Arresting Julian Assange is a Priority: Sessions

Assange

The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now a “priority” for the US, attorney general Jeff Sessions has said.

The US authorities have prepared charges against Assange who is currently in London, US officials familiar with the matter revealed.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain since 2012 seeking to avoid an arrest warrant on rape allegations in Sweden.

“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” Sessions said at a news conference when reporters asked him about a US priority to arrest Assange.

“This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious,” he added.

Barry Pollack, Assange’s lawyer, denied any knowledge of imminent prosecution. “We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr Assange,” he stated.

Earlier, during the presidential election campaign, US president Donald Trump praised the anti-secrecy website saying during a rally “I love WikiLeaks.” However, Trump and his administration have put heat on WikiLeaks after it embarrassed the Central Intelligence Agency last month by releasing a large number of files and computer code from the spy agency’s top-secret hacking operations.

US authorities have been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks since at least 2010 when it released, in cooperation with publications including the Guardian, more than a quarter of a million classified cables from US embassies leaked by US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Prosecutors in recent weeks have been drafting a memo that looks at charges against Assange and other WikiLeaks members, with these charges including conspiracy, theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed US officials familiar with the matter.

WikiLeaks supporters, however, say it’s practicing the constitutional right of freedom of speech and the press.

“WikiLeaks’s sole interest is expressing constitutionally protected truths,” Assange said in an opinion piece he published earlier, acknowledging “overwhelming admiration for both America and the idea of America.”

Socialist candidate Lenin Moreno, who won the recent election in Ecuador, has promised not to extradite Assange.

Julian Assange Questioned by Ecuadorian Prosecutors

The latest twist in a vicious and long-running legal battle over a rape allegation, prosecutors reportedly were questioning WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadoran embassy in London on Monday, .

Swedish prosecutor Ingrid Isgren, due to be present while Assange faced a grilling by an Ecuadoran prosecutor, entered the embassy shortly before 1000 GMT, an AFP photographer reported.

Elisabeth Fritz, the lawyer for Assange’s victim, said: “My client has been waiting six years for justice… It is time for this to go to trial.”

On the other hand, Assange’s lawyer Per Samuelsson said the questioning is expected to last several days at the embassy where the founder of the secret-spilling website has been holed up for four years, refusing to come out over fears he could be extradited to the United States.

“I am very hopeful,” Samuelsson told Sweden’s TT news agency. “Objectively, there is no doubt that everything happened as Assange said it did.”

Assange, a 45-year-old Australian, sought refuge in the embassy in June 2012 after Sweden sought his arrest over allegations of rape and sexual assault. He has always denied the claims, saying they were politically motivated.

The former computer hacker insists his sexual encounters with the two women, who he met on a 2010 trip to Sweden, were consensual.

He has refused to travel to Sweden for questioning, fearing he could be extradited over WikiLeaks’ explosive release of 500,000 US secret military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Swedish prosecutors dropped the sexual assault probe last year after the five-year statute of limitations expired.

But they still want to question him about the 2010 rape allegation, which carries a 10-year statute of limitations.

Assange’s lawyer said he had made “repeated requests” for an interview with police to address the rape claim, though Ecuadoran prosecutors say a hearing scheduled for October was postponed at the Australian’s request.

“Julian Assange has always wanted to tell his version to the Swedish police. He wants a chance to clear his name,” Samuelsson told AFP.

The grilling comes after WikiLeaks returned to the spotlight with the leak of tens of thousands of emails from the US Democratic Party and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the final weeks of the race for the White House.

Assange defended the publication, denying links with Russia and claims that his website was trying to influence the US vote which saw Trump defeat Clinton in a stunning upset.

Tensions with his Ecuadoran hosts have been growing, with the Clinton leaks prompting the embassy to cut Assange’s internet access, citing respect for “non-intervention” in the affairs of other states.

Tehran’s Dubious Foreign Policy in Latin America

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during the 16th PetroCaribe Ministerial Council in Caracas

Caracas- Iran’s Foreign Ministry is currently in the process of preparing for Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s five-country tour in Latin America. The Iranian diplomat is scheduled to visit Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Chile in the upcoming period.

Amid serious cautioning the peace of the Americas being on stake, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reopens the file on the Iranian regime’s sketchy involvement in South America.

