Will Ecuador have to smuggle Assange out of Britain? [Updated]

Update: The Guardian reports that an Ecuadorean official says the government will grant Assange's asylum request. However, it "remains unclear if giving Assange asylum will allow him to leave Britain and fly to Ecuador, or amounts to little more than a symbolic gesture."

Update 2: Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa denies having made a decision.

Adding another wrinkle to the question of whether Ecuador will grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, currently holed up at the country's embassy in London, is how they would get him on a plane out of the country even if they wanted to. Reuters -- or as WikiLeaks calls it, the "favourite UK FCO/MI6 outlet", reports

"It's not only about whether to grant the asylum, because for Mr. Assange to leave England he should have a safe pass from the British (government). Will that be possible? That's an issue we have to take into account."

Assange is in breach of his British bail conditions and the British police have said he is liable to arrest if he steps out of the embassy, which is located in London's ritzy Knightsbridge area, miles away from any airport.

It appears unlikely that the British government would give Assange safe passage to an airport as that would mean going against the Swedish arrest warrant and a ruling by Britain's own Supreme Court that the warrant was valid.

This has been a major issue in previous asylum cases. Reformist Hungarian communist leader Imre Nagy, who took refuge in the Yugoslavian embassy during the Soviet invastion of 1956, was promised safe passage out of the country but then arrested the moment he stepped out of the compound. Another leader of the Hungarian uprising, Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty, had to spend the next 15 years living in the U.S. embassy before he was granted permission to leave the country. 

Can you stash a person in a diplomatic pouch? Ecuador's diplomatic service does have some... er... experience in that sort of thing


Ernest Hemingway was a lousy spy

A great article by Nicholas Reynolds in the journal Studies in Intelligence looks at Ernest Hemingway's surprisngly extensive dabblings in spy work during World War II, which included connections with the State Department, OSS, FBI, and the Soviet NKVD. Not surprisingly, Papa relished the danger and excitement of intelligence work but wasn't actually very good at it. Here's his best, and most Hemminwayesque, scheme from his time in Cuba:

While other American sailors were volunteering their boats and their time along the East Coast to spot U-boats, Hemingway’s concept of operations went further. He would pretend to be fishing, wait until a German submarine came alon side to buy fresh fish and water and then attack the enemy with bazookas, machine guns, and hand grenades. Hemingway would use Basque jai alai players to lob the grenades down the open hatches of the unsuspecting U-boat.

Hemingway had a good ON contact, the redoubtable Marine Col. John A. Thomason, who
was the writer’s kind of man: veteran of World War I infantry combat, a distinguished short-story writer and sketch artist, a heavy drinker, and an intelligence officer. Thomasontold Hemingway that he and his crew would stand no chance of success against the highly trained submariners of the Third Reich, but the Marine could not say no to Hemingway, especially since the author had the support of the ambassador.

In the end, the ONI arranged for Hemingway to receive just enough gear—guns, ammunition, grenades, a direction finder, and a radio—to make the mission viable. The ONI even threw in an experienced Marine to sail with Hemingway. It would all be highly secret. Hemingway clearly relished the secrecy and the danger. He especially enjoyed developing his cover, which was that he was performing oceanographic research for the Amerian Museum of Natural History. The Pilar’s war cruises lasted from the second half of 1942 through most of 1943. Although Hemingway patrolled diligently for much of the time, he only spotted one German submarine, which sailed away on the surface as he approached.15

After traveling to Europe as a war correspondent, he did eventually spend a few days gathering intel with an underground French maquis group -- an operation that was undoubtedly brave, if not particularly productive. 

Though Hemingway was publicly anti-Communist, he maintained contact with the NKVD from as early as 1935, and it was his Soviet contacts that allowed the author to enter Spain for the research that eventually became For Whom the Bell Tolls. However, according to declassified Soviet records, his handlers became frustrated that he failed to produce any useful polticial intel for them. Ultimately, Moscow found just as useless an asset as Washington.

Hat tip: Micah Zenko

AFP/AFP/Getty Images