The CIA discussed kidnapping or assassinating Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, while he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and asked British authorities for help, former officials have claimed.
The US intelligence agency was so infuriated by the publication of secretive hacking tools in 2017 that senior officials asked for “sketches” or “options” on how to kill the Australian, according to Yahoo News.
Mike Pompeo, who was then the CIA director under President Donald Trump, “wanted vengeance on Assange”, according to one former national security official who spoke off the record.
Fearing that Russia may try and snatch him first, scenarios allegedly explored by senior officials included gun battles with Kremlin operatives on the streets of London, crashing a car into a Russian diplomatic vehicle transporting Assange and then grabbing him, and shooting out the tyres of a Russian plane carrying Assange before it could take off for Moscow.
However, no plans were ever approved, in part thanks to White House lawyers who raised concerns about the legality of such a plot, while Yahoo claims that the UK refused to allow a rendition operation by the Americans on British soil.
The new revelations should be considered by the UK courts and "further bolster" their decision not to extradite Assange to the US, said Barry Pollack, Assange’s lawyer .
The knee-jerk reaction was spurred by the leak of documents known as Vault 7 – which revealed how the CIA would hack Apple and Android mobile phones in overseas spying operations.
The agency considered the leak to be “the largest data loss in CIA history”.
Plans to kill or capture the WikiLeaks founder intensified after reports circulated that Russia might try to bail Assange out of the UK and take him to Moscow.
“We had all sorts of reasons to believe he was contemplating getting the hell out of there,” said the former senior administration official, adding that one report said Assange might try to escape the embassy hidden in a laundry cart.
“It was going to be like a prison break movie.”
According to a former senior counterintelligence official, “there was a discussion with the Brits about turning the other cheek or looking the other way when a team of guys went inside and did a rendition.
“But the British said: ‘No way, you’re not doing that on our territory, that ain’t happening.’”
The CIA and the British Embassy in Washington were contacted for comment.
Mr Pollack told Yahoo News: “As an American citizen, I find it absolutely outrageous that our government would be contemplating kidnapping or assassinating somebody without any judicial process simply because he had published truthful information.
“My hope and expectation is that the UK courts will consider this information and it will further bolster its decision not to extradite to the US,” he added.
Assange entered Ecuador’s embassy in London in 2012, in order to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape charges, which he denies.
He remained there until April 2019, after Ecuador’s new government revoked his asylum and evicted him. British police carried the bedraggled fugitive out of the embassy and arrested him for failing to surrender to court.
On the same day, the US government unsealed its initial indictment, accusing him of conspiring to steal secret government files.
It is alleged that Assange worked with Chelsea Manning to attempt to crack the password of a classified government network.
In January, a British judge ruled that Assange should not be sent to the US to face prosecution due to his mental health.
The US authorities appealed against the extradition decision last month.
Mr Assange was denied bail by the court and remanded in custody at HMP Belmarsh, where he remains during the ongoing legal proceedings.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said there were “substantial grounds” for believing that Mr Assange would abscond if he was granted bail.