The CIA Wanted to Kidnap and Kill Julian Assange.
It Could Easily Have Happened.
John Kiriakou / Reader Supported News
(October 25, 2021) — Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) last week asked the CIA for information related to a Yahoo News report that the Agency in 2017 had planned to kidnap or kill Wikileaks cofounder Julian Assange outside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Knowing the CIA, I’m sure the CIA’s Office of Congressional Affairs had a good laugh over the request, but we can talk about that a little later.
The journalists who wrote the Yahoo News report say they had more than 30 independent sources in the CIA and the Trump White House with whom they spoke and all of whom told the same story: then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo was so incensed that Wikileaks had published what came to be known as the Vault 7 Cache that Assange had to die.
Assange has, of course, long been on the CIA’s radar. But publication of the Vault 7 documents, the greatest data loss in the CIA’s history, was too much. One Trump counterterrorism official said that Pompeo and other senior CIA officers “were seeing blood.” They discussed plans to kidnap Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he had been holed up since 2012.
Alternatively, they talked about killing him (with the British Intelligence Service MI-6 doing the actual shooting.) Yet another idea was, if Assange could somehow make his way to a Russian diplomatic plane, a CIA/MI6 partnership would shoot the tires of the plane before it could lift off. Assange could then be snatched off the plane, even if it constituted a violation of international law and a major diplomatic incident.
These were not just idle musings. There was real planning involved. Because the CIA is a big, lumbering bureaucracy, there’s a process that it must go through, even for a plot as cockamamie as this one. When a person comes up with an idea like, “Let’s kill Assange,” it goes to a specific office that deals with proposed covert operations. Functionaries in that office put the idea on paper and in the proper format and send it to the CIA’s Office of the General Counsel to get their input. Once the General Counsel signs off on the idea, it then goes to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC.)
Technically, OLC’s job is to determine whether a CIA idea is legal or not. But you’ll recall that it was OLC attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee who figuratively stood on their heads in 2002 to find that the CIA’s torture program was legal, despite the fact that the torture techniques the CIA was advocating had been specifically outlawed by statute decades earlier. According to the Yahoo News report, OLC apparently found that the plot to kidnap or kill Assange was indeed “legal.”
Once OLC had determined that there was no legal impediment to killing Assange, the memo was sent to the National Security Council’s legal team for their comment and approval. It is my experience that the NSC legal staff is a rubber stamp for OLC. If the CIA wants it and OLC says it’s legal, there’s no reason for NSC lawyers to stand in the way.
The last step in the system is for the National Security Advisor to sign the plan and to send it to the President for his signature on what is called a “Presidential Finding.” The signed Finding is then sent back to the CIA, where it is kept in a locked safe, with other signed copies going to the NSC and to the Justice Department. The CIA is then free to implement its plan.
But that’s not what happened. No Finding was ever signed. Although the Yahoo News article doesn’t specifically say so, it seems that the plan died on the desk of then-National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster. McMaster was a professional soldier before taking the job as National Security Advisor. He was not a confidant of Donald Trump, nor was he particularly close to Mike Pompeo. It seems that McMaster read the plan, thought it was insane (or risked too much blowback,) and killed it. It never made its way to Trump.
There’s another element to this story that is deeply worrying to me. The plan to kidnap or kill Assange never made its way to the Congressional oversight committees—the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence—either. Why? It’s because there’s a loophole in the system. If the CIA deems something to be a “counterintelligence operation,” it doesn’t have to inform the committees.
The idea is that counterintelligence is so incredibly sensitive—it normally deals with moles inside the intelligence community or hostile powers spying on the US—that the Agency can’t risk somebody on Capitol Hill leaking the information. That’s nonsense, of course. The CIA knew that oversight committee members would have gone crazy at the prospect of the CIA kidnapping or killing an Australian national who had never been convicted of a crime in the US. The CIA didn’t dare inform the committees.
So here we are, four years after the operation was effectively canceled, and Adam Schiff wants details. I can guess what the CIA’s response will be. They’ll say that the plan was just an idea, that they went through the proper administrative channels, that teams of attorneys deemed it to be legal, that the committees weren’t informed because the operation was of a counterintelligence nature, and that, in the end, nothing happened anyway. Schiff will likely accept that and the story will fade away. (It’s already begun fading away because almost no mainstream media outlets bothered to report on it in the first place.) That’ll be the end of it.
