Is the figurative noose tightening around Julian Assange? We recently learned that Ecuador was none too happy with the vast sums of money they’ve had to spend on their perpetual guest living in their London embassy. Prior to that, they may have signaled that he was chewing up too much of their bandwidth when they cut off his internet access. And now, according to an extensive report published in the Guardian, it’s looking more and more like they’re at the point of either trying to sneak him out of the country or, failing that, simply kicking him to the curb.
The Ecuadorian intelligence service is reportedly now viewing Assange as a “threat” to their own personnel. And that doesn’t begin to touch on the amount of diplomatic embarrassment he’s been causing their government. The Guardian also reveals more of the grubby details of Assange’s “living quarters” in their embassy. He’s apparently driving the workers there to distraction.
The head of Ecuadorian intelligence, Rommy Vallejo, held a meeting with Patiño to discuss the Assange situation and the “risks” he posed to embassy staff. Over time, Assange came to take up more than one-third of the embassy’s ground-floor space. Initially, he slept in narrow room next to the balcony. He subsequently colonised a back room as a bedroom and occupied half the kitchen. Assange’s unkempt realm was home to WikiLeaks and its computers, and was entirely private. There was no CCTV. It was off limits to diplomats, the rooms only accessible via special codes…
Ecuadorian government sources say Quito is considering a plan for where Assange might go next. Russia would be an obvious choice, though this would cause problems with the US. Cuba and Venezuela are also said to be under discussion. Since January, Assange has officially been an Ecuadorian diplomat. However, this probably would not stop the UK arresting him if it had the chance.
If Assange remains in the embassy, cut off from the world, WikiLeaks cannot function. Either way, it is clear that Ecuador no longer wants him. His future is more uncertain than ever. The most likely scenario is that he will soon walk out the door.
Shipping Assange to Russia would be one heck of a trick. The Brits have pulled back some of their surveillance, but the embassy is still being watched. If their “guest” comes out any of their doors there’s a good chance we’ll know about it. Failing that, Ecuador could just tell him to get out. But what happens if he leaves? We’ve discussed it here before, but the Guardian has reached essentially the same conclusions.
Assange faces a tough choice. If he walks out of the embassy, he can expect arrest and could spend up to a year in prison for breaking his bail conditions.
The US might then seek to extradite him. He would contest any attempt, and might win, but would face a long, uncomfortable spell behind bars while his case is decided.
None of those look like tasty choices for Assange, but are we really sure that Donald Trump would actually try to extradite him? It might make for some great headlines, but locking up Assange here and having his fans showing up and protesting every day (as they still do in London) would be yet another distraction for the media to hammer away at whenever the Russia news slows down.
And speaking of Russia, there are still unanswered questions as to how and when Assange got his hands on the DNC emails. Many suspect a Russian connection in that data transfer, whether it was actually an agent of the Russian government or one of their surrogates. Putting Assange behind bars and having him face the possibility of an extensive jail term in the United States might make him more likely to sing if he has any stories to tell. Who would suffer the damage of those revelations in American politics remains an unknown for now, but the last thing Trump needs is yet another Russia, Russia, Russia story out there for the press to feast upon.
If Ecuador can get Assange out of the country without the Brits grabbing him, it’s just possible that he might be on the loose for quite some time. And after spending this long in the embassy and likely going stir crazy, is it that far-fetched to think that Julian Assange might just take his chances?