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September 30, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:38am

Julian Assange ‘acutely troubled’ that unredacted documents made public, court hears

By Press Association

Julian Assange was “acutely troubled” when he learned of the imminent release of unredacted leaked documents, a court has heard.

The 49-year-old is fighting extradition to the US over the release of thousands of classified documents by Wikileaks.

The US government has accused him of potentially putting informants’ lives at risk after names appeared in unredacted material.

In a statement to the Old Bailey, Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi described Assange’s reaction when he found out the material was about to be made public, after a password appeared in a book by a Guardian journalist.

In 2011, when she became aware the password had been compromised, Maurizi had been due to visit Assange at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk, the court heard.

She said: “Upon my arrival at Ellingham Hall, I encountered enormous concern.

“There was an ever-widening circle of awareness that the files, until then considered to be safely encrypted, might nonetheless be public very soon because of the book which had been published.”

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A German newspaper had published a story the day before making it possible to “connect the dots”, it was claimed.

She said there was a “misunderstanding” by some that Wikileaks could have done something about the situation.

She went on: “I remember that when I arrived there were fierce discussions as to what to do. Julian was clearly acutely troubled by the situation with which Wikileaks was faced.”

When the unredacted material was published by Cryptome in September 2011, it was “never wished for by Wikileaks or Assange” and every possible step had been taken for over a year to avoid it, she said.

“While I was at Ellingham Hall, Assange was himself making urgent attempts to inform the (US) State Department the information was circulating out of Wikileaks’ control.”

After Wikileaks eventually published the material, Maurizi consulted “security guru” Bruce Schneier.

He allegedly told her in an email that both parties made “dumb mistakes” but the Guardian’s was “worse”.

He told her: “Without the key, no-one would have been able to brute force the file. No-one, probably not even aliens with a planet-sized computer.”

Also on Wednesday the Old Bailey heard Assange was bugged in the toilet at the Ecuadorian embassy at the request of “friends in America”, who even discussed kidnap or poisoning to bring the stalemate to a close.

Assange had sought refuge at the London embassy for seven years from 2012.

The court heard from two anonymous witnesses who had worked for a Spanish firm with a contract at the embassy.

One of them revealed the lengths “friends” in the US considered going to after President Donald Trump came to power in 2017.UC Global boss David Morales allegedly instructed the installation of cameras with sophisticated audio capability to secretly record Assange’s meetings, particularly with his lawyers, the court heard.One of the witnesses said: “On one occasion around December 2017, Morales said the Americans were desperate and suggested more extreme measures to put an end to the situation, suggesting the door in the embassy would be left open, allowing people to kidnap him from outside, and even the possibility of poisoning him was discussed.

“All these considerations were under consideration with contacts in the US.”

The court heard how UC Global had a contract with Ecuador from 2015.

In 2016, Morales travelled to Las Vegas where he showcased UC Global and obtained a “flashy contract” with a wealthy associate of Trump, it was alleged.

Afterwards, he announced to the office: “We will be playing in the big league.”

A witness said: “He entered into arrangements with US authorities to supply them with sensitive information about Assange and the president of Ecuador.”

The second witness, employed as an IT expert from 2015, recalled Morales saying they were moving into the “premier league” having “gone to the dark side”.

Morales allegedly told staff they were being vetted by “our friends in America”, so everything confidential should be encrypted.

Once Trump won the US election in late 2016, the collection of information intensified and Morales became “obsessed with obtaining as much information as possible”, the court heard.

The witness said they were told to form a task force at the firm’s headquarters in Spain and security cameras with sophisticated audio recording capacity were installed at the embassy.

Around June 2017, Morales instructed that the cameras should allow streaming so “our friends in the US would be able to gain access to the interior of the embassy in real time”, it was alleged.

The witness, who refused, saying it was illegal, suggested that English instructions on how to do it were provided by a third party, possibly US intelligence.

In 2018, the witness was told to travel to London to install microphones including a fire extinguisher in a meeting room and in a toilet at the embassy where Assange met people.

The aim of bugging the embassy was to record meetings with visitors, specifically lawyers, as “that was required by our US friends”.

The witness was asked to take pictures of “decorative objects” in a meeting room that could be used to conceal bugs, the court heard.

Personnel were asked to obtain Assange’s fingerprint from a glass imprint, it was alleged.

The witness also stated they were asked by Morales to steal the nappy of a baby that regularly visited Assange, to establish paternity.

Instead, the witness revealed the plan to the child’s mother.

The recordings were taken personally by Morales to the US, the court heard.

It was claimed he had increased assets, including a new home estimated to be worth €1m (£910,000) and high end vehicles, and was being paid €200,000 (£182,000) a month by the US.

At the end of 2018, Assange’s lawyers requested material possessed by UC Global.

It was alleged Morales proceeded to remove all the material from “Operation Hotel”, the name of the contract.

On Tuesday, Judge Vanessa Baraitser granted the two witnesses the same anonymity as approved by a Spanish court, amid fears for their safety.

The hearing continues.

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