On 24th February 2020 Dylan Welch, Suzanne Dredge and Clare Blumer reported
- A security company embedded in the Ecuadorian embassy during Julian Assange’s residence is under investigation
- Recordings and other surveillance were allegedly passed on to ‘American intelligence’, according to statements from former workers
- Australian lawyers were among those surveilled in ‘Operation Hotel’
Barrister Geoffrey Robertson shuffles into the entrance to Ecuador’s embassy in London, a camera recording the sound of his shoes echoing on the hard tiles.
It’s just after 7:00pm on January 12, 2018.
The camera rolls as Robertson stops at the front door, unbuttons his overcoat and removes his cap.
Once inside the embassy, other cameras follow him as he’s ushered into a meeting room, where the storied Queen’s Counsel is offered a cup of tea.
After a few minutes, he is greeted by the embassy’s most famous resident, Julian Assange.
The camera continues to roll, recording every word of the confidential legal conversation which follows.
While this may be typical surveillance at a secure diplomatic property, what Robertson did not know was he and a handful of other lawyers, were allegedly being targeted in a remarkable and deeply illegal surveillance operation possibly run at the request of the US Government.
And recordings such as Robertson’s visit are at the heart of concerns about the surveillance: privileged legal conversations between lawyer and client in a diplomatic residence were recorded and, later, accessed from IP addresses in the United States and Ecuador.
Robertson was only one of at least three Australian lawyers and more than two dozen other legal advisers from around the world that were caught up in the surveillance operation.
Long-time WikiLeaks adviser Jennifer Robinson was one of the other Australian lawyers caught in the spying operation.
“It’s important that clients can speak frankly and freely in a confidential space with their lawyers in order to be able to protect themselves and ensure that they have the best possible legal strategy and that the other side does not have advance notice of it,” Robinson said.
Referring to a Spanish allegation that the US Government had advance notice of legal conversations in the embassy, she said: “That is … a huge and a serious breach of [Assange’s] right to a defence and a serious breach of his fair trial rights.”
. . .
The Law Council of Australia told the ABC the alleged surveillance operation was “deeply disturbing”.
“The allegations that Julian Assange’s conversations with his lawyer were being recorded are really serious,” the council’s president, Pauline Wright said.
“If you can’t have that full, frank discussion without fear that that’s being recorded and potentially released to the authorities … it erodes trust in the whole system.
“It goes to the heart of the client lawyer privilege.”
Read whole article in the ABC News
Editors Note: The spying story was breaking in El Pais (Spain) in September 2019. This article raised 500,000 views on its first day and expected to pass 1 million on the second. I also offers insight into the legal ramifications and signals a positive change of attitude to Julian’s predicament in main stream media in Australia.