WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday with violation of the Espionage Act for publishing classified materials that the government claims revealed the identities confidential human sources.
The charges were part of an 18-count superseding indictment against Assange, who was indicted on April 11 on a single charge that he conspired with former Army private Chelsea Manning to hack into the classified computer systems of the Defense Department.
The new charges are likely to test the limits of First Amendment protections for publishers. Assange, who is in jail in London, has defended publishing stolen government materials by claiming he is a journalist.
But prosecutors on Thursday pushed back Assange’s defense, saying that he aided and abetted the theft of classified documents and ignored warnings that publishing the information would jeopardize sources. (RELATED: US Charged Assange For 2010 Role In Diplomatic Leaks)
“Julian Assange is no journalist,” John Demers, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for national security, told reporters.
Zach Terwilliger, the U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Virginia, said that Assange is “not charged simply because he’s a publisher.”
None of the new charges involve WikiLeaks’ publication of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign. WikiLeaks published the documents, which were allegedly stolen by the Russian government, during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The new indictment alleges that Assange conspired with Manning to steal classified government documents, including State Department cables and classified reports about the Iraq and Afghanistan war efforts.
“After agreeing to receive classified documents from Manning and aiding, abetting, and causing Manning to provide classified documents, the superseding indictment charges that Assange then published on WikiLeaks classified documents that contained the unredacted names of human sources who provided information to United States forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to U.S. State Department diplomats around the world,” prosecutors claim.
“These human sources included local Afghans and Iraqis, journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents from repressive regimes.”
The superseding indictment alleges that Assange’s actions “risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries and put the unredacted named human sources at a grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm and/or arbitrary detention.”
Assange lived under asylum in the Ecuadoran embassy in London until last month. The U.S. is seeking his extradition.
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