Ecuador will grant political asylum to WikiLeaks supremo Julian Assange, according to unconfirmed reports from unnamed Ecuadorian government officials. WikiLeaks had not replied to a request for comment by time of going to press, and the country’s president Rafael Correa was denying any decision on Twitter.
If it is true, it would suggest a decision to grant Assange asylum was made by the Ecuadorian government some time ago, with the announcement held off until the conclusion of the Olympics.
Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge on June 19, after the failure of his final appeal against extradition to Sweden for questioning on accusations of s-xual coercion and assault by two women he had had consensual affairs with during a speaking visit to the country almost two years ago. Sweden issued an Interpol “red notice” for his arrest after he had returned to the UK, several months after the accusations surfaced. Assange’s decision to resist extradition started a two-year process of house arrest, with an electronic ankle bracelet, as his challenge worked its way to the UK Supreme Court.
There's more to Crikey than you think.
Get more Crikey for just
Assange, through his legal team, argued that the Swedish prosecutors’ desire to further question him could be performed in the UK, and that there was no need for physical extradition. Pointing to Sweden’s now-substantially pro-US foreign policy, its fast-track “loan” extradition laws, and its policy of remand on all felony accusations, Assange argued that he was at high risk of extradition to the US from Sweden, as part of the US government’s pursuit of “Cablegate” and other whistleblowers, using the Espionage Act.
The “Cablegate” releases won WikiLeaks many supporters, not least among the leftist governments that now dominate South America — since many of the cables released gave a full insiders’ picture of the degree of collusion and contempt that successive US administrations had displayed towards democracy in the region.
Rafael Correa had already closed US bases in the country, and taken steps towards a people-oriented economy. He was a guest on Assange’s political talk show, broadcast on Russia Today, earlier in the year, welcoming Assange to the “club of the persecuted”. At the time of the WikiLeaks “Cablegate” release in late 2010, Ecuador’s deputy foreign minister said that his country was potentially open to giving Assange residency, given the number of explicit death threats made against him by public figures in the US.
All that Ecuador has officially announced is that it will make a decision this week on the asylum request; and there has been claim and counter-claim from anonymous Ecuadorian government insiders as to the status of the claim. Nevertheless, even if granted, it leaves the grey blur with the problem of how to get from the embassy to the airport and out of the UK, given that he will be arrested for breaching bail conditions, as soon as he steps on English soil.
Most commentators seem to be taking that as an insurmountable quandary — although they thought much the same when Assange’s legal appeals failed. But there are obvious answers to getting out of the Ecuadorian embassy (an eight-room flat, in a grand Edwardian terrace building), and the first is that he’s already done it. No one, save for the WikiLeaks insiders, has seen Assange for months. Who’s to say he wasn’t spirited out at night in the boot of a car and flown to Latin America by private jet, to appear in a Panama hat and cream suit on the Presidential balcony tomorrow?
The second answer is that he will get out by walking out — as Senor Assange, citizen of Ecuador. Simply conferring citizenship would not be sufficient to prevent arrest, of course — but making him an Ecuadorian diplomatic official, whether as a proposed part of the representation to the UK, or as part of the Ecuadorian mission to the UN. This latter move does not require Assange to be presented to the UK government — he could walk out the front door, untouchable, and get on a plane with his new Ecuadorian passport.
However, it should be noted that the move would not be without cost to Ecuador — this week it begins negotiation on trade concessions with the US, which may quickly become punitive. The Correa government’s hostile relationship with an oligarchic right-wing press has also been substantially misrepresented. Though the government is not without sin, to make its recourse to libel laws — when Correa is falsely accused of crimes against humanity — and withdrawal of advertising placement from utterly hostile papers akin to a state crackdown is absurd, and reaches the point of disinformation. Club of the persecuted indeed.
The Ecuadorian decision comes just as WikiLeaks has come under a huge denial-of-service attack from a right-wing group called AntiLeaks, who have made the whistleblower site their main enemy. The DOS attack appears to be in response to WikiLeaks’ release of documents concerning the “Trapwire” system, found in the huge “Stratfor” archive that the site began releasing last year.
Trapwire is a software system that interconnected authorities — i.e. local governments — can use to integrate their surveillance equipment, e.g. CCTVs and traffic cameras, with face- and gait-recognition software to create a claimed ability to identify criminals and predict violent terrorist activity. The system, created by ex-CIA agents, has been sold to, and employed by, dozens of national and local authorities. Whether it can predict terrorism remains to be seen — what it can certainly do is monitor large numbers of specific people automatically, without the enormous labour of human surveillance.
The release of documents showing cities willing to pay up to half a million dollars for use of the technology prompted a series of articles around the world, including those by WikiLeaks’ bitter ex-partners, The New York Times and The Guardian. With both private fortunes and the national security state riding on Trapwire’s now-blown-secrecy, and continued uptake, it is no wonder that shadowy forces again turned their guns on Assange and WikiLeaks — or that a leftist President of a country that has suffered much at the hands of Western secrecy might see fit to airlift Assange off the roof of a Knightsbridge flat in a helicopter designated as Ecuadorian territory for the duration of the flight.
Damn, now I’ve really given it away.