DOJ charges WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with 17 counts for publishing classified US government documents

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a central figure in the Russia probe.

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a central figure in the Russia probe.
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Thomson Reuters

  • The Justice Department has charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with 17 counts, including violating the Espionage Act.
  • Assange was indicted over his role in obtaining and disseminating sensitive information pertaining to US national security interests in 2010.
  • “Assange, WikiLeaks affiliates and Manning shared the common objective to subvert lawful restrictions on classified information and to publicly disseminate it,” the document said, referring to the former US army analyst Chelsea Manning, who allegedly provided the documents to Assange.
  • Assange was previously charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in April, and he has been charged with a total of 18 counts so far.
  • Assange and WikiLeaks were also central to the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
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The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with 17 new criminal counts, including violating the Espionage Act.

The DOJ has been investigating Assange since 2010 for his role in obtaining and disseminating sensitive information pertaining to US national security interests, and Thursday’s indictment was not entirely unexpected.

“Assange, WikiLeaks affiliates and Manning shared the common objective to subvert lawful restrictions on classified information and to publicly disseminate it,” the document said, referring to the former US army analyst Chelsea Manning, who provided the documents to Assange.

The new charges were part of a superseding indictment returned by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Assange was previously charged by the DOJ in April with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, bringing the total number of criminal charges against him up to 18.

Thursday’s indictment accused him of conspiracy to receive national defense information, obtaining national defense information, and disclosure of national defense information. Prosecutors alleged, among other things, that Assange published US State Department cables that included the names of human sources in Syria, Iran, and China. He also allegedly published reports that endangered the lives of local Afghans and Iraqis.

“It was explicitly stated in the State Department cables that the identity of sources was to be protected,” a DOJ official told reporters on Thursday. “Assange was warned by the State Department not to release the names but he did so nevertheless.”

April’s indictment, meanwhile, alleged that Assange helped Manning hack a password on a classified Pentagon computer.

In a statement after the first indictment was unsealed, the DOJ said the charge against Assange is connected to his alleged role in the 2010 release of thousands of pages of classified US government documents and videos related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The government characterized the leak as “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”

“Manning, who had access to the computers in connection with her duties as an intelligence analyst, was using the computers to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks,” the statement added.

“Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log on to the computers under a username that did not belong to her. Such a deceptive measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures.”

Assange had been living at the Ecuadorean embassy in London under asylum since 2012.

But in April, British authorities arrested Assange after the embassy withdrew its protection. Shortly after, the DOJ indicted him on the hacking charge.

Assange and WikiLeaks were at the center of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.

In an indictment charging 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking into the Democratic National Committee and disseminating stolen emails, Mueller’s office mentioned WikiLeaks – though not by name – as the Russians’ conduit to release hacked documents via the hacker Guccifer 2.0, who is believed to be a front for Russian military intelligence.

WikiLeaks touts itself as an independent organization, but US intelligence believes the group to be a propaganda tool for the Kremlin. Former CIA director Mike Pompeo also characterized WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”