Amidst the drama and vitriol covered by most news outlets regarding President Donald Trump’s fending off his political enemies seeking his demise, one of history’s biggest espionage suspects was finally indicted.
A federal grand jury in Virginia handed-down an 18-count indictment on Thursday charging 47-year-old Julian Paul Assange, who founded what he and his supporters call the Internet’s whistleblowing publication known as WikiLeaks. The offenses are related to Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.
The superseding 18-count indictment accuses Assange of being complicit with Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, who served as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, in illegally obtaining and publishing classified documents regarding national security.
According to Justice Department officials, the indictment alleges that Assange conspired with Manning; obtained from Manning and aided and abetted her in obtaining classified information with reason to believe that the information was to be used to harm the United States or help a foreign nation against the U.S. Assange allegedly received and attempted to receive classified information having reason to believe that such materials would be obtained, taken, made, and disposed of by a person contrary to law; and aided and abetted Manning in communicating classified documents to Assange.
After agreeing to receive classified documents from Manning and aiding, abetting, and causing Manning to provide classified documents, the superseding indictment charges that Assange then published on WikiLeaks classified documents that contained the unredacted names of human sources who provided information to United States forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to U.S. State Department diplomats around the world.
According to the superseding indictment, Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries and put the unredacted named human sources (assets) and their families in danger from U.S. enemies
The superseding indictment alleges that beginning in late 2009, Assange and WikiLeaks actively solicited United States classified information, including by publishing a list of “Most Wanted Leaks” that sought, among other things, classified documents.
Manning responded to Assange’s solicitations by using access granted to her as an intelligence analyst to search for United States classified documents, and provided to Assange and WikiLeaks databases containing 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.
Many of these documents were classified at the Secret level, meaning that their unauthorized disclosure could cause serious damage to United States national security.
Manning also provided Wikileaks with “rules of engagement” files for the insurgency in Iraq, most of which were also classified “secret” and which delineated the circumstances and limitations under which United States forces would initiate or conduct combat engagement with other forces.
It is also alleged that Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange.
The discussions also reflect that Assange actively encouraged Manning to provide more information and agreed to crack a password hash stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a highly sensitive American government network used for classified documents and communications.
If convicted, Assange faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each count except for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, for which he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assange is also considered a material witness in the killing of Democratic National Committee manager Seth Rich, a 27-year-old Democratic Party employee whom many believe was assassinated and not the victim of a random robbery.
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers
Today, we announce that a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia has returned an indictment with seventeen additional felony charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
I want to thank U.S. Attorney Zach Terwilliger as well as the FBI agents and the prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia and the National Security Division who investigated this case over the years. One of the Department of Justice’s top priorities is to prosecute, and therefore deter, unauthorized disclosures of classified information. In the past two years, we have brought four cases involving the leaks of such information.
This is the fifth. In 2013, Chelsea Manning was convicted by court martial for offenses that involved violations of her military oath to protect and defend the United States. As you know, she provided Julian Assange and WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of pages of national defense information.
The indictment today charges Julian Assange for his alleged complicity in Manning’s actions, including his explicit solicitation of classified information and his encouraging her to remove classified information from U.S. systems and send it to him.
The indictment also charges Assange for his posting of a narrow subset of classified documents on WikiLeaks that allegedly identified the names of human sources—including local Afghans and Iraqis who were assisting U.S. forces in theater, and those of journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents living in repressive regimes.
Assange thereby is alleged to have created grave and imminent risk to their lives and liberty. 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.
Some say that Assange is a journalist and that he should be immune from prosecution for these actions. The Department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it. It is not and has never been the Department’s policy to target them for their reporting. Julian Assange is no journalist.
This made plain by the totality of his conduct as alleged in the indictment—i.e., his conspiring with and assisting a security clearance holder to acquire classified information, and his publishing the names of human sources.
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, exposing them to the gravest of dangers. And this is just what the superseding indictment charges Julian Assange with doing. The new charges seek to hold him responsible in light of the full breadth of his illegal conduct.