Julian Assange has been formally charged by U.S. prosecutors for a single count of “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer,” the Justice Department announced Thursday morning.
Assange was dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy in London earlier on Thursday after spending seven years there. He now faces possible extradition to the U.S.
The charges, which were inadvertently made public in November 2018 during a filing error, were filed in the Eastern District of Virginia federal court. Assange is charged with conspiring with Chelsea Manning to crack the password of a U.S. Department of Defense computer that prosecutors say was connected to the government’s classified documents system known as Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet).
If convicted, Assange faces up to five years in prison.
Manning, a former U.S. Army private, used her connection to SIPRNet to download classified documents to share with WikiLeaks, according to the Justice Department, but she allegedly attempted to use a password other than her own to access the classified database. “Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log on to the computers under a username that did not belong to her,” the DOJ writes in its press release. “Such a deceptive measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures.”
Prosecutors say “Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange,” adding that the discussions “reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information.”
Manning ultimately provided hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents, including diplomatic cables, to Wikileaks in 2010. She spent seven years in a military prison before President Barack Obama granted her clemency in early 2017.
Aside from the cables, Wikileaks also published a 39-minute video from 2007 showing two U.S. Apache helicopters opening fire on a group of men. Seven people, including two journalists for Reuters, were killed in the video and American forces can be heard laughing on their headsets. The video, which WikiLeaks titled “Collateral Murder,” was leaked by Manning.
Manning was arrested for refusing to testify to a grand jury about the case. She was first placed in solitary confinement but has reportedly been released to a regular prison cell.
Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read the full federal indictment against Assange below:
Assange has reportedly been found guilty of skipping bail in 2012, despite the fact that his lawyers argued he had every reason to seek asylum and was “absolutely right” in his suspicions. Assange’s extradition hearing will take place in four weeks.
Anna Ardin, one of Assange’s accusers in the sexual assault case in Sweden, expressed sadness that Assange might be extradited to the United States:
WikiLeaks will have a press conference after Assange’s hearing is completed and countless reporters have set up outside the building where Assange is being held. NBC News has a livestream on YouTube where protesters can be heard chanting to “free Assange” and “don’t shoot the messenger.”
Several press freedom groups expressed concerns that Assange would be extradited to the United States. The Obama administration had previously decided not to pursue charges against WikiLeaks, but the Trump regime has obviously reversed course.
“Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations,” Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement posted to the ACLU’s website.
“Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest.”
“It’s called a conspiracy to commit journalism,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, the current editor in chief of WikiLeaks, said during a press conference outside the courthouse.
“This precedent means that any journalist can be arrested for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States,” WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson said, standing next to Hrafnsson.
“I’ve just been with Mr. Assange in the police cells,” she continued. “He wants to thank all his supporters for their ongoing support. And he said ‘I told you so.’”