Meeting between Assange and his legal advisor Geoffrey Robertson illegally spied on by UC Global
September 30. Central Criminal Court, London.
Today will be remembered as a grand expose. It was a direct, pointed accusation at the intentions of the US imperium which long for the scalp of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. For WikiLeaks, it was a smouldering triumph, showing that the entire mission against Assange, from the start, has been a political one. The Australian publisher faces the incalculably dangerous prospect of 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Stripped to its elements, the indictment is merely violence kitted out in the vestment of sham legality. The rest is politics.
Witness statements were read from a veritable who’s who of courageous investigative journalism (Patrick Cockburn, Andy Worthington, Stefania Maurizi and Ian Cobain) and an assortment of legal freight from Guy Goodwin-Gill, professor of law at the University of New South Wales, Robert Boyle, well versed in the dark practices of grand juries and Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
These statements, pointing to the value of the WikiLeaks publications, the care taken in releasing them, and the terrifying prospects for press freedom, deserve separate treatment. But Wednesday’s grand show was stolen by two anonymous witnesses, occasioned by a change of plans. Originally scheduled for Thursday, testimony of the witnesses from the Spanish security firm UC Global S.L. were moved a day forward. Both speak to the aims and ambitions of the company’ owner and director, David Morales, who passed information on Assange and his meetings with allies and associates to the US intelligence service while the Australian was resident in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Judge Vanessa Baraitser had relented on the issue of keeping their anonymity: to have not observed the convention would have been a mark of disrespect for the Spanish court.
Their material is part of a current investigation into Morales being conducted by a magistrate of the Audiencia Nacional court. That process was instigated at the behest of Assange’s legal team, whose filed criminal complaint alleges breaches of privacy and the violation of attorney-client privilege, amongst other charges.
Illegal agreements are born
Witness #1 informed the court of a man determined: Morales “showed at times a real obsession in relation to monitoring and recording the lawyers who met with the ‘guest’ (Julian Assange) because ‘our American friends’ were requesting it.”
The first witness added stitching to the account linking the UC Global with US intelligence. In July 2016, with UC Global already contracted and providing security services to the Ecuadorean embassy, Morales “travelled to a security sector trade fair in Las Vegas, which I wished to accompany him”. This would not be. Morales “insisted he had to travel alone. On this trip, Mr Morales showcased the company UC Global in the Las Vegas security sector trade fair.”
What followed was UC Global obtaining “a flashy contract, personally managed by David Morales, with the company Las Vegas Sands, which was owned by the tycoon Sheldon Adelson, whose proximity to Donald Trump is public knowledge (at the time Trump was the presidential candidate).” Morales’s point of contact at Las Vegas Sands was its chief of security, Zohar Lahav. Lahav is also the subject of interest for the Audiencia Nacional, which has asked the US Department of Justice to seek a statement from him. The investigating judge, José de la Mata, is keen to examine details of the Morales-Lahav association and whether their meetings involved discussing information illegally obtained from Assange.
UC Global was hired to provide security services to Queen Miri, the luxury vessel owned by Adelson. “The contract did not make sense,” claimed the witness. Morales seemed to be overegging the pudding. “The most striking thing about it was that he boat had its own security, which consisted of a sophisticated security detail, and that the contract consisted in adding an additional person, in this case David Morales, for a very short period of time, through which David Morales would receive an elevated sum.”
Thrilled at getting the contract, Morales was in celebratory mood, gathering employees in the Jerez company office to say that “we have moved up and from now on we will be playing in the big league”. What did “big league” mean? Morales, replying to the query from the first witness, claimed that “he had switched over to ‘the dark side’ referring to cooperating with US authorities, and as a result of that collaboration, ‘the Americans will get us contracts all over the world’.” In 2017, Morales asked for a secure phone and encrypted computer to communicate with his American contacts.
Along with news of the contract came an uncomfortable revelation: “that we had entered into illegal agreements with US authorities to supply them with sensitive information about Mr Assange and [Ecuadorean President] Rafael Correa, given that UC Global was responsible for the embassy security where Mr Assange was located.” As a result of this parallel agreement, “reports would also be sent to ‘the dark side’.” Morales made regular trips to the US to facilitate this, “principally to New York but also Chicago and Washington” where he would “talk with ‘our American friends’.” The first witness pressed Morales at points who these “‘American friends’ were”. “US intelligence,” came the reply.