WikiLeaks' Julian Assange Arrested; US Seeks Extradition

Indictment Cites Alleged Involvement in Chelsea Manning Case
WikiLeaks' Julian Assange Arrested; US Seeks Extradition
WikiLeak's Julian Assange being arrested (Source: Ruptly)

(This story has been updated.)

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who released hacked emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign and many other secret U.S. documents, was arrested in London Thursday, and now the U.S. is seeking his extradition.

An U.S. indictment of Assange unsealed Thursday accuses him of helping whistleblower Chelsea Manning break into classified computers to obtain information about the war in Iraq.

After the government of Ecuador formally withdrew its asylum protection, the 47-year-old Assange was arrested at the nation's embassy and taken to a central police station in London. He later appeared in the Westminster Magistrates' Court and was found guilty of breaching bail in 2012, according to news reports.

The British Home Office, which handles immigration, security and law enforcement for the U.K., said in a statement that Assange faces extradition to the U.S. to face charges related to "computer related offenses."

"We can confirm that Julian Assange was arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States of America," the Home Office says.

In 2018, the U.S. Justice Department accidentally revealed its indictment against Assange. The Australian-born Assange is suspected of helping Russia interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Details in Indictment

In the indictment, which the Justice Department officially released Thursday, the Australian-born Assange is charged with "conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer." This could mean a five-year maximum federal prison term, according to the DOJ.

Those charges relate to the release of classified documents nine years ago.

In 2010, Assange and Manning, a former intelligence analyst with the U.S. Army, engaged in a conspiracy to hack into the Defense Department's Secret Internet Protocol Network - a specific government network used to house and transfer classified documents and communications, according to the indictment, according to the indictment. Since Manning had access, it allowed her to download those files and transmit the documents to WikiLeaks.

But by hacking into the system and stealing passwords, Assange and Manning tried to avoid using Manning's username and credentials to better disguise her role, according to the indictment.

Federal prosecutors charged that Assange goaded Manning to provide more and more documents. In one exchange, Manning wrote to Assange that "after this upload, that's all I really have got left." Assange wrote back: "Curious eyes never run dry in my experience," according to the indictment.

As federal prosecutors built their case against Assange, Manning, who is transgender and changed her first name from Bradley to Chelsea, was convicted in a military court and sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013 for her role in copying some 75,000 pages pf classified documents reports and videos. One of these showed an Apache helicopter strike that killed a Reuters journalist working in Iraq.

In the final days of his administration, then-President Barrack Obama commuted Manning's sentence. However, in March of this year, Manning was forced to return to jail for not cooperating as part of grand jury investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks.

Assange is also suspected of helping Russia interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Thursday's unsealed indictment does not mention this charge.

Ecuador Ends Asylum

For the last seven years, Assange has lived in Ecuador's embassy in London when he voluntarily sought refuge there to escape extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes. The arrest warrant in that case has been dropped.

But a Swedish lawyer representing the alleged victim in the sex crime investigation said on Thursday she would push to have prosecutors reopen the probe, Reuters reports.

What allowed the British police to arrest Assange is that he's also charged with violating the terms of his bail when he awaited the charges from Sweden.

Despite entering the embassy on his own, Assange maintains that he is a political prisoner. He became well-known for giving press conferences and other speeches from the balcony of the embassy, which sits in a fashionable part of London near the Harrods department store.

Over the years, the relationship between Assange and the Ecuadorian government had become strained, with the embassy cutting off his internet access earlier this year.

On Thursday, Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno posted a message on Twitter that Assange's "repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols" finally forced the governments hand and paved the way for British police to enter the embassy and make the arrest, according to the New York Times.

Assange in Court

After his arrest Thursday morning, Assange appeared in Westminster Magistrates' Court, where he pleaded not guilty to failing to surrender to the U.K. court back in 2012 in connection with the Swedish case. District Judge Michael Snow almost immediately found Assange guilty of the bail violation, saying he exhibited "the behavior of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest," according to the BBC.

Assange now faces a possible maximum sentence of 12 months in prison for breaching bail. He will appear in court again on May 2 for a hearing on whether he should be extradited to the U.S. in connection with the Manning case, CNN reports. He'll remain in custody of the British authorities until then.

The Path From Here

Once Assange is brought to court in the U.K., a judge will review the case to ensure that the extradition treaty between the U.S. and the U.K. can apply in this case and that the defendant's rights are not violated, including "health and human rights," according to the Home Office statement.

The New York Times reports that Barry Pollack, an attorney for Assange, issued a statement, calling the U.S. actions in this case extreme, noting that it is "an unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information."

Support for WikiLeaks

Almost immediately after Assange's arrest on Thursday, WikiLeaks cranked up its requests for donation to help with the case as well as keep the site's activities going.

WikiLeaks received a spike in donations made through the site's bitcoin address following the actions by British police on Thursday, according to published reports.


About the Author

Scott Ferguson

Scott Ferguson

Managing Editor, News Desk

Ferguson is the managing editor for the news desk at Information Security Media Group. He's been covering the IT industry for more than 13 years. Before joining ISMG, Ferguson was editor-in-chief at eWEEK and director of audience development for InformationWeek. He's also written and edited for Light Reading, Security Now, Enterprise Cloud News, TU-Automotive, Dice Insights and DevOps.com.




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