The United States owes a huge thanks to the government of Ecuador for putting an abrupt end to the 7-year asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy of Julian Assange. He and his organization, Wikileaks, have done as much damage to U.S. national security and disruption to American presidential politics as any hostile intelligence service.
The decision allowed British police to arrest Assange for disobeying court orders when he took asylum, raising the welcome and likely prospect that he may be extradited to the United States to stand trial on charges of conspiring to steal American secrets. He should be held accountable for his alleged actions against the United States.
The charges relate to Assange’s use in 2010 of then-Army Pfc. Bradley Manning to obtain vast quantities of highly classified U.S. documents subsequently published by Wikileaks. Manning himself was convicted of stealing the documents and while in prison underwent a sex change to Chelsea Manning. She is currently again in prison for refusing to give testimony to a grand jury investigating Assange.
Assange is charged with conspiring with Manning to steal those documents by providing Manning help in an attempt to crack a secret government password that would give access to more materials. If true, that would remove any claims that he is a journalist and pass into the realm of criminal activity.
Federal authorities said the charges may be amended. Last year a federal grand jury indicted Joshua Adam Schultz, a former CIA employee accused of having given Wikileaks access to secret government cyber warfare tools known as Vault 7. Charges against Assange could arise from that case.
It’s uncertain if Assange will also be charged with a crime in connection with Wikileaks’ publication of stolen Democratic National Committee emails in 2016, though it seems unlikely. The U.S. government has already accused Russia of being responsible for stealing the documents. However, the role played by Wikileaks in publishing the emails raises a question of whether it is truly independent or an organ of Russian intelligence.
As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, despite the group’s focus on transparency and holding the powerful accountable, it has shown a preference for going after democratic institutions rather than authoritarians.
Assange became a hero of the anti-American left with the publication of the Manning trove. That was a major factor in the decision of Ecuador in 2012 to grant him asylum, a decision the Ecuadorian left clings to. Rafael Correa, who served as president of Ecuador from 2007 to 2017, denounced the decision to expel Assange as “a crime that humanity will never forget.”
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier said that, despite his disobedience of a British court order, Britain would violate Assange’s human rights if it arrested him. That bizarre finding was cited after the arrest of Edward Snowden, another leaker who has taken refuge in Moscow to avoid prosecution for his damaging disclosure of U.S. intelligence secrets in 2013.
Snowden called the expulsion of Assange from the London embassy of Ecuador “a dark moment for press freedom,” repeating a contention that no media will be safe from prosecution for publishing government secrets if Assange is successfully convicted. That is likely untrue. Again, if Assange actively worked with Manning to acquire U.S. secrets, that puts him in a different category than journalists who passively receive government secrets that deserve public attention.
When the Supreme Court declined in 1969 to allow prosecution of muckraking journalist Drew Pearson for publishing documents stolen from Connecticut Sen. Thomas Dodd, it ruled that Pearson did not participate in the theft and therefore could not be held responsible under the law. That is the basis of the charges against Assange. The government alleges that Assange helped steal documents. If it can prove that charge, he should go to prison.