Obsessed with Assange, Mike Pompeo wanted WikiLeaks founder kidnapped, assassinated or poisoned, claims report

The Yahoo News investigation is based on conversations with more than 30 former US officials

FP Staff September 30, 2021 18:03:19 IST
Obsessed with Assange, Mike Pompeo wanted WikiLeaks founder kidnapped, assassinated or poisoned, claims report

File photo of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Reuters

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), during Donald Trump’s presidency, had chalked out plans to kidnap and possibly assassinate Wikileaks founder Julian Assange when he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, a report has claimed.

The report by Yahoo news states, "This Yahoo News investigation, based on conversations with more than 30 former US officials — eight of whom described details of the CIA’s proposals to abduct Assange — reveals for the first time one of the most contentious intelligence debates of the Trump presidency and exposes new details about the US government’s war on WikiLeaks. It was a campaign spearheaded by Mike Pompeo that bent important legal strictures, potentially jeopardised the Justice Department’s work toward prosecuting Assange, and risked a damaging episode in the United Kingdom, the United States’ closest ally."

The CIA has however declined to comment and Pompeo did not respond to requests for comment from the news agency. However, in a statement to Yahoo News, Trump denied that he ever considered having Assange assassinated. “It’s totally false, it never happened,” he said. Trump seemed to express some sympathy for Assange’s plight. “In fact, I think he’s been treated very badly,” he added.

Here's what the report says:

  1. The CIA plotted to kidnap the WikiLeaks founder in 2017, spurring heated debate among Trump administration officials over the legality and practicality of such an operation. A few senior officials even discussed killing Assange, going so far as to request “sketches” or “options” for how to assassinate him
  2. Even the possibility of poisoning Assange was discussed
  3. Pompeo publicly describe the group in 2017 as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” The designation opened the door for agency operatives to take far more aggressive actions, treating the organisation as it does adversary spy services
  4. A Spanish security company UC Global, which was hired by Ecuador to help shield its embassy from prying eyes was in fact doing double duty —was providing US intelligence agencies with detailed reports of Assange’s activities and visitors as well as video and audio surveillance of Assange from secretly installed devices in the embassy, the employees testified.
  5. US Officials developed multiple tactical plans to thwart any Kremlin attempt to spring Assange, some of which envisioned clashes with Russian operatives in the British capital.

What warranted the anger

In March 2017, Wikileaks had published thousands of documents detailing the CIA's cyber-warfare programme.

Consequently, CIA director, Mike Pompeo, was seeking revenge on WikiLeaks and Assange, who had by then sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape allegations he denied. Pompeo and other top agency leaders “were so embarrassed about Vault 7.... they were seeing blood.” “WikiLeaks was a complete obsession of Pompeo’s... After Vault 7, Pompeo and [Deputy CIA Director Gina] Haspel wanted vengeance on Assange,” as per the report.

Wikileaks

Wikileaks is a whistle-blowing website that was founded in December 2006. It is best known for:

  • Leaking gun camera footage of a 2007 airstrike by US Army helicopters in Baghdad that killed at least a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists, and wounded two young children.
  • Published several caches of classified and sensitive US government documents related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables.
  • The organisation helped Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor who had fled to Hong Kong with a massive trove of classified materials, some of which revealed that the US government was illegally spying on Americans, escape to Russia.
  • In 2016 WikiLeaks published Democratic Party emails which is said to have impacted the election outcome.

Reaction

"As an American citizen, I find it absolutely outrageous that our government would be contemplating kidnapping or assassinating somebody without any judicial process simply because he had published truthful information,” Barry Pollack, Assange’s US lawyer has told Yahoo News. He hoped that the UK courts will consider this information and it will bolster its decision not to extradite him to the US.

Assange is now housed in a London prison as the courts there decide on a US request to extradite the WikiLeaks founder on charges of attempting to help former US Army analyst Chelsea Manning break into a classified computer network and conspiring to obtain and publish classified documents in violation of the Espionage Act.

With input from agencies

Updated Date:

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