Political experts and analysts believe that Iran had been using South American countries to further deepen the U.S.-Latin rift. Iranian regional agenda is based on spreading and endorsing a ‘revolutionary’ Bolivarian and Venezuelan dogma.

Mutual interests shared by Venezuela and Iran are primarily based on common hatred towards the West. Iranian-Latin ties were made stronger thereon.

After consolidating its relationship with Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba, Iran was able to further progress into Latin terrain, entering the political grounds of Bolivia.

Iranian interest in Bolivia was first displayed in 2007 with Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad official visit to the country.

Iran’s excessive generosity with Bolivia proved to be doubt-stirring. At the time, Iran offered a $1.5 billion in aid to Bolivian infrastructure development and commerce- in return Iran requested assistance with fields of oil byproducts and mining. What is more is that the aid asked for mining, and which the Bolivian government denies, is the extraction of Lithium and Uranium.

It was that Iran found a strategic partner to achieve progress with its nuclear program- what can determine the nature of Iran’s agenda in Bolivia are the straightforward words of the Bolivian President referring to the Iranian-Bolivian alliance as ‘strategic.’

Ecuador Hit by Magnitude-6.7 Earthquake

A resident gestures next to a collapsed building after an earthquake struck off the Pacific coast, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, April 18, 2016. REUTERS/Henry Romero

A powerful magnitude-6.7 earthquake hit Ecuador’s coast early Wednesday near the Pacific coast area, where a 7.8 devastating tremor hit a month ago, knocking out power and killing more than 650 people.

There was no report of significant damage from Wednesday’s quake, which cut electricity in some coastal areas and sent people running into the streets as far away as the highland capital Quito, witnesses said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday that the quake’s epicenter was 35 kilometers (21 miles) from the town of Muisne. It struck shortly before 3 a.m. local time and had a shallow depth of 32 kilometers below the earth’s surface.

President Rafael Correa said there was no tsunami alert and called on residents in Quito, where some residents poured into the streets, to return to their homes. The quake was strong enough to trigger a national disaster alert, but Correa deactivated the emergency response a few hours later when local authorities reported the situation was calm.

“These sort of aftershocks are normal but that doesn’t mean they’re not scary and can cause damage,” Correa said in a televised address, adding that aftershocks of this magnitude were normal for up to two months after a major quake like the one Ecuador experienced.

The magnitude-7.8 earthquake on April 16 was Ecuador’s worst natural disaster in nearly seven decades, killing 661, leaving more than 28,000 people homeless and causing an estimated $2 billion of damage. It has been followed by hundreds of aftershocks, at least five of them including Wednesday’s which measured 6.0 or higher on the Richter scale.

Ecuador was already struggling economically before the April disaster. Correa has hiked taxes to fund the recovery but says it will take years to rebuild the beach towns and tourist hubs leveled by the quake.

Jorge Zambrano, mayor of Manta, one of the areas hit hardest by last month’s big quake, said streets were calm.

“It was a big shake and all of us were scared but there are no major problems at the moment,” said Zambrano.

Earthquake Kills at Least 77 in Ecuador, Toll Likely to Rise

Earthquake

MANTA, Ecuador, April 17 – A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake as hit Ecuador and killed at least 77 people with more than 500 people injured, said Vice-President Jorge Gla. With the use of tractors and complete bare hands, rescuers tried to reach for survivors among devastated coastal populations with what’s left of unknown number trapped in ruins.

The quake, Ecuador’s largest since 1979, hit at 18:58 on Saturday (23:58 GMT) near the northern town of Muisne. With the 7.8 magnitude quake struck off the Pacific coast on Saturday and was felt around the Andean nation of 16 million people. The aftermath estimates a nearly 600 people were injured, according to initial tallies the government said are likely to increase.

A state of emergency was declared in six provinces, noting that the most affected areas where those coastal ones nearest the quake, Pedernales in particular, a rustic tourist spot with beaches and palm trees. Information was scant from there due to poor communications and transport chaos.”There are people trapped in various places and we are starting rescue operations,” Vice President Jorge Glas stated.

“There are villages totally devastated “Pedernales’ mayor Gabriel Alcivar told local radio, adding that” dozens and dozens” had died in the rustic zone. “What happened here in Pedernales is catastrophic.”

