A Spanish judge’s request to probe a Las Vegas Sands staffer’s apparent role in a criminal spying operation against Julian Assange indicates the investigation is homing in on US intelligence. Tellingly, the Department of Justice is stonewalling the application.
By Max Blumenthal
The Spanish judge presiding over the trial of a security firm owner apparently hired to spy on jailed Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange has sent a request to the US Department of Justice for an interview with Zohar Lahav, the Israeli-American vice president for executive protection at Las Vegas Sands.
Sands is owned by the ultra-Zionist casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, one of the single largest donors to Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns and the Republican Party.
According to court documents reviewed by The Grayzone, the judge seeks to probe Lahav’s relationship with disgraced UC Global CEO David Morales, who was indicted for an array of crimes after allegedly presiding over a spying operation targeting Assange while he was confined within Ecuador’s embassy in London.
This request follows a previous attempt at securing witness interviews that was effectively blocked by the US Department of Justice.
The judge outlined four objectives for the interview with Lahav:
- Determine Lahav’s relationship with Morales
- Determine the occasions when Morales and Lahav met in the United States and Spain
- Determine if Lahav had communications and meetings with Morales regarding the alleged illegally obtained information under investigation
- Determine if Lahav or his superiors in Las Vegas Sands, Sheldon Adelson and Brian Nagel, had access to the alleged illegally obtained information under investigation.
The judge’s interest in Nagel indicates that the Spanish investigation is now probing the suspected role of US intelligence as the guiding hand behind UC Global’s criminal spying operation.
Before he was hired as Adelson’s director of global security, Nagel serving as the top cyber-crime investigator for the US Secret Service – a role which earned him a medal of commendation from the CIA. Together with Lahav, he was likely to have played a central role in coordinating between Sands, UC Global, and US intelligence.
Morales has fervently denied being a double agent, maintaining that UC Global was contracted exclusively by the Ecuadorian security service known as SENAIN to protect Assange while he was trapped in Ecuador’s embassy in London.
Fernando Garcia, the lawyer defending Morales in the Spanish case, insisted to The Grayzone in a garbled email, “David Morales never spied [on] anybody, never sent any legal information [to] anybody but helped Assange [stay] safe and comfortable [in the] Ecuador Embassy with NO[T] ONE incident under their protection.”
But as The Grayzone first reported in May, witnesses in the Spanish case testified that Lahav recruited UC Global’s Morales when the Spanish mercenary visited a security fair hosted at Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Convention Center. The two became fast friends, with Lahav communicating constantly with Morales as the operation escalated from snooping to theft, fraud, and assassination plots, according to testimony by several witnesses.
Emails obtained by the Spanish court and reviewed by The Grayzone contained IP addresses revealing that Morales sent spying instructions to his employees while he was staying at Adelson’s Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
The Grayzone has now learned that Lahav and Morales have been identified together in at least one US-allied South American country since the operation at the embassy ended. Further, a Spanish police document seen by this reporter placed Morales on Adelson’s Queen Miri luxury yacht in July 2019.
Private communications by Morales and testimony by his former employees strongly suggested that Adelson’s Sands was functioning as a front for the CIA.
According to a former UC Global business partner, Morales boasted that he was “working for the dark side” after returning from his first trip to Las Vegas and explicitly stated he had been contracted by US intelligence, describing the CIA alternately as his “American friends” and “the American client.”
In a text message obtained by The Grayzone, Morales told an employee that his company had been hired to spy on Assange by “the agency of the stars and stripes.”
By seeking an interview with Lahav and information about Nagel, the Spanish judge presiding over the criminal trial of Morales is effectively investigating the role of Adelson’s security team as a channel between the CIA and UC Global.
American cooperation with the Spanish judge’s request for a US-based witness is mandated under the 2004 US-Spain Mutual Legal Assistance Instrument.
However, in an email reviewed by The Grayzone, DOJ trial attorney Susan Park Hunter attempted to stall the investigation with vague and frivolous requests for “additional information,” including the “factual basis to suspect [David] Morales Guillen of bribery and money laundering.”
Hunter’s language indicates that the US government recognizes the gravity of the judge’s request, and given the consequence of allowing a figure like Lahav to testify, has resolved to do whatever is necessary to avoid compliance.
The CIA’s men in Vegas?
