During the Trump administration, officials in the CIA reportedly discussed the possibility of kidnapping and even killing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. That information comes from a report in Yahoo News, which says the discussions occurred in 2017 following Wikileaks’ revealing of classified CIA hacking tools.
“They were seeing blood,” a former national security official told Yahoo, regarding the leak of Vault 7, the name for the suite of tools. CIA leadership was “completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7.”
Assange is currently imprisoned in London after the Ecuadorian government there evicted him from its embassy where he’d been living since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges. (He’s also had his citizenship canceled). Assange always said he didn’t want to leave the embassy because the U.S. would try and extradite him, which proved to be the case.
At the peak of his fame, many saw Assange as a noble character, intent on outing villains and giving whistleblowers a platform, but his enthusiasm for sharing information before thoroughly vetting or redacting it, the sexual assault charges (which have been dropped because so much time has passed), and increasingly strange behavior have severely eroded it.
Wikileaks first entered the public consciousness when it published confidential government documents, including videos of U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan. But over time, the website and Assange became decidedly persona-non-grata after lending support to President Trump, among other questionable positions.
Mixed bag — The story of Assange is a complicated one. WikiLeaks published a trove of supposedly leaked emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, for instance, when the wasn’t a clear journalistic argument for doing so, and which massively impacted her presidential run despite their irrelevance. But it has also published important work from the likes of Edward Snowden, work that has prompted real reform. Charging people for obtaining confidential documents that governments want to keep secret is a real threat to a free press that’s supposed to push back against authority. Especially if they’re not given a trial... or if a country’s intelligence services summarily assassinate them.
The U.S. government argues, among other things, that Assange isn’t a journalist and that he directly assisted former soldier Chelsea Manning in hacking a military computer network... a violation of the Espionage Act.
It doesn’t seem like the CIA’s consideration of an assassination ever went very far — the report suggests that even President Trump’s lawyers (a notoriously moral-less crew) were nervous of the possibility. But if it’s true, it lends credence to Assange’s arguments that the U.S. planned to do everything possible to silence him. Now his lawyers want to argue in U.K. courts that the plot coming to light should preclude him from being extradited. Earlier this year, courts there ruled he couldn’t be sent to America, but left open room for appeal.
The CIA has declined to comment, of course.