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
Part 9 - Spying, stealing diapers, and burglary plans
Stefania Maurizi, an Italian journalist who visited Assange regularly at the embassy in London, remembered relaxed encounters with minimal security and friendly interactions with embassy staff for the first five years of the Wikileaks founder’s stay. It was in December 2017 that everything changed.
During a visit to interview Assange that month, the Spanish security guards from UC Global demanded Maurizi hand over her backpack and all belongings inside for the first time. She protested the new and seemingly arbitrary procedure, but to no avail.
“They seized everything,” Maurizi told The Grayzone. “They took my two telephones, one which was encrypted; my iPod, and many USB sticks. There was no way to get my backpack back. The guard told me, ‘Don’t worry, everything will be fine, no one will access your materials or open your backpack.’ I was very suspicious. I wasn’t even allowed to bring a pen inside to take notes.”
It turned out that UC Global employees photographed the unique International Mobile Equipment Identity number and the SIM card number inside the phone of Maurizi and many other visitors. In one photograph obtained by The Grayzone, the security contractors removed the SIM to get a clear image of the codes. It seemed this was the information they needed to hack the phones.
Maurizi knew nothing at the time about the relationship currently under investigation between the CIA and the security team at the embassy. She was only aware that Correa, the leftist president of Ecuador who advocated for Assange, had been succeeded months earlier, in May 2017, by Lenin Moreno, his former vice president whom he branded as a Trojan horse for US interests.
The new administration took a sudden pro-US turn that mandated hostility towards Assange and his organization. As the IMF dangled a massive loan before his cash-strapped government, Moreno denigrated Assange as a “hacker” and cut off his internet access as well as visits from the outside for a prolonged period.
Assange, for his part, had become convinced that the embassy security was spying on him. By late 2017, he was using a white noise machine in the main conference room to keep his conversations with lawyers secure, and held the most sensitive meetings with his attorneys in the women’s bathroom, opening the faucets to drown out the sound of their conversations. UC Global countered by planting a magnetic microphone on the bottom of a fire extinguisher, enabling them to snoop through the white noise. A second microphone was installed in the women’s bathroom.
Other plans exposed in UC Global company emails called for planting a mic capable of listening through walls, and placing it secretly inside the office of the ambassador, who was referred to in emails as “Director of the Hotel.”
Morales also proposed installing listening devices in Assange’s bedroom, and even put a program in place to swap out all fire extinguishers and replace them with new ones with hidden mics. The mic in the main conference room recorded the bulk of conversations, and is currently in the possession of the Spanish judge overseeing the case.
“Julian was extremely worried. He said the guards were working for intelligence,” his lawyer, Martinez, recalled. “I told him they were just working-class guys from southern Spain, where I’m from. But now I realize he was totally right.”
On December 12, two days after receiving the powerpoint instructions at Las Vegas Sands on creating separate surveillance camera feeds, Morales sent an email to his embassy spy team identifying specific individual targets. According to a former UC Global worker, the list was created by “the Americans.”
Among the first he ordered them to focus on was “Fix,” a German cyber-security expert; and “MULLER,” a reference to Andrew Müller-Maguhn, a German hacker and internet rights activist who was close friends with Assange. On a visit to the embassy, UC Global security photographed the contents of Müller-Maguhn’s backpack and the contact numbers in his mobile phone.
Morales also demanded the surveillance of Ola Bini, a Swedish software developer who visited Assange, and Felicity Ruby, a colleague of Bini at the company ThoughtWorks, which Morales described as “a team of hackers.”
In a September 2017 bulletin, Morales issued a list of 10 individual targets for investigation, demanding updated profiles on Assange lawyers such as Renata Avila, Jennifer Robinson, and Carlos Poveda, as well as Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon.
Morales urged “special attention” to Stella Morris, a member of the legal team who recently revealed she began a relationship with Assange and had two children with him during his time in the embassy. After proposing “a person thoroughly dedicated to the activity” of spying on Morris, Morales eventually instructed an employee to steal a diaper from one of Morris’ infant sons in order to extract DNA which could prove she was the mother of Assange’s children. “At the time,” the employee testified, “Morales deliberately indicated that ‘the Americans’ insisted in confirming [the DNA results].”
Upset by the bizarre assignment, the UC Global staffer eventually intercepted Morris outside the embassy to inform her about the planned diaper theft and to warn her against taking the child inside.
“They were obsessed with American visitors, all of them, from lawyers to journalists to friends. They focused a lot on Glenn Greenwald, even opening his passport, taking pics of his visa to Russia and sending it to their headquarters,” Martinez said, referring to the Brazil-based, American journalist who had visited Assange. (The Grayzone has viewed UC Global’s photo of the entry visa in Greenwald’s passport.)
The December 12 email from Morales also called for attention to any “Russian citizens” visiting Assange. The directive seemed to reflect the growing American obsession with connecting Wikileaks to Russian intelligence and the alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee email servers in 2016.
As a result of the ramped-up surveillance, Garzon, the Spanish judge who led Assange’s legal team, was followed by UC Global spies when he picked up former Ecuadorian President Correa at Barajas Airport in Madrid, Spain. The two were photographed while at Garzon’s home. Morales subsequently emailed a report and photographs of the meeting.
A former UC Global employee testified that in November 2017, Morales proposed breaking into the Garzon’s Madrid office in order “to obtain relevant information about Mr. Assange and giving it to [the Americans].” The ex-staffer noted that two weeks later, Garzon’s office was burglarized and no money or valuables were taken. The Spanish daily El Pais reported that three hooded men dressed in black broke into Garzon’s office on December 18, 2017, took no money, but “shuffled through documents.”
All surveillance, tracking, and communications requests on Baltasar Garzón, according to what David Morales said, “came from the Americans,” the former employee testified.
Morales also sent reports about a meeting Correa held in Brussels, with details of the serial numbers of his devices, intimate information on the people he met, and the content of those conversations. Strangely, the report was drafted by Morales in English and sent to his team in order to be shared on the special server created for the “American client.” He claimed implausibly that the report was for Ecuador’s SENAIN.
Yet when he was asked by the prosecutor and by Martinez, the lawyer for Assange, why he composed an email to Spanish-speaking Ecuadorian officials in English, Morales struggled for an excuse. “Sometimes I like to write in English,” he claimed.
Maurizi, for her part, found that calls, emails, and texts from her editors, then at the Italian daily La Repubblica, were failing to go through. “No one could explain this disruption,” Maurizi said. “I wonder if it had anything to do with these espionage activities. To this day I cannot say.”
Meanwhile, Pamela Anderson, the American actress who became a friend of Assange, had her email and mobile phone passwords stolen by UC Global during a visit. The theft occurred when Anderson wrote her passwords on a notepad so Assange could verify the security of her accounts. With the camera system they installed, UC Global spies managed to photograph the pad, allowing them access to her accounts.
The spying dragnet ensnared virtually everyone who entered the embassy, even then-US Representative Dana Rohrabacher. Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson attended the August 2017 meeting with Rohrabacher and claimed he announced himself as an official emissary of Trump. She said the congressman offered a presidential pardon on the condition that the Wikileaks publisher could provide concrete evidence the Russian government did not hack the DNC’s email server.
Rohrabacher later admitted that he dangled the possibility of a pardon, but maintained his visit was a personal “fact-finding mission” unrelated to any Trump initiative.
A former UC Global worker testified that “the Americans were very nervous about the visit” by Rohrabacher, and “personally asked Morales to control and monitor absolutely everything related to that visit.” During the meeting, Rohrabacher was required to leave his phone with UC Global spies.