On Nappies and Law Enforcement Spying

One of the most scandalous revelations from the Julian Assange extradition hearing — that the company that handled the security for the Ecuadoran Embassy, UC Global, sought to obtain a diaper from one of Stella Morris’ children — may have a very logical explanation: The FBI would need to know whether they had to treat communications between Assange and Morris with spousal privilege. The FBI did precisely the same thing with Roger Stone when they went to some length to figure out whether Kristin Davis’ son was Stone’s child before they interviewed her in the investigation of Stone.

Indeed, once you read through the muddles and inconsistencies, what the two witnesses who submitted testimony about UC Global’s surveillance of Assange (Witness One, Witness Two) described is utterly consistent with FBI surveillance and inconsistent with CIA surveillance.

Witness Two is more detailed and credible than Witness One. That’s easily shown in two ways. First, Witness Two admits that after David Morales got a contract with Sheldon Adelson in 2016, it led to speculation that he was working with US authorities. UC Global employees discussed how he “could” be cooperating with US authorities (a dumb speculation to begin with).

I remember that after David Morales had returned from the United States, at a meeting with the rest of the staff he affirmed that we were moving into “the premier league”. After this I became aware that David Morales was making regular trips to the United States, the context of which my boss, David Morales, repeated to his having “gone to the dark side”. I also recall Morales’s wife’s social media recording the recurring trips to the United States, specifically to New York and Washington, via her Instagram account (with the profile @moda_koko), which prompted ongoing commentary from staff that Mr Morales could be cooperating with US authorities. [my emphasis]

Witness One presents that as fact (unlike Witness Two, Witness One has none of the records or claims he makes documented, another thing that makes Witness Two far more credible).

After returning from one of his trips to the United States, David Morales gathered all the workers in the office in Jerez and told us that “we have moved up and from now on we will be playing in the big league”. During a private conversation with David, I asked him what he was referring to when he said we had moved up into “the big league”. David replied, without going into further detail, that he had switched over to “the dark side” referring to cooperating with US authorities, and as a result of that collaboration “the Americans will get us contracts all over the world”.

In addition to the new contract, after Morales’s return from Las Vegas and his comments about “the big league” and switching to “the dark side”, I learned through my conversation with Davis Morales that he had entered into illegal agreements with U.S. authorities to supply them with sensitive information about Mr. Assange and Rafael Correa, given that UC Global was responsible for the embassy security where Mr. Assange was located.

He does so, even though he didn’t leave UC Global — because Morales was selling everything to “the enemy, the United States” — until 2017 (or possibly even later, after Assange’s arrest).

Thus, I came to realize that David Morales decided to sell all the information to the enemy, the United States, which is the reason I put an end to my professional relationship with him.

If he were certain Morales was working for the dark side in 2016, by his own claims, he would have left then.

Similarly, Witness Two includes the details that explain why Adelson would give Morales a contract when his yacht already had security: it was to protect his kids when they were in Europe.

I remember that Sheldon Adelson himself – who is on the public record as being very close to President Donald Trump—increased his ties with UC Global because at one point David Morales was personally put in charge of the security of the magnate and his children when they visited Europe, in their Summer trips to Nice and Ibiza.

Witness One doesn’t consider such explanations.

That is to say, the contract was to provide security to the luxury boat during the short period during which it found itself in Mediterranean waters. But the most striking thing about it was that the boat had its own security, which consisted of a sophisticated security detail, and that the contract consisted in adding an additional person, in this case, David Morales, for a very short period of time, through which David Morales would receive an elevated sum.

The difference in credibility is important, because Witness One focuses closely on Adelson, whereas Witness Two barely focuses on it. Witness Two — who unlike Witness One had a direct role in the increased surveillance on Assange — mentions it only in passing.

For good reason. Any claim of a connection between the 2016 Adelson contract and surveillance that ratcheted up much later makes no sense.

And that’s important because, while Witness Two describes UC Global being vetted as early as January 2017, he describes (and Witness One agrees) that the increased surveillance started in June or July of that year, with the most intense surveillance starting in December 2017.

