The U.S. Justice Department has charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with seventeen counts, including violations the Espionage Act. The new counts supersede an indictment that handed down last year but only unsealed in April. That indictment charged Assange with “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.”
In 2010 Army Intelligence Officer Bradley Manning illegally downloaded hundreds of thousands of classified and otherwise sensitive materials from Defense Department Computers where he worked and gave them to Assange. WikiLeaks subsequently published the trove. It was the largest classified leak of U.S. government material of its kind at the time.
Manning, who now goes by Chelsea Manning, said she wanted to spark a debate about U.S. foreign policy. The government said the leak put American soldiers’ lives, as well as the lives of individuals who were helping U.S. soldiers around the globe, at risk.
Assange had been holed-up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012. That country revoked Assange’s asylum last month for behavior they say was becoming increasingly hostile toward embassy staff and Ecuadorian leadership more broadly. He was subsequently taken into custody by British authorities.
The decision to charge Assange under the Espionage Act is the first time an individual has been charged for publishing of classified materials. Critics say the decision could set a dangerous precedent in which news outlets can be prosecuted for simply publishing secret material provided them by sources or whistleblowers.
The U.S. government refutes that notion, alleging Assange helped Manning hack into DoD computers by attempting to crack a password that would make it difficult to trace the hack. Rather than simply publishing the material, Assange “aided and abetted [Manning] in obtaining classified information with reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of a foreign nation,” the say.
“Assange, WikiLeaks affiliates and Manning shared the common objective to subvert lawful restrictions on classified information and to publicly disseminate it,” the indictment further states.
The U.S. has issued an extradition request to the British government for Assange. Assange is challenging that request in court proceedings that could last months.
Photo by Ecuadorian Government via Flickr