and the potential discovery process.
The formal complaint can be read here in its entirety: