Julian Assange

New Espionage Charges Against Assange Are Bad for Journalists, Worse for Citizens

It's not just the right to report that's under attack. It's also your right to be informed.

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The Justice Department this afternoon announced an 18-charge indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, accusing him of violating U.S. espionage laws by releasing and publishing classified military reports he received from Chelsea Manning.

Assange had already been charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a prosecution which was already troubling, as it was based entirely on giving Manning a suggestion on how to crack a password. Assange himself is not accused of direct hacking.

This new superseding indictment is a huge deal because it treats the publication of classified information by a media outlet as a federal crime. This is almost unheard of—the Espionage Act is typically used to punish the leakers themselves, people like Edward Snowden, Reality Winner, and most recently Daniel Hale. No journalist has been successfully prosecuted by the federal government for the act of publishing classified information (See: The Pentagon Papers).

If there's any doubt that the federal government is trying to punish Assange for engaging in acts of journalism, here's a piece of the Justice Department's announcement (and there's a link to the indictment itself at the bottom of the linked page):

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.  These human sources included local Afghans and Iraqis, journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents from repressive regimes.  According to the superseding indictment, 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.

The superseding indictment alleges that beginning in late 2009, Assange and WikiLeaks actively solicited United States classified information, including by publishing a list of "Most Wanted Leaks" that sought, among other things, classified documents.  Manning responded to Assange's solicitations by using access granted to her as an intelligence analyst to search for United States classified documents, and provided to Assange and WikiLeaks databases containing approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activities reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables.

Many of these documents were classified at the Secret level, meaning that their unauthorized disclosure could cause serious damage to United States national security.  Manning also provided rules of engagement files for the Iraq war, most of which were also classified at the Secret level and which delineated the circumstances and limitations under which United States forces would initiate or conduct combat engagement with other forces.

Regardless of how one might feel about Assange or Manning, this is clearly a threat to the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press. If the prosecution is successful, we could see President Donald Trump's administration to attempt to go after other media outlets who reveal state secrets. Expect to see many, many responses about how this could be used to go after The New York Times or the Washington Post or any media outlet Trump may be feuding with.

I think it's equally important to understand that fundamentally, it is also an attack on your right to know what your government is doing. You, as a citizen, have every right to know much more than your government has been telling you about what the government does in your name. That's the ultimate threat here, so be wary when media outlets make this solely about them.

Furthermore, be extremely wary of the government attempting to tell you who is and is not a journalist. Government officials have insisted for years that Assange doesn't count as a journalist, and they're saying that again today (John Demers, head of DOJ's National Security Division, bluntly said "Julian Assange is no journalist"). Journalism is an act, not just an occupation, and the government does not have the authority to decide who is and is not a legitimate journalist. Any number of media outlets have requested, received, and published classified information in the manner of WikiLeaks, and in fact, many media outlets have published stories based on information released by WikiLeaks and Assange.

Right now, Assange sits in jail in the United Kingdom for jumping bail in a Swedish rape case dating back years. The United States is looking to have him extradited here to stand trial.

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44 responses to “New Espionage Charges Against Assange Are Bad for Journalists, Worse for Citizens

  1. This is just another classic step in the road to a complete totalitarian state. America is slowly joining the rest of the “civilized” world in clamping down on it’s citizens.

    I had hope once that there would be a mass pushback against this kind of thing, especially since the goddamn FEDGOV has no place keeping secrets* from us. I don’t think it’ll happen anymore. Too many people are too stupid to notice or care as the boot comes down on their neck.

    *Unless it involves troop movements and other things required to keep good people from being killed. If there was a trustworthy judge somewhere in the country I might be willing to believe that the FEDGOV was being honest about national security. Alas.

    1. Still remember that giraldo Rivera segment where he revealed location and battle plans prior to the attack. Was horrible.

      But precedent says we dont arrest and prosecute exposure these documents, we prosecute the thief.

      Oddly Democrats are now for arresting Assange because of hillary… and against arresting or punishing Bradley manning for being the actual thief.

      Live on a country of fucked up politics.

      1. Are Democrats really all about prosecuting Assange now? I guess it’s not a surprise. But I try to be an optimist about people.
        Good observation on the turnaround on the Espionage Act.

      2. “Democrats are now for arresting Assange because of hillary… and against arresting or punishing Bradley manning for being the actual thief”

        Transgender is a get-out-of-jail-free card in the eyes of a Democrat.

  2. So if I’m reading this right…. Reason is against novel interpretations of the espionage statute… but for novel interpretations of the obstruction statute. Weird.

    I’m against all novel readings of any law. Laws are no good if they are not clear and precise.

    1. But you see , this time it’s against a journalist. Now it’s a problem. Wasn’t up till now.

      1. Shouldn’t have obstructed justice by claiming asylum. If he is innocent he should have turned himself in for an interview. We need oversight of our journalists that have special rules for themselves, so Congress should subpoena all their financial records to ensure proper oversight.

        1. Right because innocent people are never jailed or killed.

    2. So, you aren’t allowed to think that some precedents or interpretations are good and some are bad?

      1. Thought I was pretty clear on what I thought. Which part didnt you understand? I hate everything about modern prosecutions and their reading laws broadly and novely.

        1. Comment was on your thinking it weird that Reason supports some precedents and interpretations and not others.

        2. “” I hate everything about modern prosecutions and their reading laws broadly and novely.”‘

          Same here. I’ve been wanting to see reform for decades. That’s one of the issues I have with people supporting all of Mueller’s actions. A lot of the people who once stood beside me complaining about prosecutorial conduct are now supporting that conduct because it’s used against someone they don’t like.

          It reinforces my belief that the true character of a person is determined not by how they treat their friends, but how they treat their enemies.

