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Justice Department announces superseding indictment against Wikileaks' Assange

The Justice Department on Wednesday announced a superseding indictment in the case against WikiLeaks Founder Julian AssangeJulian Paul AssangeAi Weiwei stages silent protest against Assange extradition Psychiatrist says Assange told him he was hearing imaginary voices, music Assange extradition hearing delayed over coronavirus concerns MORE, alleging that he intentionally worked with hackers affiliated with groups “LulzSec” and “Anonymous” to target and publish sensitive information. 

The new indictment, handed down by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., did not add any charges to the existing 18 charges brought against Assange last year, but alleged that Assange and WikiLeaks actively recruited hackers to provide WikiLeaks with documents. 

Assange is alleged to have provided the leader of hacking group “LulzSec” with a list of groups to target in 2012 in order to obtain information to post to the WikiLeaks platform. 

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The new indictment alleges that in one case, Assange gave the LulzSec leader specific documents and pdfs to target and sent to WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks eventually published information obtained from an American intelligence company by a hacker associated with LulzSec and with Anonymous.

“To obtain information to release on the WikiLeaks website, Assange recruited sources and predicted the success of WikiLeaks in part upon the recruitment of sources to illegally circumvent legal safeguards on information, including classification restrictions and computer and network restrictions,” the indictment reads, noting this was done with the intent to publish the information online. 

The 18 charges unveiled last year alleged that Assange worked with former Army Intelligence Analyst Chelsea ManningChelsea Elizabeth ManningHistory is on Edward Snowden's side: Now it's time to give him a full pardon Hillicon Valley: Justice Department announces superseding indictment against WikiLeaks' Assange | Facebook ad boycott gains momentum | FBI sees spike in coronavirus-related cyber threats | Boston city government bans facial recognition technology Justice Department announces superseding indictment against Wikileaks' Assange MORE in 2010 to obtain and disclose sensitive “national defense information” through conspiring to crack a password tied to a Department of Defense computer. 

WikiLeaks has published thousands of pages of material obtained from Manning, including details around Guantanamo Bay detainees and combat guidelines concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If convicted, Assange faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for each of the existing 18 charges brought against him except for alleged conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, for which Assange could face up to five years in prison.  

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Assange is currently detained in the United Kingdom after being evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he took refuge for several years. The U.S. has requested Assange’s extradition. 

Manning was freed from prison in March after being jailed since May, 2019 for refusing to appear before the grand jury involved in the indictment against Assange. 

A federal judge ruled that her testimony was unnecessary, but ordered her to pay a fine of $256,000. The ruling came the day after reports emerged that Manning had attempted suicide while in custody.

The earlier charges brought against Assange and Manning ignited a debate over the publication of classified materials, and whether the case could produce a chilling effect on journalists who publish these documents. 

Glenn Greenwald, co-founding editor of The Intercept, tweeted Wednesday following the superseding charges being made public that the charges constituted a “severe” threat to press freedom.

“The Trump DOJ's attempt to imprison Julian Assange for working with his source to publish classified documents that exposed US war crimes is the most severe US threat to press freedom since 2016,” Greenwald tweeted. “It's sickening to watch so many journalists ignore it, & so many liberals cheer it.”