WASHINGTON — A U.S. prosecutor has inadvertently revealed that Julian Assange, the founder and former editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, has been secretly charged by the U.S. government, confirming long-held suspicions that the U.S. has had criminal charges waiting for Assange should he be extradited to the United States.
The revelation comes just hours after a report in the Wall Street Journal revealed that the U.S. Department of Justice is preparing to indict Assange in such a way that it would trigger his extradition to the United States to stand trial, following sensitive negotiations with foreign governments, most likely the governments of the United Kingdom and Ecuador.
Assange, a citizen of Australia and Ecuador, is currently living in Ecuador’s embassy in London as a political asylee. He has remained in the embassy for over six years in order to protect himself from extradition to the United States. However, the current Ecuadorian government led by Lenín Moreno has been eager to restore close ties to the United States and has had a tense relationship with Assange, which analysts have warned could threaten the journalist’s asylum.
A report published last night in The Washington Post detailed how the fact that the U.S. government has sealed charges awaiting Assange in the United States was inadvertently revealed by a “copy-paste error” made by assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen Dwyer.
In an indictment unrelated to Assange, Dwyer wrote that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.” Dwyer later wrote that the charges “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”
Dwyer had been urging a judge to keep the unrelated matter detailed in the indictment sealed but the language used to request that action from the judge had apparently been lifted from a document requesting that charges targeting Assange be sealed. The indictment in question pertained instead to the case of Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, who is accused of sex trafficking a minor and of having “substantial interest in terrorist acts.”
SCOOP: US Department of Justice "accidentally" reveals existence of sealed charges (or a draft for them) against WikiLeaks' publisher Julian Assange in apparent cut-and-paste error in an unrelated case also at the Eastern District of Virginia. https://t.co/wrjlAbXk5Z pic.twitter.com/4UlB0c1SAX
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 16, 2018
U.S. attorney’s office confirms “error”
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Virginia, Joshua Steve, confirmed to the Post that the “filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.” Other sources familiar with the matter that were cited by the Post stated that what Dwyer had disclosed was true but unintentional.
Notably, Dwyer is also assigned to the U.S.’ case against WikiLeaks, which was opened in 2010 after the transparency organization published leaks exposing U.S. government wrongdoing in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
It is unclear what charges Assange faces within the sealed indictment. Past reports have indicated that U.S. prosecutors were seeking charges related to conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act. However, these efforts have been complicated, not for lack of effort on the part of the government but because Assange was merely the publisher, not the procurer, of the leaked classified documents.
NOTE: The US case against WikiLeaks started in 2010 and was expanded over Snowden and the largest leak in CIA history "Vault 7". The prosecutor on the order is not from Mr. Mueller's team and WikiLeaks has never been contacted by anyone from his office. https://t.co/hGuxp0Jos4
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 16, 2018
The charges had long been suspected after emails from the U.S.-based private intelligence company Stratfor — which were released by WikiLeaks in 2012 — had revealed that the U.S. has had a sealed indictment against Assange since 2011. However, the charges had not been “officially” confirmed until the recent error in the unrelated indictment.
In regard to the apparently inadvertent revelation in the recent indictment, Barry Pollack – one of Assange’s attorneys – told the Post in a statement:
The only thing more irresponsible than charging a person for publishing truthful information would be to put in a public filing information that clearly was not intended for the public and without any notice to Mr. Assange. Obviously, I have no idea if he has actually been charged or for what, but the notion that the federal criminal charges could be brought based on the publication of truthful information is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set.”
A chilling precedent
Indeed, many journalists and analysts have long noted that charging Assange for his role in publishing leaked but truthful information sets a truly troubling precedent.
For instance, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, Ben Wizner, stated:
Any prosecution 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.”
Journalist Glenn Greenwald, writing at the Intercept, similarly pointed out the grave threat the U.S.’ case against Assange would pose to press freedoms. Greenwald noted that “reporting on the secret acts of government officials or powerful financial actors – including by publishing documents taken without authorization – is at the core of investigative journalism,” adding that “some of the most important journalism over the last several decades has occurred because it is legal and constitutional to publish secret documents even if the sources of those documents obtained them through illicit or even illegal means.”
Top Photo | WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves after greeting supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, May 19, 2017 Frank Augstein | AP
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.