The British judge ruling in the US government’s extradition case against journalist Julian Assange justified a CIA spying operation targeting both the WikiLeaks publisher and the Ecuadorian government by pointing to debunked accusations published by CNN. Yet in a self-referential loop, the American media outlet’s dubious claims about Assange themselves originated with a security firm that was spying on Assange for the CIA – and which is now facing prosecution in Spain for illegal activity.
While the UK judge ultimately decided not to extradite Assange, citing his deteriorating mental health and the likelihood of suicide in the draconian US prison system, her judgement nevertheless echoed and reinforced the US government’s unsubstantiated and politically motivated charges against the journalist. She thus preserved the severe threat to freedom of the press and free speech that Assange’s persecution poses.
In one of the most brazenly political sections in her December 4 legal judgment, Westminster district judge Vanessa Baraitser cited a suspect report by CNN that accused Assange of conspiring with Russians to turn Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he was trapped in refuge for roughly seven years, “into a command post for election meddling.”
Baraitser twice pointed to this dubious CNN article in order to justify a 24/7 CIA spying operation that targeted not only Assange, but Ecuador’s embassy and its sovereign operations and internal affairs as well.
What the British judge failed to mention is that the CNN story she relied on was itself based entirely on untrustworthy intelligence reports drafted by a Spanish security firm called UC Global, which secretly worked with the CIA to spy on the WikiLeaks publisher and Ecuadorian embassy staff. The director of that company, former Spanish military officer David Morales, was arrested by Spanish police in 2019, and is currently under investigation by Spain’s top court for illegal practices.
In an exclusive report that exposed CIA spying targeting journalists reporting on Assange, The Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal revealed the co-author of this deeply flawed CNN article, Arturo Torres Ramirez, to be a right-wing Ecuadorian activist opposed to both WikiLeaks and Ecuador’s leftist former President Rafael Correa, who gave Assange asylum. Further, Blumenthal reported that Torres’ work has been supported by an NGO funded by the US State Department and UK government.
As I reported, that CNN article was authored by a right-wing Ecuadorian who worked for a NGO sponsored by the State Department & UK govt, and it relied on disinfo fed by UC Global, the CIA contractor that illegally spied on Assange https://t.co/hZAiIeor5M https://t.co/K0CywDFaPj
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) January 4, 2021
But that’s not the only issue with CNN’s reporting. A former top Ecuadorian diplomat, who helped operate the London embassy when Assange was sheltered inside, dismantled the CNN story point by point. In a detailed article for The Grayzone, titled “40 rebuttals to the media’s smears of Julian Assange – by someone who was actually there,” ex-consul Fidel Narváez documented dozens of misleading claims and outright falsehoods contained in the exclusive CNN report.
The former Ecuadorian diplomat said that UC Global did more than just spy on Assange for the CIA; it also “produced misrepresented, exaggerated, hostile reports, loaded with paranoia and sometimes false information,” which aimed at “sowing suspicion about Assange and his visits.”
Narváez, who attended most of the Assange extradition hearings, told The Grayzone that the US government prosecution also cited the same CNN report in February, along with other articles by The Guardian, in order to make their case against the WikiLeaks publisher.
— The Grayzone (@TheGrayzoneNews) August 20, 2019
Besides relying on CNN’s doubtful reporting, the British judge drew from a number of reports in the New York Times, Washington Post, and The Guardian to portray the WikiLeaks journalist as a dangerous criminal and hacker.
These citations are a textbook example of how mainstream corporate media outlets provide the mood music for Western governments and intelligence services, acting as what a top CIA official once called a “mighty Wurlitzer.” Working in concert with the security state, CNN routinely manufactures consent for unpopular and repressive state actions behind the veneer of objectivity and independence.
The Grayzone has published several investigations into the US government spying operation that targeted Julian Assange when he was trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy. The Spanish company hired by Ecuador to provide security, UC Global, was secretly working with the CIA, providing the US spy agency with 24/7 video and audio surveillance that covered almost every inch of the diplomatic building, including even the women’s bathroom.
