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Australia: Julian Assange supporters write to Scott Morrison over reported CIA plot to kidnap or kill WikiLeaks founder

Tuesday 19 October 2021, by siawi3

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-01/julian-assange-supporters-write-to-pm-over-reported-cia-plot/100504522

Julian Assange supporters write to Scott Morrison over reported CIA plot to kidnap or kill WikiLeaks founder

ABC Investigations

By Dylan Welch

Posted Thu 30 Sep 2021 at 9:02pm, updated Thu 30 Sep 2021 at 11:37pm

Photo: Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Yahoo News this week reported the CIA had considered kidnapping or killing Julian Assange while he lived in Ecuador’s London embassy.(AP: Frank Augstein, file photo)

A group of prominent Australians have written to the Prime Minister, asking what the government knew about an alleged CIA plot to kill or kidnap WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London, the ABC can reveal.

Key points:

Signatories to the letter include lawyers Julian Burnside, Lizzie O’Shea and Jennifer Robinson, former Greens senator Scott Ludlam, journalist Mary Kostakidis and author Kathy Lette
All of them visited Assange and are concerned they may have been targeted by US intelligence operations
The United States is seeking Assange’s extradition from the United Kingdom to face espionage charges

The members of the group, who all visited Assange in London, have also demanded the government reveal whether they were caught up in the US plot and if their lives, too, were ever at risk.

The group of 21 lawyers, journalists, academics, and activists wrote to Scott Morrison after revelations in the US media this week the CIA had contemplated kidnapping or assassinating Assange and others in 2017 while the WikiLeaks founder was living in Ecuador’s London embassy.

One of the letter’s signatories, barrister Julian Burnside, who has been negotiating with Canberra to have Assange returned to Australia since 2012, said the new allegations of a planned assassination were of concern.

“It’s one thing [for the government] to ignore an Australian overseas who’s in difficulty,” Mr Burnside said.

“It’s altogether another to ignore an Australian overseas who may be murdered by another government, a government that is ostensibly an ally.”

A composite image of barrister Julian Burnside and lawyer Lizzie O’Shea.
Lawyers Julian Burnside and Lizzie O’Shea are among those who signed the letter.(ABC RN: Richard Girvan, supplied)

Another of the signatories, Melbourne lawyer Lizzie O’Shea, said: “Recent events suggest that we’re in a closer relationship with the US than ever before.”

“I would like to think that doesn’t come at the expense of our citizens’ rights, and this [letter] is one test of whether that’s true.”

The letter is signed by prominent Australians including Jennifer Robinson, Scott Ludlam, Mary Kostakidis and Kathy Lette.

All of them have visited Assange at one time or another. All are concerned they may have been caught up in US intelligence operations.

“We wish to know what surveillance or monitoring we have been subjected to by the intelligence agencies of our allies, the United Kingdom and United States,” the letter, sent yesterday afternoon, states.

“Were any of us placed on speculative kill lists?”We also believe we have a right to know whether the Australian government was informed or consented to our communications and movements being tracked."

Comment is being sought from the Prime Minister’s Office.

According to the US report, by Yahoo News, the plot to kidnap or kill Assange was formed soon after March 2017, when WikiLeaks started publishing a cache of top-secret CIA documents about its offensive cyber weapons.

The release, dubbed Vault 7 by WikiLeaks, was later acknowledged by the agency as “the largest data loss in CIA history”.

A month after WikiLeaks began publishing Vault 7, Mike Pompeo was appointed as CIA director.

Photo: Mike Pompeo scratches his head
The US government’s hostility to Wikileaks intensified after Mike Pompeo became director of the CIA.(Reuters: Leah Mills, file photo)

He used his first public remarks to dramatically escalate the US government’s hostile view of WikiLeaks.

“It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” he said.

Mr Pompeo then allowed CIA executives more latitude when considering how to target Assange and WikiLeaks, the Yahoo News report stated.

That latitude led to the plans to kidnap or assassinate Assange and other “Europe-based WikiLeaks members”, according to the article.

The report is the latest in a series of articles about surveillance by the US and the UK of people, including Australians, who visited Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy during his eight years there, 2012 to 2019.

The ABC has previously reported on allegations the US may have been behind an illegal surveillance operation targeting Assange and others in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Photo: Police motorcyclists briefly stop outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Assange called Ecuador’s London embassy home from 2012 to 2019.(AP: Alastair Grant, file photo)

Mr Pompeo also reacted to the assassination and kidnapping allegations, telling a group of US university students on Tuesday: “Don’t believe everything you read in Yahoo News.”

Assange has been confined to London’s Belmarsh Prison since April 2019 after being convicted of breaching bail over a Swedish sexual assault allegation, which has since been withdrawn.

Washington continues to seek his extradition to the US, where he faces 17 charges under the espionage act.