WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange faces 17 additional criminal charges in violation of Espionage Act

Julian Assange WkiLeaks Founder AP Photo
Credits: Associated Press (AP)/Matt Dunham

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange is facing 17 additional criminal charges related to his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to obtain and publish classified information—a violation of the Espionage Act.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that a federal grand jury returned an 18-count superseding indictment against Assange. The DOJ previously charged the WikiLeaks Founder with only one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion to access or obtain information from a U.S. department and agency.

The 17 additional Espionage Act violations are connected to Assange’s complicity with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who illegally obtained and disclosed classified documents.

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The superseding indictment alleged that Assange published on WikiLeaks the classified documents containing the un-redacted names of human resources who provided information to U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to U.S. State Department diplomats around the world.

Assange actions endangered the lives of the human resources, which included local Afghans, Iraqis, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders and political dissidents from repressive regimes. His actions also risked serious damage to the U.S. national security.

DOJ asserts that Assange is not a journalist

In a statement, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, said the DOJ’s indictment alleged that Assange “created grave and imminent risk” to [the] lives and liberty of the people whose names were included in the classified documents that he leaked.

“These alleged actions disclosed our sensitive, classified information in a manner that made it available to every terrorist group, hostile foreign intelligence service and opposing military. Documents relating to these disclosures were even found in the Usama bin Laden compound. This release made our adversaries stronger and more knowledgeable and the United States less secure,” said Demers.

He also emphasized that Assange is not a journalist based on his conduct—“assisting with and conspiring with a security holder to acquire classified information” and “publishing the names of confidential human sources, exposing them to the gravest dangers,”

On the other hand, U.S. Attorney Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia, pointed out the government charged Assange for his “alleged complicity in illegal acts…” He was “not charged for passively obtaining and receiving classified information.”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press raised concern about the latest charges against Assange.

In a statement, the Committee’s executive director commented, “Any government use of the Espionage Act to criminalize the receipt and publication of classified information poses a dire threat to journalists seeking to publish such information in the public interest, irrespective of the Justice Department’s assertion that Assange is not a journalist.”