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'Julian Assange is no journalist.' Feds charge WikiLeaks founder for revealing U.S. government secrets


'Julian Assange is no journalist.' Feds charge WikiLeaks founder for revealing U.S. government secrets

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was charged Thursday under the espionage act with conspiring to obtain national security secrets in what prosecutors have described as one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history.

Federal prosecutors revealed 18 charges against Assange. They include allegations that he aided and abetted former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning's efforts to leak classified documents to the anti-secrecy group. Prosecutors alleged that Assange did so with reason to believe that the information would be used to injure the United States or help a foreign country.

“This release made our adversaries stronger and more knowledgeable, and the United States less secure," said John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security.

While Assange has argued that he should be immune from prosecution as a journalist, authorities said he was charged for releasing a narrow class of documents that dealt with people who provided the United States with intelligence in war zones. The WikiLeaks databases contain approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activities reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables, according to prosecutors.

“The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy, and we thank you for it. It is not and never has been the department's policy to target them for reporting," Demers said "But Julian Assange is no journalist."

“Indeed, no responsible actor, journalist or otherwise, would purposely publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential human sources in war zones," Demers said.

The charges under the espionage act, which are unusual to press against people who don't work for the government, include one count of conspiracy to receive national security information, three counts of obtaining it, seven counts of obtaining it, nine counts of disclosing it and one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. Prosecutors alleged that Assange also revealed the names of intelligence sources in Afghanistan, China, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

“Assange is alleged to have created grave and imminent risk to their lives and liberty,” Demers said.

One of the most delicate questions facing prosecutors in their handling of Assange was how – or whether – to distinguish WikiLeaks from journalists who frequently publish information the government would rather keep secret.

Authorities said Thursday that Assange was not charged for simply receiving classified documents, like a journalist. Demers said no responsible journalist would release the classified names of intelligence sources, as Assange is charged with doing.

“Assange is not charged simply because he was a publisher,” said Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, where the charges against Assange were filed.

The Justice Department revealed in April that it had filed a criminal case against Assange after Ecuador expelled him from its embassy in London. That charge alleged that he conspired with Manning to crack a password to a military computer where classified information was stored. That case was filed in 2018, but kept secret for more than a year.

The allegations revealed on Thursday were more wide-ranging and more directly related to WikiLeaks' efforts to obtain and publish U.S. government secrets.

Assange was arrested April 11 in London after Ecuador's government ended his seven years of self-imposed exile and expelled him from its London embassy. He is fighting extradition to the United States.

Over four months in 2010, Manning downloaded hundreds of thousands of secret reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as State Department cables and information about detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Manning turned the records over to WikiLeaks, which passed them to journalists and published them on the internet.

Assange had been holed up with political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012. After his arrest, he was sentenced in Britain to 50 weeks in jail for jumping bail while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual-assault allegations.

Assange also faces sexual misconduct allegations in Sweden. While one Swedish case of alleged sexual misconduct against Assange was dropped in 2017, when the statute of limitations expired, a rape allegation remains. The statute of limitations in the rape case expires in August 2020. Assange has denied wrongdoing, asserting that the allegations were politically motivated and that the sex was consensual.

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