Pedernales

According to authorities there were 135 aftershocks in the Pedernales area. A man begged for help: “Pedernales is destroyed.” In Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city ruins and buildings that turned into rubble lay in the streets a, you can see devastating scenes such as a bridge that fell on top of a car. “It was terrifying, we were all scared and we’re still out in the streets because we’re worried about aftershocks,” said Guayaquil security guard Fernando Garcia.

Ramon Solorzano, 46, was leaving with his family, said a car parts merchant in the coastal city of Manta where photos from there showed Red Cross workers arriving, police hunting through debris, a smashed sculpture and badly-damaged buildings.

“Most people are out in the streets with backpacks on, heading for higher ground,” Solorzano said, speaking in a trembling voice on a WhatsApp phone call. “The streets are cracked. The power is out and phones are down.”

President Rafael Correa cut short a trip to Italy to return said that everything can be rebuilt, but lives cannot be recovered, and that’s what is the most hurting in this natural crisis.

Assange Lawyers Ask Swedish Court to Overturn Arrest Warrant

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a copy of a U.N. ruling as he makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, in central London, Britain February 5, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a copy of a U.N. ruling as he makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, in central London, Britain February 5, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Lawyers for Julian Assange have made a formal request to a Swedish court to overturn an arrest warrant for the Wikileaks founder in a rape case.

The move follows a decision by a United Nations panel that his stay in the Ecuadorian embassy in London amounted to “arbitrary detention”.

Assange filed a complaint in 2014 with the UN committee – arguing that he was arbitrarily detained because he was incapable of leaving the embassy without being arrested.

The journalist, 44, took refuge at the embassy in June 2012 after his appeal against extradition to Sweden failed in the UK courts.

Thomas Olsson, one of Assange’s lawyers, said in a statement: “We consider that there have arisen a number of new circumstances which mean there is reason to review the earlier decision”.

Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden over a sex allegation, which he denies, but believes that if he goes to Sweden he will be taken to the United States for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks.

He says the accusation is a scheme that would eventually lead to his extradition to the United States, where a criminal investigation into the activities of WikiLeaks is still open.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said earlier this month that Assange should be allowed to leave the embassy in London.

Authorities in Britain and Sweden rejected the UN panel’s finding, saying Assange had detained himself by seeking refuge in the embassy.

A second lawyer representing Assange said he remained ready to be interrogated in the Ecuadoran embassy, according to Sweden’s national news agency.

Ecuador has granted Assange asylum, yet he is unable to travel to the South American country. Assange says his rights have been infringed.

Both Britain and Sweden denied that Assange was being deprived of freedom. An application to interview Assange will be renewd, said the Swedish prosecutor in charge of the case.

Prosecutor Marianne Ny said the U.N. panels’ non-binding ruling had no impact on the case.

In 2010, WikiLeaks released more than 90,000 secret documents on the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, followed by almost 400,000 U.S. military reports detailing operations in Iraq. Those disclosures were followed by release of millions of diplomatic cables dating back to 1973.

A U.S. Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks is ongoing.

Hezbollah Members Use Latin Passports to Travel

Hezbollah Members Use Latin Passports to Travel
Hezbollah Members Use Latin Passports to Travel

Venezuela- Reports issued by Western security and intelligence sources have stated that a number of people belonging to Iranian groups and the Lebanese Hezbollah, with suspected links to terrorism, are moving freely in the United States and Latin America using Latin passports like the Venezuelan and Ecuadoran ones.

According to these reports, the intelligence services in Canada and Bulgaria have recently spotted the movements of citizens of Arab origin, especially those belonging to Hezbollah as well as Iranian agents carrying original Venezuelan passports in order to move within a number of countries, especially United States, Canada, and South America.

The former Venezuelan Minister of Interior, Anthony Dakin, currently in the United States, indicated that Venezuela has become a hub for granting passports for Iranian groups and members of Hezbollah, in order to facilitate their travel.

Antony Dakin told the media that Caracas has contracted with Cuban companies to issue mechanized and biometric passports. The information Dakin leaked reveals the volume of trade carried out by a small country like Cuba to transfer the technique of producing mechanized passports in Latin America. He added that Havana has signed contracts with other countries, such as Argentina and Ecuador, which provides it with data of around 80 million citizens. These contracts allow Havana to issue identification papers without forgery and by using other people’s data.

Furthermore, Dakin cast his doubts to the media that people from Iran and other countries, have been using Venezuelan passports for more than 10 years now.

