ECUADOR EMBASSY BUGGED BY ENGLAND SAYS FOREIGN MINISTER
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino shows a picture of a hidden spy microphone uncovered at the office of Ana Alban, the Ecuadorean ambassador to the United Kingdom, during a news conference in Quito. Photo: Reuters
Ecuador has accused one of the United Kingdom’s leading private security and surveillance firms of bugging its London embassy where WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange is lodged.
WikiLeaks has denounced the electronic espionage operation as an instance of “imperial arrogance.”
“Aside from the gross violation of the integrity of Ecuador’s embassy, no candidate in Australian election should be subject to covert surveillance,” Mr Assange told Fairfax Media today.
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño has confirmed a sophisticated listening device was found inside the office of then Ecuadorian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Ana Alban, two days before the Foreign Minister visited the embassy to meet with Mr Assange on June 16.
Mr Patiño added that the Ecuadorian authorities “have reason to believe that the bugging was being carried out by the company, the Surveillance Group Limited, … one of the biggest private investigation and undercover surveillance companies in the United Kingdom.”
The Surveillance Group is one of the UK’s most prominent private security and intelligence firms. The company’s website says that by “combining the practices, skills and experience of Special Forces, police and commercial surveillance, the Surveillance Group has forged an entirely new form of surveillance service.”
“Our methods and technologies mean that there are few scenarios or locations in which we cannot achieve footage,” the company says in relation to its covert surveillance operations. “Our operatives are renowned for their ability to get closer, to take longer, better footage and to do so in a manner that is more beneficial to the eventual outcome.”
During a press conference in Quito, Foreign Minister Patiño said the listening device, discovered on June 14, had been running for at least two months, had GSM activation and was camouflaged inside an electrical installation.
“At first glance, the device was an electrical outlet, but incorporated a camouflaged spy microphone, which did not require any previous installation and was very easy to operate through a phone call to the SIM card that [was] contained inside,” Mr Patiño said.
“This device was designed to capture the conversations in the place where it was placed … Analysing the scenario where found, we deduce that the main purpose intended with the placement of the unit to listen, is to have direct information from the talks held in the place where it has been installed, which is the office of our Ambassador.”
The Foreign Minister said his government would seek the seek the cooperation of the British Government to further investigate the espionage operation.
“After this discovery, the government of Ecuador will request the collaboration of the British government in investigating this issue to discover who is implicated in this espionage operation,” Mr Patiño said.
In an earlier statement the Foreign Minister said he hadn’t announced the discovery at the time because he didn’t want to complicate his visit to London and talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague about Mr Assange’s circumstances.
“Furthermore, we first wanted to ascertain with precision the origin of this interception device in the office of our ambassador, he said, adding that the discovery of the device was “another instance of a loss of ethics at the international level in relations between governments.”
Ecuador’s London embassy has been continuously under guard and surveillance by British Metropolitan police for more than a year since Mr Assange sought political asylum there in June last year.
The WikiLeaks publisher, who will run as a Senate candidate in Australia’s forthcoming federal election, has been granted political asylum on the grounds that he is at risk of extradition to the United States to face possible conspiracy charges relating to the leak of US military and diplomatic secrets by Private Bradley Manning.
Mr Assange is subject to a Swedish extradition warrant to face allegations by two women of sexual assault in August 2010.
WikiLeaks has been assisting US intelligence whistle-blower Edward Snowden who is believed to remain holed up at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.
WikiLeaks used its Twitter account to condemn the bugging of Ecuador’s embassy, tweeting that “Sieging/bugging of Ecuador’s London embassy … shows that imperial arrogance is the gift that keeps on giving.”
In December 2011 WikiLeaks released “The Spy Files”, a collection of hundreds of reports documenting the global expansion of the private surveillance industry and the involvement of Western companies in assisting the security forces of repressive regimes in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
The British Foreign Office has declined immediate comment on the allegation concerning the bugging of Ecuador’s embassy and Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman has said he will not comment on security issues.
The Surveillance Group has not responded to a request for comment emailed by Fairfax Media.