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A federal grand jury in Virginia has indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on 18 charges, including conspiracy to obtain national-security secrets and leaking classified information.
The Justice Department charged the embattled self-described journalist with conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, including one count of conspiring to receive classified national-security information, including State Department reports on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, seven counts of obtaining that information, nine counts of releasing it, and one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. Only the computer intrusion charge was included in the original indictment, which was unsealed when Assange was arrested in London in April after his eviction from the Ecuadoran embassy.
The WikiLeaks founder’s behavior “risked serious harm” to the U.S., according to the indictment.
Prosecutors, who charged Assange under the espionage act, said the WikiLeaks databases had close to 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 State Department cables.
The issue of Assange prosecution became politically fraught over concerns that the Wikileaks founder’s First Amendment rights were being violated, but the Justice Department drew a line between journalists and Assange, who they argued severely compromised national security.
“The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it. It is not and never has been the department’s policy to target them for reporting. But Julian Assange is no journalist,” said John Demers, chief of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “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.”
Assange, 47, is currently detained in London as the U.S. attempts to extradite him.