The British newspaper, the Guardian, is reporting that an espionage operation designed to protect Julian Assange cost the government of Ecuador more than $5 million. The report also suggests that the operation, set up at Ecuador’s British embassy in London, was used to spy on Assange as much it was to provide him security.
The surveillance was ordered shortly after Assange was granted political asylum in 2012 by former president Rafael Correa, the Guardian says. The operation was coordinated by Ecuador’s intelligence agency, La Secretaría Nacional de Inteligencia (Senain), which was dismantled early this year by President Lenin Moreno.
According to the Guardian and a separate report on BBC television, results of the surveillance could provide valuable information to U.S. special investigator Robert Mueller, who is looking into possible efforts by the Russian government to harm the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton and benefit Donald Trump.
The BBC also says that data collected by Ecuador may well be in the hands of British intelligence. “The British surveillance capabilities are much more sophisticated than those of Ecuador,” a former intelligence officer said during a television interview. “The Brits would have been well-aware of the operation at the embassy and were probably monitoring the result along with the Ecuadorians.”
The Guardian said that Ecuador hired a European security company and undercover agents to track Assange’s daily activities at the embassy, which included keeping records of his visitors, phone calls and internet use. The operation, at first called “Operation Guest,” and later, “Operation Hotel,” kept records of “meticulous detail,” the newspaper reported. The surveillance was monitored 24 hours a day in an apartment 100 meters from the embassy.
According to the documents obtained by the Guardian, Assange set up his own spy network in late 2014, hacking into Ecuador’s diplomatic communications and documents. It was this point, says a Quito journalist that, Ecuador’s surveillance probably focused as much on spying on Assange as it did protecting him.
“They never really trusted him but by this time they realized that he posed as much of a threat to Ecuadorian interests as did those who wanted to capture him,” says Martin Pallares. “They began to focus most of their attention on what Assange was doing and less on what others were doing,” he says.
Pallares adds that U.S. officials will be eager to get their hands on data from the surveillance. “It could contain information on one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history.”