Oil Plumbs New Lows Below $27…Ecuador Sells Oil Without Profit

Oil Plumbs New Lows Below $27…Ecuador Sells Oil Without Profit
Oil Plumbs New Lows Below $27…Ecuador Sells Oil Without Profit

US oil prices crashed below $27 dollars a barrel in Jan.20 for the first time since 2003, caught in a broad slump across world financial markets while traders stand worried that the crude supply glut could last longer.

Oil prices lost more than 75% of their value just a year ago, as figures amounted to more than 140 million dollars at a time when oil prices remained below $ 29, due to the large surplus in the market, which in turn is expected to increase with the homecoming of the Iranian oil to the markets in the near future; having the sanctions being lifted this past week.

What made things worse was the slow growth in the Chinese economy, the devaluation of the Chinese currency against the dollar, and the deterioration of its financial market.

Moreover, Venezuela’s request for OPEC to hold an emergency meeting to discuss steps to prop up oil prices did not succeed in curbing declines.

Four sources from OPEC confirmed for Asharq Al-Awsat that Venezuela has requested holding an emergency meeting to support oil prices, which have dropped to their lowest since 2003.

Ecuador President Rafael Correa, the leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ smallest member, has long pushed for a cut in production to boost prices. However, those calls have gone unheeded by OPEC’s bigger members.

He stated that he is in favor of Venezuela’s request for an emergency OPEC meeting to find solutions for this huge fall in oil prices.

Snowden threatens new U.S. leaks, asks numerous countries for asylum

An employee distributes newspapers, with a photograph (R) of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden seen on a page, at an underground walkway in central Moscow July 2, 2013. (REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)
An employee distributes newspapers, with a photograph (R) of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden seen on a page, at an underground walkway in central Moscow July 2, 2013. (REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)
London/Moscow, Reuters— Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden broke his silence on Monday for the first time since fleeing to Moscow over a week ago, blasting the Obama administration and saying he remained free to make new disclosures about U.S. spying activity.

Snowden, who faces espionage charges in the United States and is believed to be staying in a transit area at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, surfaced with a letter to the Ecuadorean government and in a statement released through anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which has taken up his cause.

WikiLeaks also released another statement saying Snowden was asking for asylum in several countries, including Russia, China, Brazil, India and Ireland. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was quoted in Britain’s Guardian newspaper as saying his country could not consider an asylum request unless Snowden was on Ecuadorean territory.

In his WikiLeaks statement, Snowden accused the Obama administration of deception in a campaign to prevent him from finding political asylum and of “leaving me a stateless person” by revoking his U.S. passport.

Snowden, 30, had not been heard from in the eight days since he flew to Moscow from Hong Kong, where he had first taken refuge after fleeing Hawaii.

Snowden has sought asylum in Ecuador and in an undated letter sent to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa seen by Reuters, said the United States was illegally persecuting him for revealing its electronic surveillance programme, Prism, but made it clear he did not intend to be muzzled.

‘UNEQUAL WORLD’

“I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest,” Snowden, who had been a contract employee for the U.S. National Security Agency, said in the letter.

“No matter how many more days my life contains, I remain dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world. If any of those days ahead realise a contribution to the common good, the world will have the principles of Ecuador to thank.”

But in an interview published on the Guardians website on Monday, Correa said giving Snowden a temporary travel pass to fly to Moscow was “a mistake on our part” and that Snowden was now Russia’s problem.

“Are we responsible for getting him to Ecuador? It’s not logical,” he said.

Asked if he would like to meet Snowden, Correa said: “Not particularly. He’s a very complicated person. Strictly speaking, Mr. Snowden spied for some time.”

Snowden said the U.S. government was persecuting him.

“While the public has cried out support of my shining a light on this secret system of injustice, the Government of the United States of America responded with an extrajudicial man-hunt costing me my family, my freedom to travel, and my right to live peacefully without fear of illegal aggression,” Snowden wrote.

In his WikiLeaks statement, Snowden lashed out at President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for pressing Ecuador to turn him away.

“This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile,” he said.

“Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right,” Snowden said. “A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum … Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.”

U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre rejected Snowden’s allegation that he was marooned, “since he is still a United States citizen and his country is willing to take him back.”

“As the State Department has already said, the U.S. government is prepared to issue individuals wanted on felony charges a one entry travel document to return home,” she said.

