Leaked documents show Ecuador considered smuggling Assange out of London embassy; diplomatic pouch and disguises were discussed
A new set of leaked documents from the Ecuadorian embassy in London show that diplomatic officials there have brainstormed methods they could help Assange escape from the embassy—where he’s had asylum for more than three years—without being arrested by the British police that keep a 24-hour watch on the building.
But it’s likely that none of these escape routes were ever attempted. At the very least, none worked. Assange, who is wanted for questioning related to accusations of sex crimes in Sweden, has remained trapped in two rooms in the building. The documents show that the unnamed officials have considered everything from putting Assange in a disguise to hiding him in a diplomatic bag intended for documents. (Technically the documents refer to a “valija diplomatica,” a diplomatic suitcase, but in English such an item is commonly referred to as a “diplomatic bag.”) But they also catalogue the problems and drawbacks of each plan.
“Assange could go out in disguise, attempt to cross the roof to the nearby helipad or get lost among people in [department store] Harrods,” reads the Spanish-language document, titled “Scenarios for a Possible Exit for Assange.”
The document goes on to suggest other schemes: Assange could be given diplomatic immunity by making him an official Ecuadorean representative to the United Nations, though it warns that the General Assembly could revoke that status, leading to his arrest. The document also points out that he could be safely spirited away in a diplomatic car. “Diplomats cars are protected in the same way as the diplomatic buildings by the Vienna Convention,” the document notes. But it also cautions that UK’s Scotland Yard has police posted throughout the building, which the embassy doesn’t use exclusively. And those guards could nab Assange before he ever reached a car.
That problem seems to have led the embassy officials to consider putting Assange in a “diplomatic bag”—at least long enough to get him into the car. But they note that the diplomatic protection around such a bag only extends to normal diplomatic documents, presumably not Australian cypherpunk asylum seekers. That means if Assange were discovered in the bag, he could still be arrested. And the document warns that UK police might have the means to detect him inside: “The Police are equipped with advanced technology for detecting body heat, preventing this option.” (The U.S. State Department actually interprets the Vienna Convention to forbid even electronic scans of “properly designated” diplomatic bags, but one containing a human might not qualify as “properly designated.”)
In fact, British law enforcement seems to have expressly considered the bag possibility, as well as the other diplomatic gambits. The Ecuadorean document includes photos of handwritten UK police forms held under the arm of a careless official who allowed them to be photographed from a distance. They seem to show orders for how Assange’s possible escape should be managed. “Assange to be arrested under all circumstance,” the paper reads. “He comes out with diplomatic immune, in diplomatic bag…in diplomatic vehicle, arrested.”
All of that seems to have foiled the Ecuadoreans’ plans. Assange remains trapped in the embassy, where the leaked documents note that he’s had increasing tensions with the local staff. Those run-ins are detailed in this report from Buzzfeed, which first reported the Ecuadorean document leak.
Even if Assange were to escape from the embassy, there’s still the question of where he’d go from there. The Ecuadorean plans don’t detail in these documents what would happen after Assange lost his pursuers in Harrods or drove away in a car. The plan may have been to sneak him onto a private jet to Quito. Or he might have pulled an Edward Snowden and sent his pursuers on a wild goose chase as he went to some other destination. He still could.
Assange’s most realistic hope of escape, however, is probably legal, rather than physical: The Swedish government recently dropped three of the potential sex crime charges against him, though the most serious accusation of rape still stands. But even if all the Swedish accusations are dropped, Assange has said he may still remain in the Ecuadorean embassy to avoid extradition to the U.S. for potential charges related to his publication of the millions of military and diplomatic documents leaked by Army private Chelsea Manning. All of that means that Assange may not be seeing the outdoors any time soon.
Credit: Wired, www.wired.com