UK Govt Deployed 15 Staff on Secret Op to Seize Assange

New information raises further concerns about the politicization of the WikiLeaks founder’s legal case, Matt Kennard reports. 

Julian Assange speaking from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London; Metropolitan Police officers in foreground, August 2012. (wl dreamer, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Matt Kennard
Declassified UK

  • Assange had been granted asylum by a friendly country to avoid persecution by the U.S. government for his journalistic activities
  • But Home Office had eight staff, and the Cabinet Office had seven, working on secret police operation to arrest Assange
  • Ministry of Justice, which controls England’s courts and prisons, refuses to say if its staff were involved in operation
  • Foreign Office refuses to say if its premises were used

The British government assigned at least 15 people to the secret operation to seize Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, new information shows. 

The WikiLeaks founder was given political asylum by Ecuador in 2012, but was never allowed safe passage out of Britain to avoid persecution by the U.S. government. 

The Australian journalist has been in Belmarsh maximum-security prison for the past three and a half years and faces a potential 175-year sentence after the High Court of England and Wales green-lighted his extradition to the U.S. in December 2021. 

“Pelican” was the secret Metropolitan Police operation to seize Assange from his asylum, which eventually occurred in April 2019. Asylum is a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Alan Duncan. (Chris McAndrew, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The operation’s existence was only revealed in the memoirs of former Foreign Minister Sir Alan Duncan which were published last year. The U.K. government routinely blocks, or obfuscates its answers to information requests about the Assange case. 

But the Cabinet Office recently told Parliament it had seven officials working on Operation Pelican. The department’s role is to “support the Prime Minister and ensure the effective running of government,” but it also has national security and intelligence functions

It is not immediately clear why the Cabinet Office would have so many personnel working on a police operation of this kind. Asked about their role, the Cabinet Office said these seven officials “liaised” with the Metropolitan Police on the operation. 

The Home Office, meanwhile, told Parliament it had eight officials working on Pelican. The Home Office oversees MI5 and the head of the department has to sign off extraditions to most foreign countries. The then home secretary, Priti Patel, ordered Assange’s extradition to the U.S. in June. 

‘Disproportionate Cost’

Other government ministries refused to say if they had staff working on Pelican, including the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

The MoJ is in charge of courts in England and Wales, where Assange’s extradition case is currently deciding whether to hear an appeal. It is also in control of its prisons, including Belmarsh maximum security jail where Assange is incarcerated.

When asked if any of its staff were assigned to Pelican, the MoJ claimed: “The information requested could only be obtained at disproportionate cost.”

It is unclear why the Home Office, a bigger department with more staff, could answer such a question, but the MoJ could not. There is no obvious reason why the MoJ would have staff assigned to Pelican, so revelations that it did would cause embarrassment for the government. 

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office told Parliament it had no staff “directly assigned” to Pelican, but refused to say if people working on the operation were located on its premises. 

‘Julian Assange’s Special Brexit Team’

Sir Alan Duncan, foreign minister for the Americas from 2016-19, was the key U.K. official in the diplomatic negotiations between the U.K. and Ecuador to get Assange out of the embassy. In his memoirs he wrote that he watched a live-feed of Assange’s arrest from the Operations Room at the top of the Foreign Office alongside Pelican personnel. 

After Assange had been imprisoned in Belmarsh, Duncan had a drinks party at his office for the Pelican team.

“I gave them each a signed photo which we took in the Ops Room on the day, with a caption saying ‘Julian Assange’s Special Brexit Team 11th April 2019,’” he wrote. 

Ecuador’s president from 2007-17, Rafael Correa, recently told Declassified he granted Assange asylum because the Australian journalist “didn’t have any possibility of a fair legal process in the United States.” 

He added that the U.K. government “tried to deal with us like a subordinate country.”

In September 2021, 30 former U.S. officials went on the record to reveal a C.I.A. plot to “kill or kidnap” Assange in London. In case of Assange leaving the embassy, the article noted, “US officials asked their British counterparts to do the shooting if gunfire was required, and the British agreed, according to a former senior administration official.” 

These assurances most likely came from the Home Office. 

Matt Kennard is chief investigator at Declassified UK. he was a fellow and then director at the Centre for Investigative Journalism in London. Follow him on twitter @kennardmatt

This article is from Declassified UK.

9 comments for “UK Govt Deployed 15 Staff on Secret Op to Seize Assange

  1. tinker
    December 2, 2022 at 14:09

    A flagrantly political ‘trial’, all Due Process of Law being trampled underfoot by the Royal coach & horses. Assange reported a Crime of State, (as is his duty), and that very state uses a kangaroo court to achieve the required result of extradition. Under Common Constitutional Law I’m convinced this case would have been thrown out of court in five minutes; further, that a case against the state as party to the crime Assange reported, would be in order. Personally, I consider Assange a Saint already. Pray God forbid that ‘They’ make him a Martyr.

  2. Arch Stanton
    November 30, 2022 at 19:04

    Ashamed and disgusted at my country of birth.

    A plague on that rat Alan Duncans house as well, he is as corrupt as they come, a perfect fit for the plutocracy he represents in the cesspit they call the Houses of Parliament.

  3. Valerie
    November 30, 2022 at 05:55

    It is said the Ukraine is the most corrupt country in Europe. The UK is close to replacing them.
    When a prime minister crashes the economy and receives a stipend of £100,000 a year after being sacked, you must ask yourself “what is wrong with this picture?”.

    • November 30, 2022 at 09:08

      They shame us all, with their lies and corruption! Time to expose their crimes!

  4. WillD
    November 29, 2022 at 22:34

    The plot thickens…….. but I’m not surprised given how badly the UK justice system has handled the case, and how little effort has been made by all parts of the UK government to hide its complicity with the US and its own persecution of Assange.

    I wish I could see some glimmer of hope for Assange – and for the now very obviously decayed and corrupt UK systems of government and ‘justice’. But I can’t.

    The UK has become a police state, with an increasingly authoritarian government that makes little effort to conceal its contempt for the people.

  5. anon
    November 29, 2022 at 21:26

    The UK and US are just thuggish, criminal gangster regimes utterly devoid of any moral compass whatsoever.
    The legal and judicial systems of both countries are irredeemably corrupt and politicised, and are now no more than a tool of persecution and intimidation.

    • Andrew Nichols
      November 30, 2022 at 04:30

      British vulgarity. Another feature of the Rules Based International Order.

  6. November 29, 2022 at 18:39

    When one wonders how the German people, the 19th century’s most socially aware and liberal society, accepted the Third Reich, all we need to do is read this article and look in a mirror, … with our eyes open.

    • Charles E. Carroll
      November 30, 2022 at 10:51

      Truly said!

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