Rumors have been flying across social media about Julian Assange and whether or not he’s still at the Ecuador Embassy or even if he’s still alive. While WikiLeaks supporters are demanding proof of life, WikiLeaks is saying on Twitter that providing such proof is tougher than it appears. Meanwhile, Assange supporters are worried that he may have been taken from the Embassy or possibly escaped. So what’s really going on? (UPDATE: A video at the end of this article, claiming to have been filmed today for a conference, shows Assange talking about his Internet being cut. You can only hear his voice in the video.)
Here’s what we know so far.
The Rumors Started After Assange’s Internet Was Cut
The rumors began on October 16 after it was revealed that Ecuador had cut Julian Assange’s Internet connection.
Ecuador officials said they had done so because they didn’t want to get caught up in a possible attempt to interfere with U.S. elections. They were still, however, going to allow Assange to keep his asylum in the embassy and WikiLeaks could still carry out its journalistic activities. “The government of Ecuador respects the principle of nonintervention in the affairs of other countries and it does not interfere in the electoral processes in support of any candidate in particular.” They said the restriction on Assange was only temporary.
Just before his Internet was cut, WikiLeaks released a series of tweets that some people thought might be a dead man’s switch.
However, as Gizmodo reported, the pre-commitment wording means the codes provided proof that related documents hadn’t been tampered with. They weren’t actually dead man’s switches, but digital fingerprints of upcoming releases.
But since then, without Assange having any access to the Internet, people have begun to wonder if he is even still at the embassy. WikiLeaks is still releasing Podesta emails, so it appears the organization itself isn’t compromised. Some have suggested that perhaps Assange is under some type of house arrest, where his phone and computer have also been temporarily confiscated. Others have wondered if he was extradited to the U.S.
A conspiracy theory thread noted that around the time all of this was going down, a plane left the UK and landed in West Virginia. You can see an album of the flight, GLF5, posted here. The plane left the UK shortly after the Internet outages at the Ecuador embassy in London. But it’s not known if this had any connection to what was happening at the embassy or not.
One person tweeted what was supposedly a photo of Assange showing he was fine, but that tweet has since been deleted. Several fake or photoshopped photos of Assange have circulated since October 16, claiming to be proof of life and were later debunked.
WikiLeaks Has Posted on Twitter About the Proof of Life, But Won’t Provide Verification Keys
On October 23, WikiLeaks put out a statement about Assange’s status:
The statement simply clarified what happened to Assange’s Internet access and that he still had asylum at the Embassy. However, it also sparked a lot more rumors. One of the rumors was that WikiLeaks’ Twitter was no longer under WikiLeaks’ control. WikiLeaks supporters have been asking for verification from the Twitter account using their PGP private key, without a response.
There are other supporters who think the whole thing is compromised and some fake emails are now being released, too. A discussion in Reddit about the statement presented opposing viewpoints about Assange’s status. Some believed there really was no way Assange could have been secretly smuggled out of the Embassy. Others said that if WikiLeaks’ Twitter was compromised, all the people who volunteer for WikiLeaks would find a way to let the world know. (Interestingly, there were rumors for a while that Reddit’s WikiLeaks subreddit was also compromised. They posted a thread addressing those rumors and added their own opinion, which was that rumors of Assange being captured were simply “CTR attempting to muddy the waters. Do not engage.”)
Later on October 23, the WikiLeaks Twitter account addressed the requests for proof of life for Assange. They ran a poll asking the preferences for a proof of life, and “video” won:
Since the poll ended, however, they haven’t addressed the question and whether they will provide the proof of life that people are seeking.
Assange does have a “dead man’s switch” in place in case something does happen to him. Several WikiLeaks insurance files have been released in the past, which can be opened if their encryption keys are ever also released. The most recent insurance file was just released in June:
Since a dead man’s switch has not been triggered, most Assange supporters believe that he is OK. But all eyes will be on WikiLeaks for updates. In the meantime, you might also want to keep an eye on Assange’s Twitter account for his cat, which also periodically posts updates from the Embassy. Embassy Cat retweeted a few things in mid-October and his last original tweet was in late September:
A website just called Assange.net has a countdown to the last time anyone had proof of life for Assange. At the time of publication the countdown is at 22 days and 9 hours.
After publishing this story, a live video was released on YouTube showing Julian Assange speaking at the “Conferencia Internacional De Software Libre.” You could hear Assange speaking in the video, but it did not show actual video footage of him. However, when he spoke he did address his Internet being cut, so at the very least supporters say that this was filmed after that occurred. On YouTube, it showed as a live video with Assange speaking at a conference. Do you believe this shows proof of life and that he’s OK?