Secrecy slows probe of US embassy surveillance

An investigation into the legality of a surveillance programme run by the US embassy in Stockholm has been hampered by a refusal of people involved to answer questions about the operation, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

Secrecy slows probe of US embassy surveillance

“I must say it wasn’t unexpected,” prosecutor Tomas Lindstrand told The Local.

Since November, Lindstrand has been looking into whether the embassy’s Surveillance Detection Unit (SDU) may have engaged in illegal intelligence gathering.

According to the embassy, the SDU is focused on uncovering surveillance directed against the embassy.

Lindstrand has been in touch with around ten people who have been active in the embassy’s programme, but all of them have refused to answer the prosecutor’s questions, citing professional secrecy.

“They have however declared that they don’t want to discuss the matter,” Lindstrand said.

“It’s a shame because it’s really slowing down the investigation.”

While not entirely surprised by the embassy workers’ unwillingness to testify, Lindstrand suggested that there was more than one way to interpret workplace confidentiality.

“The people working at the US embassy read the rule book in a way that you can’t really argue with, although it could have been interpreted differently,” he said.

Speaking with Sveriges Radio (SR), Lindstrand said the US State Department in Washington is looking into the possibility of lifting the gag clause for those involved in the SDU programme, which is in place at a number of US embassies around the world

US embassy spokesperson Chris Dunnett told SR he had not been informed about any problems with Lindstrand’s investigation.

“I can’t see any difficulties, we are fully co-operating with the Swedish authorities”, he told SR.

Justice minister Beatrice Ask, said in November that she was not aware of the US surveillance programme, which has been in place since 2000.

The embassy has acknowledged the programme, explaining that it had informed the Swedish authorities about its existence.

Attempts by The Local to reach the US embassy for comment were unsuccessful.

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Celebs mark Assange’s fifth year in embassy

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange starts his fifth year camped out in the Ecuadoran embassy in London on Sunday, an occasion his supporters intend to mark with events celebrating whistleblowers.

Celebs mark Assange's fifth year in embassy
Julian Assange addresses supporters such as Yanis Varoufakis at the launch of the Democracy in Europe Movement in February. Photo: Tobias Schwartz/AFP
Supporters said they were planning to stage songs, speeches and readings in several European cities.
Assange, 44, is wanted for questioning over a 2010 rape allegation in Sweden but has been inside Ecuador's UK mission for four full years in a bid to avoid extradition.
The anti-secrecy campaigner, who denies the allegation, walked into the embassy of his own free will on June 18, 2012, with Britain on the brink of sending him to Stockholm, and has not left since.
His lawyers say he is angry that Swedish prosecutors are still maintaining the European arrest warrant against him.
The Australian former computer hacker fears that from Sweden he could be extradited to the United States over WikiLeaks' release of 500,000 secret military files, where he could face a long prison sentence.
Listed participants in Sunday's anniversary events include Patti Smith, Brian Eno, PJ Harvey, Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Ai Weiwei, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Moore and Ken Loach.
Croatian philosopher Srecko Horvat, an event organiser, said: “We live in a critical time. We are gathering all around the world on June 19 to speak out for Julian, because he has spoken out for all of us.”
Veteran leftist film-maker Loach said Britain's legal system was “being manipulated to keep a brave man in isolation” and that “all who care about freedom of information should demand that the threats made against Julian should be lifted.
“He should be able to leave his place of safety without fear of deportation or being handed over to those who intend him harm.”
A hero to supporters and a dangerous egocentric to detractors, Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and has been portrayed in two movies in recent years.
Assange has compared living inside the embassy — which has no garden but is in the plush Knightsbridge district, near Harrods department store — to life on a space station.
His 15 feet by 13 feet (4.6 by 4 metre) room is divided into an office and a living area. He has a treadmill, shower, microwave and sun lamp and spends most of his day at his computer.
He got a cat in May to give him some company.
Last month a Stockholm district court maintained a European arrest warrant against Assange, rejecting his lawyers' request to have it lifted.
“The court considers that Julian Assange is still suspected of rape… and that there is still a risk that he will abscond or evade justice,” it said in a statement.
Assange will appeal the ruling, one of his Swedish lawyers, Per Samuelsson, told AFP.
“He is not surprised but very critical and angry,” he said.
Assange's lawyers requested the lifting of the warrant after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a non-binding legal opinion on February 5 saying his confinement in the Ecuadoran embassy amounted to arbitrary detention by Sweden and Britain.
London and Stockholm have angrily disputed the group's findings.
The alleged crime dates back to 2010 and the statute of limitations expires in 2020.
Assange is calling for Britain to leave the European Union in Thursday's referendum on its membership of the bloc.
He alleges that British authorities “repeatedly use the EU as political cover for its own decision-making”, highlighting the European arrest warrant.