- - Sunday, June 9, 2019


The left insists that the Justice Department’s May 23 indictment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is proof that the Trump administration is trying to erase the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press.

In a May 28 op-ed in The Washington Post one of Mr. Assange’s kindred spirits, Glenn Greenwald (about whom more in a moment), shouted that ” the Trump administration is aggressively and explicitly seeking to obliterate the last reliable buffer protecting journalism in the United States from being criminalized “

It’s essential to remember two points. First, that the First Amendment’s protection of free speech extends to everyone, not just journalists. Second, that free speech is not an unlimited right whether or not a person is a journalist.

Mr. Greenwald’s cry is being echoed by many in the global media who insist that Mr. Assange is a journalist. As the new indictment of Mr. Assange explains — and from what we know about his conduct since establishing WikiLeaks — it is entirely clear that Mr. Assange is not a journalist and that his actions are not entitled to First Amendment protection.

The May 23 indictment alleges facts based on evidence that the Justice Department is confident it can prove. It focuses on Mr. Assange’s direct involvement with former Army intelligence Sgt. Chelsea Manning (nee Bradley) and Manning’s providing hundreds of thousands of documents to Mr. Assange, many of which were classified “secret.”

Virtually every journalist, myself included, has confidential sources of information. Many of us don’t want and won’t publish any information that is classified. Mr. Assange, in contrast, is hostile to the United States, cozy with Russia and eager to publish whatever U.S. secrets fall into his hands. That’s not enough to determine that he’s not journalist but his other behaviors are.

The indictment alleges that in November 2009 Mr. Assange published a solicitation for what WikiLeaks called its “most wanted leaks,” among them “bulk databases” and military intelligence documents. Manning responded to the solicitation and from then until her arrest in May 2009 provided materials to Mr. Assange — and this is a key distinguishing factor — under Mr. Assange’s direction.

In short, Mr. Assange conspired with Manning for nearly a year to obtain the documents while giving her both direction and encouragement to steal them from the U.S. government.

According to the indictment, among the information Manning disclosed to Mr. Assange, and Mr. Assange published, were the names of people who had helped the U.S. government confidentially in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their lives were put in danger by WikiLeaks‘ disclosure of them.

Thus, the May indictment charges Mr. Assange with conspiracy to obtain national defense information, obtaining and disclosing national defense information, as well as conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

And then there is the case of Edward Snowden.

Mr. Snowden was an employee of an NSA contractor with access to the most sensitive of NSA’s secrets. His leaks of NSA practices and capabilities — including the “PRISM” program for intercepting electronic transmissions — were some of the most damaging ever.

Mr. Snowden downloaded and stole about one-and-a-half million NSA files. He then fled to Hawaii and from there to Hong Kong in May 2013. Mr. Greenwald and a filmmaker flew from New York to Hong Kong to meet him. About 10 days later, Mr. Greenwald began publishing Mr. Snowden’s leaked material in the Guardian newspaper.

Mr. Assange, either in league with Mr. Greenwald or on his own, reportedly sent his aide, Sarah Harrison, to Hong Kong to meet and advise Mr. Snowden. WikiLeaks reportedly paid for Mr. Assange’s hotel expenses.

WikiLeaks then bought his plane ticket to Moscow. Those are not the acts of a journalist, but those of a co-conspirator.

The Russian newspaper Izvestia reported in June 2013 that Mr. Snowden’s travel to Moscow was coordinated with Russian authorities and intelligence agencies. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Mr. Snowden would not be extradited to the United States.

Mr. Assange is now in prison in the U.K., having been tossed out of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London where he hid for nearly seven years. He now faces extradition to the United States to face the charges set out in the May indictment. Further charges, based on the Snowden matter, may be added in another superseding indictment. (The Swedish government, reviving charges against him, may also demand his extradition.)

As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said when he was director of Central Intelligence, Mr. Assange’s WikiLeaks has operated as a hostile intelligence service. That judgment was entirely accurate. In the cases of both Manning and Mr. Snowden, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks abused the freedoms protected by the First Amendment and violated the law.

The usual suspects — the liberal media and the United Nations — continue their outcry against extraditing Mr. Assange to the U.S. Nils Melzer, the U.N.’s “special rapporteur on torture,” said that extraditing him to the U.S. would expose him to serious violations of his human rights. Nonsense.

Our Constitution is the greatest protection of human rights in the history of mankind. To protect those rights, it is sometimes necessary to punish those who betray the secrets that enable our military and intelligence communities to defend our constitutional rights. For his role in publishing such secrets, Mr. Assange should be extradited to the United States and brought to trial.

• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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