US ‘plotted to kill Julian Assange and make it look like an accident’: Spies discussed kidnapping or poisoning WikiLeaks founder in Ecuadorean embassy, extradition trial hears

United States spies hatched a plot to kidnap or even poison Julian Assange using shady Spanish private detectives after he leaked 250,000 top secret documents online, his extradition hearing was told yesterday.

The WikiLeaks founder’s human rights barrister Edward Fitzgerald, who has previously represented Moors Murderer Myra Hindley and hate preacher Abu Hamza, said an attack inside London’s Ecuadorean embassy would have looked like an ‘accident’.

The QC said private security from a Spanish company, acting on behalf of the US authorities, were involved in ‘intrusive and sophisticated’ surveillance of his client, but were outed by a mysterious Iberian whistleblower known only as ‘witness two’.

The covert monitoring allegedly began after UC Global’s David Morales returned from a Las Vegas security trade fair in around July 2016 with a contract purportedly for a yacht belonging to Sheldon Adelson, a financial backer of Donald Trump.

“But in fact, Mr Morales had indeed made a side agreement to provide information gathered about Mr Assange to the dark side – in other words, US intelligence agencies,” said Mr. Fitzgerald.

Visitors, including lawyers for the 48-year-old, who is facing extradition to America, are said to have been targeted by live-stream audio and video devices placed inside the embassy and laser microphones from outside.

Referring to witness two’s evidence, Mr Fitzgerald said, “There were conversations about whether there should be more extreme measures contemplated, such as kidnapping or poisoning Julian Assange in the embassy.”

Reading from a witness statement, Mr Fitzgerald continued: ‘David (Morales) said the Americans were desperate and had even suggested more extreme measures could be applied against the guest to put an end to the situation.’

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‘It’s simply untrue’ that Julian Assange put US sources’ lives in danger, says his father

Julian Assange’s father has said it is ‘simply untrue’ that his son’s Wikileaks revelations put sources’ lives in danger – as his US extradition battle yesterday was told he would be at a ‘high risk’ of suicide if he was sent to an American prison.

Opening the case against the 48-year-old on Monday, James Lewis QC said some sources ‘disappeared’ after he put them at risk of ‘serious harm, torture or even death’.

He told District Judge Vanessa Baraitser that information published by WikiLeaks was ‘useful to an enemy’ of the US – with material found at al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan when he was killed in a 2011 raid.

Responding after the hearing, Assange’s father John Shipton said that ‘do damage was done.’

He said, “The essential element of the prosecution case was that the sources were endangered, that their sources were endangered, this is simply not true.

“In Chelsea Manning’s trial the Pentagon spokesman under oath at the trial said that nobody was hurt. Robert Gates testimony before congress, Robert Gates is ex-secretary of defence, he said that yes it’s embarrassing, yes it’s awkward, but that no damage was done.”

He said there was a suggestion the embassy door could be left open to make a kidnapping look like it could have been ‘an accident’, adding ‘even the possibility of poisoning had been discussed’.

The extraordinary claims were made on the first day of Assange’s extraordinary British legal face-off with Donald Trump’s Government, which continues at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court today.

Assange, who is being held in Belmarsh Prison after being dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy last year, appeared in the dock at the London court next door yesterday. 

He is battling to avoid extradition to Virginia where he faces 18 charges and a jail term of up to 175 years for leaking state secrets in 250,000 classified documents published by WikiLeaks online in 2010.

But Assange’s QC Edward Fitzgerald said extradition to an American prison extradition would be the ‘height of inhumanity’, exposing him to inhumane conditions in an American prison, leading to a high risk of suicide.

James Lewis QC, representing the US Government, said Assange had conspired with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack Department of Defense computers and share its secrets.

Mr Lewis said documents that could only have been sourced from WikiLeaks were found in Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistani compound after US Navy SEALs raided it and shot him dead in 2011.  This, argued Mr Lewis, is clear evidence that the information from the leaks was ‘useful to the enemies of the United States of America’.

The British QC added: ‘The US is aware of sources, whose redacted names and other identifying information was contained in classified documents published by WikiLeaks, who subsequently disappeared’.

Mr Fitzgerald outlined the 48-year-old’s defence claiming he is an innocent man whose extradition is ‘politically-motivated’ by the Trump administration who want his ‘head on a pike’ to scare off potential leakers and whistleblowers.

He said, “Prosecution is not motivated by genuine concern for criminal justice but by politics.

“This extradition should be barred because the prosecution is being pursued for political motives and not in good faith”.

