Assange Charged in Computer Hacking Conspiracy
The other shoe has dropped.
When news broke that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested yesterday morning, I mused as to which set of crimes would take precedence. The DOJ has clarified that issue:
Julian P. Assange, 47, the founder of WikiLeaks, was arrested today in the United Kingdom pursuant to the U.S./UK Extradition Treaty, in connection with a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer.
According to court documents unsealed today, the charge relates to Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.
The indictment 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. Manning, who had access to the computers in connection with her duties as an intelligence analyst, was using the computers to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks. Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log on to the computers under a username that did not belong to her. Such a deceptive measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures.
During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange. The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information. During an exchange, Manning told Assange that “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.” To which Assange replied, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.”Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Virginia, “WikiLeaks Founder Charged in Computer Hacking Conspiracy”
Assange is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
A commenter in the previous thread noted that it would be amusing if Assange were sentenced to seven years—the amount of time he spent hiding from prosecution. It turns out, it’ll be much less than that.
Of course, the crimes that brought Assange to international attention weren’t the last committed by his organization. The various hacking schemes surrounding the 2016 US elections and subsequent operations against other Western democracies will surely be charged at some point. Ditto the hacking into the Ecuadorian president’s computer that helped speed his being ousted from his hidey-hole.