- The news the Ecuador has granted Julian Assange political asylum is true, and
- That enough money could be raised to rescue him by air.
Update 17/8/12: Ecuador has now granted asylum. It says that Assange’s fears are justified. They are plainly right: if this was all about the Swedes wanting to interview Assange about these absurd “retrospective rape” charges, they could have accepted Ecuador’s invitation to do the interview in the Embassy. They still could.
Update 22/8/12: According to Julian Assange, the UK police have been in the building the other night, swarming around the fire escape, presumably trying to nab him in the corridor. It seems that the embassy is just the upper ground floor apartment of this building, and not the staircase or the rest of the building. So this might not work: it seems that the police would be able to grab him as he headed up the stairs towards the roof. Pity.
Would a helicopter rescue from the Embassy roof be practical?
It seems clear that if Assange were to simply hail a cab for the airport, he would be arrested on the spot. Even if he got to Heathrow, he would be arrested there.
The nearest place of safety would be somewhere like Jersey – outside the European Union but still within helicopter range of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange is holed up. From Jersey, Assange could get a flight to Ecuador.
Presumably it would be possible – from a technical point of view – for a rescue helicopter to winch him up from the roof of the building. But the questions are:
- Would the UK Government refuse permission for a helicopter to fly such a mission over London? Almost certainly, yes.
- Would the UK government order the RAF to shoot the helicopter down if it disregarded such a ban? Hard to see that it would. If Wikileaks published precise details of the helicopter’s flight plan, and the helicopter stuck to that plan, it would hardly be credible for the government to claim that the flight was a security threat, particularly if the whole flight including any radio messages were streamed live on the internet (as it would be) by Wikileaks. And anyway, shooting a helicopter down over London – or indeed anywhere on the heavily populated route between London and the south coast of England – would be unacceptably dangerous for the millions of civilians going about their business on the ground.
- Would the USAAF or the US Navy shoot the helicopter down over the English Channel? That one is more tricky. The Americans presumably have the capability to launch a heat-seeking missile from a fair distance, so that the aircraft or ship which launches the missile would be out of camera range from the helicopter. All the video would show – if anything – during the last few moments would be an unidentifiable missile screaming it at a very high rate of knots. But it would not be a good look, even by somewhat dubious standards of the Americans (given their pretty appalling track record of “extraordinary renditions” of innocent people around the world in recent years).
The decent thing, of course, would be for Australia – as Assange’s home nation – to provide the helicopter. But that is not very likely. Private subscription? Maybe. I guess that there might be a very large number of people around the world who would be willing to chip in the dollars needed for such a rescue operation. And a brave enough pilot? Could probably be found.
The whole thing would make even better TV than the Olympics.