Published by Yahoo News on 26 September, the report cited more than 30 former US officials, who spoke of a supposed vendetta led by then-director of the CIA Mike Pompeo in reaction to Wikileaks’ publication in 2016 of classified CIA hacking tools known as ‘Vault 7,’ referred to as the “largest data loss in CIA history.” The report detailed shocking allegedly planned scenarios, including the possible abduction or killing of Assange, and extensive spying on Wikileaks associates. “There seemed to be no boundaries,” one former senior counterintelligence official is quoted as saying.
Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson posted on Twitter, “A first in my 30 years as a journalist: reading about CIA detailed plans to kidnap or assassinate Julian Assange and other WikiLeaks staff/associates and wonder[ing] if I was on the kill list.”
“If true, these allegations of a CIA threat to Assange’s life are alarming, and underscore the very serious risk he remains at in detention, which would be exponentially heightened if the US is successful in securing his extradition. The exposed alleged plots that could cause severe harm or loss of life to Assange or his associates are threats to press freedom itself. The Biden administration must act immediately to distance itself from these shocking reports of the Trump administration’s actions, close the case against Assange once and for all, and allow for his release from prison before any further harm is caused,” said Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s Director of International Campaigns.
Also worrying are the indications that the CIA’s alleged plans may have influenced the prosecution. According to the report: “Some National Security Council officials worried that the CIA’s proposals to kidnap Assange would not only be illegal but also might jeopardize the prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder. Concerned the CIA’s plans would derail a potential criminal case, the Justice Department expedited the drafting of charges against Assange to ensure that they were in place if he were brought to the United States.”
The extradition proceedings against Assange are set to continue from 27 to 28 October at the High Court in London, where the US appeal will be heard. RSF plans to monitor the appellate hearing, having been the only NGO to monitor the entire extradition proceedings to date, despite severe restrictions imposed by the first-instance court.
RSF fully believes that Assange has been targeted for his contributions to public interest reporting and that his extradition and prosecution would represent a serious blow to press freedom and the future of journalism -- and would create a lasting and severe chilling effect on national security reporting around the world.
The US and UK are respectively ranked 44th and 33rd in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.