Julian Assange faces 17 new charges under US Espionage Act

The case comes amid a Justice Department crackdown on national security leaks and raised immediate fear among news media advocates that Assange's actions - including soliciting and publishing classified information - are indistinguishable from what traditional journalists do on a daily basis.

A grand jury in Northern Virginia has returned a superseding indictment with 17 more charges against the WikiLeaks founder that follow an earlier case brought against Assange in connection with the alleged help he gave to Chelsea Manning to compromise US government computer networks.

The main allegation in that indictment is that in March 2010, "Assange agreed to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on United States Department of Defense Computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network", which is used to handle classified documents.

Assange has been evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he sought political asylum in 2012, on April 11, and shortly after sentenced by the Westminster Magistrates' Court to 50 weeks of jail for breaking bail.

In a briefing, U.S. officials said they were not charging Assange for acting as a publisher, but rather because he endangered the lives of sources.


They described how Assange worked with Manning to improperly access Department of Defence computers to gain access to thousands of pages of material and encouraged her as she delved through databases. Each charge carries a maximum 10-year sentence, the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department said that by publishing unredacted versions of the leaked files, Assange put "named human sources at a grave and imminent risk". The charges are certain to set up a fierce debate on First Amendment rights.

WikiLeaks used information from Manning to publish tens of thousands of U.S. government documents, including the names of people who helped American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and USA diplomats around the world.

New charges filed against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange quickly drew alarm Thursday from media organizations and others.

Swedish and American authorities both are asking London to extradite Assange in view of their own criminal charges.


He is also accused of endangering the lives of USA sources in Iran, China, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan by not redacting names or other identifying information despite warnings from the State Department.

The United States is alleging that Assange conspired with, and "aided and abetted", Chelsea Manning to remove USA classified documents. Sweden filed its charges late last week, resurfacing an arrest warrant issued for Assange in the early 2000s stemming from an alleged sexual assault.

"What happens to Assange today can happen to the NYT or WaPo tomorrow", investigative journalist James Ball tweeted.

The U.S. criminal case boils down to a reporter - Assange - encouraging a source - Manning - to give him a story, Assange and his attorneys argue.


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