Above photo: Julian Assange at the Ecuador embassy in 2012. Snapperjack from London, UK.
Attorneys and journalists, who visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange while he was living under political asylum in the Ecuador embassy, amended their lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for allegedly spying on them.
The complaint [PDF] filed in the Southern District of New York now even more explicitly seeks an injunction against the CIA to prevent the agency “from utilizing in any way, or revealing to any third party, the content of materials seized” from the plaintiffs, who are all US citizens.
It also asks the court to order the CIA to “purge and destroy all such materials from their files.”
In the initial lawsuit that was filed in August 2022, the CIA, along with former CIA director Mike Pompeo, UC Global, and UC Global director David Morales, were sued for their alleged role in violating the privacy of attorneys Margaret Ratner Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek and journalists John Goetz and Charles Glass.
All visitors, as that version of the complaint outlined, were required to “surrender” their electronic devices to UC Global employees hired by Ecuador to provide security for the embassy. What they did not know is that UC Global “copied the information stored on the devices.”
UC Global allegedly shared the information with the CIA, and Pompeo allegedly authorized and approved the action, which violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
On January 20, Judge John Koeltl held a proceeding where Richard Roth, attorney for the plaintiffs, was urged to change the complaint so it separated the “cause of action” sought against the CIA from the action sought against Pompeo, UC Global, and Morales. Much of the reasoning had to do with the Bivens doctrine that allows citizens to pursue monetary damages against former US government officials when their constitutional rights are violated.
The updated complaint spells out more concretely that they are confident if the court allows the lawsuit to proceed they believe they will succeed against the CIA in establishing that Fourth Amendment rights violations occurred.
“Plaintiffs have suffered and continue suffer irreparable harm including without limitation, by having had, and continuing to have their privacy violated and their personal files and privileged communications with their client unlawfully seized, copied, and permanently possessed by the CIA,” the lawsuit contends.
“The CIA has no legitimate claim to maintain possession of plaintiffs’ files unlawfully searched and seized.”
Assange, who is detained at Belmarsh high-security prison in London, faces a looming trial on Espionage Act charges.
While the US Justice Department has claimed there is some kind of a “wall” that prevents any material seized by another government agency from entering their case against Assange, an injunction would mean prosecutors would be violating a court order if any conversations or information from embassy meetings were ever used in the trial.
The CIA, UC Global, Pompeo, who is charged in his individual capacity, and Morales have each sought dismissal of the lawsuit.
Part of why the judge suggested the complaint be updated is because US prosecutors representing the CIA and Pompeo introduced confusion. They asserted that Roth had failed to recognize the law treats the CIA and Pompeo, UC Global, and Morales differently, which was false.
Plaintiffs are allowed to seek monetary damages against Pompeo, UC Global, and Morales under Bivens. They had never attempted to sue the CIA for monetary damages and only ever sought the purge of files by the CIA.
US Attorney Damian Williams and Assistant US Attorney Jean-David Barnea have until February 17 to respond to the injunction the plaintiffs are explicitly seeking against the CIA.