US Demands Hinder Spanish Probe Into Security Firm That Spied On Assange

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Above photo: A pro-Assange demonstrator protests outside the Old Bailey court in central London on September 8. Tolga Akmen / AFP.

American prosecutors want to know the judge’s sources before cooperating in an investigation into whether UC Global gave intelligence services sensitive material on the cyber-activist.

There will be no judicial cooperation forthcoming from the United States unless a Spanish judge reveals his information sources in an investigation into alleged espionage against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange while he was living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Judge José de la Mata of Spain’s High Court (Audiencia Nacional) has sent a request for judicial cooperation to US authorities as part of his probe into a Spanish private security company named UC Global S.L. and its owner David Morales, on allegations that this firm secretly recorded Assange’s private meetings with lawyers, politicians, relatives and journalists at the embassy, where he took refuge in 2012 to avoid separate legal proceedings against him in Sweden.

Morales was arrested a year ago and released pending trial. According to testimony from several protected witnesses and former UC Global workers who gave evidence in connection with the case, Morales provided the CIA with recordings, video material and reports detailing the activities of the 49-year-old Australian cyber-activist inside the diplomatic mission, where he lived until his eviction in April 2019.

Judge De la Mata, who is heading the probe into UC Global, has asked US prosecutors for the IP (Internet Protocol) addresses of the computers or other networked devices that allegedly connected from American soil to a server held by the private security firm at its headquarters in the southern Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera.

That server stored all the recordings made by cameras at the embassy, where UC Global was in charge of security, as well as reports drafted by company employees detailing each visit that Assange received, images of the visitors’ passports, and photographs of their cellphones and electronic devices.

According to testimony by several ex-workers as well as e-mails used as evidence in the investigation, US intelligence services allegedly had access to this central server.

US prosecutors have now sent a letter to María de las Heras, a liaison judge for Spain in the US, asking her to convey their demands to De la Mata. These include showing proof that the requested IP addresses are “relevant and substantial to the investigation.” The document requests further details about the Spanish probe, including the sources of information for most of the assertions made in the request for judicial cooperation.

The Spanish judge has been asked to answer a long list of questions regarding every aspect of his investigation, including who he believes that Morales was providing information to, or whether the judge thinks Morales was working for a foreign information service or as an agent for a foreign power – or whether it was simply a case of bribery.

US prosecutors have asked for all this information to be relayed before October 16, otherwise “we will assume that Spanish authorities are not interested” and the request will be shelved.

The alleged espionage on Assange by UC Global was revealed in 2019 by an EL PAÍS investigation that uncovered numerous illegal recordings made while the WikiLeaks founder was living at the Ecuadorean embassy.

Assange’s defense later took legal action against Morales, who is a former member of the military, and against his company. Morales is currently being investigated for alleged violations of privacy and client-attorney privilege, as well as for bribery and money laundering.

The cyber-activist was evicted from the embassy after Ecuador withdrew his asylum status, and since then Assange has been held at London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison. He is fighting extradition to the US, where he is wanted on 18 charges of espionage and computer misuse that carry a maximum penalty of 175 years.

WikiLeaks’s publication of secret US military documents shed light on war crimes by US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq; the organization also revealed thousands of diplomatic cables and released an operations manual for the US prison at Guantanamo, among other disclosures.

Judge De la Mata has just summoned Michelle Wallemak, the former head of operations at UC Global, to provide testimony in court as one of the suspects under investigation in his probe. Wallemak allegedly ordered the company’s security personnel to carry out some of the espionage activities against Assange.

English version by Susana Urra.