Pompeo Sued Over Surveillance of Assange Visitors

Guests who visited WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in the Ecuador embassy have sued the C.I.A., former C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo and Spanish security firm UC Global for allegedly violating their 4th Amendment rights.

Watch the press conference with plaintiffs and attorneys on CN Live!:

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

Four U.S. citizens who were surveilled by the C.I.A. during visits to WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in the Ecuador embassy in London have sued the C.I.A, former C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo, the Spanish security firm UC Global and its director David Morales Guillen for allegedly violating their constitutional rights protecting them from illegal searches and seizure.

The lawsuit was filed at 8 a.m. Monday in the Southern District of New York federal court. 

Assange spent seven years in the embassy as a political asylee. He is being held on remand in London’s Belmarsh prison after the U.S. indicted him in 2019 under the Espionage Act for alleged possession and dissemination of defense information. Assange is awaiting a decision by the High Court of England and Wales on whether it will hear his appeal of the ruling by the High Court, signed by the home secretary in June, to extradite him to the United States. 

The plaintiffs say in the lawsuit that private information from their electronic devices was seized and transmitted to the C.I.A. while they were visiting Assange at the embassy between January 2017 and March 2018. They say the C.I.A. also surveilled them by video and audio while meeting with Assange.

Evidence in a Spanish criminal case against Morales shows that his company, UC Global, contracted with the C.I.A. to provide the agency with the surveillance. Pompeo was C.I.A. director at the time.

Ascribing a possible motive, the lawsuit notes that Pompeo called WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence agency” and that he plotted to kidnap or assassinate Assange in the embassy.

“It is somewhat startling that in light of the 4th amendment protection we have in the constitution that the federal government would actually go ahead and take this confidential information, some of which is attorney-client privilege, some of which is from journalists, and even some of which were doctors who visited Mr. Assange,” Richard Roth, the lead attorney in the suit, told a press conference announcing the suit on Monday.

Julian Assange in Ecuadorian embassy in London with Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi shot on UC Global surveillance tape.

The suit says the victims of the surveillance also included:

“(a) Assange’s criminal defense attorneys in the United States who visited the Embassy to advise Assange …   (b) international human rights attorneys with active cases defending Guantanamo Bay Detention Center detainees and others with open matters against the United States government; (c) national security journalists whose sources might be in jeopardy if exposed; and (d) physicians, including medical professionals who interviewed Assange on numerous occasions as part of a 5-year study into the effects of involuntary detention on physical and mental health.”

The suit points out that the plaintiffs’ “devices contained, among other things, confidential and privileged information and documents from or about: (a) the Plaintiff journalists’ confidential sources; and (b) the Plaintiff attorneys’ clients. The information contained on the Plaintiffs’ devices was copied and, ultimately, given to the CIA.”

The suit says, “Defendant Pompeo was aware of and approved the copying of information contained on Plaintiffs’ mobile electronic devices and the surreptitious audio monitoring of their meetings with Assange.”

The lawsuit asks for monetary damages from Pompeo; injunctive relief from the C.I.A. and that the defendants not share the plaintiffs’ confidential information with a third party. It also asks for the C.I.A. to return the material to the plaintiffs and to “purge from its files any such information.”

The plaintiffs are attorneys Margaret Ratner Kuntsler and Deborah Hrbek and journalists Charles Glass and John Goetz.

The Suit’s Influence on Assange Case

“Mr. Assange’s rights have now been tainted if not destroyed,” Robert Boyle, a New York constitutional lawyer advising the case, told the press conference. “The recordings of meetings with … his lawyers … taints the criminal prosecution, because now the government knows the contents of those communications and there should be sanctions, even up to dismissal of those charges or withdrawal of the extradition request.”

Kunstler added: “As a criminal attorney, I don’t think there is any thing worse than your opposition listening in on what your plans are. It is treated by the United States courts as a terrible thing. … The result has very often been a dismissal of the indictment.”

Julian Assange speaking from balcony of Ecuador embassy in London, December 2018. (Snapperjack CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Department of Justice contends that there is a “Chinese wall” between itself and the C.I.A. and that it has not been privy to surveillance of Assange and his lawyers. Roth skirted a question at the press conference about whether it was known if the C.I.A. shared the seized data with the DOJ.

