The Trump administration’s CIA actively developed plans to kidnap or assassinate Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during his seclusion in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, according to a detailed new report from Yahoo News. Scenarios included abducting Assange from the embassy, intercepting a Russian effort to extract him, or an outright assassination attempt. While none of the operations were ever approved, they paint an alarming portrait of intelligence agencies’ ongoing obsession with Wikileaks and its controversial founder.
As sources, Yahoo cites conversations with more than 30 former US officials. Among those, eight provided details on plans to kidnap Assange.
The report mostly details operations developed during the Trump administration, which placed fewer restraints on the CIA and was less troubled by the implications of launching direct operations against a figure many saw as a journalist. The issue became particularly heated in March of 2017, when Wikileaks published a catalog of hacking tools developed by the CIA. After that, “WikiLeaks was a complete obsession of Pompeo’s,” a source told Yahoo.
“There was a fundamental change” when Trump took office, Yahoo quotes a former senior counterintelligence official as saying. “Nobody in that crew was going to be too broken up about the First Amendment issues.”
The report confirms long-held suspicions about surveillance of Wikileaks activists, as well as espionage activists around Assange’s stay at the embassy. “It got to the point where every human being in a three-block radius [of the embassy] was working for one of the intelligence services,” one official told Yahoo, “whether they were street sweepers or police officers or security guards.”
The plans were mostly blocked by lawyers associated with the White House or the Justice Department, who saw any abduction as straightforwardly illegal. The idea of an assassination was shut down even earlier, with one official describing it as “just spitballing.”
Still, the reporting cuts a stark contrast with President Trump’s statements on the campaign trail, where he often praised Assange and Wikileaks for their role in publishing hacked information from the Clinton campaign.