USA charges WikiLeaks founder with publishing classified info

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The Justice Department said: "Assange actively encouraged Manning to provide more information and agreed to crack a password hash stored on US Department of Defence computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a United States government network used for classified documents and communications". The new charges bolster Assange's argument that some of them could fall within the exception for political offenses.

The new charges include conspiring with former Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning to obtain classified materials, compromising sources in the Middle East and China, and conspiracy to hack into a more secure military database.

According to the Justice Department, the new charges from a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia allege that "Assange's actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries".

The case presented questions about media freedom, including whether the Justice Department is charging Assange for actions - such as soliciting and publishing classified information - that ordinarily journalists do as a matter of course.

Assange believes himself to be a reporter and publisher, and considers Wikileaks a protected media outlet. The documents allegedly included unredacted details about foreign people who have assisted the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and State Department officials around the world.

The Wikileaks founder and current resident of a London jail cell was charged Thursday under the 102-year-old Espionage Act, with 18 separate counts carrying a possible 170 prison sentence if he's found guilty.

Assange's lawyer, Barry Pollack, said the "unprecedented charges" against his client imperil "all journalists in their endeavour to inform the public about actions that have been taken by the U.S. government".

"This is the first time in history that anyone operating in a journalistic capacity has been charged under the Espionage Act", Michael Tracey tweeted, adding in another tweet that the charges represented "the gravest attack on the First Amendment in years - possibly ever".

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Manning already spent two months in jail for refusing a previous subpoena to testify to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.

He said: "The Department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it".

Then last month, Assange was handed over to the United Kingdom authorities by Ecuadorian officials: he was jailed for 50 weeks for breaking his bail conditions in Britain.

Assange, meanwhile, is in British custody following his ejection earlier this year from his long self-imposed confinement in the embassy of Ecuador in London.

Prosecutors sought throughout the document to make a distinction between what Assange did as the founder and "public face" of WikiLeaks and the work of journalists.

Assange has said in court that he had no regrets about "journalism that had won many awards".

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen as he leaves a police station in London, Britain April 11, 2019.

A lawyer for Assange did not immediately return an email seeking comment.