Assange's options: How could he escape the UK?

Despite Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange's successful asylum bid, he picked the worst embassy to try and escape from. Here's why, and how he could possibly evade the U.K. authorities.
By Zack Whittaker, Contributor on
1 of 9 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet.

The London embassy: What belongs to Ecuador?

The Ecuadorian embassy in London is based in the lavish Knightsbridge, London. The embassy is, however, only the size of a large apartment on the ground floor of the building. The rest of the building is made up of apartments and other embassies, such as Colombia.

And that's it. It ultimately has four walls and a door. Even the front door and the hallway -- not to mention the all-important elevator -- is still considered U.K. soil.

For all intents and purposes, that is a little slither of Ecuadorian soil in the United Kingdom, and U.K. authorities cannot go inside unless it asks the ambassador kindly and she agrees, or revokes the diplomatic status of the embassy citing U.K. law. Both are unlikely, but entirely possible.

For Julian Assange to leave the Ecuadorian embassy without being arrested would require skill, luck, and sheer hard work and diplomacy. Or it may include a helicopter. Here are his options. 

2 of 9 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet.

1. Run, and don't look back

Assange could wait until nobody is looking and make a run for it. But that's highly unlikely. Not only is the entire building swamped with CCTV, the whole area is surrounded by U.K. police officers. 

Even if he falls out of a window or off the balcony, he's more likely to be arrested before anyone calls an ambulance. That said, if he made it to the world-famous Harrods store across the road, it's big enough to lose anyone in there.

Police are inside the building that houses both the Ecuadorian and Colombian embassies, including in the hallway outside the door that separates Ecuador from the U.K., and even in the elevator preventing Assange from skipping to Colombia for similar asylum requests. 

He can run as fast as he can, but he would be tackled to the ground and cuffed immediately.

Likelihood: 0/10.

3 of 9 Google Maps.

2. Diplomatic car to the airport

Why the Ecuadorian embassy, of all embassies? Really, Mr. Assange, I know the Ecuadorians have been good so far -- granting him asylum and kindly putting him up in their embassy for two months -- but it's the most difficult building to escape from.

Seriously. It's nigh on impossible. 

A diplomatic car remains the soil of that country even in transit, in this case Ecuador. But getting from the embassy to the car is paved with police officers ready to arrest him. Even with zip-lines and Harry Potter-like invisible cloaks, the 20-meter path between the door of the embassy to the car waiting outside is enough of U.K. soil to nab the Wikileaks founder and take him into custody.

Even if Assange did get to the diplomatic vehicle, the U.K. authorities can simply stop the car and prevent it from moving until Assange crawls out gasping for water. The U.K. can't search the car or pull Assange from the car, so sitting and waiting would be the only option.

But should he get to an airport, he would still have to check through security which remains U.K. soil, until he passes into the international zone. Diplomatic passports are to aid security, not to give the holder a right to automatic immunity.

Likelihood: 2/10.

4 of 9 Bing Maps.

3. What about a helicopter?

The building is made up of a series of converted apartments. Ecuador only occupies the ground floor of the building, and U.K. police continue to remain in place in the hallways and elevators where Ecuador does not extend its reach.

Simply put, even if a chopper was granted diplomatic status, Assange would not be able to get to the roof. He could theoretically climb up a rope from the embassy's balcony he spoke from on Sunday, but this would be dangerous and would risk his life. Plus, U.K. authorities may not grant the helicopter to fly outside a specified fly-zone in the capital.

Even if he did, a helicopter may not have enough fuel to get to another country. If Assange was able to seek asylum from another country with say a parking bay or a garage within that country's diplomatic territory, now we're talking. 

Likelihood: 3/10.

5 of 9 Sean Michael Ragan.

4. Smuggled out in a diplomatic bag

This is how government's transfer secure documents and goods to and from embassies to their home country's without third-country interference. On the whole, it works well, but only if the host country does not think their diplomatic guests are not abusing the system. 

Assange could in theory get inside a diplomatic bag or be posted through diplomatic mail. This is immune from searches, but U.K. police and security services are allowed to scan the items to make sure they're not explosive or in breach of international law.

The bag itself would have to go through a U.K. ports where it is subject to customs checks. If it is suspected that it does not contain legitimate diplomatic content, it could potentially be opened if say thermal heat given off only by a human was detected. At worse, it would be delayed -- held indefinitely -- and prevented from being posted. 

Likelihood: 3/10.

6 of 9 Zack Whittaker/ZDNET

5. The Eurotunnel?

One of the unique things about the U.K. is that it is connected to mainland Europe via a tunnel -- the Eurotunnel -- from Folkstone, U.K., to Calais, France. 

