In a cliffhanger move John Le Carre would be proud of, WikiLeaks superstar Julian Assange stepped into the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge, central London, on Tuesday, requested political asylum invoking the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and unleashed yet another international storm.
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino confirmed that the Rafael Correa government in Quito is considering the application; meanwhile Assange will remain "under the protection of the Ecuadorean government".
Assange, in a brief statement, stressed he was grateful "to the Ecuadorean ambassador and the government of Ecuador for considering my application." Crucially, Ecuador had already offered a residence permit to Assange in November 2010.
On the surface, this is, still, all about ... sex. Last week, the UK's Supreme Court finally rejected Assange's appeal against extradition to Sweden. He is wanted in Stockolm for questioning about the alleged rape of one woman and an alleged sexual assault on another woman in August 2010.
Julian's groupies from hell
The Swedish case against Assange stinks to Scandinavian high heavens - featuring a certified man-eating prosecutor (Marianne Ny) and two groupies, the vengeful, ultra-manipulative Anna Ardin and the shy Sofia Wilen, both of which had consensual sex with Assange.
It boils down to Ardin exacting revenge on Assange - who traded her sexual favors for the younger Wilen. It was Ardin who convinced Wilen to officially make the complaint of a sexual assault - duly directing Wilen to a police station.
Wilen's interrogation was not even finished when a policewoman called the female prosecutor and got an order to arrest Assange in absentia. That the prosecutor issued the arrest warrant even without having read a complaint - by Wilen or by Ardin - proves this is not a sophisticated Stieg Larsson Scandinavian noir; it's cheap smut.
It all happened on a Friday evening. On Saturday morning, a sleazy Swedish Murdoch-style right-wing tabloid, Expressen, splashed a photo of Assange in the front page with the headline "Double Rapist".
According to leaked police documents, Wilen was devastated; she didn't want to charge Assange with rape. Her American boyfriend testified that essentially she was uber-paranoid about sex without a condom.
As for Ardin, she told another policewoman on a phone interview that sex with Assange was consensual - but would be out of the picture if she'd known he was not wearing a condom. By the way, she only remembered to become outraged about the missing condoms after a while; the fun 'n' games were not a one-night stand.
Eager to prevent WikiLeaks from making Sweden its HQ, the rabid Swedish rightwing pounced, in force. It helped that their mentor was no one else than Karl Rove - who had been advising Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, aka Sweden's Reagan, for two years.
After having warned Assange to destroy each and every WikiLeaks file detailing a wealth of US military, diplomatic and intelligence "secrets", or else, the Pentagon couldn't care less if it was down to cheap smut or any sort of manipulated honey trap.
The Pentagon is out to get Assange, whatever it takes. By all practical purposes he has already been secretly indicted. He's the next Bradley Manning - on Imax 3D. A grand jury is already good to go.
And this after a Pentagon spokesman had already laid down the law, on the record;
If doing the right thing is not good enough for them [WikiLeaks], then we will figure out what other alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing.
A one-way ticket to Quito, please
Assange has until Thursday next week to lodge an appeal against the UK court's decision at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The British justices themselves said that if that didn't work, Assange would be deported to Sweden by midnight on July 7. Before the move to Ecuadorian territory, his legal team must have weighted his bleak prospects.
Assange has been in custody and on bail (over US$370,000, pledged by supporters) in England since autumn 2010. Essentially he's been under house arrest in a country house in Suffolk, owned by Vaughan Smith, the founder of the Frontline Club in London; must report to police every day; and must wear an electronic tag.
Assange, in a statement, stressed he was applying for political asylum because his native country, Australia - via Prime Minister Julia Gillard - had declined, on the record, to protect him; Sweden was "a place where the highest officials have attacked me openly"; and the US was a place where he is "being investigated for political crimes" punishable by the death penalty.
What happens next is the stuff of John Le Carre. Is Assange now immune from extradition? Since he has in fact skipped bail, will London try to arrest him? How will the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) in England - which deals with European Arrest Warrant requests - deal with this mess? How will Assange leave the embassy and get on a plane to Quito when he's still on bail and liable to comply with an extradition warrant?
Right on cue, a concerted smear campaign against Ecuador by US corporate media is already on. The country is being derided for having "less than one in three people with access to the Web". Correa is crudely being depicted as a new bogeyman worse than Hugo Chavez, able to "polish his reputation as a defiant provocateur in the relationship between developing Latin American nations and the United States."
According to Foreign Minister Patino, Assange has personally written to Correa asking for political asylum. The extent of the intellectual complicity between Assange and Correa can be gauged by Assange's recent, no-holds-barred interview with the president on Russia's RT network. 
It was during this interview that Assange actually received an offer of political asylum (but not directly from the president).
The fact remains that Assange is not a fugitive. He has every right to seek political asylum based on a violation of human rights - in this case the very real possibility of a dodgy extradition. Sweden never offered any guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to the US.
If Assange were Chen Guangcheng - denouncing China's excesses - the whole hypocritical Atlanticist West would be rallying behind him. And all this is happening while Dubya, Dick and Rummy (George W Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld), the Three Lethal Stooges, destroy a whole country and are allowed to roam free.
1. For Julian Assange interview with President Rafael Correa, see here.
Reprinted with permission from Pepe Escobar.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His most recent book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org