New lawsuit alleges that America's top spy agency snooped on visitors to Julian Assange
A group of US journalists and lawyers have sued the CIA and its former director Mike Pompeo for allegedly spying on them, in violation of their constitutional rights, during their visits to WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange when he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday in US District Court in New York City, accused the CIA of violating the privacy rights of more than 100 American citizens who met with Assange in 2017 and 2018. The agency, which is legally prohibited from collecting intelligence on US citizens, spied on journalists, lawyers and even doctors who visited the embattled Australian-born editor and activist while he was taking refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy, the suit claimed.
Plaintiffs in the case include journalists John Goetz and Charles Glass, as well as two lawyers who represented Assange, Deborah Hrbek and Margaret Kunstler.
Assange stayed at the embassy for seven years, then was dragged out and jailed by UK police after the Ecuadorian government ended his asylum protection in 2019. The lawsuit alleged that people visiting him were required to surrender their mobile phones and other electronic devices to Undercover Global SL, the embassy's private security contractor, before meeting with Assange. Unbeknownst to the Ecuadorian government, the security firm allegedly copied data from the devices and turned it over to the CIA.
Pompeo, then director of the agency, authorized and approved the data theft - in violation of the plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, the lawsuit claimed. The suit noted that Pompeo vowed to go after WikiLeaks, calling it a "non-state hostile intelligence service," while blasting Assange as a "narcissist," a "fraud" and a "coward."
UC Global also recorded conversations between Assange and his visitors on behalf of the CIA, the lawsuit alleged. The illegal spying tapped the private information of not only the plaintiffs, but also that of their friends, family members and business associates, according to the suit.
Assange currently faces an 18-count federal court indictment in the US on espionage-related charges, which his lawyers have claimed is retribution for publishing "newsworthy truthful information" about American military atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The publisher remains in a UK prison, fighting extradition to the US.
The new lawsuit cited several of the key documents that WikiLeaks exposed, including a US Army manual revealing the mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, video footage from an Apache helicopter showing US troops killing Iraqi civilians, and a US Air Force report describing toxic burn pits on military bases.