National Security

Assange charged in computer hacking conspiracy by US

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U.S. officials have filed charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for allegedly conspiring to hack into computers in connection with the organizations’ release of classified government cables from former Army private and intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

{mosads}The Department of Justice announced early Thursday that Assange had been arrested in London in connection with a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion of a classified U.S. government computer, which carries a five-year maximum sentence.

The seven-page indictment alleges that Assange conspired with others to “knowingly access a computer, without authorization and exceeding authorized access,” to obtain classified information that “could be used to the injury of the United States.”

The indictment, initially filed under seal in March 2018 in the Eastern District of Virginia, alleges that Assange helped Manning crack a password stored on a Defense Department computer that was connected to a U.S. government system used to store classified information.

“Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log onto the computers under a username that did not belong to her,” the court document reads. “Such a measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of disclosures of classified information.”

Manning, an intelligence analyst with top-secret clearance, allegedly downloaded four nearly complete databases from different U.S. departments and agencies that included sensitive information about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Guantanamo Bay operations and other State Department cables.

According to the court documents, Assange pushed Manning to provide additional leaked information, telling her, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.”

The Justice Department announcement followed Assange’s arrest earlier Thursday in London, where he had been holed up for nearly seven years at the Ecuadorian Embassy.

British police said that he was arrested on a U.S. extradition request for “computer-related charges” and for breaching U.K. bail conditions, but offered no information about the charges.

U.S. officials have long had their eye on Assange, whose organization has leaked troves of sensitive files that have embarrassed the United States, including the files provided by Manning.

WikiLeaks most recently attracted massive attention for releasing hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and then-Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta before the 2016 presidential election. U.S. intelligence officials later tied the hack to a plot by Russia to interfere in the vote, though an indictment released Thursday does not mention the release of the Democratic emails.

In an assessment after the election, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that the whistleblower organization actively took part in obtaining and then publishing the Democratic emails, causing a major embarrassment to the party amid the heated presidential election.

Assange, however, has dismissed criticisms of his actions, stating that he acted like other journalists would when they seek to leak classified documents that are of public interest.

The indictment unsealed Thursday says Manning downloaded four databases from departments and agencies of the U.S. containing approximately 90,000 Afghanistan War–related reports, 400,000 Iraq War–related reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs and 250,000 State Department cables between January and May 2010, many of which were labeled classified.

“Manning provided the records to agents of WikiLeaks so that WikiLeaks could publicly disclose them on its website,” the indictment says. “WikiLeaks publicly released the vast majority of the classified records on its website in 2010 and 2011.”

Officials described it as one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.

A court filing last November in an unrelated case in the Eastern District of Virginia inadvertently revealed that federal prosecutors had prepared a sealed indictment against Assange, but the details of their case has remained shrouded in mystery since.

Assange will face charges in federal court in Alexandria, Va., once extradited, according to court documents.

Manning is currently incarcerated in federal prison after she refused to provide testimony to a federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. The grand jury found her in contempt over the refusal to testify.

Updated at 11:05 a.m.

Tags Assange arrest Eastern District of Virginia Hillary Clinton WikiLeaks

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