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What’s At Stake in Julian Assange’s Extradition Trial

Julian Assange’s extradition trial in London this fall revealed the lengths to which the US government was willing to go to secure the return of the WikiLeaks founder to America. It also threw light on a disturbing abuse of process in the English courts.

Assange was indicted in federal district court in Virginia in 2019 on 17 counts of violating the 1917 Espionage Act by “unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defense,” as well as for conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer network. If the British court approves Assange’s extradition and he’s found guilty, he could be sentenced to as much as 175 years in a maximum-security prison under “Special Administrative Measures,” a particularly cruel version of solitary confinement.

Assange was indicted for spying, but Washington may have engaged in a bit of its own espionage in order to secure his extradition. In the month-long extradition trial, held in London’s Central Criminal Court, anonymous witnesses who had worked for a Spanish security firm testified that the firm, UC Global, bugged Assange when he was living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London—and that UC Global passed on the information it gathered to US intelligence.

UC Global had originally been hired by the Ecuadorean government simply to provide security for the Ecuadorean president’s daughters. But the mission changed, said the witnesses, after David Morales, owner of UC Global, traveled to Las Vegas and obtained a contract with a security company owned by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. According to the witnesses, Morales then became obsessed with monitoring and recording the lawyers who met with Assange, because, as Morales put it, “our American friends were requesting it.” The implication was that Adelson, a major Trump donor, was the cutout connecting UC Global to US intelligence through his own security company, which had close connections to US intelligence and security agencies.

Morales, who has been detained since last year and is on trial in Spain, frequently traveled to New York to deliver filmed material on Assange. Later, he asked his employees to set up a livestream connection from the embassy to an office in the United States. There were even plans to poison Assange, and Morales suggested the embassy door could be left open to kidnap him.

All this and much more was exposed by Gareth Peirce, Assange’s lawyer, and by Witness 1 and Witness 2, the former UC Global employees who decided to confess everything as long as their anonymity was maintained, because they fear retaliation from Morales and those associated with him.

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