WikiLeaks' Assange arrested after asylum revoked; US charges him with conspiracy
Julian Assange. Photo from Shutterstock.com.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by British police Thursday after Ecuador revoked his asylum for “discourteous and aggressive behavior” and meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.
British police said Assange was arrested partly in connection with an extradition warrant filed by U.S. authorities, report the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN. He also was arrested for allegedly jumping bail in 2012 in a Swedish sex-crime probe.
An indictment unsealed Thursday in Alexandria, Virginia, charges Assange with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.
The New York Times describes Assange as “heavily bearded and disheveled.” He appeared to be resisting arrest, according to the Washington Post. He pleaded guilty to the charge of jumping bail in a court appearance. A May 2 court date has been set for the U.S. extradition request.
The U.S. indictment accuses Assange of conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst then known as Bradley Manning, in March 2010 to hack a password to Department of Defense computer network so she could disguise her identity when downloading classified information.
Before and after reaching the agreement, Manning had provided WikiLeaks with databases of documents regarding the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo Bay detainees, and Department of State cables. Many of the records were classified, and WikiLeaks released the vast majority of them.
The indictment says Manning downloaded the State Department cables after the agreement was reached, but it does not indicate that Manning accessed them using the hacked password. Assange told Manning shortly after reaching the agreement that he had “no luck so far” in trying to crack the password, the indictment says.
Manning had been sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking the classified documents but was released after nearly seven years when President Barack Obama commuted her sentence. Manning was held in contempt and sent back to prison last month for refusing to testify in a grand jury investigation regarding WikiLeaks.
Although it wasn’t part of the indictment unsealed Thursday, special counsel Robert Mueller has alleged that Russian military intelligence officers hacked into the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, and they released the documents to an organization that appears to be a reference to WikiLeaks.
Assange was staying at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, when he unsuccessfully fought extradition to Sweden, which had been investigating him for alleged rape. Sweden dropped the probe in 2017.
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, released this statement after Assange’s arrest: “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. 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.”