But Boyle said, “The government would have to prove that the information that it has is not tainted by the illegal searches and seizures, so the onus will be on the government.” He said it’s not enough for “the government to stand up and say we have this wall, nothing will be shared. It’s unclear whether any such wall will protect Mr. Assange’s due process rights.” 

British Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, who presided over Assange’s 2020 extradition hearing, sided with the U.S. in her Jan. 4, 2021 decision, saying:

“The US would be aware 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. … US statutory provisions and case law … would enable Mr. Assange to apply to exclude any evidence at his trial which is based on privileged material.” 

The plaintiffs in any case hope the publicity surrounding the lawsuit will put pressure on the Justice Department to drop the indictment against Assange.

“I and many of my colleagues, some of whom are plaintiffs, are calling on the DOJ to drop the charges,” Hrbek, a media lawyer and one of the plaintiffs, told the press conference. 

The lawsuit is unlikely to influence the High Court or the British home secretary to reverse her order to extradite Assange as they were aware of the C.I.A.’s surveillance of Assange and his guests throughout his extradition process and ignored it.

In her lower court ruling, Baraitser wrote: “A possible alternative explanation for US surveillance (if there was any) is the perception that Mr. Assange remained a risk to their national security.” 

Discovery Hurdles

In seeking discovery, the plaintiffs may face the imposition of the states secrets privilege, which would allow the C.I.A., with the judge’s assent, to prevent classified material from being made available. 

“We don’t think this will be an easy task,” Roth said. “Discovery will be a difficult process, however we will have a federal court judge who presumably will be non-biased, who will insist that certain documents and certain individuals be produced and be presented. That is a process we are willing to take on.”  

The plaintiffs may also face a jurisdictional battle as the suit was filed in the Southern District of New York, rather than in the Eastern District of Virginia, where the C.I.A. resides, and where Assange has been indicted.  Judgments from that notorious court, dubbed the “espionage court,” overwhelming side with the national security state.

“We are not trying to avoid any jurisdiction,” Roth said. “The bottom line is that if there is substantial conduct … in transacting business in New York State then there is jurisdiction in New York. The C.I.A. has jurisdiction in every state … and there was plenty of activity in New York State.”

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe  

26 comments for “Pompeo Sued Over Surveillance of Assange Visitors

  1. susan mullen
    August 17, 2022 at 00:50

    Many thanks to those making this effort. I’d love to see Pompeo jailed for what remains of his life.

  2. August 17, 2022 at 00:35

    Great article Great suit which gives people in NY a rally point. We should organize daily street protest.

  3. Robyn
    August 16, 2022 at 20:51

    I like to remind people that Julian is an Australian citizen and that no Australian government of either major party has lifted a finger for Julian. And, minor point, they do not respond to emails from constituents about Julian.

  4. Me Myself
    August 16, 2022 at 11:56

    If the RNC and the DNC are corporations could they be prosecuted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)?

    • robert e williamson jr
      August 16, 2022 at 14:51

      Now we may be getting somewhere.

      I’d take the law much more seriously if it were just. Presently my contempt for the process tends to point me in the way of flaunting it.

      “Me Myself “brings up a great topic, one that is being considered by Trump Prosecutors from what I can gather. One that could, hopefully, easily be applied to Pompeo and others.

      At what point could the U.S. government be shamed into getting it’s collective “shit together”? Especially the DOJ, who if it is not very careful might exit our current troubled waters with less credibility that J Edgar Hoover.

      Think about that for an second or two.

      If there is anything that should wake up Americans it should be the contrast between Trump and Julian Assange.

      On one hand we have a person making a genuine effort to protect our countries citizens and citizens the world over and on the other we have this aberration, a person with so many numerous pathological tendencies as to be a totally dysfunctional adult. Save one thing, billions of dollars at his disposal to buy him acceptance.

      The number one thing that is killing our country. Everyone should see this for what it is, money buying authority. Authority grossly misused to distract, beat off dissenters and misuse law to punish them. A vulgar display of the misuse the power of money to propel the monster of the oppressive “Authoritarian Government”.

      Something as plain as the nose on ones face.

      I posed this question earlier here when I began I’ll ask it again.

      At what point will the greedy fools in D.C. realize they are in the process of destroying the basic foundation for free people and the government they DESERVE and come to their senses.

      The “Shame Factor” must be applied to the our current leaders in government and the DOJ needs to be pressed to do just that.

