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.


US Senator Graham urges Trump to meet Pakistan PM Khan

Updated 20 January 2019
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US Senator Graham urges Trump to meet Pakistan PM Khan

  • US and Pakistan should have “strategic engagement”, not transactional relationship
  • The American senator sees a “unique opportunity” to change diplomatic direction of US-Pakistan ties

ISLAMABAD:  US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday President Donald Trump should meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as soon as possible to reset long-difficult US relations with Pakistan and push for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.

The comments, which add to growing signs of improved relations between Islamabad and Washington, come amid efforts to press on with talks between the Taliban and the United States aimed at an agreement to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

"I've seen things change here and all in a positive direction," Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has generally been a staunch supporter of Trump, told a news conference in Islamabad.

He said a meeting with Khan, who has declared strong support for a peace agreement in Afghanistan, would leave Trump "far more enthusiastic about the region than he is today".

"With Prime Minister Khan we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship," he said. A previously transactional relationship, based on rewards for services rendered, should be replaced by "strategic engagement", including a free trade agreement, he said.

US relations with Pakistan have long been dogged by suspicions that elements in the Pakistani establishment were aiding the Taliban, a charge Islamabad strongly denies. However, relations have appeared to improve in recent months amid efforts to push the Taliban towards a peace deal.

Trump, who has in the past argued for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan, has made it clear he wants to see a peace accord reached rapidly although the Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with the Afghan government.

Graham's trip to Pakistan coincided with a visit by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and top military commanders including General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command.

Khalilzad left Islamabad without announcing a new date for talks with Taliban representatives, who have refused further meetings until the US side agrees to discuss a timetable for withdrawing its forces.

The uncertainty has been increased by reports that Trump is prepared to order more than 5,000 US troops out of Afghanistan, a move that would represent a sharp change in course from Washington's previous policy of stepping up military action against the Taliban.

With Afghan forces suffering thousands of casualties a year and struggling to hold back the Taliban insurgency, the reports have caused alarm in Kabul, prompting many close to the government to question the US commitment to Afghanistan.

Asked whether there had been confusion over the US message, Graham, who has called for a Senate hearing on Trump's plans to withdraw US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, said "without a doubt" but added that he did not believe Washington would stand by and allow a Taliban victory.

"The world's not going to let the Taliban take Afghanistan over by force of arms. That would be unconscionable," he told Reuters. "Any president who let that happen would go down in history very poorly."