Julian Assange’s lawyers along with two journalists sued the CIA and its former chief Mike Pompeo over allegations the intelligence agency violated their US constitutional rights and protections for confidential discussions with the WikiLeaks founder, who is Australian.
In a statement, Richard Roth who is the lead attorney representing the plaintiffs said, “The United States Constitution shields American citizens from U.S. government overreach even when the activities take place in a foreign embassy in a foreign country.” The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs include journalists Charles Glass and John Goetz and attorneys Margaret Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek, who have represented Assange.
The filing said that the CIA under Pompeo targeted the group for surveillance while they were visiting Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London between August 2016 to January 2017. It alleges that the CIA copied data from their electronic devices – personal computers and phones – and recorded their conversations with Julian Assange during that time. The group said the information from their phones and other personal electronic devices was copied by a private security company that provided security services to the embassy. Later, the copied data was headed to the CIA that was under Pompeo at the time. The lawsuit alleges that the security company known as Undercover Global S.L. required journalists and attorneys to surrender their phones and computers, during their visits to Assange.
The CIA is largely barred from collecting intelligence on U.S. citizens. Although as it was alleged in several occasions, the agency maintains a secret repository of Americans’ communications data. According to Reuters, the CIA was approached but declined to comment on the lawsuit. It also reports that Pompeo and Undercover Global S.L. “could not be immediately reached for comment.”
Assange, 51, who is an Australian citizen, is wanted by U.S. authorities on several counts that include spying charges. Most charges are related to the release of confidential U.S. military records such as Iraq and Afghan War logs and other U.S. diplomatic and unredacted cables by WikiLeaks. Assange’s supporters see him as an anti-establishment hero, victimized because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The saga of WikiLeaks founder began in 2010 after Sweden authorities sought his extradition from the U.K. over sex crime allegations. After Assange lost his case in 2012, he fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London, said a report on Reuters.
Assange spent almost seven years at the embassy before his arrest in April 2019 on the basis of a U.S. extradition warrant. Since then, he has been incarcerated in Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh in London. In June 2022, the Home Secretary of the U.K. Priti Patel approved Assange’s extradition which he is appealing in the High Court. “We’re going to fight this. We’re going to use every appeal avenue,” Stella Assange told reporters after Patel approved his extradition. The Australian government under Anthony Albanese stated that it would oppose the continued prosecution of Assange and pursue quiet diplomacy to achieve justice.