Court Battles

Journalists, lawyers claim CIA spied on them during Assange visit

Photo: Getty Images

Four journalists and attorneys who visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in asylum filed a lawsuit against the CIA and its then-Director Mike Pompeo on Monday for allegedly partnering with a private security firm that illegally recorded them and copied their data during the visits.

The lawsuit — which also names the private security firm, UC Global, and its founder, David Morales, as defendants — alleges the surveillance program violated their Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches and seizures when they visited Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

British authorities later arrested Assange and have ordered his extradition to the U.S., where he faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse for helping steal and later publishing classified military documents. Assange appealed the extradition ruling last month.

For years, Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid trial and met with a number of visitors. 

The suit states the two lawyers and two journalists named as plaintiffs were required to leave their devices with a security guard at the reception desk as a condition for visiting Assange, and that UC Global, which the embassy contracted to provide security for the facility and Assange, copied the data and later gave it to the CIA.

“While the named Plaintiffs initiate this action, the practices complained of violate the rights of well over 100 American citizens who visited Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, England,” the suit states, adding that the stolen data included confidential information from lawyers, journalists and doctors.

The suit alleges that Pompeo personally approved the program, which also included hidden microphones inside the embassy. Pompeo later went on to serve as secretary of State in the Trump administration and is rumored to be considering a run for president in 2024.

Pompeo had called WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service” in his first major public appearance as CIA director and described Assange as a “fraud” and “coward.” The agency under Pompeo also reportedly considered kidnapping or assassinating Assange.

The CIA declined to comment.The Hill has reached out to Pompeo’s political action committee for comment.

“The conduct by the government was outrageous and inappropriate, which violated the most profound privacy rights of the plaintiffs and others who visited Assange in the embassy,” Richard Roth, the plaintiffs’ attorney, told The Hill.  

“To make matters worse, many of the conversations were absolutely privileged and confidential in nature, in that the plaintiffs are journalists and attorneys who went there to visit their clients,” he said.

Many of the allegations were published in 2019 by El País. The newspaper reported that Spain’s High Court was investigating UC Global, a Spanish company, and Morales after Assange himself filed a criminal complaint in the country alleging bribery and violations of client-attorney privilege and Assange’s privacy.

The lawsuit filed Monday alleges UC Global was connected with the CIA when it was providing security to the embassy after Morales attended a convention in Las Vegas. 

Security personnel employed by Las Vegas Sands, which at the time owned the Venetian, the Palazzo and the nearby Sands Expo, recruited Morales to conduct surveillance on behalf of the CIA in early 2017, according to the lawsuit.

Court documents allege Las Vegas Sands, which was founded by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, had previously cooperated with the CIA on “similar matters.”

Las Vegas Sands declined to comment.

This story was updated at 12:54 p.m.

Tags Central Intelligence Agency Ecuador Julian Assange Julian Assange London Mike Pompeo Mike Pompeo UC Global United Kingdom United States wikileaks
See all Hill.TV See all Video