Assange says ‘weak’ French intelligence bowed to US after spying leaks
France is a weakened country that relies too heavily on its subservient intelligence relationship with the United States and the United Kingdom, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told French radio on Friday.
Speaking to France Inter radio from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has been holed up for nearly four years, Assange was asked if he was disappointed that France had refused to grant him political asylum last year.
“The French people answered that call and most of the French media, and most French institutions [were favourable],” he said in reference to an open letter published in Le Monde in July 2015. “But not François Hollande.”
Assange, a former computer hacker who enraged the United States by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables, sought refuge at the embassy in June 2012 to avoid rape charges in Sweden. He is liable for arrest by UK authorities on a European arrest warrant if he steps foot on British soil.
Assange insists that the rape allegations are merely a smokescreen to secure his eventual extradition to the United States to face far more serious espionage charges, and potentially a lifetime behind bars.
On Friday a UN panel ruled that Assange was being arbitrarily detained, that his right to freedom of movement should be respected and that he should be compensated.
But both Britain and Sweden denied that Assange was being deprived of freedom and said they would challenge the non-binding UN ruling.
"He can come out any time he chooses... But he will have to face justice in Sweden if he chooses to do so,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Friday. “This is frankly a ridiculous finding by the working group and we reject it."
Three presidents ‘bugged’
In his open letter to Hollande, Assange stated that France was “the only country that can offer me the necessary protection against ... the political persecutions I face ... my life is in danger”, adding that a secret grand jury had been convened in the United States in 2012 and that he had been a top US intelligence target ever since.
The Elysée presidential palace was quick to respond, even though the open letter was not a formal request for asylum.
“France has received the letter from Mr Assange. An in-depth review shows that in view of the legal and material elements of Mr Assange's situation, France cannot grant his request,” the presidency said in a statement. “Mr Assange’s situation does not present any immediate danger. He is also the target of a European arrest warrant.”
Assange told France Inter that after Wikileaks published reports of US spying in France, “Hollande looked very weak”.
“France had been the victim of American espionage, the French intelligence services also looked weak, for failing to protect three presidents from being spied on.”
Hollande, he said, had an opportunity to reassert his power by demonstrating that such activities “would no longer be tolerated in France”.
“[Hollande] called a meeting of the country’s defence committee, wanting to make a symbolic action to show his strength [in granting asylum],” Assange said. “My lawyers were in touch with him…” to suggest that by granting him asylum, Hollande would be making a “powerful symbolic gesture”.
“But it never happened,” he added, hinting that Hollande had been overruled by his intelligence services.
“Despite encouraging signals [from the French president], the intelligence relationship between France and the United States and between France and the United Kingdom proved to be too strong for a president like François Hollande,” he said.
According to Assange, France was desperate for US intelligence amid rising concern over the country’s porous borders and its “large Muslim population”. Even though the Australian believes Hollande wanted to grant him asylum, doing so would have put this intelligence relationship with the US in jeopardy.
“The increased supply of intelligence apparently was considered as more important than my asylum rights,” Assange concluded.