A lawsuit filed by four individuals in the United States is set to bring much-required judicial scrutiny to the alleged spying of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during his time at the Ecuadorian embassy by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
On Monday, August 15, journalists Charles Glass and John Goetz and attorneys Margaret Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek filed a lawsuit at the District Court in New York against the CIA, its former Director and former US State Secretary Mike Pompeo, and the Spanish private security company Undercover Global SL or UC Global.
The lawsuit is based on findings revealed in an ongoing case against UC Global and its director David Morales in Spain’s High Court, Audiencia Nacional. UC Global was the private contractor in charge of security and surveillance at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
According to reports, since at least mid-2017, UC Global had illegally compiled a plethora of surveillance footage, audio and video recordings, personal information, and even private legal documents pertaining to Assange from the embassy.
Testimonies submitted by UC Global whistleblowers and Morales himself stated that the company had struck a backroom deal with the CIA under Pompeo, who was appointed by the Donald Trump administration, to compile vast troves of data on Assange.
The lawsuit filed at the District Judge of New York has come at a time when Assange, his family and supporters are fighting a desperate battle against his extradition to the US. The four complainants, who visited Assange during his time at the embassy for professional reasons, claim that the spying also violated their constitutional guarantees to hold a confidential conversation.
Kunstler, who had represented Assange as a lawyer, stated that there’s nothing “worse than your opposition listening in to what your plans are, what you intend to do, your conversations… It’s a terrible thing and it’s treated by the United States courts as a terrible thing.”
Assange has been fighting a political battle for over a decade against attempts by the US to capture him. The work done by Assange and WikiLeaks has exposed US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with a large number of other violations of international laws.
“It is somewhat startling in light of the Fourth Amendment protection we have in the Constitution, that the federal government would actually go ahead and take this confidential information, some of which is attorney-client privileged, some which of which was from journalists and even doctors that visited Mr Assange,” said Richard Roth, whose law firm filed the New York lawsuit.
The Fourth Amendment to the US constitution grants all US citizens protections of privacy and against unreasonable seizures and searches by the government. The plaintiffs have argued that the illegal spying is equivalent to unreasonable searches, which jeopardizes Assange’s chance of a fair trial.
Robert Boyle, a civil rights attorney based in New York who will be advising the plaintiffs in the case, stated that the Fourth Amendment was “blatantly violated” in the spying operation. He called the attack on privacy rights to be “particularly egregious.” This was in reference to instances when UC Global would have all visitors at the embassy turn over their mobile phones, recording devices, passports, etc.
According to Hrbek, they “learnt much later through a criminal investigation … that while visitors like me were meeting with Julian in the embassy conference room, the guards next door were taking apart our phones and removing and photographing SIM cards and we believe downloading data from our electronic equipment.”
Boyle further added that “there should be sanctions, even up to dismissal of those charges, or withdrawal of an extradition request, in response to these blatantly unconstitutional activities.”
Assange is currently facing extradition to the US to stand trial before a federal grand jury on a total of 18 charges, 17 of which are under the notorious Espionage Act, carrying a total maximum prison sentence of 175 years.