LONDON—The U.S. has charged Julian Assange with illegally helping Chelsea Manning crack a computer password to steal classified documents, the Justice Department said Thursday.
Assange was dramatically dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London by British police early Thursday, where cops arrested him on one relatively minor charge of skipping bail in 2012 over rape charges in Sweden, and then later arrested him for a second time on an extradition warrant on behalf of U.S. authorities. Assange was found guilty of the bail charge.
The Justice Department revealed that Assange the arrest was over a federal charge of “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion” and relates to the Wikileaks founder's alleged role in what it calls “one of the largest compromises of classified information” in U.S. history.
“The indictment alleges that in March 2010, Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
Manning has been in jail since March 3, when a federal judge found her in contempt for refusing to testify in front of the Alexandria, Virginia, grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. The grand jury has been probing the secret-spilling website since 2010 it started publishing hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables Manning leaked to Assange.
The Justice Department alleges that Assange helped Manning try to access computers under a username that didn't belong to her. The statement goes on to say that, once Manning gained access to the system, Assange repeatedly encouraged her to share more and more information.
“During an exchange, Manning told Assange that ‘after this upload, that’s all I really have got left,’” the Justice Department claimed. “To which Assange replied, ‘curious eyes never run dry in my experience.’”
Any extradition may take some time. The British government released its own statement on Assange earlier in the day in which it made clear anyone who's being extradited will be given the opportunity to appeal to the government, then to the country's High Court.
It also said that British judges have the power to decide whether or not extradition would breach an individual’s human rights, or whether their health makes it “unjust or oppressive” to extradite them.
Assange arrived at a court in London Thursday afternoon, three hours after he was hauled out of the place he called home for nearly seven years. He was found guilty on the relatively minor bail charge—for which he could serve twelve months in prison—and was told he would face a hearing on the extradition warrant in just four weeks.