LONG LIST OF COUNTRIES

WikiLeaks disclosed on Monday that Snowden had prepared requests for asylum in countries including Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela. The requests were given to a Russian official at the airport and were to be delivered to the appropriate embassies in Moscow.

Snowden already has sought asylum in Ecuador and Iceland.

Russian Foreign Ministry and Kremlin officials declined immediate comment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Snowden could stay in Russia on one condition.

“He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my lips,” he told reporters after a gas exporters’ conference in Moscow.

Putin said he suspected that Snowden would continue leaking information because “he feels himself to be a human rights activist.”

“So he must choose a country of destination and go there,” he said, speaking before the asylum request to Russia was reported. “Unfortunately, I don’t know when this will happen.”

Putin said Russia was not working with Snowden and had no intention of handing Snowden over to the United States.

“Russia has never given up anyone to anybody and does not plan to. And nobody ever gave anyone up to us,” Putin said.

Shortly after Snowden fled the United States for Hong Kong in May, and long before he arrived in Russia, Putin suggested the surveillance methods he revealed were justified in fighting terrorism, if carried out lawfully.

Although Russia has sometimes exchanged captured spies with the United States, Putin suggested on Monday that this was not on the cards for Snowden. “As for Mr. Snowden, he is not our agent and he is not working with us,” Putin said.

Obama, at a news conference in Tanzania, repeated that the United States was working through law enforcement channels to prod Russia to extradite Snowden.

Obama said there had been “high-level discussions with the Russians about trying to find a solution to the problem.”

Hong Kong lets Snowden leave, with Cuba among possible destinations

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this file still image taken from video during an interview by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong June 6, 2013. (Reuters/Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras)
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this file still image taken from video during an interview by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong June 6, 2013. (Reuters/Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras)

Hong Kong, Reuters—A former contractor for the US National Security Agency, charged by the United States with espionage, was allowed to leave Hong Kong on Sunday because a US extradition request did not comply with the law, the Hong Kong government said.

Edward Snowden left for Moscow on Sunday and his final destination may be Cuba, Ecuador, Iceland or Venezuela, according to various reports. The move is bound to infuriate Washington, wherever he ends up.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted a source at the Aeroflot airline as saying there was a ticket in Snowden’s name for a Moscow-Cuba flight. Itar-Tass cited a source as saying Snowden would fly from Havana to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

The South China Morning Post said his final destination may be Ecuador or Iceland.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was unaware of Snowden’s whereabouts or travel plans.

The anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks said it helped Snowden find “political asylum in a democratic country”. It did not elaborate, other than to say Snowden was “currently over Russian airspace” with WikiLeaks legal advisers.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said last week he would not leave the sanctuary of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London even if Sweden stopped pursuing sexual assault claims against him because he feared arrest on the orders of the United States.

US authorities have charged Snowden with theft of US government property, unauthorized communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person, with the latter two charges falling under the US Espionage Act.

The United States had asked Hong Kong, a special administrative region (SAR) of China, to send him home.

“The US government earlier on made a request to the HKSAR government for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr Snowden,” the Hong Kong government said in a statement.

“Since the documents provided by the US government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the HKSAR government has requested the US government to provide additional information … As the HKSAR government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong, a former British colony, reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 and although it retains an independent legal system, and its own extradition laws, Beijing has control over Hong Kong’s foreign affairs.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said earlier this month that Russia would consider granting Snowden asylum if he were to ask for it and pro-Kremlin lawmakers supported the idea, but there has been no indication he has done so.

Iceland refused on Friday to say whether it would grant asylum to Snowden, a former employee of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton who worked at an NSA facility in Hawaii.

The South China Morning Post earlier quoted Snowden offering new details about the United States’ spy activities, including accusations of US hacking of Chinese mobile telephone companies and targeting China’s Tsinghua University.

Documents previously leaked by Snowden revealed that the NSA has access to vast amounts of internet data such as emails, chat rooms and video from large companies, including Facebook and Google, under a government programme known as Prism.

The government statement said Hong Kong had written to the United States “requesting clarification” of earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies.

“The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter, so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong,” it said.

China’s Xinhua news agency, referring to Snowden’s accusations about the hacking of Chinese targets, said they were “clearly troubling signs”.

It added: “They demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age.”