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The Mystery Of Julian Assange's Cat

Julian Assange's cat wears a striped tie and white collar as it looks out the window of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2016.
Chris J. Ratcliffe
Getty Images
Julian Assange's cat wears a striped tie and white collar as it looks out the window of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2016.

Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno seemed annoyed when he announced an end to the seven-year residency of Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London:

"We've ended the asylum of this spoiled brat," he said.

But what about the asylum of Assange's cat?

The WikiLeaks founder, who was arrested Thursday, has been chargedwith conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer network. Presumably, Assange's alleged illegal interactions with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning are the main interest of law enforcement.

Then there is the matter of paw enforcement. (Sorry.)

While holed up, Assange famously acquired a cat. The cat, named Michi, is more well known by its social media moniker, Embassy Cat. More than 30,000 Twitter followers, and 6,000 on Instagram, followed the self-described master of "counter-purrveillance."

Embassy Cat tweeted regularly beginning with its arrival in May 2016. Cute photos were the norm, with just a bit of political grandstanding thrown in — always with lots of puns. (Embassy Cat was proud to be a " #whiskerblower.")

But by the fall of 2016, its tweets had become much less frequent. In 2017 the cat tweeted only three times. In 2018, twice. It has been silent for more than a year. (The Instagram account has been crickets for more than two years.)

The New Yorker reported in 2017 that Assange's interest in the cat was less as an animal lover and more as a master of his own brand. "Julian stared at the cat for about half an hour, trying to figure out how it could be useful, and then came up with this: Yeah, let's say it's from my children," the magazine quotedone of Assange's friends as saying. "For a time, he said it didn't have a name because there was a competition in Ecuador, with schoolchildren, on what to name him. Everything is P.R.— everything."

The cat arguably played a small role in Ecuador's decision to end its asylum agreement. Moreno explained that Assange treated his hosts disrespectfully; late last year the embassy implemented a series of rules for Assange, including a requirement to be responsible for the "well-being, food, hygiene and proper care of your pet." If Assange didn't, the embassy threatened to put the cat in a shelter.

In other words, it is likely that Assange didn't effectively clean up after his cat's own wiki-leaks.

After Assange was picked up Thursday, somepeople wonderedwhat would become of Embassy Cat. "My sympathy to the cat," author Charlie Stross tweeted.

Journalist James Ball saidthat although he offered to adopt the cat, it was "reportedly given to a shelter by the Ecuadorian embassy ages ago."

But according to Hanna Jonasson, whom The Washington Post describesas a member of the Assange legal team, Assange was incensed by the threat to put Embassy Cat in the pound. "He asked his lawyers to take his cat to safety," Jonasson said. "The cat is with Assange's family. They will be reunited in freedom."

Wherever the cat is, it's no longer at the embassy. The Italian paper la Republicca wrote in November that the "friendly atmosphere" at the embassy was gone. "Not even the cat is there anymore. With its funny striped tie and ambushes on the ornaments of the Christmas tree at the embassy's entrance, the cat had helped defuse tension inside the building for years. But Assange has preferred to spare the cat an isolation which has become unbearable and allow it a healthier life."

The Ecuadorian Embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment. But a spokesperson told Sputnikthat the cat hasn't been with the embassy since the fall. "It was taken by Mr. Assange's associates," the spokesperson said. "We are not a pet store, so we do not keep pets here."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 22, 2019 at 12:00 AM EDT
In a previous version of this story, we referred to Chelsea Manning as a former Army intelligence officer. Manning was an Army specialist, not an officer, but was an intelligence analyst.
Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").