The US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday confirmed that Julian Assange, the co-founder of WikiLeaks, has been indicted for conspiracy to commit computer hacking with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the US Army. The indictment was unsealed after Assange was arrested in the UK.
The indictment, filed under seal in the Eastern District of Virgin in March 2018, alleges that in 2010 Assange engaged in a conspiracy to commit computer intrusion when “Assange agreed to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on United States Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network, a United States government network used for classified documents and communications.” By cracking the password, Manning would have been able to log onto the network using different user credentials, hiding her identity from investigators looking for the source of disclosure of classified information. In addition, the indictment alleges that the parties agreed Manning would use her access to the Department of Defense’s secured computers “to download classified records [and] transmit [the records] to Wikileaks.”
Assange could face up to five years in prison if he is convicted.
The DOJ disclosed the indictment after the US announced an extradition request for Assange, who was arrested on Thursday in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Assange had been living at the embassy since 2012, after Ecuador granted him asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial executions, Agnes Callamard, commented that the “UK had now arbitrarily-detained” Assange, “possibly endangering his life.” She also tweeted that Assange’s arrest exposed him to extradition to the US, “thus exposing him to risk of serious human rights violations.”