Proof of UC Global’s spying campaign and evidence of the firm’s relationship with the CIA emerged following the September 2019 arrest of David Morales. Spanish police had initiated a secret investigation called “Operation Tabanco” under a criminal case managed by the same Madrid-based National Court that presided over the arrest of former Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.
Morales was charged in October 2019 by the Spanish court with violating the privacy of Julian Assange and abusing his attorney-client privileges, as well as money laundering and bribery. A former Spanish special forces officer turned mercenary, Morales was also accused of illegal weapons possession when police found two guns with the serial numbers filed off on his property.
Documents and testimony revealed in the Spanish court have exposed shocking details of UC Global’s campaign against Assange, his lawyers, friends, and even American journalists. Evidence of crimes ranging from spying to robberies to kidnapping and even a proposed plot to eliminate Assange by poisoning has emerged from the ongoing legal proceedings.
Several former UC Global employees stated in court this August that Morales explicitly proposed killing Assange with poison. One former staffer testified that Morales devised the extreme measures after being informed that “the Americans were desperate” to end Assange’s presence in the embassy.
Perhaps the most striking element exposed in the Spanish courtroom has been the apparent relationship between UC Global, Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands, and Mike Pompeo’s CIA.
In a previous report, The Grayzone detailed how the Las Vegas Sands corporation of Trump mega-donor Sheldon Adelson seemingly operated as a liaison between UC Global and US intelligence, contracting the former on behalf of the latter.
It was the second time Adelson’s company had been identified as a CIA asset. The first was in 2010, when a private intelligence report sponsored by the gambling industry alleged that an Adelson-owned casino in Macau was capturing footage of Chinese officials blowing huge sums of money at card tables and feeding it back to US intelligence so those officials could be blackmailed into serving as CIA informants.
Throughout this period, Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands employed Brian Nagel as its director of global security. Nagel earned his stripes through nearly two decades at the US Secret Service, helping the agency set up an array of anti-cybercrime partnerships with the FBI, Los Angeles Police Department, and Department of Homeland Security.
To take down cyber-thieves, Nagel reportedly employed wiretaps, used undercover informants, and oversaw an initiative to “turn the tables on criminal groups” by empowering law enforcement to use “the same technologies” hackers and cyber-criminals typically employed.
His efforts ultimately earned him the CIA’s Intelligence Community Seal Medallion, an award given to non-CIA personnel “who have made significant contributions to the Agency’s intelligence efforts.”
Nagel was mentioned in the Global Intelligence Files published by Wikileaks, which consist of thousands of internal communications by employees of Stratfor, a US-based intelligence firm known as the “Shadow CIA.” In an October 2009 email, a Stratfor analyst detailed Nagel’s offer of a contract for Stratfor to conduct “proactive monitoring” of security threats against Las Vegas Sands casinos around the globe.
In December 2017, UC Global’s David Morales made one of several trips to Adelson’s Venetian hotel in Las Vegas. From there, he sent instructions to employees on setting up a secret surveillance channel from the Ecuadorian embassy in London that could be fed back to another party without Ecuador’s security services noticing.
“David Morales obviously didn’t have the technical knowledge,” a former UC Global IT specialist who received the instructions testified, “so the document must have been sent by another person. Because it was in English, I suspect that it could’ve been [created by] US intelligence.”
The Spanish-speaking Morales told his employees at the time, “these people have given me the following instructions, drafted in English.”
Which employee of Las Vegas Sands had the technical expertise in electronic surveillance to conceive the instructions? And who boasted years of coordination with US intelligence and federal law enforcement, developing the very tools that would have been deployed against Wikileaks when it first came online? All evidence pointed to Nagel.
Now, a Spanish judge seeks to probe Nagel’s involvement in the illegal spying ring run by UC Global. But first, the judge has to secure an interview with Lahav, who was Nagel’s colleague at Las Vegas Sands and, by all indications, the personal handler of Morales.
Business in Bolsonaro’s Brazil, cruising on the Queen Miri
The relationship between David Morales and Sheldon Adelson’s security team began during a trip the Spanish mercenary took to Las Vegas in 2016, according to testimony by former UC Global employees. At a security fair hosted inside Adelson’s Sands Expo Convention Center, Morales was approached by Zohar Lahav, the VP of the billionaire’s executive protection team.
