Ecuador spied on Assange at London embassy: report

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy London on February 5, 2016. (REUTERS File Photo)
Updated 17 May 2018
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Ecuador spied on Assange at London embassy: report

  • The spying started after Julian Assange hacked the Ecuadorean Embassy's computers.
  • It estimated the budget spent on the operation, referred to initially as “Operation Guest” and later “Operation Hotel” at $5.0 million (4.2 million euros).

LONDON: Ecuador spied on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its London embassy where he has been living since 2012, initially to support him but things changed after he hacked the mission’s computers, the Guardian reported Wednesday.
The newspaper said Ecuador employed an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police at the embassy in London’s luxury Knightsbridge area.
It estimated the budget spent on the operation, referred to initially as “Operation Guest” and later “Operation Hotel” at $5.0 million (4.2 million euros).
The snooping was initially intended to protect Assange from the risk of being taken away by British police but later became a full-blown spying operation.
The operation had the support of then Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa, the paper reported, adding that it has since been wound down under the country’s new leader Lenin Moreno who took power last year.
The security team recorded Assange’s daily activities and his interactions with embassy staff and visitors, including fellow hackers, activists and lawyers.
They stayed in a rented flat near the embassy at a cost of £2,800 a month, the paper said.
The paper also cited documents showing that Assange hacked the communications system within the embassy and had his own satellite Internet access.
“By penetrating the embassy’s firewall, Assange was able to access and intercept the official and personal communications of staff,” the paper said.
WikiLeaks denied Assange had hacked the network.
Ecuador has moved to shut off Internet access for Assange in recent months by installing a jammer to prevent him from accessing email and has restricted the number of visitors he can receive.
Assange took refuge in the diplomatic mission in 2012 after a British judge ruled he should be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault there.
Assange claims the accusations were politically motivated and could lead to him being extradited to the United States to face imprisonment over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret US military documents and diplomatic cables in 2010.
Sweden dropped its investigation last year, but British authorities say they still want to arrest him for breaching his bail conditions.
Ecuador in December made Assange an Ecuadoran citizen and unsuccessfully tried to register him as a diplomat with immunity as part of its efforts to have him leave the embassy without risk of being detained.


Further Taliban assaults likely in weeks ahead — US Defense chief Mattis

Updated 17 August 2018
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Further Taliban assaults likely in weeks ahead — US Defense chief Mattis

  • The Taliban had six objectives in and around the city of Ghazni and failed to seize any of them
  • Some Taliban fighters were still holed up in houses in the city ‘trying to get resupplied’

BOGOTA, Colombia: The Taliban is likely to keep up its recent surge of violence in advance of scheduled parliamentary elections in October but Western-backed Afghan defenses will not break, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday.
In his most detailed comments on the Taliban’s assault on the eastern city of Ghazni since it began Aug. 10, Mattis said the Taliban had six objectives in and around the city and failed to seize any of them. He would not specify the six sites.
In Ghazni, provincial police chief Farid Mashal said Thursday that roads were being cleared of mines planted by Taliban who temporarily held entire neighborhoods of the city that they had besieged. The fighting continued for five days with more than 100 members of the Afghan National Security forces killed and 20 civilians. Scores of Taliban were also killed, according to Afghan officials.
Mattis said some Taliban fighters were still holed up in houses in the city “trying to get resupplied.” He said businesses are reopening, and overall, “it’s much more stable” in Ghazni, showing that the Taliban have fallen short.
“They have not endeared themselves, obviously, to the population of Ghazni,” Mattis said. “They use terror. They use bombs because they can’t win with ballots.”
The Taliban operation followed a familiar pattern, Mattis said in remarks to reporters flying with him Thursday evening to Bogota, Colombia, where he was winding up a weeklong tour of South America.
The insurgents likely were trying to gain leverage in advance of an expected cease fire offer by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, he said. And they likely were hoping to sow fear in advance of the October elections, he added.
“They achieved a degree of disquiet,” he said, but nothing more.
“So, we’ll continue to see this sort of thing,” he said, even though the Taliban lack the strength to hold territory they seize for brief periods. “They will never hold against the Afghan army.”
The Afghan war has been stalemated for years. The Taliban lack the popular support to prevail, although they benefit from sanctuary in Pakistan. Afghan government forces, on the other hand, are too weak to decisively break the insurgents even as they develop under US and NATO training and advising.
Mattis has said he believes the Afghan security forces are gaining momentum and can wear down the Taliban to the point where the insurgents would choose to talk peace. So far that approach has not produced a breakthrough.
Next week will mark one year since President Donald Trump announced a revised war strategy for Afghanistan, declaring there would be no time limit on US support for the war and making a renewed push for peace negotiations.