      I’d like to remind everyone that I have, too many times maybe, complained that those in D.C. have lost touch with the people of America, lost touch to the extent they may actually push regions of the this country towards civil conflict.

      It is time for DOJ to drop their “pompous trappings” and do the job they were intended to do.

      “LOCK THEM UP!” for life. Then you have a deterrent to this wanton disregard for individual rights by those in pursuit of endless wealth and greed for the power to accumulate even more!

      Thanks CN

  5. Vera Gottlieb
    August 16, 2022 at 10:47

    Will there ever be a chance of an American – any Yanx, doing something the honest way??? It just turns my stomach reading about all the mischief (putting it mildly) that takes place day in and day out.

  6. Larry McGovern
    August 16, 2022 at 09:15

    Em – Did you mean to say, “Blinken an eye”?

    • Em
      August 16, 2022 at 13:49

      Nice catch!

  7. doris
    August 16, 2022 at 08:46

    Thanks for this report. It gives us a modicum of hope if they can get the world to listen. The US is falling in status, so maybe when the sheet hits the fan, they won’t have the legal standing they need to pull off his extradition. Oh wait. They don’t have any legal standing now! But they’re doing it anyway because they’re above the law, and if they’re not, they’ll pretend they are.
    Anyway, I sure hope this works, in spite of the fact that the US makes up its own law.

  8. August 16, 2022 at 03:18

    The complaint in the case under discussion is here: hXXps://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22136088-margaret-ratner-kunstler-et-al-v-cia-et-al-complaint

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      August 17, 2022 at 00:02

      Thanks for the link.

  9. Nathan Mulcahy
    August 15, 2022 at 23:05

    Which court will decide on the case? A kangaroo court in a banana republic. Any fury questions ?

  10. August 15, 2022 at 19:05

    The US is meticulously creating Jesus Christ Super Star II as it bullies the world int WW3.

  11. August 15, 2022 at 18:24

    Why don’t all these lawyers go to US federal courts and seek – on the same basis of Constitutional violation and gross misconduct – the dismissal of the Assange extradition and indictment?

  12. Mike
    August 15, 2022 at 18:17

    I would like to suggest to ‘Em’ that “the actual practices of a person called Jesus Christ” included the statement: “whatever you do to the least of mine, you do to me”.
    I do not believe that this sanctioned the Spanish Inquisition or the colonisation (by so-called Christians) of the non-Western world in the name of Christian civilisation. My understanding is that at least British colonisers informed their new subjects that they now belonged to the “Great White Queen”.
    After the Falklands, Britain ‘owed’ the USA. ThePrice: Support for conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya. Having shown how catastrophic these ‘crusades’ have been, Julian Assange cannot be allowed by the British and American Establishments to survive.
    How else will they continue to subjugate the masses?

  13. Roger Hoffmann
    August 15, 2022 at 15:16

    I greatly appreciate the publishing of the link to this discussion. It’s encouraging to say the least. The “security state” aspect of Empire has gotten away with far too much and have clearly been emboldened by the lack of accountability or meaningful challenge. This must change.

    • August 16, 2022 at 14:46

      While I agree with you, I don’t believe it will happen. Both parties, media, police, FBI, CIA and enough judges are all in the service of the oligarchs. Media will tell you what to believe and most people will buy it hook, line and sinker, while the others get away with “everything”

      • August 17, 2022 at 10:36

        While there is a high probability the suit will fail in court, it is a very welcome effort and provides a rally point around which people can organize. Schumer is up for re-election and we should demand that he call for droppimg the charges against Julian. This suit can be the seed from which a mighty protest grows.

  14. Julie Stein
    August 15, 2022 at 14:14

    My first question was “in what court?”

    In an American court, not a chance in heck of justice being found. Justice was banned in America years ago.

    The court where this was filed is Wall Street’s court. Anyone who’s been watching the crimes and corruption of Wall Street for decades, knows that this court does not provide justice.

  15. Em
    August 15, 2022 at 08:48

    The world’s policeman, yet again, leading by example:

    Hypocrisy is a hugely inadequate English idiom for describing inhumane U.S. ruthlessness, in its condemnation of anything and everything its nemesis, Iran, does.

    There is no defense for the autocratic, fundamentalist religious Iranian regime either, when it comes to their now “blaming Salman Rushdie and his supporters for his own stabbing”. They may not have direct links to the attacker himself, but the ‘fatwa’ — religious edict, issued by the supreme leader, Khomeini, more than 30 years ago, in the name of the Islamic religion, has been the inspiration for fundamentalist believers’ lunatic actions the world over.

