In late 2017, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), then under the direction of Mike Pompeo, seriously considered plans to kidnap or assassinate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, according to a September 2021 Yahoo News investigation. The Yahoo News report featured interviews with more than thirty former US officials, eight of whom detailed US plans to abduct Assange and three of whom described the development of plans to kill him. According to one former official, discussions of kidnapping or killing Assange occurred “at the highest levels” of the Trump administration. Yahoo News described the plans as “part of an unprecedented CIA campaign” against Assange and WikiLeaks. “There seemed to be no boundaries,” according to the former senior counterintelligence official.
Potential scenarios proposed by the CIA and Trump administration officials included crashing into a Russian vehicle carrying Assange in order to grab him, shooting the tires of an airplane carrying Assange in order to prevent its takeoff, and engaging in a gun battle through the streets of London. US officials asked “their British counterparts to do the shooting if gunfire was required, and the British agreed,” Yahoo News reported, on the basis of testimony by one former senior administration official. Senior CIA officials went so far as to request “sketches” or “options” detailing methods to kill Assange.
Some of the former officials interviewed by Yahoo News dismissed the planning as far-fetched. It was “unhinged and ridiculous,” according to one former CIA official; another former senior counterintelligence official characterized the discussions as “just Trump being Trump.” Nevertheless, at least one senior official noted that there were discussions of “whether killing Assange was possible and whether it was legal.”
According to a 2020 Grayzone report, UC Global—a Spanish-based private security company hired by Ecuador to protect its London embassy, where Assange was living—spied on Assange and his contacts for the United States. Its targets included Assange’s legal team, US journalists, a US member of Congress, and the Ecuadoran diplomats whom UC Global had been hired to protect.
US plans to kidnap or assassinate Julian Assange have received little to no establishment news coverage in the United States, other than scant summaries by Business Insider and The Verge, and tangential coverage by Reuters, each based on the original Yahoo News report. An October 2021 New York Times article made passing reference to the CIA’s plot to kidnap or kill Assange, but noted this extraordinary point only as part of the argument made by Assange’s lawyers to oppose his extradition to the United States. The story received more coverage in the United Kingdom, including reports in the Daily Mail, the Guardian, and the Independent. Al Jazeera ran an extensive story addressing the question, “Why isn’t the CIA’s plan to kidnap Julian Assange making more headlines?” Among US independent news outlets, Democracy Now! featured an interview with Michael Isikoff, one of the Yahoo News reporters who broke the story, and Jennifer Robinson, a human rights attorney who has been advising Julian Assange and WikiLeaks since 2010. Rolling Stone and The Hill also published articles based on the original Yahoo News report.
Zach Dorfman, Sean D. Naylor and Michael Isikoff, “Kidnapping, Assassination and a London Shoot-Out: Inside the CIA’s Secret War Plans Against WikiLeaks,” Yahoo News, September 26, 2021.
Student Researcher: Annie Koruga (Ohlone College)
Faculty Evaluator: Robin Takahashi (Ohlone College)