Donald Trump directs US government to restrict goods from China to ‘reduce risk from espionage’

In another action against China days before he leaves office, US President Donald Trump on Friday directed government departments to look at ways to minimise procurement of Chinese goods and services to reduce the risks from espionage, his national security adviser said.In a statement, Robert O’Brien accused China of targeting the information systems of the US government for personnel records, military plans, and other data through cyber and other means.“For this reason, the United States must…

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UK judge rules WikiLeaks founder will not be extradited to US to face espionage charges

A British judge has rejected the United States’ request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges, saying he was likely to kill himself if held under harsh US prison conditions.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected allegations that Assange is being prosecuted for political reasons or would not receive a fair trial in the United States.

But she said his precarious mental health would likely deteriorate further under the conditions of “near total isolation” he would face in US prison.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been in self imposed exile since 2012. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File) (AP)

“I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” the judge said.

She said Assange was “a depressed and sometimes despairing man” who had the “intellect and determination” to circumvent any suicide prevention measures taken by American prison authorities.

The US government said it would appeal the decision.

Assange’s lawyers said they would ask for his release from a London prison where he has been held for more than a 18 months at a bail hearing on Wednesday.

Assange, who sat in the dock at London’s Central Criminal Court for the ruling, wiped his brow as the decision was announced.

His partner Stella Moris, with whom he has two young sons, wept.

Inside the US supermax prison Julian Assange is facing

A court artist sketch shows Julian Assange at the Old Bailey in London for the ruling in his extradition case. (AP)

Assange’s American lawyer, Barry Pollack, said the legal team was “enormously gratified by the UK court’s decision denying extradition”.

“The effort by the United States to prosecute Julian Assange and seek his extradition was ill-advised from the start,” he said.

“We hope that after consideration of the UK court’s ruling, the United States will decide not to pursue the case further.”

Julian Assange supporters celebrate after a ruling that he cannot be extradited to the United States, outside the Old Bailey in London. (AP)
Julian Assange’s girlfriend Stella Moris arrives at the Old Bailey on January 4, 2021 in London, England. (Getty)

The ruling marks a dramatic moment in Assange’s years-long legal battles in Britain — though likely not its final chapter.

US prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked military and diplomatic documents a decade ago.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

Lawyers for the 49-year-old Australian argue that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing leaked documents that exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A man wearing a coat with the words ‘Truth on Trial’ takes part in a protest as Julian Assange is taken to the Old Bailey on January 4, 2021 in London, England. (Getty)
A man takes part in a protest as Julian Assange is taken to the Old Bailey on January 4, 2021 in London, England. (Getty)

The judge, however, said Assange’s actions, if proven, would “amount to offences in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.”

The defence also argued during a three-week hearing in the fall that extradition threatens Assange’s human rights because he risks “a grossly disproportionate sentence” and detention in “draconian and inhumane conditions” that would exacerbate his severe depression and other mental health problems.

The judge agreed with that argument. She said Assange suffered from moderate to severe clinical depression and was a “sometimes despairing man” genuinely fearful about his future.

A Julian Assange supporter wears a face mask bearing his name outside the Old Bailey in London. (AP)

Lawyers for the US government deny that Assange is being prosecuted merely for publishing the leaked documents, saying the case “is in large part based upon his unlawful involvement” in the theft of the diplomatic cables and military files by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

The prosecution of Assange has been condemned by journalists and human rights groups, who say it undermines free speech around the world.

They welcomed the judge’s decision, even though it was not made on free-speech grounds.

“This is a huge relief to anyone who cares about the rights of journalists,” The Freedom of the Press Foundation tweeted:

Piers Corbyn takes part in a protest as Julian Assange is taken to the Old Bailey on January 4, 2021 in London, England. (Getty)

“The extradition request was not decided on press freedom grounds; rather, the judge essentially ruled the US prison system was too repressive to extradite. However, the result will protect journalists everywhere.”

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, to avoid being sent to Sweden, Assange sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he was beyond the reach of UK and Swedish authorities — but also effectively a prisoner, unable to leave the tiny diplomatic mission in London’s tony Knightsbridge area.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested him for jumping bail in 2012.

In this September 2020 file photo, supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange take part in a protest outside the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, in London. (AP)

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed, but Assange remains in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, brought to court in a prison van throughout his extradition hearing.

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Julian Assange will not be extradited to the United States on espionage charges, British judge rules

Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the United States to face charges of espionage and hacking, a British judge has ruled.

District judge Vanessa Baraitser delivered the ruling at the central criminal court on Monday, saying the extradition would be “oppressive” due to his mental health.

She said the 49-year-old would be a suicide risk in US custody.

