Andy Mueller-Maguhn’s 36c3 talk about UC Global
- posted January 13, 2020
At the 36th annual congress for the Chaos Computer Club (#36c3), member Andy Mueller Maguhn gave two presentations about the surveillance of Julian Assange by two private contractors hired by Ecuadorian state intelligence under former President Rafael Correa and current President Lenin Moreno.
Undercover Global (UC Global), according to Mueller-Maguhn, was hired by the Ecuadorian government around 2015, and replaced by PROM Security April 2018.
Mueller-Maguhn’s account omits the obvious, instead offering just enough truth to make his disinfo believable.
Yoko Ono’s Passport & Phone
For example, Mueller-Maguhn makes much of how UC Global photocopied Yoko Ono’s and Ellen Nakashima’s passports and phone IMEIs prior to visits with Assange.
My passport and phone were also taken when I visited Assange in the Fall of 2013, prior to UC Global’s reported contract (a meeting arranged by his former lawyer, Michael Ratner). I assumed my passport was photocopied too, just like it was at a Belgian hotel I stayed at once (apparently it’s required there by law); or anytime I hand it over to the border official who enters its information into a computer when I travel abroad or return.
Given that parties are entering Ecuador when they step over the threshold of the embassy (any embassy), this is common sense. As for IMEI, that may be a lesson for Mueller-Maguhn that he should avoid bringing his Cryptophone along with him when he visits Assange at the Embassy (I mean, if he really is shocked).
That UC Global was authorized by the Ecuadorian government, his host, to spy on Assange is documented.
Correa himself admits that as the head of state, he was aware of Assange’s election meddling from his nation’s embassy.
Given that these kinds of events result in geopolitical issues of major consequence (election interference on the one hand, but let us not forget the acquisition of cyber weapons stolen from the CIA and leaked to WikiLeaks in 2016), clearly Ecuador’s foreign and intelligence officials felt it necessary to know what was going on in their own embassy, as their country would likely be held accountable in some manner.
Definitions and legal frameworks for cyberwarfare, its operations, and activities are still developing both internationally and domestically. Experts in international law governing cyber warfare and peacetime legal regimes define the term “cyber attack as a cyber operation whether offensive or defensive, that is reasonably expected to cause injury or death to persons or damage or destruction to objects.” Cyber operations may also constitute an act of war if they results in “death, injury, or significant destruction,” according to former U.S. Department of State, legal advisor, Harold Koh.
The lack of predictability with cyber-espionage increases the risks for “misunderstandings that could lead to conflict.” Cyber-espionage may risks hot wars, because attribution and motives are harder to ascertain. Attribution–a challenge with cyber–is a component of ascertaining motivation. Today “[a]n intrusion into another country’s sensitive computers and networks for the so-called innocent purpose of reconnaissance can easily be mistaken as an act of sabotage [and an act of war] or at least preparation for it–increasing the risk of misunderstandings in unfamiliar political and legal territory.”
Criminal Investigations & Intelligence Sharing (also Cyber Weapons)
Mueller-Maguhn might also take note (given his timeline) that Assange has reportedly been the subject of (presumably criminal and intelligence) investigations by U.S. (and its *allies*) since *2015* when “U.S. intelligence obtained information that WikiLeaks had obtained a collection of documents on Saudi Arabia from Russian intelligence,” according to reporting by William M. Arkin.
UC Global collection on Assange may very well have ended up in the hands of the FBI (initially) and not just the CIA. Given the protocol changed, according to Mueller-Maguhn in 2017, with two feeds indicating perhaps a wall between intelligence and criminal investigations, the CIA (with Ecuador’s permission or *elements* within Ecuadorian intelligence) may have been authorized to collect on the organization. This coincides with timeframe of CIA requirements on the organization as reported by the New York Times. Moreover, Rommy Vallejo, the former head of the former Ecuadorian intelligence entity, the SENAIN–who left the agency in February 2018, a month after an aborted attempt to exfiltrate Assange to Russia (which he reportedly directed)– is currently located in the U.S.
