A private contractor installed microphones inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where the WikiLeaks co-founder lived, an El Pais investigation has found
The CIA used private Spanish security company UC Global to secretly install microphones inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to monitor WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, El Pais reported on Wednesday, citing the company’s internal communications.
UC Global was hired to provide security for the embassy. Assange, who was granted asylum by Ecuador at the time, resided in the diplomatic compound from 2012 to 2019, before he was forcibly removed by British police. The Spanish company’s alleged links to US intelligence agencies were first reported by El Pais in 2019.
According to the newspaper, UC Global founder and head David Morales first came into contact with the CIA in 2017. Around that time, Morales informed his employees that the company would have to provide a new American client named ‘X’ with remote access to the server that collected the data from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, which was referred to as the ‘Hotel’.
“Regarding the Hotel work, I would like to offer our information collection and analysis capability to the American client,” Morales wrote in a September 2017 email. “We must… try to make it attractive and easy to interpret.”
The information shared reportedly included profiles of Assange’s visitors, including lawyers and diplomats, as well as cell phone data. Morales was quoted as saying in a chat message that “the people in control are our friends in the USA.”
One of microphones that Morales’ team secretly planted inside the embassy was hidden in the base of a fire extinguisher in order to listen in despite Assange’s habit of using a white noise machine to prevent surveillance, El Pais said. Stickers were attached to window corners to avoid vibrations and allow sound to be recorded through laser microphones. “I know it is of the utmost interest and that the USA wants to do it,” Morales reportedly wrote to his employees.
According to El Pais, UC Global’s work helped Washington foil a plan to sneak Assange out of the embassy in December 2017. Lenin Moreno, Ecuador’s president at the time, allegedly wanted to grant the WikiLeaks co-founder Ecuadorian citizenship and get him out of Britain in a diplomatic car.
Morales’ team reportedly recorded a conversation between Assange and Ecuadorian officials and then quickly sent it to the US. Washington responded by issuing an arrest warrant for Assange to Britain, which apparently prompted organizers to abort the plan.
In 2019, the Spanish authorities launched an investigation into Morales’ company and briefly detained him. He has since been released on bail.