Max Blumenthal demonstrated that the CIA presided over this illegal spying ring with the help of a company owned by billionaire Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, a close ally of President Donald Trump and former CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
In her judgement against Julian Assange, however, UK district judge Vanessa Baraitser cast doubt on the very existence of the US spying operation, suggesting it might not have happened. Ironically, at the same time, she also tried to defend the surveillance, offering several reasons as why it would be justified, were it true.
In light of the Spanish high court’s investigation into UC Global and its owner, David Morales, for their role in the CIA spying ring, Baraitser argued that “it would be inappropriate for this [British] court to make findings of fact on allegations still being investigated in Spain and on the basis of partial and incomplete evidence.”
The day after the British judge released her ruling, on January 5, the Spanish newspaper El País published a follow-up story further documenting the illegal CIA espionage, revealing that the IP addresses that accessed the servers of the Spain-based UC Global matched those of the US-based Shadowserver Foundation, which boasts a client list of NATO states and law enforcement organizations.
In confirming much of what The Grayzone had reported before, El País furthered the case the US government had spied on Assange and his lawyers with the explicit aim of extraditing him. Tellingly, the US and UK governments have refused to comply with the Spanish court in its investigation.
Despite the massive body of evidence proving that UC Global was hired by the CIA to spy on Assange and his associates, including mainstream US journalists, Judge Baraitser proceeded to call into question the very existence of the US spying operation. To do so, she referenced a 2018 article by documented plagiarist, fabulist, and notorious Russiagate propagandist Luke Harding in The Guardian to suggest that “arrangements for monitoring and surveillance of its embassy were made by Ecuador rather than the US.” (Baraitser failed to acknowledge the drastic change of government in Ecuador from leftist President Rafael Correa to US-backed right-wing leader Lenín Moreno.)
Stunningly, Baraitser went on to argue that even “if the US was involved in the surveillance of the embassy there is no reason to assume this related to these proceedings.”
The British judge reflexively shielded Washington and Assistant US Attorney Gordon Kromberg, claiming any CIA spying would be irrelevant to the extradition hearing – even though CIA contractors clearly spied on Assange’s meetings with his legal team, proposed assassinating or kidnapping him, and may have broken into the office of his legal counsel Baltazar Garzon.
Thus, Baraitser insisted that “privileged communications and the fruits of any surveillance would not be seen by prosecutors assigned to the case and would be inadmissible at Mr. Assange’s trial as a matter of US law.”
Baraitser concluded her argument by crudely justifying the CIA spying ring. “A possible alternative explanation for US surveillance (if there was any) is the perception that Mr. Assange remained a risk to their national security,” the UK judge wrote.
She pointed to WikiLeaks’ publication of materials proving that the US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on numerous foreign government leaders, as well as the website’s Vault 7 leak, which exposed CIA surveillance and hacking tools, as examples of alleged risks Assange could have posed.
Baraitser then cited the 2019 CNN report accusing Assange of turning the Ecuadorian “embassy into a command post for election meddling.”
Baraitser referred to this CNN article two times in her 132-page decision, on pages 66 and 94. In both cases, she employed the report to regurgitate the US government’s narrative that Assange posed a dangerous threat to national security.
Later in her decision, when Baraitser quoted CNN the second time, the British judge practically regurgitated the corporate outlet’s accusations as her own, writing that it “confirmed that Mr. Assange has continued to meet with Russians and ‘world-class’ hackers and has acquired powerful new computing and network hardware to facilitate data transfers whilst at the Ecuadorian Embassy.”
Notably, her reference to “Russians” contained no evidence that Assange met with Russian officials, implying sinister associations based solely on the Russian nationality of his alleged visitors.
A closer look at the CNN article cited by Baraitser reveals it rests on a shoddy foundation.
Published in July 2019, the CNN story was part of a larger, politically motivated campaign conceived by the US intelligence apparatus and embittered former Hillary Clinton aides that sought to portray Assange, WikiLeaks, and other political rivals as nefarious tools of the Kremlin.
