Assange in stir: US establishment nails Wikileaks founder

WASHINGTON: The man who shook the world’s national security establishments with the most copious classified information leak in history and followed it up by changing the course of US presidential history through disclosure of Hillary Clinton’s email flubs was dragged kicking and screaming from the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Thursday, arrested by the British police acting on an US indictment.
Julian Assange, the Australia-born founder of Wikileaks, is likely to be extradited to the United States after Ecuador, which had sheltered him for seven years at its embassy in London, gave him up under American pressure. An unsealed grand jury indictment from the Eastern District of Virginia court outside Washington DC, where most national security issues come up, charged Assange with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion with American whistleblower Chelsea Manning, their effort resulting in the publishing of classified information that not only revealed US war crimes but rattled world capitals with an unvarnished look at leaders and policies.
The indictment said Assange participated in the hacking in ‘real-time’ and encouraged the act, a charge that will enable prosecutors to get around any potential First Amendment defence that Assange might claim by arguing he was only a recipient of classified information. According to the indictment, on March 8, 2010, Assange agreed to assist (then Bradley) Chelsea Manning crack the password stored on United States Defence Department computers.
“During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange. The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information,” the indictment said, revealing that during an exchange, Manning told Assange that ‘after this upload, that’s all I really have got left,’ to which Assange replied, ‘curious eyes never run dry in my experience.'”
The indictment further claims that Bradley Manning, who later underwent a gender change to become Chelsea Manning, gave Assange a portion of a password to ‘crack’ in order to obtain access to files for users with “administrative-level privileges.” Manning had already provided WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents – including activities reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the government. The material allegedly included four nearly complete databases, comprising 90,000 reports from the Afghanistan war, 400,000 reports from the Iraq War and 250,000 State Department cables.
Assange has long resisted extradition to the US, where his lawyers have claimed he could face the death penalty for the mass leaking of highly-classified documents through WikiLeaks. But the US has chosen not to go with an espionage charge, obviating capital punishment and making the extradition more or less certain.
The Manning-Assange generated Wikileaks explosion in 2010 had rattled security establishments across the world starting from Washington by revealing raw intelligence cables, including assessment of many world leaders. From a voyeuristic look at Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s personal life to the description of Russian President Vladimir Putin as an “alpha dog,” the cables revealed American assessment of world leaders. Evaluation of Pakistan and its nuclear weapons program (“unstable”) and India’s Cold Start doctrine (“mixture of myth and reality” and mostly unworkable) were also revealed in the cables.
While much of the world and its leaders recovered from the discomfiture from the cables, one of the most egregious outcomes from the leaks came during the 2016 presidential campaign when thousands of emails stolen from the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee in Washington lead to a series of revelations that embarrassed the party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, contributing to her eventual defeat at the hands of Donald Trump. Although US investigators have said the systems were hacked by Russian agents, Assange has denied ties with Moscow led to the leaks while expressing distaste for both Clinton and Trump, saying choosing between them “is like choosing between cholera or gonorrhoea.” Trump though had gone on to say that he loved Wikileaks.
Civil liberties activists in the US warned against prosecuting Assange, cautioning that it would put a crimp on investigative journalism and endanger American journalists elsewhere in the world. “Any prosecution by the United States of Mr Assange for WikiLeaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations. Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a statement.
But some US interlocutors have argued that Wikileaks is not a media organization. Reflecting the deep aversion to Wikileaks in the US national security establishment, the current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was the CIA Director, had described Wikileaks as a “nonstate hostile intelligence service” and a threat to US national security.
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