The helicopter is out of the question -- partly due to the fuel factor -- but a diplomatic car could take the Wikileaks founder to France through the tunnel that connects the south-east of England to the very northerly tip of France.

From there, he would remain in Ecuadorian soil within the car, but driving on French soil. Assange could get out of the car and would be free from U.K. police. He could even stretch his legs or get some much-needed sunlight. He could then pass to Switzerland (if he still has his passport) -- a non-EU country with a weak extradition law with the U.S. -- and fly out on a private jet to Ecuador from there.

Again, it goes almost without saying, getting Assange from the embassy to the car is once again the tricky factor. Unless he can somehow evade U.K. authorities, it cannot be done. Nice try, though.

Likelihood: 4/10.

Image credit: CNET.

7 of 9 Flickr.

6. Julian Assange: Ambassador to the U.N.?

Diplomatic tensions between Ecuador and the U.K. are already tense as it is. Giving Assange diplomatic status, such as the next ambassador to the United Nations or a member of its mission in that country, would give the Wikileaks founder the right to walk out of the embassy without the chance of arrest.

Only the ambassador's job is off the cards. 

He would be immune from U.K. prosecution. The Vienna Convention states a diplomatic agent shall be "inviolable." It adds: "He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving state shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity."

This option would significantly ramp up already fraught relations between the two countries, and could see such a flagrant disregard for U.K. justice as enough of a move for the U.K. to rescind Ecuador's embassy status in London. This would mean that little patch of Ecuadorian soil becomes U.K. soil once again and the police can freely walk in and arrest the embattled Assange.

Likelihood: 5/10.

8 of 9 Flickr.

7. Ecuador could appeal to the 'World Court'

The Ecuadorian government could always appeal to the International Court of Justice, the so-called "World Court," to claim the U.K. isn't being fair in its decision to not allow Assange safe passage out of the country. 

The court could rule in Ecuador's favor and force the U.K. police to back down to allow Assange out of the country, and on a plane to Ecuador. 

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday after Assange's asylum status was granted that the U.K. would arrest him regardless of his successful bid. But the U.K. doesn't recognize diplomatic asylum, unlike many Latin American countries.

But the court ruled in 1950 that diplomatic asylum is not recognized unless two countries have agreements or treaties in place. Ecuador's move to grant Assange asylum may be ultimately symbolic. 

Still, the U.K. has yet to formally request that Ecuador hands him over, in which under international law the Ecuadorians would be legally obliged to send Assange on his way and out of the front door.

Likelihood: 7/10.

9 of 9 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet.

8. Hold the fort and stay in the embassy indefinitely?

Even with all this, he has two viable options: stay in the embassy indefinitely, or walk out and be arrested. 

The U.K. could revoke the Ecuadorian's diplomatic status in London and storm the embassy, dragging out Julian Assange whether he likes it or not. But this will leave U.K. embassies abroad at serious risk, and damage not only the U.K.--Ecuador relationship, but potentially damage many more across the board.

But ultimately, it's looking likely that Assange will have to remain in the Ecuadorian embassy indefinitely. It's not the first time it's happened, except it was a Catholic priest, the U.S. embassy in Hungary, and during the Soviet era. 

Jozsef Mindszenty spend 15 years in the U.S. embassy. Assange could feasibly spend the same amount of time there, subject to his host's willingness to keep the Australian there. 

It looks like -- at least for now -- Assange will not leave the embassy's grounds for the near future.

Likelihood: 10/10.

Related Galleries

Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6: Electric vehicle extravaganza

Related Galleries

Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6: Electric vehicle extravaganza

26 Photos
A weekend with Google's Chrome OS Flex

Related Galleries

A weekend with Google's Chrome OS Flex

22 Photos
Cybersecurity flaws, customer experiences, smartphone losses, and more: ZDNet's research roundup

Related Galleries

Cybersecurity flaws, customer experiences, smartphone losses, and more: ZDNet's research roundup

8 Photos
Inside a fake $20 '16TB external M.2 SSD'
Full of promises!

Related Galleries

Inside a fake $20 '16TB external M.2 SSD'

8 Photos
Hybrid working, touchscreen MacBook hopes, cybersecurity concerns, and more: ZDNet's tech research roundup
Asian woman working at a desk in front of a computer and calculator

Related Galleries

Hybrid working, touchscreen MacBook hopes, cybersecurity concerns, and more: ZDNet's tech research roundup

8 Photos
Developer trends, zero-day risks, 5G speeds, and more: Tech research roundup
Person seated at a booth in a cafe looks at their phone and laptop.

Related Galleries

Developer trends, zero-day risks, 5G speeds, and more: Tech research roundup

10 Photos
Drive Electric Day: A dizzying array of EVs in sunny Florida

Related Galleries

Drive Electric Day: A dizzying array of EVs in sunny Florida

16 Photos