In a deliberate effort to establish a precedent that can be used to prosecute journalists for doing their jobs – and publishing information that embarrasses the government or exposes wrongdoing – a federal grand jury returned an 18-count superseding indictment on Thursday, charging WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with a number of offenses over his alleged role in one of the largest leaks of classified information in U.S. history.
This is an assault on journalism.
The indictment alleged Julian Assange coordinated with former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning to leak classified documents related to U.S. war and diplomacy efforts around the world.
U.S. officials claimed Mr Assange worked in tandem with Manning to break into a classified government computer.
Manning, who served several years in prison for leaking to WikiLeaks, was jailed back in March after refusing to testify to a grand jury regarding WikiLeaks.
In response to the charges WikiLeaks tweeted on Thursday, “This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment.”
The indictment specifically alleges that Assange agreed to receive classified documents from Manning and “aided and abetted Manning in obtaining classified information with reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of a foreign nation,” as well as caused her to provide classified documents.
The indictment charges that Julian Assange published the unredacted names of sources who gave information to U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as to U.S. State Department diplomats around the world.
The sources included some journalists, religious leaders, local Afghans, and Iraqis as well as political dissidents from repressive regimes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries and put the unredacted named human sources at a grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm and/or arbitrary detention,” according to the superseding indictment.
Ben Brandon, a lawyer representing the U.S. government, said in court earlier this month that American investigators had acquired details of communications between Manning and Assange in 2010. The two had allegedly “engaged in real time discussions regarding Chelsea Manning’s dissemination of confidential records to Mr. Assange.”
He added that the records downloaded from a classified computer included 90,000 activity reports from the war in Afghanistan, 400,000 Iraq war-related reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessments and 250,000 State Department cables.
Also, earlier this month, Assange, 47, told a British court he won’t agree to be extradited to the U.S. where he’s facing the charges of conspiracy to hack a Pentagon computer.
He addressed the court on May 2 via video link from a prison in London, saying he wouldn’t “surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many awards and protected many people.”
That hearing came just a day after the WikiLeaks founder was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison in the U.K. for jumping bail in 2012 and hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in an effort to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was wanted for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations.
This is a developing story.
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