Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was ejected from the Ecuadorian embassy on Thursday and promptly arrested on charges that he conspired with Chelsea Manning to hack into classified information held on U.S. military computers, but the case so far may not be as airtight as the United States government needs to get a conviction.
The Daily Wire reported early Thursday that Assange’s asylum was revoked by the Ecuadorian government after a series of run-ins with Ecuadorian officials manning the country’s London embassy where Assange was staying. The Ecuadorian government invited British police to enter the embassy and arrest Assange — an agreement that appears to have been inked last week, based on the alleged presence of undercover law enforcement around the embassy last weekend.
Ecuador has been furious with Assange for some time, alleging bad behavior on the part of the Wikileaks founder within the embassy (including neglect of his cat), and violation of the terms of his asylum, including a provision that barred Assange from meddling in foreign affairs.
A memo released by the Justice Department details the case against Assange and claims that Assange “encouraged” Manning — then working as an intelligence analyst — to retrieve more classified documents after Manning delivered an initial set of stolen items to Wikileaks.
The document “alleges that in March 2010, Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications.”
The United States has until early June to prove to the United Kingdom that they have enough evidence to prosecute assange — but that may not be as easy as it seems.
The case against Assange, as it stands, seems weak, and hinges on whether Assange speaking to and “encouraging” Chelsea Manning constitutes conspiracy to hack into and steal classified records — the crime Manning was eventually charged with. The DOJ document supposes that Assange was an accomplice to Manning’s crimes, but the evidence seems to suggest that Assange’s “encouragement” may have involved little more than receiving Manning’s stolen documents and requesting more.
If that’s the case, Assange’s greatest crime — at least under this indictment — is no worse than The New York Times publishing the Pentagon Papers, or The Washington Post repeating the words of Deep Throat. As Andrew McCarthy points out at NRO, the First Amendment protects reporters who publish even classified information.
But if Assange went further — say, helped to actually crack the password or provided Manning with material assistance in committing espionage, that’s a different matter. But although the DOJ indictment lists an offer on Assange’s part to crack the password, it doesn’t charge Assange with actually making any overt efforts.
The U.S. government may choose to add to its case beyond the 2017 indictment that was used, in part, to round up and jail Assange Thursday morning. If it does not, they will have to prove to a UK court that what Assange did was more serious than what is alleged. If the court disagrees, the UK will have the opportunity to prosecute Assange on a bail violation, and Sweden may choose to resurface a long-dropped sexual assault charge.