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 Yahoo News investigative piece published in September 2021. The Yahoo News article featured interviews with more than thirty former US officials, eight of whom detailed US plans to abduct Assange and three of which described the development of plans to kill him. As one former official told Yahoo News, discussions of kidnapping or killing Assange occurred “at the highest levels” of the Trump administration. “There seemed to be no boundaries,” according to the former senior counterintelligence official.
Potential scenarios proposed by both the CIA and Trump Administration 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 London. US officials requested that “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 viewed as unhinged and ridiculous,” according to one former CIA official; a former senior counterintelligence official characterized them as “just Trump being Trump.” Nevertheless, another senior official noted that there were discussions on whether killing Assange “was possible and whether it was legal.”
Those plans gained new urgency in December 2017 when the Trump administration, tipped off by informants in the Ecuadorian embassy where Assange was living, learned of a plan to grant Assange diplomatic status and transfer him to a friendly country. The informants worked for UC Global, a Spanish-based private security company hired by Ecuador to protect its London embassy. Instead of simply doing its assigned task, UC Global spied on Assange and his contacts for the United States. Their targets included US journalists, Assange’s legal team, a US member of Congress, and the Ecuadorian diplomats whom they were hired to protect, according to a 2020 Grayzone report. When asked whether the CIA had broken into the homes of WikiLeaks associates or stolen computer hard drives, a former official cryptically said “some actions were taken,” Yahoo News reported.
This story has received little to no establishment news coverage in the United States, other than scant summaries by Business Insider, The Verge, and tangential coverage by Reuters, each based on the original Yahoo News report. In the United Kingdom, the story received coverage in the Daily Mail, the Guardian, and the Independent, though notably neither the BBC nor Channel 4 appear to have covered the story. Al Jazeera English 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.
Source: 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 Advisor: Robin Takahashi (Ohlone College)