According to a report from The New York Times, the U.S. has not stopped its investigation into Julian Assange or his nonprofit media organization WikiLeaks since it began in October 2010.
While Assange’s name was largely absent from national headlines in recent months, the WikiLeaks founder found himself in the news once again after he announced he knew the whereabouts of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden — a man U.S. officials have attempted to find and detain.
Assange has also been mentioned frequently in the trial of military whistleblower Bradley Manning, who admitted in February to releasing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks.
Though the international organization’s releases of high profile information have slowed, the Times reported that Assange is currently being investigated by several U.S. government agencies.
A Justice Department spokesman confirmed to the The New York Times that it “has an investigation into matters involving WikiLeaks, and that investigation remains ongoing,” but the spokesman declined to provide details.
“There are people who say he is being paranoid or unreasonable, but that does not mean that they are not out to get him,” said Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers — a top-secret Pentagon study that revealed the government’s decision-making related to the Vietnam War — in 1971 to the mainstream media. “A grand jury has been convened, an investigation is underway, and I would be surprised if they did not go after him.”
Assange has not spoken much about his own case, but said his primary concern is not the charges of sexual assault in Sweden, but rather the charges he faces in the U.S. Though he declined to be interviewed by The New York Times, he released a statement saying that the Justice Department “and its accompanying FBI investigation are blinded by their zeal to get rid of publishers who speak truth to power.”
“They believe U.S. agencies can flout laws, coerce people into becoming informants, steal our property and detain our alleged sources without trial,” the statement said.
A member of Assange’s legal team in London, Jennifer Robinson, reiterated Assange’s concerns about how the U.S. was treating his case.
“Julian is in an incredibly unfair situation where he has not been charged with a crime in any country and the United States continues to place him in legal jeopardy by refusing to discuss the status of that investigation,” she said. “He is in a no man’s land.”
Because WikiLeaks is an international organization and Assange is an Australian who did not work for the U.S. government or one of its contractors like Manning or Snowden, he cannot be charged with espionage.
And since WikiLeaks continues to identify as a news organization and says it publishes the information on its website to aid traditional mainstream news organizations, the U.S. government will have to argue Assange and his fellow WikiLeaks team are not journalists if or when they prosecute him.
James C. Goodale is a First Amendment lawyer and author of “Fighting for the Press.” In an interview with his former employer the New York Times, Goodale said he expects the government will go after WikiLeaks even though it seems like the organization should be covered under freedom of speech.
“Given the government’s aggression in the Snowden case,” he said, “I would expect that the government will continue to move forward with the Assange case on a conspiracy theory, even though WikiLeaks would seem eligible for First Amendment protections.”
Goodale continued, saying that “no reporter had ever been successfully prosecuted on a conspiracy charge.” However, recent government action, including an investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen for publishing classified information, “was evidence that the government was ‘moving toward criminalizing the reporting process.’”
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