“Faced with conditions of near total isolation … I am satisfied that the procedures will not prevent Mr Assange from finding a way to commit suicide,” Judge Baraitser said.

She said if detained in the US, Mr Assange “faces the bleak prospect of severely restrictive detention conditions designed to remove physical contact and reduce social interaction and contact with the outside world to a bare minimum”.

Australian-born Mr Assange faced 18 charges in the US relating to the 2010 release by WikiLeaks of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Mr Assange’s lawyers had argued the entire prosecution was politically-motivated, powered by US President Donald Trump and that his extradition posed a severe threat to the work of journalists.

The US Government has 15 days to appeal against the ruling.

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John le Carré: Espionage writer dies aged 89

Obituary: John le Carré

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Australian-British Academic Released After A “Diplomatic Engagement” Between Iran And Australia

Kylie Moore-Gilbert

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a University of Melbourne lecturer, was detained in Iran for more than two years after being convicted of espionage, a charge she has always denied.

The 33-year-old Australian-British academic revealed that she is departing Iran “with bittersweet feelings” and “as a friend with friendly intentions”, despite spending more than 800 days in prison. She was sent to Tehran’s Evin Prison in September 2018 and sentenced to 10 years on espionage charges.

Sadly, she is just one among several Westerners held in Iran on internationally criticized espionage charges that their families and rights groups say are unfounded.

She had previously gone on hunger strikes and pleaded for the Australian Government to do more to free her.

She was reportedly released in exchange for three Iranians held abroad.

In a statement, Dr Moore-Gilbert expressed her gratitude to the Australian Government for doing all efforts and working to secure her release. She also thanked her supporters throughout the “long and traumatic ordeal”.

“I have nothing but respect, love and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people. It is with bittersweet feelings that I depart your country, despite the injustices which I have been subjected to. I came to Iran as a friend and with friendly intentions, and depart Iran with those sentiments not only still intact, but strengthened.” She said.

She asked for privacy for herself and her family as she is facing an undoubtedly challenging adjustment period.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed he had spoken to her this morning and revealed that “it was wonderful to hear her voice”. He added that she’s with Australian officials who are giving her all the support she needs. There is no denying that there’ll be quite a rough adjustment as she has gone through terrible experiences.

An interview with the Prime Minister was arranged by Today, yet he declined to comment on whether it was a prisoner swap. He confirmed, though, there were no prisoners released in Australia.

This morning, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she was “extremely pleased and relieved” to advise that Dr Moore-Gilbert had been released and would soon be reunited with her family. She added that the release was achieved through “diplomatic engagement” with the Iranian Government.

It is not clear yet when Dr Moore-Gilbert will arrive back in Australia. But a video aired on Iranian state TV overnight showed her wearing a grey head covering and sitting in what appeared to be a greeting room in one of Tehran’s airports.

The footage showed three men with Iranian flags over their shoulders, the men freed in exchange for her being released. State TV described them as “economic activists,” without elaborating.

Australian writer Yang Hengjun formally charged with espionage: reports

In September, Yang vowed to “fight to the end” after seeing his second lawyer Mo Shaoping for the first time since he was detained.


The 55-year-old has been isolated and allegedly tortured in an attempt to extract a confession on the unspecified claims.

In comments to his lawyers and confirmed by sources close to his family at the time, Yang said he wanted to go to court. “This is political persecution,” he said. “They can abuse me. I did not confess to anything criminal. I am innocent and will fight to the end.”

Yang is among several Australians detained by Chinese authorities. Chinese-Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei is also being held by state security on unknown claims.

Yang’s wife, Yuan Xiaoliang, told the ABC she felt “helpless” after hearing her husband had been charged.

Chinese authorities have spent the past year interrogating the pro-democracy blogger on his Australian, US and Chinese Communist Party connections. Prior to coming to Australia in 1999, Yang has said he worked for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The charge comes at a time when relations between Australia and China are at their lowest point since diplomatic ties were established almost 50 years ago.

Australia has no accredited foreign correspondents left in China after two journalists were last month forced out of the country, while Australian Australian television anchor Cheng Lei has also been detained in Beijing.

Cheng, a business anchor with Chinese state media network CGTN was privately critical of the Chinese Communist Party on Facebook. China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed in September that the Melbourne-mother had been arrested on national security grounds but there has been no public detail on the specific claims against her.

Australian journalists Bill Birtles and Michael Smith left China in September after being questioned by Chinese state security in relation to Cheng’s case.

Australian-Chinese relations have deteriorated sharply since 2018, with multiple disputes over the coronavirus, Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, foreign interference and incursions into the South China Sea.