Ecuador and the U.S. Intelligence Community have traditionally shared intelligence related to transnational organized crime (drug trafficking). Ecuador serves as the superhighway for cocaine to U.S. and other key global markets.
Correa was a critic of Plan Colombia, “a multi-billion dollar program aimed at countering terrorism and drug trafficking in neighboring Colombia that received critical support from the U.S.” In 2009, the Associated Press released a video featuring FARC guerrilla chief Jorge Briceo acknowledging the terrorist organization’s financing of Correa’s presidential campaign in 2006. Correa has denied a link, but the association is not new. (Political corruption is a key indicator for transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking.)
When Correa became president in 2007, he ended the lease of the US naval base at Manta, “an election promise made to FARC,” according to recovered guerilla communications. The decision by Correa created a “huge blind spot in Ecuador’s waters and skies that was soon filled with drug boats and planes.”
Correa then offered the base to China, a country Ecuador expanded ties with under his rule in an effort to reorient away from the U.S. In exchange, China has offered Ecuador short-term financing and large-scale investment. In 2011, China was the third-largest foreign direct investor in Ecuador after the U.S. and Canada.
Ecuador under Correa in 2012 also purchased hundreds of millions of dollars of Iranian fuel, flouting U.S.-led oil sanctions as well as anti-money laundering and counterterrorism efforts (since revenue from Iran’s fuel is used to fund such operations).
In March 2018, Colombian drug violence was spilling over into Ecuador with FARC attacking Ecuadorian security forces. In response, Ecuador sought a closer relationship to the U.S.
Commonalities between Mueller-Maguhn’s & Schulte’s Disinfo
Instead of discussing the subject seriously, Mueller-Maguhn’s account is an echo of admitted disinfo by Joshua Schulte, on trial for espionage in SDNY for being the alleged source of CIA cybertools leaked to WikiLeaks in April 2016.
Schulte’s disinfo against the U.S. consists (in part) of a conspiracy theory that he was framed by the CIA and that the real leakers are who Schulte devised as the “CIA’s own version of the FBI’s Peter Strzok and Lisa Page” [Doc. 98-11].
Similarly, Mueller-Maguhn suggests that Assange, like Schulte, is another victim of the CIA (and U.S. intelligence in conspiracy with UC Global). Like WikiLeaks, Schulte is broadly claiming that his alleged activities attempting to disclose classified information as part of a disinfo campaign are protected by attorney client privilege.
Crime Fraud Exception
That everyone around Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy is supposedly a lawyer or a client means everyone is supposedly protected by attorney/client privilege. But, law enforcement and intelligence have means to overcome such issues, especially given their experience investigating organized crime or others who have tried to protect criminal acts under that claim. Just ask the ACLU.
That WikiLeaks lawyers are very unlikely to be the actual lawyers of the organization’s associates/members/volunteers, who may themselves be (both knowingly or unknowingly) exposed to varying degrees of risk for criminal or civil liability is worth mentioning.
The assumption is that WikiLeaks staffers are anonymous as a countermeasures to surveillance, because their work is purportedly noble. But associates/volunteers/members of WikiLeaks do not know who the other members are and what they are doing. Activities and operations are compartmentalized by design.
Presumably Assange is in charge, but according to two separate conversations that I had with two WikiLeaks members (first) in Winter 2014 and (second) Spring 2016, Assange is increasingly reliant on associates/members for core functions. Mueller-Maguhn is reportedly one of those people, who Assange relies on for core functions. He denies he is a part of WikiLeaks in both the 36c3 video as well as to the Washington Post.
