Aug 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

CIA sued over alleged spying on journalists, lawyers over Assange visit

ulian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony
Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador in London in May 2017. Photo: Jay Shaw Baker/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A group of journalists and lawyers, including attorneys who'd previously represented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, filed a lawsuit against the CIA and former director Mike Pompeo alleging that the agency spied on them when they visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London between January 2017 and Mar. 2018.

Why it matters: The suit argues the agency violated their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

The big picture: The four plaintiffs, all U.S. citizens, are comprised of two journalists, Charles Glass and John Goetz, and two lawyers, Margaret Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek, who used to represent Assange, according to Reuters.

  • According to the suit, the plaintiffs were required to surrender their electronic devices to the Spanish private security firm Undercover Global — a third defendant in the lawsuit — ahead of their visits with Assange at the embassy.
  • The lawsuit alleges that unbeknownst to the plaintiffs or the Ecuadorian government, Undercover Global then copied information from their devices and provided it to the CIA.
  • "These actions were authorized and approved by Defendant Pompeo," according to the filing.

What they're saying: "While the named Plaintiffs initiate this action, the practices complained of violate the rights of well over 100 American citizens who visited Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, England," the filing added, noting these individuals included "attorneys who were then representing him, journalists there to interview him, and even doctors who were then treating him," the filing added.

  • "That was outrageous and inappropriate conduct by the government that violated the most profound privacy rights' of the plaintiffs and others who visited Assange in the embassy," Richard Roth, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told Axios.
  • "To make matters worse, many of the conversations were absolutely privileged and confidential in nature, in that the plaintiffs are journalists and attorneys who went there to visit their clients," Roth added.
  • The CIA declined to comment on the lawsuit.

State of play: Assange has been in prison in London since 2019, when he was arrested after leaving the Ecuadorian embassy in the U.K. after a seven-year stay there.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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