Why did Julian Assange lose his internet connection?
Since the WikiLeaks Twitter account announced Monday that Ecuador had severed Assange’s digital access, a miasma of rumors claiming to explain the decision has spread.
Did the US pressure Ecuador — in whose English embassy Assange has lived since 2012 — to cut Assange off over leaks related to the upcoming presidential election? Did Assange die? Did Pamela Anderson feed him a poisoned vegan sandwich?
One such theory, reported by the Daily Kos on Monday and amplified on social media, is that Ecuador removed Assange from the internet because of a UN report that he had sent lewd images and sexually explicit messages to an 8-year-old girl over an obscure dating app.
WikiLeaks has since responded on Twitter, saying the claims are false:
According to a widely shared Oct. 4 "United Nations Report" by a "United Nations Global Compact member organization" called T&C Network Solutions, the Royal Bahamas Police Force conducted a "criminal child sex offenses investigation" of Assange. The report, which is written in the style of a criminal indictment, goes on to state that Assange used a dating site called Toddandclare.com, which is owned by T&C Network Solutions, to send an "8-year-old juvenile (i) unlawful, indecent images and video media of himself performing lewd sex acts on a mobile camera device, and (ii) unlawful obscenity materials of a child pornographic nature."
It's an alarming claim, especially given the outstanding allegations of rape against Assange in Sweden. But it's a claim that has nothing to do with the UN, and the Bahamian police contradict it almost entirely.
The document details how the Canadian family of the victim, who were vacationing in the Royal Bahamas, reported the alleged crime. The report even gives names of individual Bahamian police officers and stations.
But according to Stephen Dean, assistant commissioner of the Royal Bahama Police Force (RBPF), no such investigation exists. Dean told BuzzFeed News "someone gave us some information" about the case, but that no complainant ever came forward after the initial tip.
"We don’t have nobody to interview," Dean said.
While the RBPF considers the allegation an open matter, Dean said, he added that "anyone can pick up a phone and tell us something."
But what about that official-seeming UN document? Why would the august organization issue a report about an investigation implicating one of the world's most famous dissidents if the investigation didn't exist?
The short answer: It wouldn't.
The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) is a voluntary corporate sustainability initiative in which companies sign up to advance human rights, fair labor and anti-corruption practices, and environmental stewardship. With over 12,500 signatories, it's hardly an exclusive club. According to the UNGC, the organization asks members to write regular updates, often in the shape of a corporate sustainability or annual report. These reports are written entirely by the member organizations, and the UN does not vet them.
T&C Network Solutions used this self-reporting format to upload the document about the investigation into Assange. And uploading this report actually got T&C Network Solutions kicked out of the UNGC.
In a statement, UNGC Communications Chief Carrie A. Hall explained the organization's decision to delist T&C: "The company was removed from the initiative for violating our Integrity Measures, including misuse of our name and logo. The document that ToddandClare.com reference is not a UN report. It was produced by ToddandClare.com, and solely represents their views. This document was removed from the UN Global Compact website for violating our integrity measures. We are not a party to the dispute between ToddandClare.com and Julian Assange."
In other words, T&C Network Solutions got delisted from the UNGC by attempting to pass off its report about Assange's alleged child sex crimes as an official United Nations document. Which raises the question: What is T&C Network Solutions, how is it involved with Julian Assange, and why would it do such a thing?
Started by a husband and wife named Todd and Clare Hammond, T&C Network Solutions is the corporate name for a small dating site called ToddandClare. The site claims to use special screening software called KATIA, described in a press release as "an evidence-based, statistical rape screening tool" designed by "a University of Notre Dame mathematician, Scott Drotar; a Google engineer from the Reverse Image Search team; and a women’s rape counselor." The service presents itself as a dating site with an algorithm to weed out sex offenders by analyzing users’ language and using facial recognition detection.
Earlier this year, BuzzFeed News began reporting on ToddandClare and KATIA. But after an in-depth and cordial conversation, Hammond refused to continue answering questions about the story. While BuzzFeed News was able to verify Drotar's involvement in the project, it was unable to confirm the identity of the Google reverse image search engineer Hammond claimed worked on KATIA.
According to a cached copy of the now-deleted UNGC document, Assange contacted ToddandClare in June of this year seeking to become an ambassador for KATIA, and Todd Hammond and Assange spoke on four separate occasions in July. The document goes on to claim that ToddandClare then ended its association with Assange in September after discovering through its "Trust & Safety team" he had allegedly used the site to sexually abuse a minor.
In an email obtained by BuzzFeed News between ToddandClare Customer Services Manager Kate Hogan and the anti-Assange writer Sandra Eckersley from Oct. 15, Hogan expressed disappointment in the failed partnership between Assange and the company:
Beyond making a name for himself, Assange is an abhorrent and disgusting narcissist with no genuine interest in supporting women's rights. He got our folks genuinely excited (98% of our company is female) that he was going to help KATIA, and be a celebrity endorser, much like Neil Gaiman to RAINN. But his phoney interest in gender equality and feminism is now so strongly apparent, and Julian has let us down and the many young women who are supporting KATIA, have been egregiously let down.
In the same email, Hogan noted that ToddandClare had initiated UK county court — civil — action against Assange, but did not specify on what grounds. A Google search for a reference number for the suit produced no official results.
ToddandClare did not respond to a request for comment.
Immediately following the publication of this story, WikiLeaks tweeted a link to a variety of documents in an attempt to show "an elaborate plot to falsely claim that Julian Assange received US$1M from the Russian government and a second plot to frame him sexually molesting an eight year old girl.”
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
Contact Joseph Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.