I recall that between June and July 2017, I was summoned by David Morales to form a task force of workers at our headquarters in Jerez. The purpose of this unit was to execute, from a technical perspective, the capture, systematization and processing of information collected at the embassy that David Morales requested. So, I was tasked with executing David Morales’s orders, with the technical means that existed in the embassy and additional measures that were installed by order of Morales, in addition to the information gathered by the UC Global employees who were physically present in the diplomatic mission. This unit also had to travel to London every month to collect information.

There are still inconsistencies with Witness Two’s testimony, mind you, including a request in May that he says was part of the task force that didn’t start until a month later. But effectively he provides compelling evidence that, starting in June 2017, the surveillance that UC Global was doing on Assange went up, and then in December it went up considerably.

That’s consistent with the substance — though not the headline claims — of a presentation that Andrew Müller-Maguhn did on this almost a year ago. Add in the report that Morales shared information with an IP in Alexandria, VA, and the surveillance is completely consistent with being part a criminal investigation conducted out of the EDVA grand jury known to be investigating not just Assange, but also accused Vault 7 source Joshua Schulte at the time. Within months, there would be several more investigations predicated against Assange, investigations that would have nothing to do with journalism (and, if DOJ investigated Assange’s attempt to extort immunity using the Vault 7 files, that too would have nothing to do with journalism).

That almost seems like what this paragraph, from the prosecution closing argument, suggests — that, sure, they did have Assange under surveillance but that’s because he was sitting on CIA’s hacking tools and was planning an exfiltration from the embassy to Russia.

Fifth: allegations which Assange makes about being surveilled in the Embassy are not evidence that this prosecution is politically motived. In short, taking the defence evidence at its highest, even if Assange was surveilled by or on behalf of the United States, which is not admitted, that does not demonstrate that this prosecution is politically motivated. Surveillance may evidence wider concern about a risk an individual poses or concern to know their movements. Surveillance may demonstrate a state’s interest in apprehending an individual but that does not make a prosecution for criminal conduct politically motivated.

As I’ve said before, UC Global had a legal presence in the US and as such would be subject to subpoena by a grand jury. Surveillance records are routinely obtained from grand juries. While I imagine they’d get Ecuador’s consent for this, by fall 2016 — and especially after the Vault 7 releases — Ecuador was pretty sensitive about the way Assange was using their embassy as a base for crimes that were pissing off multiple countries.

You can argue this level of surveillance was really overbearing (and you’d be right). But WikiLeaks’ backers keep telling the story without mentioning that it came during precisely the period when the FBI was investigating Assange for a whole bunch of stuff, almost all of which had nothing to do with journalism. You can argue that the 2010 charges are dangerous (they are!). But to argue that Assange shouldn’t be investigated for extortion, conspiring with those who hacked Americans, illegally participating in an American election, and entering into a quid pro quo to get a pardon is not an argument about journalism.

36 replies
  1. Joseph Andrews says:

    Quoting from the (as usual…wonderful) piece:

    “But WikiLeaks’ backers…”

    Going back to the ‘dawn’ of WikiLeaks (when exactly was this?)–the ‘backers’ of Wikileaks…who are these people?

    No snark intended; I do wonder how history is going to judge the Wikileaks era.

    Thanks for this wonderful website and writing within it. I always feel smarter after reading the articles and even usually the comments!

  2. Reader 21 says:

    Agreed Joseph, and thank you Marcy, great post as per usual—defending Assange as some paragon of journalistic integrity, is like defending the person who goes and gets gasoline—in and of itself, not illegal to get gasoline for someone—for the well-known arsonist, whom he knows has his sights on House A, with the sleeping family inside.

    Also, I love how Assange—and his ardent social media apologists and enablers—somehow never get around to anything remotely critical of Putin, that well-regarded examplar of free and open political discourse and defender of journalistic freedom and integrity, democracy and the rule of law, not to mention just all-around solid global citizen and good neighbor (see, ie, Crimea).