  3. I guess no longer can the Trump administration claim to be better than its predecessor on press freedom.

    1. The Trump administration can and will claim whatever it wants to claim.

      1. Until now the claim would have been credible.

    2. These indictments weren’t drafted under trump. Do you honestly think trump was the one pushing this?

      1. I have no idea if the president is behind any of this or not, but it’s his Justice Department now. We rarely let Obama off the hook for things under his watch, and rightfully so.

        1. The president’s do a lot less.than they are given credit for. The unelected bureaucrats are far more likely to be the ones pushing this. If you follow the drama at DHS trump still has appointees at high levels working against his policies. The Assange indictment was a draft that was written many many years ago. I actually hope trump orders his team to not prosecute, but this was done with career folks. Not.st the behest of trump.

          I’m actually wondering if reason will have an article on trump declassifying all the fisa investigation crap tonight. Seems to go parallel to wanting an open administration like this article implies.

  4. Of course the pols and government officials are out to get Assange for leaking secrets and outing sources–that is their job!

    1. And it’s Shackford’s job to complain about it.

  5. I’m still wondering how exactly the US government can insist US laws apply worldwide. Assange is not a US citizen and he was not in the US, why is he being prosecuted for breaking US laws? Can China pass a law making tariffs illegal and then seek Trump’s extradition to stand trial in China?

    I know, it’s a silly question, like asking why Iran couldn’t declare a fatwa against a US resident and then dronestrike his ass right in the middle of downtown Chicago and use the “it’s all perfectly legal under the AUMF” defense the US uses for dronestriking whomever they please whenever and wherever it pleases them.

    1. The idea is that the United states was the harmed entity. Just like if you kill a soldier or us citizen abroad the FBI can intervene if a country has set up that agreement with them.

      No I dont agree with this belief.

  6. Well, this is a big step on the road to 1984 and Big Brother style government. There’s no arguing with that. But dumb statists will be okay with that.

  7. I am confused. Didn’t reason just support impeachment based on Russia probe obstruction? Assange was prime linchpin on the collusion narrative. If Trump did anything to stop the prosecution he would have been accused of obstruction of justice. So when do we stop the mind reading of other peoples corrupt motives?

    1. Didn’t reason just support impeachment based on Russia probe obstruction?

      If they did I missed it. Which is quite possible.

  8. If the prosecution is successful, we could see President Donald Trump’s administration to attempt to go after other media outlets who reveal state secrets.

    It would be like the return of Obama’s DoJ. It’s almost like they’re a separate, permanent unelected branch of government.

  9. Trump may pardon whistleblowers who expose war crimes.

    Just kidding. He’s thinking of pardoning soldiers accused of committing war crimes.

  10. If the prosecution is successful, we could see President Donald Trump’s administration to attempt to go after other media outlets who reveal state secrets.

    Yes… because this isn’t bad unless Trump!

    What the heck is wrong with people?

    Why the imaginary version of Trump? And why must imaginary Trump be the reason we oppose something? Obama already used government power against the press It already happened in the past. It was a nice, clean, articulate democrat, not a nutty twitter troll republican. We really don’t need an imaginary boogie man for this one.

    And if you want to go there… who has been abusing government authority to go after individual citizens of late? I’ll give you a hint… more than likely it isn’t the President – despite his late-night twitter rants. Meanwhile the entire democrat caucus isn’t just cheerleading abuse of government power for political purposes… they are rabidly calling for much more of this to go on.

    But yeah, Trump tweeted something about fake news… so let’s all focus on that as if Big Brother has arrived wearing an orange spray tan and a comb-over.

  11. I smeared ‘Free Assange! ” in shit on the walls of my crib.

  12. […] It’s not just the right to report that’s under attack. It’s also your right to be informed. — Read on reason.com/2019/05/23/new-espionage-charges-against-assange-are-bad-for-journalists-worse-for-citize… […]

  13. I’b buy your argument if Assange was actually a journalist.

    1. Please explain why he isn’t.

      1. Guy didn’t actually report news. He ran a site that published leaks. He’s as much a journalist as I am. Which is to say, he isn’t.

  14. […] attack on free speech and the free press is afoot, as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charges Julian Assange with espionage over leaked documents published on WikiLeaks. This is “the first time in the history of our […]

  15. […] attack on free speech and the free press is afoot, as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charges Julian Assange with espionage over leaked documents published on WikiLeaks. This is “the first time in the history of our […]

  16. […] attack on free speech and the free press is afoot, as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charges Julian Assange with espionage over leaked documents published on WikiLeaks. This is “the first time in the history of our […]

  17. […] attack on free speech and the free press is afoot, as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charges Julian Assange with espionage over leaked documents published on WikiLeaks. This is “the first time in the history of our […]

  18. […] Julian Assange would leave them and the First Amendment unscathed was decisively crushed by the indictment unsealed yesterday. While DOJ officials are still trying to assure reporters that the Trump […]

  19. […] Julian Assange would leave them and the First Amendment unscathed was decisively crushed by the indictment unsealed yesterday. While DOJ officials are still trying to assure reporters that the Trump […]

  20. […] Julian Assange would leave them and the First Amendment unscathed was decisively crushed by the indictment unsealed yesterday. While DOJ officials are still trying to assure reporters that the Trump […]

  21. […] Julian Assange would leave them and the First Amendment unscathed was decisively crushed by the indictment unsealed yesterday. While DOJ officials are still trying to assure reporters that the Trump […]

  22. […] attack on free speech and the free press is afoot, as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charges Julian Assange with espionage over leaked documents published on WikiLeaks. This is “the first time in the history of our […]

  23. […] attack on free speech and the free press is afoot, as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charges Julian Assange with espionage over leaked documents published on WikiLeaks. This is “the first time in the history of our […]

  24. Our govt. and country is getting more and more effed up by the day!

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