The U.S. Department of Justice today indicted Wikileaks' Julian Assange under the Espionage Act, the first time a publisher has been charged for revealing classified information.
Kevin Poulsen and Betsy Woodruff:
The indictment announced Thursday in Washington, D.C. charges Assange with 16 counts of variously receiving or disclosing material leaked by then-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, which WikiLeaks published as the Iraq and Afghanistan "War Logs" following Manning's arrest. Assange is also charged with one count of conspiracy to receive the documents, and an 18th count carries over the previous charge against Assange accusing him of conspiring to violate computer hacking laws.
Assange, recently extracted from London's Ecuadorian embassy after his hosts there tired of his presence, is already serving a yearlong sentence in Britain for jumping bail in a sexual assault case. He already faces extradition to the U.S. on computer-crime charges—and possibly to Sweden, where prosecutors revived the assault case after his arrest.
Many U.S. media outlets were first to publish Wikileaks' material, working directly with Assange, and some won Pulitzer prizes for it. As University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck puts it:
"The issue isn't whether Assange is a "journalist"; this will be a major test case because the text of the _Espionage Act_ doesn't distinguish between what Assange allegedly did and what mainstream outlets sometimes do, even if the underlying facts/motives are radically different."
The actual whistleblower/leaker in the case, Chelsea Manning, served several years in jail for it. She is currently being held again, after rufusing to give further evidence to a grand jury in the Assange case.
As Poulsen and Woodruff put it, the new charges mark "a stunning escalation of the war on the free press."
The superseding indictment just unsealed against Julian Assange is exactly what the first indictment wasn't:
17 of the 18 charges are for violating the Espionage Act, under which there's never previously been a successful prosecution of a third party (as opposed to the leaker). pic.twitter.com/xobXJpavXU
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) May 23, 2019