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U.S. charges WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with publishing classified info | TribLIVE.com
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U.S. charges WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with publishing classified info

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AP
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange puts his fist up as he is taken from court in London. The Justice Department has charged Assange with receiving and publishing classified information. The charges are contained in a new, 18-count indictment announced May 23, 2019.

WASHINGTON — Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and a thorn in the side of intelligence agencies, faces 17 additional U.S. criminal charges, according to an indictment released Thursday that adds to his legal challenge as he fights extradition from a British jail.

British police removed Assange on April 11 from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had sought refuge for nearly seven years to avoid prosecution in Sweden.

He was originally charged with conspiracy to hack into a Pentagon computer network by offering to help Chelsea Manning, then a U.S. Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, with cracking the password in 2010.

Manning later was convicted of providing WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including State Department cables and reports on fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The superseding indictment against Assange includes 17 additional charges, all involving the unlawful obtaining and disclosure of national defense information.

Swedish authorities are also seeking Assange by reopening a sexual assault case against him. The investigation originally began in 2010, which originally led Assange to take refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.

The charges likely will revive the debate over Assange’s claim to be a publisher like any other, and broader issues of how far the press can go in publishing government secrets.

News organizations routinely encourage sources to provide them with highly sensitive documents, and their publication is considered protected under the First Amendment.

The indictment says Assange released a list of his organization’s “Most Wanted Leaks” to encourage people to provide military and intelligence documents.

The indictment said Manning appears to have responded to Assange’s public solicitation, searching the classified Pentagon network for some of the same terms highlighted by WikiLeaks, such as “interrogation videos.”

”Assange knew, understood and fully anticipated that Manning was taking and illegally providing WikiLeaks with classified records containing national defense information of the United States,” the indictment said.

After Manning began providing classified records to WikiLeaks, Assange encouraged her to provide more, according to the indictment. At one point he sent her a message saying “curious eyes never run dry,” and Manning downloaded more files to provide to WikiLeaks, the indictment said.

The documents involved the rules of engagement, and the indictment said the disclosure “would allow enemy forces in Iraq and elsewhere to anticipate certain actions or responses by U.S. armed forces and to carry out more effective attacks,” according to the indictment.

Manning was prosecuted for leaking the documents to WikiLeaks, and she was sentenced to 35 years in prison. President Barack Obama commuted her sentence before leaving office, and she ultimately served seven years from the date of her original arrest.

She is currently in custody after being jailed for the second time this year for refusing to cooperate with a federal grand jury investigation related to WikiLeaks.

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