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U.S. Charges Assange With Publishing Classified Information, a Move Unprecedented in American History

In a stunning escalation of the war on the free press, the Trump administration has indicted a publisher for revealing government secrets.

In a stunning escalation of the Trump administration’s war on the press, the Justice Department has indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act. It's the first time in modern U.S. history a publisher has been charged for revealing government secrets under the 1917 law.

Assange is “no journalist,” said John Demers, chief of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, in a briefing for reporters announcing the new indictment. Demers cited WikiLeaks’ alleged publication of the names of U.S. government sources, saying it  endangered people in China, Iran, and Syria.

“Assange is not being charged simply because he is a publisher,” added Zach Terwilliger, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia where Assange was charged.

WikiLeaks on Twitter called the prosecution “the end of national security journalism and the First Amendment.”

The indictment announced Thursday in Washington, D.C. charges Assange with 16 counts of variously receiving or disclosing material leaked by then-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, which WikiLeaks published as the Iraq and Afghanistan “War Logs” following Manning’s arrest. Assange is also charged with one count of conspiracy to receive the documents, and an 18th count carries over a previous charge against Assange accusing him of conspiring to violate computer hacking laws.

The leaked documents comprised 250,000 State Department cables, 90,000 Army field reports from Afghanistan, 400,000 from Iraq, and 800 detainee assessment briefs from Guantanamo Bay.

Assange released most of that material without redaction, and the new indictment claims that the U.S. sources identified in the leaks were put in harm's way as a result.  

“By publishing these documents without redacting the human sources' names or other identifying information, Assange created a grave and imminent risk that the innocent people he named would suffer serious physical harm and/or arbitrary detention,” the indictment charges.

The indictment uses Assange’s own words to cast WikiLeaks as a defacto hostile intelligence agency, citing the WikiLeaks founder’s own description of his site as an “intelligence agency of the people”, and lingering on Assange’s chats with Manning in which he encouraged and guided the soldier in the leaking. It also claims Manning deliberately sought out military secrets that were listed on a “most wanted leaks” section on the WikiLeaks’ website.

As with Assange’s previous charges, the new indictment accuses Assange of agreeing to attempt to crack an Army password to help Manning conceal her massive downloads of information.  

The earlier computer hacking charge was unsealed in April after Assange was kicked out the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Assange is currently serving an 11-month sentence in the UK for jumping bail in a Swedish rape investigation, while the U.S. pushes its request to extradite him to the United States.

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