UK police to end 24/7 surveillance of embassy that houses WikiLeaks founder

Embassy of Ecuador in LondonPolice in London will no longer physically monitor the embassy of Ecuador in the British capital, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living for over two years, fighting against extradition to Sweden. Assange was granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador in June of 2012, after Swedish authorities charged him with rape. But the Australian-born Assange claims that the charges are part of a plot to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for having leaked hundreds of thousands of documents belonging to the Department of Defense and the Department of State.

Acting on a request from the Swedish government, London’s Metropolitan Police Service, known informally as Scotland Yard, has been patrolling the streets around the embassy 24 hours a day, in order to prevent Assange from being smuggled out of the building by Ecuadorean officials. Standard diplomatic protocol prevents British authorities from entering the embassy, which is technically considered Ecuadorean territory.

On Monday, however, the Metropolitan Police said they would cease their 24/7 patrols around the Ecuadorean embassy, which is located in London’s fashionable Knightsbridge district. According to a police official, constant physical surveillance of the embassy was “no longer proportional” to Assange’s charges, which meant that Scotland Yard would be unable to continue “to commit officers to a permanent presence”. The official said that the decision had been taken after consultation with the British Home Office, and that the reasons for the change in policy were primarily financial. According to reports by the British government, the intensive monitoring of the Ecuadorean embassy has cost the British taxpayer in excess of £11 million, which amounts to nearly $18 million. The resulting strain on policing resources has prompted some British politicians to dismiss Scotland Yard’s operation as a misuse of taxpayer funds.

However, Scotland Yard said it would substitute overt physical surveillance of the Ecuadorean embassy with “a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest” Assange if he tries to leave the building. It did not elaborate on that statement. Last summer, the Swedish government dropped three of the four charges against the WikiLeaks founder. The remaining charge is expected to expire in August 2020.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 October 2015 | Permalink

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Calls in France to offer asylum, citizenship, to Snowden and Assange

Assange and SnowdenLeaders from all sides of the French political spectrum urged the French government on Thursday to offer political asylum, and even French citizenship, to the American defector Edward Snowden and to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The calls were made in response to news earlier this week that the United States National Security Agency spied on the personal communications of three French presidents from the 1990s to at least 2012. The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what the website described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. As intelNews predicted on Wednesday, the French government’s response to the revelations has been relatively muted. But many French politicians, including one minister in the government of French President Francois Hollande, called for Paris to extend offers of political asylum, and even French citizenship, to Assange and Snowden.

The initial call was issued by Laurent Joffrin, the influential managing editor of Libération, the Paris-based newspaper that partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA documents earlier this week. In a leading editorial published in the paper on Thursday, Joffrin said that French protests against NSA spying “have no more effect than scolding a rude toddler”, and added that by offering asylum to Snowden, France would “stand up [to America] and send a clear and effective message to Washington”.

Shortly after Joffrin’s editorial, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, president of the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents in the French Parliament, said that France should have given Snowden political asylum back in 2013, when he originally requested it. Lagarde was quoted in the French press as saying that “the French nation has already been dishonored by refusing to accept Edward Snowden’s request for political asylum when he asked for it in 2013”. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leftist member of the European Parliament, agreed with Lagarde, adding that Assange and Snowden must not only receive political asylum in France, but also be given “the French nationality”.

On Thursday afternoon, Jean-Pierre Mignard, a close friend and longtime political advisor to President Hollande, said that “given the service they have rendered to the cause of human freedom, France could accommodate a request for asylum from Assange and Snowden, should they request it”. Mignard added that “French law allows the Republic to grant asylum to any foreign subject who faces persecution for taking action in favor of human freedom”.

When asked by BFM TV, France’s most popular news channel, whether political asylum could be extended to Snowden and Assange, France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said that she was “absolutely shocked by the idea”, because such a course of action would drive a powerful wedge between France and the US, two countries with deep historical ties. But she added that such a move would constitute a strong “symbolic gesture” against espionage, and thus remained on the table as a possible policy maneuver to be adopted by the government of France.

Late on Thursday, however, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls indicated that any discussion of an offer of asylum to Assange and Snowden by the government of France was premature. Speaking at a hastily organized press conference to discuss the NSA espionage revelations during an official visit to Colombia, Valls told reporters that the question of offering asylum to the two men “did not arise” during internal government talks. “And in any case”, said Valls, such an initiative “would not address the issue at hand”, namely American espionage against the French presidency. France’s goal is to extract guarantees from Washington that all espionage against French officials would stop, noted the French prime minister. If France offered asylum to Assange and Snowden, American espionage against French targets would likely reach unprecedented levels, he added.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/26/01-1723/

Bugging device found in Ecuador’s UK embassy where Assange lives

Ricardo PatinoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of Ecuador has announced the discovery of a “hidden listening device” inside its embassy in London, United Kingdom, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge. Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration, Ricardo Patino, said the device was discovered during a security sweep on June 14, in preparation for his official visit there. Speaking during a press conference on Wednesday in Ecuadorean capital Quito, Patino told journalists that the microphone was discovered inside the office of Ambassador Ana Alban, Ecuador’s envoy to the UK. Patino arrived in London two days later and met with Assange, as well as with Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, William Hague, to discuss Assange’s case. The WikiLeaks founder has been hosted inside the Ecuadorean embassy for over a year, resisting extradition to Sweden, where his is facing charges of rape and sexual assault. Assange denies the charges are valid and maintains that the Swedish government is intent on extraditing him to the United States, where he is likely to face more charges over Cablegate. This is the term commonly used to describe the unauthorized release in 2010 by WikiLeaks of thousands of classified cables sent to the US State Department by American diplomatic missions around the world. Patino told journalists on Wednesday that he “regretted to have to inform” them about the discovery, which he characterized as “another instance of declining ethics in the international relations between governments”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #837