    The current twenty-four year old assailant, against Rushdie, was not yet born when the decree was first issued. Divisive, clandestine religious language narration has worked as the indoctrinating tool, all his life.

    The form of Islam practiced in Iran does not necessarily speak for all of the world’s more than 1.5 billion Muslims, just as the claims of hegemonic American style ‘democracy’ does not speak with one voice for all of the worlds blind faith believers in the actual practices of a person called Jesus Christ.

    Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, in a statement lauding Salman Rushdie, said that he had “continually stood up for the universal rights of freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of the press”; without even blinking an eye.

    Now, that is extraordinary hypocrisy! No mention of the contradiction in their illegal treatment of Julian Assange.
    If Blinkens statement, in and of itself, doesn’t qualify, in like manner to a ‘fatwa’s’ “hate speech and incitement to violence” then what does???

    • August 16, 2022 at 10:20

      Your words are truth, as everyone knows whose brain cells haven’t been fried by relentless U.S. propaganda. I believe the empire is crumbling and will fall before long. It won’t be pretty.

    • August 16, 2022 at 14:56

      While I disagree with the stabbing of Salman Rushdie, I also disagree that he stood for freedom of expression. Salman , being part of PEN America, has not spoken out about the treatment of Assange. Salman was a useful tool and he also used this “freedom of expression” badge to enrich himself. It only works if his target are Muslim. I would have liked to see all these “freedom of Expression” warriors put their career on the line to speak out about Assange. If they can wear it as a badge to enrich themselves, they can also challenge authorities when this “freedom of expression” is violated for real journalists, otherwise it is just a dog and pony show.

      • Em
        August 17, 2022 at 10:22

        Hadn’t Rushdie established his writing career, which had brought him fame and fortune long prior to the Julian Assange journalism imbroglio?
        Wasn’t it the constant threat to his own life, and the notoriety it brought him, because of the Iranian ‘fatwa’ against him; causing him to resort to live in hiding for the first seven years after its issuance, that gave him the personal right to act somewhat cautiously as a spokesperson for freedom of thought and expression in the aftermath? Yet he had been doing just that for many years, since coming out of hiding.
        What was in his mind about not speaking out on behalf of J.A., no one can say, who does not know the man.
        Your opinion about this one individual says you probably see yourself as a braver character than most of us other mere mortals!

        • August 17, 2022 at 12:56

          I don’t see myself as any braver than anyone else but my point is more about people wrapping themselves around “freedom of Speech and expression”. It becomes more of a way to enrich themselves rather than using that platform to actually speaking out against injustice in relations to the said freedom. We see that courage in people like Chris Hedges, John Pilger and Caitlin Johnstone. They talk the talk and walk the walk.

          • Em
            August 17, 2022 at 17:46

            Have Chris Hedges, John Pilger or Caitlin Johnstone ever directly confronted Islamic religious practices, in the manner Salman Rushdie did, in his Satanic Verses?
            Were their lives ever directly threatened, in return, by the leader of the Islamic faith of Iran putting a ‘fatwa’ on their heads, for what they have freely written?

            Today there are approximately 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Does the current president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, speak for all of the Muslims in the world?
            Does the head of the Catholic Church’s 1.3 billion adherents, Pope Francis, speak for all of Christianity’s 2.8 billion followers?

            President Joe Biden certainly doesn’t speak for all Americans, perhaps not even for himself!
            Are all journalists, documentary film makers and writers required to speak with one voice?
            If you were the head of an oligarchic state, proclaiming a separation of Church and state democracy, you would certainly prefer they did!

            The idea of religious hegemony is as deserving of contempt as any other form of social control by those holding the reigns of power.

            Okay, so Salman Rushdie is not as courageous as you feel he ought to be, simply because he’s not on your personal list of courageous people!
            The more fluid version of the expression you hold up as your flag of courage is Walk-the-Talk: “To do what one said one could do, or would do, not just making empty promises.”

            No argument from me here!

  16. mgr
    August 15, 2022 at 05:49

    Great that they’re pushing back. No help from America’s narcissistic, propaganda press though. Let’s see if the US actually is a nation of laws or if it’s just a domestic “rules based order…”

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