Julian Assange: International diplomat?

A massive dump of internal Wikileaks documents have made their way into the hands of the media recently and some of the revelations have been intriguing. (Just as an aside, how ironic is it that the organization who made “radical transparency” a thing is getting beaten up over leaks?) Some of the most notable revelations have concerned their founder, Julian Assange. On Monday we learned that a plan had been put in place to attempt to get Assange safely out of the Ecuadorian embassy and into Russia, but that scheme fell through. As it turns out, however, Russia was involved with more hijinks than just that. Dating back to 2017, Ecuador attempted to name Assange a special diplomatic representative to Russia, have Britain recognize him as such and allow him to fly out to take up an office in Moscow. (Reuters)

Ecuador in 2017 gave Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a diplomatic post in Russia but rescinded it after Britain refused to give him diplomatic immunity, according to an Ecuadorean government document seen by Reuters.

The aborted effort suggests Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno had engaged Moscow to resolve the situation of Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy for six years to avoid arrest by British authorities on charges of skipping bail.

The incident was revealed in a letter by Ecuador’s foreign ministry to a legislator who had asked for information about Ecuador’s decision last year to grant Assange citizenship.

So Ecuador was attempting to use what’s called a “special designation” to establish Assange as a diplomat. This is similar to the (mostly unofficial) distinction that the United States makes when presidents appoint ambassadors, splitting them between political appointees and career diplomats. Presumably, the important posts where actual diplomacy is likely to be required call for experienced personnel. Other countries without too many tricky negotiations expected might just receive an ambassador who donated a lot of money to the president’s party.

In the same fashion, in addition to career diplomats, the Ecuadorian president is allowed to appoint a fixed number of “political allies” to plum positions. He attempted to use one of those slots for Assange just to get him out of their hair, but the Brits refused to recognize him as a lettered diplomat, once again squashing the plan.

The curious point here is that the Russians would have to be on board with each of the attempted plans before Ecuador wasted any time or energy in trying the scheme. Why has Russia been so interested in Assange and what benefit did they see in locking him away in their country? You can understand why they would want Snowden. He not only had a laptop full of secrets to bargain away, but experience inside the intelligence community as well. We may never know how much damage was done to American security interests when Snowden flew the coup.

But Assange? I’d been under the impression that Wikileaks was basically just a firehose and they dumped everything they received online not too long after they received it. How many secrets could Assange have locked up in his head to make if worth the headache of allowing him in and establishing him as a permanent resident of Russia? They might have been considering it just to be another pain in the backside to the United States I suppose. Or, conversely, he might have been a potential bargaining chip they could trade away to us if we wound up with something (or someone) they wanted back very badly.

Stay tuned. The Associated Press is currently pouring through literally thousands of Wikileaks internal emails and documents. Who knows what they might find next?