Alexander LitvinenkoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Russian ex-spy ‘would testify’ in Litvinenko inquiry. The 2006 murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko has never been solved and remains the subject of conflicting narratives and still-deepening intrigue over who may have killed him and why. Now a key witness, a US-based former Russian spy who worked with Litvinenko in the months leading up to his death, says he is willing to give evidence at a public inquiry. British police considered him such a vital witness that they visited the US three times to persuade him to give evidence at the inquest.
►►Assange reveals GCHQ messages discussing extradition. Authorities at GCHQ, Britain’s eavesdropping agency, face embarrassing revelations about internal correspondence in which WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is discussed, apparently including speculation that he is being framed by Swedish authorities seeking his extradition on rape allegations. The records were revealed by Assange himself in a Sunday night interview with Spanish television. A message from September 2012, apparently says: “They are trying to arrest him on suspicion of XYZ. It is definitely a fit-up. Their timings are too convenient right after Cablegate“.
►►North Korean defector accused of spying by his sister. Earlier this year, Yoo Woo-sung, one of the most prominent North Korean defectors living in South Korea, was arrested on charges of espionage. Now court documents have shown that Yoo was arrested after testimony from his sister, who said he had been sent on a mission by North Korea’s secret police to infiltrate the defector community and pass back information about the people he met. The Washington Post reports that defectors from the North are increasingly facing the brunt of this suspicion.
►►Iran hangs two men for spying for Israel and US. Mohammad Heydari was found guilty of passing intelligence on “security issues and national secrets” to Israeli Mossad agents in exchange for cash. Kourosh Ahmadi was convicted of providing intelligence to the CIA, Tehran’s prosecutor’s office said. It is not clear when Heydari and Ahmadi were arrested or where they were tried. Their execution was handed down by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court and confirmed by the Supreme Court, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.

News you may have missed #785 (interview edition)

Stella RimingtonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Interview with first-ever NSA Compliance Director. John DeLong, the first-ever compliance director at the US National Security Agency, has given an interview to NextGov. In it, he says that “we’re nothing if we lose the confidence of the American people”. He is referring to frequent allegations, by whistleblowers and others, that the Agency is increasingly spying on Americans’ communications. As Compliance Director, DeLong is responsible for ensuring that the NSA abides by US law, which forbids it from intercepting electronic messages exchanged between US citizens or persons.
►►Ex-MI5 boss offers comment on WikiLeaks. Former MI5 Director-General Dame Stella Rimington has criticized “the indiscriminate pouring out into the public domain of streams of leaked documents by Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks organization”. But she also said that the US government should have taken better steps to prevent WikiLeaks from acquiring the information in the first place. Speaking at an international archiving conference in Brisbane, Australia, Dame Stella said that while the WikiLeaks saga could prompt the US government to come up with better databases, it would more likely encourage it to be even more secretive. This, she added, “must be absolutely the opposite effect of what WikiLeaks was seeking”.
►►Interview with NSA whistleblower. Filmmaker Laura Poitras interviews William Binney, a 32-year veteran of the US National Security Agency, who helped set up STELLAR WIND, the NSA’s top-secret domestic spying program, which was put in place after 9/11. The program was so controversial that it nearly caused top Justice Department officials to resign in protest in 2004. Binney, who resigned over STELLAR WIND in 2001, and began speaking out publicly in the last year, explains how the program he created for foreign intelligence gathering was turned inward on America.

Interview with NSA whistleblower

WikiLeaks document to expose Swedish Foreign Minister as US spy

Carl BildtBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
International whistleblower website WikiLeaks says it intends to publish a classified document that allegedly exposes Sweden’s current Foreign Minister as a spy for the United States. According to Swedish newspaper Expressen, which says it has seen the document in question, Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, is shown to have operated as an informant for the United States since the mid-1970s. The revelation, which is allegedly included in a classified diplomatic cable sent from the American embassy in Stockholm to the US Department of State, is likely to cause a major political crisis in Sweden and end the career of Carl Bildt, a popular politician who served as Sweden’s Prime Minister between 1991 and 1994. In an article published on Wednesday, Expressen cites an anonymous WikiLeaks source that claims Bildt “cooperated with the American government in a manner that is in direct violation of Swedish law”. The paper also states that, according to the incriminating document, Bildt was initially recruited by US intelligence through Republican political strategist Karl Rove, who is known to have been “an old personal friend” of the Swedish politician. According to the Expressen report, WikiLeaks has decided to publicize the leaked diplomatic cable as a warning against the Swedish government, which is said to be considering extraditing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #474

  • Israel jails Arab activist for spying. A court in Haifa has sentenced prominent Israeli Arab activist Ameer Makhoul to nine years in prison and another year suspended sentence for charges of spying and contacting a foreign agent from Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
  • Assange used disguise to evade surveillance new book reveals. WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange disguised himself as an old woman in a wig for fear he was being followed by US intelligence, according to a book published this week by British quality broadsheet The Guardian. According to another book, to be published by journalists at German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel, Assange expressed private fears that the content of the US embassy cables was too explosive for his organization to withstand.
  • US Congressman wants to know who wants to know. Republican Representative Darrell Issa wants to know the names of hundreds of thousands of ordinary American citizens who have requested copies of federal government documents in recent years. Issa, the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, saying he simply wants to “make sure agencies respond in a timely fashion to Freedom of Information Act requests”. Hmmm…