Co-authored by Arturo Torres Ramirez, the right-wing anti-Assange and anti-Correa Ecuadorian activist whose work has been supported by organizations funded by the US State Department and British government, the CNN article is based on exclusive access to hundreds of surveillance reports compiled by the Spanish security firm UC Global.
CNN did not once mention in the nearly 4,000-word piece that UC Global was, in fact, a CIA contractor. Instead, the American media giant depicted UC Global as a purportedly independent and trustworthy third party.
Fidel Narváez, the Ecuadorian diplomat who helped run the London embassy when Assange lived there in asylum, wrote in his piece fact-checking 40 falsehoods in the CNN report:
The stunning thing is that CNN considers the reports produced by UC Global as a reliable source. I know, personally, that many of its reports do not reflect reality.
UC Global produced misrepresented, exaggerated, hostile reports, loaded with paranoia and sometimes false information. Those of us who know what was going on inside that embassy know that the company’s reports are going in only one direction: sowing suspicion about Assange and his visits, in order to justify the work of the security company.
The company was spying on Assange’s every movement, leaking materials and documents from inside the embassy, either by ineptitude or on purpose.
UC Global even went as far as to forge a document, falsifying the signature of an ambassador, and then presenting it in a labor tribunal, a fact that the ambassador himself denounced before the Foreign Ministry.
This is not the first time that leaked UC Global reports have generated media reports that are far from reality — like several of The Guardian’s articles on Julian Assange.
CNN used these unreliable, politically motivated reports to besmirch Assange’s reputation and falsely characterize WikiLeaks as a Russian influence operation. According to CNN, one UC Global document “concluded there was ‘no doubt that there is evidence’ that Assange had ties to Russian intelligence agencies.” The corporate outlet did not provide one piece of tangible evidence to support this staggering claim, however.
The CNN article used the words “Russia” or “Russian” 44 times. And it cited FBI special counsel Robert Mueller and the CIA-sponsored UC Global to paint a picture of a global Kremlin-led conspiracy employing Assange to rob Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton of the 2016 presidential election victory.
A version of Mueller’s 2019 report published by the US Justice Department in November 2020 with less redactions poured more water on the conspiratorial fire of Russiagate. It revealed that Mueller’s team investigated Assange over purported ties to Russia, but decided not to file any charges because of a lack of evidence.
CNN was ultimately compelled to acknowledge that its report on Assange was utterly baseless, albeit quietly and obliquely, reporting over a year later that, “ultimately, Mueller wrote, the Justice Department ‘did not have admissible evidence.'”
The other extraordinary claim made by CNN, and uncritically repeated by UK judge Vanessa Baraitser, was that “Assange met with Russians and world-class hackers at critical moments [before the 2016 US presidential election], frequently for hours at a time.”
What made this statement so disingenuous was that neither CNN nor Baraitser mentioned that these Russians were civilians, and not government officials. There is nothing inherently criminal or suspicious about meeting with Russian nationals, except perhaps in the frazzled mind of a Cold War-crazed bigot.
Fidel Narváez, who said the CNN “article contains numerous errors, omissions, examples of bias, speculations, and simply false information,” countered this accusation by writing:
An embassy is not a jail — although in the last year, Lenin Moreno’s government did convert his embassy in London into a de facto prison.
Therefore, there is nothing unusual for Assange to have visitors for several hours per day. He met with hundreds of people from around the world: intellectuals, artists, politicians, journalists, dissidents, activists.
Russian nationals, such as the activist group Pussy Riot, an archenemy of the Kremlin, were among Assange’s visitors.
The people whom CNN mistakenly refers to as “hackers” are specialists in computer security and data protection. CNN chooses to refer to them as “pirates,” because it is more in tune with the overall bias of its report.
The heavy reliance by a UK judge and the US federal prosecutor on a baseless CNN report to justify CIA spying on Julian Assange and his associates provides a powerful illustration of corporate US media’s role as de facto publicity arm of the security services. Having been deployed against a journalist on trial for the crime of publishing classified documents, CNN’s demonic portrayal of Assange has ultimately assisted the state suffocation of a free press.