Julian P. Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been indicted in Alexandria for his alleged role in a 2010 computer hacking conspiracy.
Assange, 47, was arrested Thursday in the United Kingdom in connection with a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
An indictment issued March 6, 2018, by a federal grand jury in Alexandria and unsealed on Thursday concerns Assange’s alleged role in what the government calls "one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States."
Assange's lawyer, Barry J. Pollack, in Washington, said, "While the indictment against Julian Assange disclosed today charges a conspiracy to commit computer crimes, the factual allegations against Mr. Assange boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identity of that source.
"Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges," said Pollack.
The grand jury alleges that in March 2010, Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network.
The U.S. government's internet protocol network is used for classified documents and communications. Manning, who had access to the computers in connection with her duties as an intelligence analyst, was using the computers to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks.
Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log on to the computers under a username that did not belong to her, making it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures.
“Manning held a ‘Top Secret’ security clearance, and signed a classified information non-disclosure agreement, acknowledging that the unauthorized disclosure or retention or negligent handling of classified information could cause irreparable injury to the United States or be used to the advantage of a foreign nation,” says the indictment.
During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange discussed Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange. The discussions also allegedly show that Assange encouraged Manning to provide more information. During one exchange, Manning allegedly told Assange that “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.” To which Assange replied, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.”
From January to May 2010, Manning downloaded four nearly complete databases from departments and agencies of the United States. "These databases contained approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activity reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables," alleges the grand jury.
In a statement Thursday, Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said, "Julian Assange has long professed high ideals and moral superiority. Unfortunately, whatever his intentions when he started WikiLeaks, what he’s really become is a direct participant in Russian efforts to undermine the West and a dedicated accomplice in efforts to undermine American security.
"It is my hope that the British courts will quickly transfer him to U.S. custody so he can finally get the justice he deserves," Warner said.
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said that the allegation, "if proven, is serious and may reach beyond Assange and Manning, for example, to Roger Stone, who will be tried in D.C. in November. Some observers have raised freedom of press concerns about the US government’s pursuit of Assange."
Manning refused to testify in front of the grand jury looking into the 2010 disclosures and is being held in jail for civil contempt. Her lawyers said she refused to participate in what she views as an assault on the free press. She remains in detention as a result of the March 8 contempt finding.
In a statement Thursday her lawyers noted the indictment against Assange was obtained a year to the day before Manning appeared before the grand jury and refused to testify.
“The fact that this indictment has existed for over a year underscores what Chelsea’s legal team and Chelsea herself have been saying since she was first issued a subpoena to appear in front of a Federal Grand Jury in the Eastern District of Virginia — that compelling Chelsea to testify would have been duplicative of evidence already in the possession of the grand jury, and was not needed in order for (authorities) to obtain an indictment of Mr. Assange,” they said.
They added that, “Chelsea’s ongoing detention can no longer be seriously alleged to constitute an attempt to coerce her testimony. As continued detention would be purely punitive, we demand Chelsea be released.”
Assange is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and if convicted, he faces a maximum of five years in prison.