    • rip says:

      Yes, you would think that the blanket supporters of all things Assange, would at least do some head feints and accuse Putin of some parking ticket bribes. Irony, sarcasm, humor, and hubris are lost on these types. Good thing, otherwise they’d appear to be human.

  3. Joseph Andrews says:

    responding to rip, who wrote:

    ” Irony, sarcasm, humor, and hubris are lost on these types.”

    This is such an important point to make. To me, it is as if ‘these types’ have little or no self-awareness…NONE. And they seem proud of this fact, and seems to me is part of ‘owning the libs’.

    Again, with no snarkiness intended: I wonder what percentage of Americans fit into the category of ‘these types’.

    I’m not sure I want to know the answer…

    • Chetnolian says:

      It is simply not true that those opposing Assange’s extradition don’t also call out Russia. Amnesty International most certainly does. It is best to check facts before making blanket assertions.

      • emptywheel says:

        I think there’s a split between the WikiLeaks propaganda crowd. Even I am aware of some fissures between it. There are several different messaging centers, some self-appointed. But the dominant one right now is actually stupidly pro-Russian.
        There’s a larger international community that sees the threat this poses that are not, per se, pro-Russian. They may also be unaware of how long WL’s Russian ties go back, though.

      • bmaz says:

        Or maybe Assange is just a suspect that deserves to be prosecuted in multiple jurisdictions, including the UK. I am so sick of the bleating by the little Assange cult that he is some hero that has been wrongfully imprisoned since 2012.

        It is one of the biggest loads of garbage in history. He was an absconding fleeing felon that hid out from rape charges for all those years. It was NOT that he was “imprisoned” or “in custody”. That is a straight up lie of Trumpian proportion by the cult. Now he is still detained pending extradition because he is a clear flight risk. It is time to stop taking this asshole seriously. Oh, and I am fairly informed on the facts and history.

        • Chetnolian says:

          I really object to this monstering of people you do not happen to agree with. IT is neither as simple as some Assange proponents suggest or as you suggest.

          I particularly object to impolite US based assumptions as to what is in English (or indeed Ecuadorean) law. I have been living with this arrogance both personally and professionally most of my adult life. Parts of Ed Walker’s contribution to the great Emptywheel argument last week seem rather apt to me in this regard.

          • bmaz says:

            I did not “monsterize” Assange, that scumbag absconder did it to himself. I am not being impolite. Frankly, the UK seeking to shelter this piece of human garbage seems far more problematic. If the UK has no mustard for prosecuting him for clear violations of their own law, then give him his whiny day in court on the initial appeal and ship him over here.

            Here is what I know about both UK and Ecuadoran law: The Ecuadorans wrote off Assange, their “law” is completely irrelevant at this point (and but for a designation he did not deserve, never did apply.) As to UK law, I followed it, and studied the applicable 2003 treaty (as to the US) as to this extradition and the first time, as to Sweden, very closely and Assange got routed at every turn, and appropriately so. Prosecute the asshole or ship him over here.

            Please spare me the high holiness of the UK courts on extradition. It was the UK’s own courts that supplied the death knell to the Socoolas extradition, not the initial US challenge. Send Assange across the pond please.

  4. Reader 21 says:

    @chetnolian— Marcy said it better than I (no surprise there), and I’ve no reason to doubt you on Amnesty, I’m glad to know they’ve called out Putin —but if Wikileaks, let alone Assange himself, as written one piece in the last eight years focusing solely on The Poisoner (ie no bothsiderism), I’d love to see it. As rip posted, you’d think they’d throw a head feint in there once in awhile, just to make it seem like they’re honest brokers. Ditto Greenwald.

    • Chetnolian says:

      Actually I neither know or care, but that is not what I said. And conflating Amnesty and Greenwald is just silly.

      • Hika says:

        Reader21 clearly acknowledged your point on Amnesty criticizing Putin, then noted that no such thing has been seen from Wikileaks nor Assange, and then parenthetically added Greenwald to the list of non-critcisers of Putin.
        How did you get to the idea they were conflating Amnesty and Greenwald? Did you just not understand the words as written? And as to your point about not caring if Wikileaks or Assange have criticised Putin, that speaks rather clearly about your lack of interest in discerning their motivations and assessing their credibility as anything but anti-American tools.

