The Guardian

How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador's embassy

He has been in the Knightsbridge building for six years, but his departure looks ever more likely
Julian Assange in front of an Ecuadorian flag Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

In June 2012, a tall, mysterious figure turned up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He rang the bell, walked in and asked for political asylum.

It was Julian Assange. Days earlier, he had lost his long legal fight against extradition to Sweden, where two women accused him of rape.

Soon afterwards, the left-leaning then president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, agreed to Assange’s request, precipitating a major diplomatic row with the British government. And a full-blown siege. Metropolitan police officers swarmed outside the building, ready to arrest Assange should he venture out.

It was against this febrile backdrop that Correa authorised a secret programme named “Operation Guest”. It was later renamed “Operation Hotel”. The guest was Assange, politely referred to as el huésped.

The goal, at first, was to stop detectives bursting into the modest ground-floor embassy and dragging Assange away.

But documents seen by the Guardian show it developed into something more complex. The aim seems to have changed from protecting Assange – which propped up WikiLeaks in the process – to spying on him.

Whatever its aims, WikiLeaks was able to keep going up to and beyond its role in the 2016 US presidential election, with all the seismic consequences.

It was WikiLeaks that belonging to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and senior Democratic officials, leading to claims that it was part of an to undermine Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.

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