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A report published Sunday claims that then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo “spearheaded” discussions within the agency to kidnap WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and perhaps even assassinate him.
Yahoo! News reported that the talks took place in 2017, then-President Donald Trump’s first year in office with a newly-installed CIA director and former U.S. representative leading the country’s secretive counterintelligence agency.
The report notes:
In 2017, as Julian Assange began his fifth year holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, the CIA plotted to kidnap the WikiLeaks founder, spurring heated debate among Trump administration officials over the legality and practicality of such an operation.
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. 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.”
The conversations were part of an unprecedented CIA campaign directed against WikiLeaks and its founder. The agency’s multipronged plans also included extensive spying on WikiLeaks associates, sowing discord among the group’s members, and stealing their electronic devices.
U.S. intelligence agencies and, likely, other Western intelligence services that make up the “Five Eyes” alliance including Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, were interested in getting to Assange for a number of years already, but his organization’s continued publication of highly classified and sensitive CIA hacking tools, known collectively as “Vault 7.” Ultimately, the CIA concluded that the information dumps represented “the largest data loss” in the agency’s history.
The report claims that Pompeo was out to get Assange, who was being protected by the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 in order to avoid being extradited to Sweden on questionable rape charges that he said were bogus.
Pompeo and other top CIA leaders “were completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7,” a former Trump national security official told the news agency. “They were seeing blood.”
“The CIA’s fury at WikiLeaks led Pompeo to publicly describe the group in 2017 as a ‘non-state hostile intelligence service.’ 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 Yahoo News,” the outlet reported.
“Within months, U.S. spies were monitoring the communications and movements of numerous WikiLeaks personnel, including audio and visual surveillance of Assange himself, according to former officials,” the report added.
“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,” Barry Pollack, Assange’s U.S. lawyer, told Yahoo News.
The outlet said its reporters spoke to more than 30 former U.S. officials, “eight of whom described details of the CIA’s proposals to abduct Assange.”
Currently, Assange is sitting in jail in London while British courts decide whether or not to grant a U.S. extradition request on allegations that he tried to assist former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning break into a classified computer network as a means of obtaining and publishing classified information, in violation of the Espionage Act.
“My hope and expectation is that the U.K. courts will consider this information and it will further bolster its decision not to extradite to the U.S.,” Pollack added.
Yahoo! News’ reported noted that there is no indication that any of the more radical discussions were approved, either by Pompeo or, ultimately, by Trump, “in part because of objections from White House lawyers.”
“In late 2017, in the midst of the debate over kidnapping and other extreme measures, the agency’s plans were upended when U.S. officials picked up what they viewed as alarming reports that Russian intelligence operatives were preparing to sneak Assange out of the United Kingdom and spirit him away to Moscow,” the outlet reported.
“The intelligence reporting about a possible breakout was viewed as credible at the highest levels of the U.S. government. At the time, Ecuadorian officials had begun efforts to grant Assange diplomatic status as part of a scheme to give him cover to leave the embassy and fly to Moscow to serve in the country’s Russian mission.”