Assange Charged in Computer Hacking Conspiracy

The other shoe has dropped.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at the Westminster Magistrates Court, after he was arrested in London, Britain April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay – RC198D09F730

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.”
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.

Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Virginia, “WikiLeaks Founder Charged in Computer Hacking Conspiracy”

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.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Intelligence, Law and the Courts, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    The various hacking schemes surrounding the 2016 US elections and subsequent operations against other Western democracies will surely be charged at some point.

    It’s less clear that acting as a cutout for the Russians by publishing this stuff is illegal and I’m not sure reminding people this actually happened is on Barr’s agenda.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    It turns out that the legal system may have difficulty getting over the statute of limitations barrier. They’re trying to get around that by relying on another clause which stretches the SL out to eight years in the case of activity involved in international terrorism, but there’s a question whether the U.K. will go along with the extradition if they don’t think that Assange will receive adequate due process. Of course, considering what Assange’s present U.K. judge has just said about him, the U.K. legal system may decide he’s just not worth it. Assange certainly has managed to bite the hands of many people who feed him–and then complains when he gets dumped.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @grumpy realist:

    It turns out that the legal system may have difficulty getting over the statute of limitations barrier

    IANAL and perhaps Butch or someone with more expertise will weigh in. One would think that actively avoiding arrest would stop the clock but I could be wrong.

    there’s a question whether the U.K. will go along with the extradition if they don’t think that Assange will receive adequate due process.

    I presumed by this

    arrested today in the United Kingdom pursuant to the U.S./UK Extradition Treaty

    that extraditing him was the point of the arrest. I take “pursuant” to mean that UK officials arrested him at the behest of the DOJ with intent to extradite.

  4. EddieInCA says:

    How stupid or arrogant or entitled do you have to be to intentionally antagonize the very people responsible for keeping you safe for the last seven years?

    Here’s a small snippets from the piece:

    Ecuador’s decision to allow police to arrest Julian Assange inside its embassy on Thursday followed a fraught and acrimonious period in which relations between the government in Quito and the WikiLeaks founder became increasingly hostile…..

    Valencia said Ecuador had been left with little choice but to end Assange’s stay in its London embassy following his “innumerable acts of interference in the politics of other states” which put at risk the country’s relations with them….

    His second point focused on Assange’s behaviour, which stretched from riding a skateboard and playing football inside the small embassy building to mistreating and threatening embassy staff and even coming to blows with security workers….

    He said Assange “permanently accused [embassy] staff of spying on and filming him” on behalf of the United States and instead of thanking Ecuador for nearly seven years of asylum he and his entourage launched “an avalanche of criticisms” against the Quito government….

    If this is the guy First Amendment absolutists want to defend, they’re going to make it harder for real journalists down the line.

  5. Guarneri says:

    No blogpost on Greg Craig. Imagine that.

    11
  6. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    By Wikipedia’s definition, a statute of limitations defines the maximum time period within which legal action can be initiated. I take this to mean that if a crime with a 7-year limit occurred in 2010, and an indictment was filed in 2015, then prosecution can still take place even decades later, as the legal process began well within the time period.

  7. EddieInCA says:

    @Guarneri:

    Guarneri says:
    Friday, April 12, 2019 at 10:07

    No blogpost on Greg Craig. Imagine that.

    And yet, there is an “Open Forum” for anyone to post about anything they want. You could have very easily posted about Greg Craig there rather than the post on which you wasted your time.

    Here. I’ll make it easy for you:

    Greg Craig was indicted. Good on Mueller. Shows he’s going after anyone who broke the law, regardless of party affiliation. It underscores his integrity and independence. If Greg Craig is guilty, I hope they throw the book at him.

    What else is there to say?

    16
  8. SenyorDave says:

    @Guarneri: No blogpost on Greg Craig. Imagine that. Are you surprised? If you didn’t know by now that OTB is a far-left, red as they come website you must have been asleep at the switch. I mean look at the contributors, a bunch of lunatic fringe characters. A Marine Corps University professor, a lawyer with a degree from George Mason, and a professor of political science. What could you possible expect?

    7
    3
  9. grumpy realist says:

    @Guarneri: You gonna thkweem and thkweem and thkweem for ice cream, too?

    (Brexit is a helluva lot more important than some two-bit character from the Obama administration who managed to bumble himself into difficulties after he left the administration. Note that there’s no new article about Brexit. Or are you going to take Craig as being indicative of the entire Obama administration? Of course you would.)

  10. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    The various hacking schemes surrounding the 2016 US elections and subsequent operations against other Western democracies will surely be charged at some point.

    I take “pursuant” to mean that UK officials arrested him at the behest of the DOJ with intent to extradite.

    As a rule of thumb, we cannot add charges once we have taken custody of someone who has been extradited. There was a decent explanation of this on Maddow last night.

    The short version of the rationale is that extradition is as political as it is legal, and the arresting country may not be happy with having handed someone over to be charged with things they don’t consider to be crimes. And all of the rules are written to handle this conflict in advance.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Guarneri:

    At issue were Craig’s 2012 lobbying and media contacts on behalf of Yanukovych, while Craig was a partner at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

    I’m not sure how this person’s crimes are relevant to this thread, particularly because he had left the White House 2 years before. Maybe you’ll be able to explain the importance to us. (And for gosh sakes, stop mailing in this stuff! You’re embarrassing yourself? BTW, has your mental squatter problem resolved itself?)

  12. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    My guess is that he knows and we know Dennison is a saint, always right, always just, always fair, always good, and we’re going after him only because he’s a Republican, but we excuse true scoundrels if they are Democrats.

    So, he thinks we’re as crooked morally as he and his party are.

    Me, I don’t care whether someone’s a democrat or Republican. In Clinton’s case, when the affair with Lewinsky broke, I thought he ought to resign for committing mass stupidity while in office.

  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: I always took Lewinsky as small scale stupidity but was never a fan. I quit at “smoked but didn’t inhale.” If that’s all the more character that he had–a transparently idiotic lie–then I took him to be too cowardly to be POTUS. Turns out he was more credible (and creditable) than I thought, but considering the GOPers he was followed by, that wasn’t a high bar to jump (even allowing for my ignint-ness).

  14. wr says:

    @Guarneri: You’ll notice there’s also no report on Mott the Hoople’s brilliant NYC show, even though Ian Hunter is about to turn 80. It’s almost as if these people write about what interests them, rather than reading our minds to figure out what we’re thinking of…

  15. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I always took Lewinsky as small scale stupidity but was never a fan.

    After the controversies involving Paula Jones and Jennifer Flowers, you’d think he’d learn to keep it to himself while in office. Not doing so was reckless and stupid. More so since it forced the Democratic party to defend him, and it might have cost Gore the presidency.

  16. Walton Dreka says:

    “Oil will just get more expensive as we use more of it up.”And use will drop.And the trillions in “reserves” will become as worthless as they were in 1900.

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KTAk49E4kFfKdQdTsAltJrPBmvY9viWW/view