Shortly after President Donald Trump took office, newly-appointed CIA Director Mike Pompeo, other top officials at the intelligence agency, and lawyers at the White House discussed a plot to either kidnap or assassinate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, though ultimately it never got off the ground due to differences of legal opinion, said a report published Sunday.
According to Yahoo News, as Assange was in his fifth year staying at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in 2017, the CIA was actively scheming to kidnap him, which caused a significant debate within the new Trump administration over how practical and legal such an operation might be.
“Some senior officials inside the CIA and the Trump administration even discussed killing Assange, going so far as to request ‘sketches’ or ‘options’ for how to assassinate him,” Yahoo News reported. “Discussions over kidnapping or killing Assange occurred ‘at the highest levels’ of the Trump administration, said a former senior counterintelligence official.”
“There seemed to be no boundaries,” that official would go on to say, according to the outlet, which added that the discussions “were part of an unprecedented CIA campaign directed against WikiLeaks and its founder.”
Elements of the plan included spying on associates of WikiLeaks, attempting to cause disruption among personnel within the operation, and theft of personal electronic devices.
Assange had long caught the attention of U.S. intelligence agencies for his serial leaks of sensitive materials, including diplomatic communications and other materials. However, the plans being discussed by the new Trump administration stemmed from WikiLeaks’ publication of secretive CIA hacking tools that, taken together, were known as “Vault 7”; in the end, the agency concluded that revealing those tools amounted to “the largest data loss in CIA history.”
“President Trump’s newly installed CIA director, Mike Pompeo, was seeking revenge on WikiLeaks and Assange, who had sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape allegations he denied,” Yahoo News continued.
The new CIA director and other leaders within the agency “were completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7,” a former Trump national security official told the outlet. “They were seeing blood.”
In May 2019, the U.S. charged Assange with violating the Espionage Act, the first publisher to be held accountable under the law. He was charged with 17 counts of publishing or receiving diplomatic and military documents from classified sources. The documents allegedly came from former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Spc. Chelsea Manning, who was convicted under espionage laws in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison; her sentence was commuted by then-President Barack Obama before he left office in January 2017.
“The CIA’s fury at WikiLeaks led Pompeo to publicly describe the group in 2017 as a ‘non-state hostile intelligence service,'” Yahoo News reported.
“More than just a provocative talking point, the designation opened the door for agency operatives to take far more aggressive actions, treating the organization as it does adversary spy services, former intelligence officials told” the outlet, which spoke to more than 30 U.S. officials, eight of whom provided details on the plot against Assange.
Former officials said that within a few months, U.S. intelligence agencies began monitoring movements and communication of and between WikiLeaks staffers, as well as conducting audio and visual surveillance of the WikiLeaks founder, the report said.
Assange’s U.S. lawyer, Barry Pollack, was incredulous over the report.
“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,” he told Yahoo News.
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