After a thorough investigation by US Justice Department, US authorities have prepared charges to arrest Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. The information was provided to CNN by US officials familiar with the matter and includes an affirmation that previous concerns over whether the First Amendment precluded Assange’s potential prosecution have been alleviated and that US authorities can move forward.
Investigations into Assange and WikiLeaks date back to 2010 at least. The WikiLeaks site gained notoriety when thousands of stolen files were posted for public consumption. The files, taken by a former US Army intelligence analyst, now known as Chelsea Manning, contained secret information that was not intended for release.
At the time of the incident, then Attorney General Eric Holder, along with other officials at the Justice Department, determined charges against Assange and WikiLeaks would be difficult to levy since they were not the only publishers of the stolen documents. The information was also published in several newspapers, including the New York Times.
The US position on Assange and WikiLeaks changed once investigators found information they believed demonstrated that WikiLeaks was actively involved in assisting former NSA analyst Edward Snowden to release a large cache of classified documents.
During a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, took a similar stance on WikiLeaks’ involvement with Manning. Pompeo stated that WikiLeaks “directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information, and it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States.” Such action on the part of WikiLeaks would fall outside of First Amendment protections.
Pompeo continued, “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
The investigations also determined that Russian intelligence enlisted WikiLeaks to release emails in the hopes of undermining the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, considered part of the country’s larger goal of meddling in the US 2016 presidential election.
According to US intelligence agencies, Russian intelligence agencies used hackers to steal emails from officials involved in the Clinton campaign as well as from the Democratic National Committee, with intermediaries being used to provide the information to WikiLeaks.
At this time, Assange is staying in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, looking to avoid arrest on a warrant in Sweden, issued for a charge of rape. US officials had hoped a change in leadership in Ecuador would lead the new administration to expel Assange, though the new president of the South American country vowed to continue offering Assange safe harbor.
Since Assange cannot be taken into custody while he remains at the Ecuadorian embassy, and Ecuador expressed no intention to extradite, the move by US officials could be considered politically motivated.
US Attorney General Jeff Session stated that Assange’s arrest is a “priority” during a new conference on Thursday.
“This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious. So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail,” said Sessions.
Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, speaking about the issue, said, “We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr. Assange.” He also asserted that WikiLeaks is the same as any other news media organization, publishing information that is considered in “the public’s interest to know now just about the United States but other governments around the world.”
Pompeo rejected that assessment and during his speech said, “Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He’s sitting in an Embassy in London. He’s not a US citizen.”