  5. AndTheSlithyToves says:

    Bandy X Lee, MD, MDiv | @BandyXLee1
    Between 1995 and 2015, I came to notice that corporate and political leadership began to resemble the prisoner population I had trained to treat, more than the prisoners themselves (who became more and more normal with mass incarceration).

    As we increase concentrations of power, especially the kind that comes with impunity and legalized corruption, it functions as bait for sociopaths. Sociopaths make up 1-4% of the population but take up 20% of leadership positions.

    In other words, if we have a system that preferentially selects criminal personalities to office, then we have a system that will increasingly self-destruct than offer anything productive for society.
    9:33 PM · Dec 4, 2020·Twitter Web App

    Julian Assange is yet another narcissistic sociopath | psychopath that got caught in flagrante delicto. As Phoebe Waller-Bridge joked on her SNL debut “It’s a great time to be a psychopath! They’re really having a moment, don’t you think?” https://youtu.be/k8jXm_UNPF8 That was October 2019 — let’s hope the psychopath moment is over, eh?

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      I love Bandy Lee’s insights; I quote her as the epilogue to my book. Unfortunately I do not see the cult of narcissistic sociopathy weakening; if anything, they are making their defenses more rigid.

  6. CD54 says:

    Re: Assange and Wikileaks

    They used to use the term “wrapping themselves in the Flag” for bad faith — usually Conservative-derived — nationally pretentious arguments.

    Can we please start using the term “wrapping themselves in the 1st Amendment” for bad faith — usually Russia-derived — internationally pretentious arguments?

  7. Zinsky says:

    Diaper espionage – Wow! Who woulda thunk it? I agree with Marcy that Assange lost his credibility as a journalist many years ago when he began actively using stolen information as part of his schtick. It’s one thing to act as a fence for stolen goods and quite another to help the thief pry open the window.

    • Silly but True says:

      Assange has never been a journalist; his “schtick” was always predicated on publishing stolen information (hence that whole “leaks” thing of “Wikileaks”).

      What simply allowed him to become endeared across a wide spectrum of ideologies was the fool’s dream of completely open secrets, and an early focus on Chicom and African warlord state malfeasance.

      The Manning dump turned Assange into a rock star for the Moveon (“General Betreus”) crowd. But this group was not totality of liberal left, nor even plurality.

      Saner heads have prevailed and Assange _will_ see the inside of US court eventually.

      • bmaz says:

        The definition of “journalism” is a complex and elastic thing. Especially in the digital age. It is fairly easy to see some of what WL has done as valid journalism, but very far from all of it. I do think he will indeed be extradited in due time. But then I also don’t think the final charges are front and center yet. We’ll see.

        • Silly but True says:

          I’ll grant that not everything Assange did during his Wikileaks tenure was bad; quite opposite, early on. They gave voice to important areas of world lacking transparency. However, they are first a publisher.

          No disagreement: It is a difficult thing to pin down “journalism” especially in digital age. I think there is still some delineating lines: 1. Search to tell objective truths, 2. Reports facts fairly; 3. Strives for balance in truthtwlling; 4. Discloses bias. The fundamentals are unmolested by evolution in techology (wishful thinking).

          I mean, it has become so difficult in part because so many journalists are doing poorly with such fundamentals.

          In US, if the industry could make one beneficial immediate change, it would be to restore limited use of anonymous sourcing, to just the AP guidelines: 1. Factual; 2. Obtainable no other way; 3. Source is reliable and in position to have accurate information.

          • Dmbeaster says:

            I do not agree with this overly narrow definitions of journalism, nor do I agree with a lot of the arguments trying to proclaim Assange and Wikileaks as something other than journalism. The basic definition should be broad, and include all sorts of non-objective advocacy journalism.

