An exclusive investigation by The Grayzone reveals new details on the critical role Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands played in an apparent CIA spying operation targeting Julian Assange, and exposes the Sands security staff who helped coordinate the malicious campaign.
by Max Blumenthal
“I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole.”
–Mike Pompeo, College Station, TX, April 15, 2019
As the co-founder of a small security consulting firm called UC Global, David Morales spent years slogging through the minor leagues of the private mercenary world. A former Spanish special forces officer, Morales yearned to be the next Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder who leveraged his army-for-hire into high-level political connections across the globe. But by 2016, he had secured just one significant contract, to guard the children of Ecuador’s then-President Rafael Correa and his country’s embassy in the UK.
The London embassy contract proved especially valuable to Morales, however. Inside the diplomatic compound, his men guarded Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, a top target of the US government who had been living in the building since Correa granted him asylum in 2012. It was not long before Morales realized he had a big league opportunity on his hands.
In 2016, Morales rushed off alone to a security fair in Las Vegas, hoping to rustle up lucrative new gigs by touting his role as the guardian of Assange. Days later, he returned to his company’s headquarters in Jerez de Frontera, Spain with exciting news.
“From now on, we’re going to be playing in the first division,” Morales announced to his employees. When a co-owner of UC Global asked what Morales meant, he responded that he had turned to the “dark side” – an apparent reference to US intelligence services. “The Americans will find us contracts around the world,” Morales assured his business partner.
Morales had just signed on to guard Queen Miri, the $70 million yacht belonging to one of the most high profile casino tycoons in Vegas: ultra-Zionist billionaire and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. Given that Adelson already had a substantial security team assigned to guard him and his family at all times, the contract between UC Global and Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands was clearly the cover for a devious espionage campaign apparently overseen by the CIA.
Unfortunately for Morales, the Spanish security consultant charged with leading the spying operation, what happened in Vegas did not stay there.
Following Assange’s imprisonment, several disgruntled former employees eventually approached Assange’s legal team to inform them about the misconduct and arguably illegal activity they participated in at UC Global. One former business partner said they came forward after realizing that “David Morales decided to sell all the information to the enemy, the US.” A criminal complaint was submitted in a Spanish court and a secret operation that resulted in the arrest of Morales was set into motion by the judge.
Morales was charged by a Spanish High Court in October 2019 with violating the privacy of Assange and abusing the publisher’s attorney-client privileges, as well as money laundering and bribery. The documents revealed in court, which were primarily backups from company computers, exposed the disturbing reality of his activities on “the dark side.”
Obtained by media outlets including The Grayzone, the UC Global files detail an elaborate and apparently illegal US surveillance operation in which the security firm spied on Assange, his legal team, his American friends, US journalists, and an American member of Congress who had been allegedly dispatched to the Ecuadorian embassy by President Donald Trump. Even the Ecuadorian diplomats whom UC Global was hired to protect were targeted by the spy ring.
The ongoing investigation detailed black operations ranging from snooping on the Wikileaks founder’s private conversations to fishing a diaper from an embassy trash can in order to determine if the feces inside it belonged to his son.
According to witness statements obtained by The Grayzone, weeks after Morales proposed breaking into the office of Assange’s lead counsel, the office was burglarized. The witnesses also detailed a proposal to kidnap or poison Assange. A police raid at the home of Morales netted two handguns with their serial numbers filed off, along with stacks of cash.
One source close to the investigation told The Grayzone that an Ecuadorian official was robbed at gunpoint while carrying private information pertaining to a plan to secure diplomatic immunity for Assange.
Throughout the black operations campaign, US intelligence appears to have worked through Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands, a company that had previously served as an alleged front for a CIA blackmail operation several years earlier. The operations formally began once Adelson’s hand-picked presidential candidate, Donald Trump, entered the White House in January 2017.
In its coverage of the alleged relationship between the CIA, UC Global, and Adelson’s Sands, the New York Times claimed it was “unclear whether it was the Americans who were behind bugging the embassy.” Though he outlined work for an “American client” in company emails, Morales insisted before a Spanish judge that the spying he conducted in the embassy was performed entirely on behalf of Ecuador’s SENAIN security services. He has even claimed to CNN Español that he was merely seeking to motivate his employees when he boasted about “playing in the first division” after returning from his fateful trip to Las Vegas.
This investigation will further establish the US government’s role in guiding UC Global’s espionage campaign, shedding new light on the apparent relationship between the CIA and Adelson’s Sands, and expose how UC Global deceived the Ecuadorian government on behalf of the client Morales referred to as the “American friends.”
Thanks to new court disclosures, The Grayzone is also able to reveal the identity of Sands security staff who presumably liaised between Morales, Adelson’s company, and US intelligence.
According to court documents and testimony by a former business associate and employees of Morales, it was Adelson’s top bodyguard, an Israeli-American named Zohar Lahav, who personally recruited Morales, then managed the relationship between the Spanish security contractor and Sands on a routine basis. After their first meeting in Vegas, the two security professionals became close friends, visiting each other overseas and speaking frequently.
During the spying operation, Lahav worked directly under Brian Nagel, the director of global security for Las Vegas Sands. A former associate director of the US Secret Service and cyber-security expert, Nagel was officially commended by the CIA following successful collaborations with federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. At Sands, he seemed to be an ideal middleman between the company and the US national security state, as well as a potential guide for the complex surveillance tasks assigned to Morales.
When Adelson’s favored candidate, Donald Trump, moved into the Oval Office, the CIA came under the control of Mike Pompeo, another Adelson ally who seemed to relish the opportunity to carry out illegal acts, including spying on American citizens, in the name of national security.