It’s not the end of it for Julian Assange, however. This week a British appeals court will decide whether he will be extradited to the United States, where he would almost certainly face solitary confinement in a maximum-security penitentiary. Meanwhile, the would-be kidnappers and murderers and their bosses at the CIA will go home to their families as if nothing happened. It’s the American way.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act — a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.
What Judge Baraitser Thought About the Plot to Kill or Abduct Assange
Judge Vanessa Baraitser
In her Ruling, Baraitser Expressed Understanding
For the CIA Wanting to Rub Out Julian Assange
(October 16, 2021) — Lawyers for Julian Assange may try at the US appeal hearing later this month to introduce weightier evidence that the Central Intelligence Agency seriously discussed killing or abducting the imprisoned journalist.
The lower court hearing before Judge Vanessa Baraitser in September last year already heard sworn testimony from a former partner and former employee of the Spanish security company UC Global that a US intelligence agency had talked about poisoning or kidnapping Assange. This testimony is already evidence in the case.
In the wake of the Yahoo! News report in which that testimony was confirmed and substantially expanded, Assange’s lawyers may want to submit details from that report to demonstrate that fears of abduction and murder haunted Assange, leaving him in a mental state so fragile that Baraitser ruled against sending him to the US — and possibly to an American dungeon where he’d be likely to take his life even before he got there.
The US appeal at the High Court hinges on whether Assange really is as suicidal as Baraitser ruled, or is a malingerer like US prosecutors allege. The inclusion of the Yahoo! details could bolster Assange’s lawyers’ argument that his psychological state is exacerbated by reality and not fancy. In fact legitimate fears that he could be assassinated go back to at least October 2010, when the CIA refused to say if there were such plans after a Freedom of Information Act request. This tweet is from eleven years ago:
Those existing fears were likely stirred up when Assange heard the UC Global witness testimony read at his hearing.
Whether the High Court admits the new Yahoo! evidence — really a fleshing out of evidence already admitted to the lower court — could be the pivotal question in the appeal. The High Court will ultimately have to decide whether Baraitser was correct in ruling that Assange was too sick to be sent to the United States.
Baraitser accepted that US prison conditions were so brutal and Assange so unstable that she wouldn’t send him to the US But what would a British judge in an extradition case decide if they knew that it was far worse than that: that the intelligence services of the requesting government had plotted murder and rendition against the person being sought?
That’s why the question of whether the Yahoo! material is admitted is so crucial. But so too is how the lower court already dealt with the essence of the evidence which Baraitser did admit. If Assange’s legal team tries to submit details from the Yahoo! report the High Court will likely look at how the UC Global witnesses testimony was handled by Baraitser.
How she reacted to that testimony might provide a glimpse into the thinking of the High Court as well, although one might hope it will take a different view in light of the greater details revealed by Yahoo!
In her 132-page ruling on Jan. 4 against extraditing Assange, Baraitser discussed the evidence of a plot to kill or kidnap him.
She exhibited a high indifference to Assange’s safety and even displayed sympathy with the US, saying that plans discussed to poison or kidnap him from the Ecuadorian embassy were essentially understandable.
She matter-of-factly read aloud to the court:
“They [the defense] alleged that the US authorities discussed more extreme measures such as kidnapping or poisoning Mr. Assange. I have declined to make findings of fact regarding whether this took place, as the allegations are currently being investigated in Spain. I merely note here that if the allegations are true, they demonstrate a high level of concern by the US authorities regarding Mr. Assange’s ongoing activities.”
She did not condemn such a potential extrajudicial killing or abduction in the heart of London, just steps from Harrods, and within the sovereign territory of another nation with which Britain has diplomatic relations. Baraitser notes that she did not make an effort to discover if “the allegations are true.” But then says if they are true, it would not demonstrate a high level of concern about the commission of a state crime, but rather shows just how upset Assange made the Americans.
This kind of judicial thinking is beyond alarming and shows that even if the Yahoo! revelations are admitted to the High Court, it may have little sway on a judiciary that seems in lockstep with whatever the US wants.
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former UN correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @unjoe
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