He added the extradition attempt was directed at Assange ‘because of the political opinions he holds’, and said he would be denied a fair trial in the United States.

Up to 500 supporters including fashion designer Vivienne Westwood were camped outside and District Judge Vanessa Baraitser was forced to send a message out to the crowd asking them to reduce the volume of their ‘Free Julian Assange’ chanting because it was disrupting proceedings.

Assange later stood up in the dock and said: ‘I am very appreciative of the public support and understand they must be disgusted..’

But the judge stopped him from speaking, instead asking his lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald QC, to address her.

He said: ‘What Mr Assange is saying is he can’t hear and can’t concentrate because of the noise outside.’

Julian Assange would be ‘at risk of suicide’ in an ‘inhuman and degrading’ US jail, says his QC

Julian Assange would be a suicide risk of extradited to the US, his legal team has said.

Mr. Fitzgerald said: ‘Prosecution is not motivated by genuine concern for criminal justice but by politics.

‘This extradition should be barred because the prosecution is being pursued for political motives and not in good faith.’

Mr. Fitzgerald continued that Assange would be at risk of inhuman and degrading conditions in an American prison, and would be at risk of suicide.

He added the extradition attempt was directed at Assange ‘because of the political opinions he holds’, and said he would be denied a fair trial in the United States.

Mr Fitzgerald continued: ‘It would involve a fundamental denial of his right to a fair trial. It would expose him to inhuman and degrading treatment.’

He added that Assange had not assisted whistleblower Chelsea Manning in accessing the documents, as has been claimed.

Mr Fitzgerald also said the delay in making the extradition request showed the political nature of the case.

He continued: ‘President Trump came into power with a new approach for freedom of the press… amounting effectively to declaring war on investigative journalists.

‘It’s against that background Julian Assange has been made an example of.

‘It’s against that background the Trump administration decided to make an example of Julian Assange, he was the obvious sign of everything Trump condemned.’

Assange’s legal team argue his case could lead to criminalising activities crucial to investigative journalists – but Mr Lewis said being a journalist ‘does not excuse criminality’ and ‘it is inconceivable any responsible publication would knowingly publish information that puts people’s lives at risk’.

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He added: ‘The defence wish to paint Mr Assange as a defender of liberty but that is not for this court to decide’.  

Mr Lewis said the majority of the charges relate to ‘straightforward criminal’ activity, which he described as a ‘conspiracy to steal from and hack into’ the department of defence computer system along with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

‘These are ordinary criminal charges and any person, journalist or source who hacks or attempts to gain unauthorised access to a secure system or aids and abets others to do so is guilty of computer misuse,’ Mr Lewis said.

‘Reporting or journalism is not an excuse for criminal activities or a licence to break ordinary criminal laws.

‘This is true in the UK as it is in the USA, and indeed in any civilised country in the world.’

He added the defence claim that Assange might receive a jail term of 170 years was hyperbole.

But Mr Lewis said that under the UK Official Secrets Act any person who ‘obtained or communicated’ information which is useful to an enemy of the state commits an offence.

‘[The allegation says] that Chelsea Manning was a US citizen and serving solider who obtained and communicated to Mr Assange information which may have been of use to an enemy,’ he said.

In leaking documents that he knew would be of use to enemies of the US, Assange caused ‘serious damage to national security’, the court heard.

The fact that he solicited the classified material by itself is enough to prove Assange committed ‘aiding and abetting’ under US law, said Mr Lewis.

Edward Fitzerald QC, for Assange, told the court that journalistic work is protected as ‘freedom of expression’ under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.

But Mr Lewis said that the 1989 Official Secrets Act removed the ‘public interest’ defence when it came to revealing security matters.

The court heard that Assange soliciting the classified intelligence from Manning would also be an offence under the act if it took place in the UK.

“It is in relation to a a person who is or has been a Crown servant or government contractor is guilty if without lawful authority makes a damaging disclosure of any information relating to defence,” said Mr Lewis.

“If a journalist or newspaper published secret information which is likely to cause harm within the category, it commits an offence.”

A clean-shaven Assange entered the dock at Woolwich Crown Court’s court number 2, which is sitting as Belmarsh magistrates’ court in front of District Judge Vanessa Baraitser.

Wearing a grey suit, and grey sweater over a white shirt, he spoke to confirm his name and date of birth.

Assange’s supporters have held a 24/7 vigil outside the top security jail since last September – and up to 500 were outside court for the case, with their chanting clearly heard in the courtroom.

The 48-year-old is wanted in America on 18 charges over the publication of US cables a decade ago and if found guilty could face a 175-year prison sentence.  (Daily Mail)

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