But that claim contradicts a conversation I had with his Wau Holland colleague, Bernd Fix, in April 2016, who approached me on his visit to the U.S. and told me he and Mueller-Maguhn wanted to hire me because the new submission system was allegedly overflowing and Wikileaks had unexpected staff departures. I was employed at The Constitution Project in Washington, D.C. working on the death penalty report and I declined. I had (prior to this) took Fix and Mueller-Maguhn to be with Wau Holland and Chaos Computer Club; but not a part of WikiLeaks. (In hindsight, it is notable to me that this staffing need in March and April 2016 and the frantic outreach– including contacting me– was in the run up to and/or concurrent to 2016 election interference and also Schulte’s alleged theft of cyber weapons from the CIA).
Spymaster, Diplomat, Journalist, Librarian
Mueller-Maguhn’s narrative about the surveillance of Assange would like us to never question whether or not the organization might ever be investigated by a sovereign government with legitimate authority to do so.
That the organization operates like an intelligence service, with its call to infiltrate the CIA and other components of U.S. intelligence and leak material to WikiLeaks; as well as the aggressive and hostile collection strategy by means of unilaterally acting and/or witting/unwitting pawns of foreign intelligence services is supposedly of no moment.
The WikiLeaks organization is at once aspirant intelligence agency for the public (where its authority derives from is anyone’s guess), combatant, media organization, and library. Assange is a journalist, diplomat, chief-librarian, and aspirant-spymaster. More than a passive pawn in the embassy, Assange has been a party to domestic Ecuadorian and international political affairs.
Mueller-Maguhn makes much of UC Global’s replacement (he claims it was because they were incompetent). It was more likely the result of Moreno’s decision on March 20, 2018 to shut down Ecuador’s intelligence agency, the SENAIN.
This was reportedly due to public outcry, including a campaign by lawyers, activists, and journalists to investigate and eliminate the entity with its record of spying on activists, journalists, political opponents, and even minors.
This was also reportedly due to austerity measures implemented by the Ecuadorian government in response to a weakened economy, commodity-price-declines, and billions of dollars in oil-back-debt to China, which Correa had accumulated in his decade long rule (to ensure his political party’s rule by funding social services).
The SENAIN secret special expenses budget–which funded the Assange Ecuadorian embassy operations– was the subject of a number of news reports concerning retributive acts against political opposition and corruption, including embezzlement. Some of the initial accounts of UC Global came to light initially in September 2015.
UC Global had a close relationship with Correa, Assange’s patron, as well as Correa’s allies. News reporting related to the surveillance of Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy have been part of a string of increasing allegations by critics of Correa about the former president’s misuse of public funds and corruption (especially at a time of increasing economic pressure on the Ecuadorian government).
SENAIN was fully disbanded and replaced by Morenos Center for Strategic Intelligence (CIES) in September 2018.
A month later former president Correa was charged –along with three former SENAIN officials– with crimes related to the 2012 kidnapping of Ecuadorian opposition politician Fernando Balda in Bogota, Columbia.
Correa is currently in exile in Belgium (Interpol rejected the request to capture him). One of his accomplices, as mentioned above, Rommy Vallejo, the former head of SENAIN–who left the agency in February 2018, a month after an aborted attempt to exfiltrate Assange to Russia is currently located in the U.S.
Around the time that Ola Bini, a Swedish software developer, and associate of both Julian Assange and suspected WikiLeaks member was arrested, Ecuador’s current interior minister, Maria Paula Romo, alleged that the former foreign minister of the Embassy between 2010 and 2016 (under Correa and during the time period of Assanges residence), Ricardo Patino (his brother was a former head of SENAIN as well) was working in concert with Bini to destabilize the current Ecuadorian regime.
Romo also stated that Bini was linked to two Russian hackers operating in Ecuador against the government. Neither Romo nor the Russian embassy have provided evidence that any Russian hackers were in fact arrested. Patino was granted asylum in Mexico.
EFF noted in August 2019 that they were not sure after an analysis of his case (including a trip to Ecuador) what computer systems, Bini had allegedly intruded. Ecuador claims that Assange ordered Bini to violate the Ecuadorian state’s computer systems. Bini’s trial is set for February 2020. The question I have is, is there also a U.S. indictment sealed in the Eastern District of Virginia?