- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2019

A federal grand jury handed up a new 18-count indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday, accusing him of a much more active role in one of the largest leaks of classified information in U.S. history.

The indictment, lodged in the court for the Eastern District of Virginia, says Mr. Assange worked with Chelsea Manning, at the time an Army intelligence analyst, to hack government systems and collect hundreds of thousands of documents, then published them on WikiLeaks.

The government says the leaks endangered U.S. Intelligence sources in Iran, China and Syria as well as local civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq who assisted American troops in the war efforts in those countries.

Documents leaked by Mr. Assange even turned up in Osama bin Laden’s compound, said John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security.

“These alleged actions disclosed our sensitive classified information in a manner that made it available to every terrorist group, hostile foreign intelligence service and opposing military,” Mr. Demers said. “This release made our adversaries stronger and more knowledgable and the United States less secure.”

Despite repeated warnings from the State Department that publishing sensitive materials would place intelligence sources at risk, Mr. Assange continued, according to the indictment.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said Mr. Assange’s actions endangered individuals who “risked their safety and freedom” to help the U.S.

Prosecutors say Mr. Assange put out a “most wanted leaks” list in 2009 and Manning responded, searching U.S. databases and culling nearly 500,000 reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 800 assessments of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and 250,000 State Department cables.

Many of the documents were classified at the “secret” level, the government says, such as rules of engagement for troops in the Iraq war.

Mr. Assange was ousted from his sanctuary at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last month and is now awaiting extradition proceedings from the U.K.

He had faced a previous indictment on a hacking charge.

But the latest indictment ups the stakes with each new charge carrying a 10-year prison sentence as opposed to a singular hacking count which carries a maximum of five years in jail.

Mr. Assange’s attorney, Barry Pollack, cast his client as a journalist being snared by an embarrassed U.S. government.

“The fig leaf that this is merely about alleged computer hacking has been removed,” Mr. Pollack said in a statement. “These unprecedented charges demonstrate the gravity of the threat the criminal prosecution of Julian Assange poses to journalists in their endeavor to inform the public about actions that have been taken by the U.S. government.”

WikiLeaks blasted the arrest as “madness.’

“It is the end of national security journalism and the First Amendment,” the organization tweeted.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, echoed that concern.

“This is not about Julian Assange. This is about the use of the Espionage Act to charge a recipient and publisher of classified information,” he said. “I am extremely concerned about the precedent this may set and potential dangers to the work of journalists and the First Amendment.”

Mr. Demers, though, said Mr. Assange was far from a traditional journalist, actively working with Manning on the hack of U.S. systems.

He provided help in cracking a Defense Department password, and he and Manning were in real-time communication to work out how she would convey the information.

Julian Assange is no journalist, this is made plain by the totality of his conduct as alleged in the indictment,” he said. “No responsible actor, journalist or otherwise would purposely publish the names he or she knew to be confidential human sources in war zones.”

Manning, who had been an Army intelligence analyst, was jailed in 2010, and convicted on espionage charges in 2013. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison but only served until 2017, when her sentence was commuted by President Obama.

She was sent back to jail for contempt of court earlier this year for refusing to testify to a grand jury, presumably about her work with Mr. Assange. She was released when that grand jury’s term expired in early May, but went back to jail last week.

Mr. Assange, for his part, also faces new legal jeopardy in Sweden, where prosecutors issued a detention order after authorities reopened a rape probe stemming from a 2010 encounter.

While awaiting extradition decisions, he is currently serving in Britain on a bail warrant.

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