A former UC Global business partner testified against Morales in Spanish court, “the head of security of Las Vegas Sands, a Jewish guy named Zohar Lahav, made contact with Mr. Morales, getting to become good friends with him at the security fair in Las Vegas. I sense that this person offered him to collaborate with American intelligence authorities to send information about Mr. Assange.”
Morales and Lahav formed a close friendship that has outlasted UC Global’s contract to spy on Assange inside the embassy. According to a witness in the Spanish case, the two pals took a business trip to Brazil in 2018. Fernando Garcia, the lawyer of Morales, told The Grayzone his client has “decided to stop talking about any travel because no journalist has published his version of facts.” However, Garcia confirmed that “UC Global has clients in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and other countries in South America.” He would not deny that Morales traveled to Brazil for work. In 2018, when Morales allegedly traveled to Brazil with Lahav, the country was governed by President Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing ally of the US. During his first US trip in March 2019, Bolsonaro made a special visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Adelson has lobbied hard for a relaxation of Brazilian laws forbidding casino gambling in the country. This January, he experienced a breakthrough when the president’s son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, traveled to Las Vegas for a meeting with the Sands tycoon to discuss a proposal to allow casinos inside Brazilian resorts. (Flavio Bolsonaro was indicted by Brazilian police this September for embezzlement, money laundering, and operating a criminal organization.)
Morales, for his part, appeared to have maintained his working relationship with Adelson and Lahav up until the point that he was arrested in September 2019. Notes by Spanish police agents surveilling Morales as part of the “Operation Tabanco” investigation indicate his presence on Adelson’s yacht, the Queen Miri, while it was docked on the Spanish island of Ibiza. “I’m busy now with a client that always comes in summer,” Morales told a friend, referring to Adelson, “and we have a lot of activity going on in August with this yacht thing. I’m now at Ibiza, like, I’ve been a couple of weeks, been to Palermo, Saint Tropéz, Mónaco, and now we’ve arrived to Ibiza and I’m staying here with these people until the 5th.” Morales continued by complaining about “these messes at the [Ecuadorian] embassy,” and commented, “I’m fed up with the company, I’m going to send it all to hell.” The conversation was recorded on July 29, 2019 by Spanish police, according to a document reviewed by The Grayzone. Less than three months later, Morales was arrested by those investigators.
Family ties to Trump Inc.’s favorite self-help guru
Zohar Lahav’s status as director of executive protection for Adelson, perhaps the largest individual donor to the president, is not his only connection to Trump Inc. The Israeli-American is married to a motivational speaker, Loren Slocum Lahav, who has worked closely with Tony Robbins, facilitating 160 workshops for the wealthy self-help guru over the past 14 years, according to her bio. Robbins happens to have been a business partner of Trump during his brief and abortive campaign for president in 2000. During Robbins’ Results 2000 speaking tour, he reportedly paid Trump $1 million to deliver 10 speeches at seminars where participants were charged $229 each for entry. Candidate Trump’s exploratory committee described the appearances as campaign events. “Trump is making money running for president,” an advisor told the press at the time. Coverage of Trump’s ethically questionable business relationship with Robbins surfaced during the 2016 campaign when Wikileaks published an email by a Democratic National Committee employee disseminating opposition research on the rival candidate. When Trump entered the Oval Office in January 2017, the UC Global spying campaign against Assange began. Initiated under the apparent watch of then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who labeled Wikileaks a “hostile non-state intelligence agency,” the operation appears to have been managed by Lahav from its inception. Sworn testimony by Lahav in a Spanish court might provide the final confirmation of his suspected role as a liaison between US intelligence and Trump’s most influential donor in an illegal spying operation that violated the rights of Assange, his lawyers, and associates while he was trapped in Ecuador’s embassy in the UK. As The Grayzone reported, former employees of Morales have publicized a rumor that Lahav was fired by Las Vegas Sands. When Morales was asked during a court appearance this February if the rumor was true, he confirmed it, stating that Lahav was terminated because of the “mess” he helped create. Further evidence demonstrating the CIA’s hand in a campaign of sabotage, surveillance, and assassination plots would be certain to reverberate in the Old Bailey courtroom in London, where lawyers for Assange are battling a US demand for the journalist’s extradition and prosecution under the Espionage Act. Perhaps it is no wonder that the Department of Justice is stonewalling the request for Lahav.