Julian Assange
Credit: New Media Days/Flickr

I supposed I knew that hosting Julian Assange in their London embassy was costing Ecuador a fortune but it’s still interesting to get some insight into the price tag and some of the itemized costs. It’s really hard to see how the government in Quito can justify the expense.

Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected the WikiLeaks founder while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin…

…Documents show the intelligence programme, called “Operation Guest”, which later became known as “Operation Hotel” – coupled with parallel covert actions – ran up an average cost of at least $66,000 a month for security, intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence to “protect” one of the world’s most high-profile fugitives.

An investigation by the Guardian and Focus Ecuador reveals the operation had the approval of the then Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, and the then foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, according to sources.

Correa has defended the decision to give Assange political asylum and described the UK’s behaviour towards Ecuador as “intolerable”. Neither he nor the Ecuadorian government had any immediate comment.

From June 2012 to the end of August 2013, Operation Hotel cost Ecuador $972,889, according to documents belonging to the country’s intelligence agency, known as Senain.

An additional cost came from media consultancy contracts that ran about $180,000 per annum. Meanwhile, Assange decided to spy on his hosts.

But the documents showed the way in which the relationship between Assange and his hosts deteriorated over time.

In an extraordinary breach of diplomatic protocol, Assange hacked into the communications system within the embassy and had his own satellite internet access, according to a source who wished to remain anonymous. By penetrating the embassy’s firewall, Assange was able to access and intercept the official and personal communications of staff, the source claimed.

In 2014, the company hired to film Assange’s visitors was warning the Ecuadorian government that he was “intercepting and gathering information from the embassy and the people who worked there”.

I don’t see how hosting Assange has benefited Ecuador, but I suppose they feel honor bound to keep their commitment in perpetuity. If anything could change that, it’s probably leaks like the ones reported here by the Guardian. If the people of Ecuador grow impatient enough with the situation, perhaps the politicians will ask Assange to leave.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com