            But the definition is largely irrelevant since there is plenty that Assange is alleged to have done that is clearly not journalism, and the prosecution falls into that category. Put another way, Assange’s status as a journalist does not decriminalize those behaviors. So much of his defense is based on the idea that because of his style of journalism, he should not be subject to these criminal laws for this reason alone. The same argument is made regarding Snowden – that his obvious criminality is somehow such to a public good exception, thereby canceling the crime.

            Ellsworth expected to go to prison for leaking the Pentagon Papers. The NY Times did not assist him in copying and delivering the purloined papers. Somehow these points are forgotten in trying to exempt Snowden and Assange from criminal prosecution. And I understand that Assange’s case relates to Manning, but the same point applies.

  8. Rugger9 says:

    OT, but Iran is sending another flotilla of tankers to help out Maduro which provides DJT with yet another opportunity to commit piracy and start a war with Iran. Even though Venezuela has oil, it’s more sour and needs more specialized refining which Caracas does not have enough of. Elliot Abrams, professional warmonger and liar, is in charge of this area for the WH.


      • Rugger9 says:

        I’m not happy about it either, but forewarned is forearmed. I wonder if this shipment has Emirati cargo, which might be a reason for DJT to let it go. He has to keep that money lifeline open in about six weeks.

        I also listened to the 60 Minutes tease for next week on the “connected” Saudis that somehow manage to get back to the KSA even though they face multiple felonies here. It looks like classic CIA exfiltration operations and it was a problem in the W administration as well.

  9. Spencer Dawkins says:

    Marcy, on a blogsite that uniformly informs me, your attention to detail stands out.

    No matter how OCD you might be, I know that’s a lot of work for anyone.

    Thank you for sharing your gifts with the rest of us.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The arch Greenwald triumvirate, among others, likes to claim that because Trump’s coup appears destined for defeat, it was not a coup attempt. (An ironic stance for a lawyer, learned in the law of criminal attempts.) It claims that shouts of, “It’s a coup!” are overwrought clickbait journalism that comprises the MSM’s bread and butter. Unlike their journalism, that is, which occupies an omnisicient, above-it-all, Timesian niche.

    Zeynep Tufekci cuts the legs from under that argument. “Acting as if Trump is trying to stage a coup is the best way to ensure he won’t.” In short, only by taking his claims seriously – he’s made them long enough – and acting on them can we defeat him.

    What might happen if we took Greenwald’s advice instead? Well, Warren Buffett once took aim at the conceit that America is a classless society not at war with itself, by observing that it was only partly true. The war was over and his class won before the other side knew there was a fight.


    • bmaz says:

      Glenn is a lot of things. Some good, some increasingly bad. Particularly schooled or experienced in real criminal law is pretty much not one of them though.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        This was about his, Taibbi, and Mate’s war on the MSM – which would be useful, were it not waged mostly to mark their trees in the journalistic woods – over what they claim is grossly exaggerated coverage of topics such as Russia! and Trump’s attempts to overthrow the 2020 election results.

        As for GG, he passed the bar, so he knows that attempted crimes are crimes. But yes, I would call you and never Glenn if I needed to defend a prosecution.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Greg Sargent makes a good point:

    Let’s not sugarcoat this: @SenatorLoeffler [She] supports Trump’s effort to steal the election outright. At the debate, she kept saying Trump has the “right” to exercise “legal recourse.” But he’s trying to subvert the results via *extralegal* means.

    A little experience with how large corporations – banks, tobacco, petrochemical, big auto (e.g., GM, VW, and Lopez) – pursue what they think are bet-the-company civil suits would suggest this model is not unprecedented.


    • P J Evans says:

      He has the right to whine and complain about losing. All losing candidates have that right.
      He *doesn’t* have the right to try to force states to change the results to suit him. And neither does anyone else running for office in this country.
      I’m glad some of the judges are pointing out that this isn’t how elections work here.

      • Marinela says:

        Except that Trump takes the loser whining to a level that is damaging the country.
        A loser doesn’t have any right to ignore or cancel the majority votes just because he is able to normalizes the “whining” as a way for the loser to refuse to go away.
        This whining should be viewed as reckless, should automatically disqualify him for any political future.

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