The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States of America (USA) considered kidnapping and assassinating Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, a report published on Yahoo News says. The discussions occurred in 2017 after Donald Trump took oath as the president of USA.
There was significant debate regarding the legality of the operation with senior officials requesting ‘sketches’ and ‘options’ regarding how Julian Assange could be murdered. A senior counterintelligence official said that the possibility was discussed at the highest levels of the Trump administration.
The discussions were part of a larger CIA operation against Wikileaks that included spying extensively, spurring quarrel among associates and ‘stealing their electronic devices’, the report says. The ‘War’ against Assange was sparked by his publication of ‘Vault 7’, which contained information about CIA’s hacking tools, described by the agency as “the largest data loss in CIA history.”
Mike Pompeo, who was the CIA director back then, and other top honchos “were completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7.” “They were seeing blood,” a national security official under the Trump administration said.
Vault 7 sparked “a brand-new mindset with the administration for rethinking how to look at WikiLeaks as an adversarial actor,” another top counterintelligence official said. “That was new, and it was refreshing for the intelligence community and the law enforcement community.”
After Wikileaks was designated a “non-state hostile intelligence service”, numerous Wikileaks personnel had their communications and movements monitored while Assange was subjected to audio and visual surveillance, while he was lodged at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
“There were serious intel oversight concerns that were being raised through this escapade,” one Trump official is reported to have said about the entire series of events. The US also believed that Russian agents were planning to sneak Julian Assange out of the United Kingdom to Moscow. Consequently, for the US, their job was to prevent it from happening.
“It was beyond comical. It got to the point where every human being in a three-block radius was working for one of the intelligence services — whether they were street sweepers or police officers or security guards,” one former official said.
There were concerns in the Trump White House that the campaign against Wikileaks could serve as a precedent to target mainstream news organisations. Mike Pompeo’s animosity towards Wikileaks was not a secret.
In April, 2017, in an address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Pompeo said, “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service and has encouraged its followers to find jobs at the CIA in order to obtain intelligence.”
“It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” he added. There is no evidence to suggest that Wikileaks is backed by Russia and Pompeo’s allegations appear particularly contentious as it is precisely the argument used by Trump’s opponents to claim that he won the 2016 presidential election due to Russian interference.
Pompeo is reported to have told officials, ‘Nothing’s off limits, don’t self-censor yourself. I need operational ideas from you. I’ll worry about the lawyers in Washington.’ He and others proposed abducting Julian Assange and bringing him to USA, a process dubbed rendition. The idea, apparently, was to “break into the embassy, drag [Assange] out and bring him to where we want.”
A senior official said of the matter, “Trying to seize Assange from an embassy in the British capital struck some as ‘ridiculous’. This isn’t Pakistan or Egypt- we are talking about London.” “There was a discussion with the Brits about turning the other cheek or looking the other way when a team of guys went inside and did a rendition. But the British said, ‘No way, you’re not doing that on our territory, that ain’t happening’,” another official recounted.
“You can’t throw people in a car and kidnap them,” said another. A former official said that there were conversations “on whether killing Assange was possible and whether it was legal.” One person also reportedly said that the possibility of poisoning Assange was discussed as well.
It is not clear how much Donald Trump knew about all of this. There is a loophole that allows CIA to conduct counterintelligence operations without the US President’s consent, or even his knowledge. On his part, Trump denies ever considering Assange’s assassination.
“It’s totally false, it never happened. In fact, I think he’s been treated very badly,” he said. According to one official, the proposal to kill Julian Assange did not gain “serious traction”.
According to the report, US officials also wanted to label Glenn Gleenwald and Laura Poitras, who had helped Edward Snowden expose the American surveillance state, as “information brokers” so that more ‘investigation tools’ could be used against them with the possibility of the two being prosecuted.
“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,” Assange’s US lawyer told Yahoo News.
Assange is currently under imprisonment at one of the harshest jails in the United Kingdom for exposing US war crimes and their undercover secrets. He has been lodged in prison since 2019 and a British judge has previously blocked US requests for his extradition.