China has imposed more than $1 billion in trade strikes against Australia this year, after the Morrison government pushed for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been contacted for comment.

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A year after espionage arrest, RCMP still hasn’t acted on calls for tighter security

The RCMP has flagged ways to tighten its security protocols in response to the Cameron Ortis espionage case — but not one of those changes has been implemented in the year since his arrest.

Ortis, who is still awaiting trial, served as director general of the RCMP’s national intelligence co-ordination centre. He was arrested on Sept. 12, 2019 and charged with preparing to share sensitive information with a foreign entity or terrorist organization. He’s also charged with sharing operational information back in 2015.

In the immediate aftermath of his arrest, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki launched an internal security review.

“This mandate required a review of various security areas, including not only the Ortis incident but also more broadly the overall security practices of the RCMP,” said Cpl. Caroline Duval in an email.

The final report coming out of that review is now complete. It made a number of recommendations but it hasn’t yet been presented to the force’s senior executive committee.

Duval said that will be done over the “coming weeks.”

“A management action plan is also under development to prioritize the various recommendations,” she wrote. 

Jessica Davis is a former senior intelligence analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) who now heads Insight Threat Intelligence. She said it’s surprising the force hasn’t acted on the findings yet.

“A year is a very long time,” she said.

“If the RCMP is publicly saying that they haven’t done anything or haven’t implemented any of the changes that maybe need to happen in terms of increasing the security posture, what are they telling allies? Because they’re obviously still receiving intelligence from the allies. So is the messaging the same to them? And if so, how are they taking that?”

The RCMP won’t say what’s in the security review report. 

“We don’t know very much at all about what happened and how it happened. But there seems to be a number of different elements in terms of where there might have been security gaps,” said Davis.

“On the technical side, the ability to actually physically remove data from the RCMP’s most secure premises is a huge concern. But then there’s also the personal side in terms of how the screening of personnel is happening, how often those screenings are taking place and whether or not that needs to change.”

A call for more routine oversight

Wesley Wark, a national security, intelligence and terrorism professor at the University of Ottawa, said the Ortis case suggests the RCMP’s national security and intelligence operations need more routine audits.

“An internal investigation is fine up to a point but Ortis sat at the centre of an intelligence and communications web that reached to many domestic and international partners,” he said.

“The bigger issue is that the RCMP on its national security side is not currently under any regular scrutiny from external, independent review bodies.”

Under legislation passed last year to overhaul Canada’s national security architecture, any review of the RCMP’s national security activities falls under the nascent National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, which is set to present its first annual report to the prime minister this fall.

“But NSIRA is not required to conduct annual or even regular reviews of the RCMP (as it is for CSIS and CSE). It can simply look at aspects of RCMP operations when it chooses,” said Wark.

According to documents viewed in the immediate aftermath of his arrest, the classified intelligence material Ortis is accused of preparing to share includes some of the most closely protected of Canada’s national security assets, and its dissemination would have threatened Canada’s relations with its allies.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki provides an update on the investigation of Cameron Ortis at RCMP National Headquarters in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. (Chris Wattie/Canadian Press)

“This type of information is among the most highly protected of national security assets, by any government standard, and goes to the heart of Canada’s sovereignty and security,” says an assessment completed in the immediate aftermath of his arrest by CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s cybersecurity agency.

When asked if CSE has launched its own in-house review in the year since Ortis’s arrest, a spokesperson said they can’t comment since the case is still before the courts.

“CSE’s unique security requirements, processes and procedures are classified, but we can tell you they are and always have [been] reviewed and updated on a regular basis,” said Ryan Foreman.

“CSE provides continuous security education and training to staff, which includes increasing staff awareness of insider threat issues.”

CSIS provided a similar statement.

“Internal processes to mitigate insider threats are continuously assessed and updated if required. Informed by audits, reviews and best practices, CSIS continuously works to improve training for employees and updates its security policies and procedures accordingly,” said CSIS spokesperson John Townsend.

“All CSIS employees undergo an intensive screening process at the time of hiring which must be renewed every five years.”

Bullying review launched

In the year since his arrest, the RCMP also has completed a review of Ortis’s “managerial actions” in response to multiple employees coming forward to allege that he degraded and abused staff members while working as director general of the national intelligence co-ordiantion centre.

In a civil lawsuit first reported on by Global News, the employees allege that they had been raising concerns about Ortis’ “strange and controlling behaviour” since January 2017, but nothing was done.

Former senior Mountie Alphonse MacNeil was hired to conduct an independent review of the intelligence centre and submitted it to the deputy commissioner on May 11, 2020.

The RCMP said it is still working out how to implement MacNeil’s findings.

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