By: Paige Hubbard
U.S. prosecutors announced charges on Thursday (April 11) against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, accusing him of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to gain access to a government computer as part of one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history.
Assange, arrested by British police in London and carried out of Ecuador’s embassy, faces up to five years in prison on the American charge, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement. His arrest paved the way for his possible extradition to the United States.
Assange’s indictment arose from a long-running criminal investigation dating back to former President Barack Obama’s administration.
It was triggered in part by the 2010 publication by WikiLeaks of hundreds of thousands of U.S. military reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and American diplomatic communications, a disclosure that embarrassed the United States and caused strained relations with allies.
The Justice Department said Assange, 47, was arrested under an extradition treaty between the United States and Britain and was charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.
The indictment said Assange in March 2010 engaged in a conspiracy to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on Defense Department computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications.
The Justice Department said Manning had access to the computers as an intelligence analyst and was using them to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks. Cracking the password would have enabled Manning to log on under a username other than her own, making it harder for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures, it said.
Assange was secretly indicted in March 2018 and the indictment was unsealed on Thursday, a U.S. law enforcement official said.
Manning, formerly named Bradley Manning, was jailed on March 8 after being held in contempt by a judge in Virginia for refusing to testify before a grand jury in what is widely believed to be related to the Assange investigation.
Manning was convicted by a court-martial in 2013 of espionage and other offenses for furnishing more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks while she was an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Obama commuted the final 28 years of Manning’s 35-year sentence.