Brief respite for Julian Assange, but a far greater threat now awaits him [VIDEO]

Julian Assange
Tom Coburg

On 19 May 2017, Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny announced the end of a preliminary investigation into an allegation of rape against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. But Assange is staying exactly where he is. At least until he receives assurances that he won’t be extradited to the US if leaves the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Assange’s fears are entirely valid. Not only is there a sealed indictment ready for his prosecution, but senior US officials are actively examining specific charges. The Metropolitan Police, meanwhile, have issued a statement saying that Assange would be arrested for skipping bail if he left the embassy. And it is entirely feasible that, once Assange is held by the British police, a US arrest warrant and extradition order could be issued.

Charges examined

US authorities are reportedly preparing charges against Assange. These charges could include conspiracy, theft of government property, or violating the Espionage Act. Regarding the latter, CIA Director Mike Pompeo explained that WikiLeaks had allegedly “directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information, and it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States”.

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A clue to how Pompeo would effect a prosecution was provided when he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that:

It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors, like Russia.

Pompeo also added that, as Assange is not a US citizen, he “has no First Amendment freedoms”.

And now, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declared that Assange’s arrest is a “priority”. Indeed, he stated:

We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.

Assange prosecution trail uncovered

In fact, the US ‘efforts’ to make a case against Assange began some nine years back.

In 2010, WikiLeaks published a March 2008 US Army Counterintelligence Centre report, marked ‘Secret’, as U.S. Intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks.

The report recommends [pdf, p1]:

The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistlblowers [sic] could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the Wikileaks.org Web site.

Subsequently, a hacked email dated 26 January 2011 from Sean Noonan (of private intelligence agency Stratfor) provided confirmation that prosecution of Assange was underway. The email was headed “Not for Pub — We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect”. Stratfor’s Fred Burton also proposed that Assange should be waterboarded.

That sealed indictment was referenced [pdf] in a classified US cable, dated June 2012, about Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning to the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Australia.

The cable states [pdf p8]:

Concurrently, District Court Judge Liam O’Grady of the Eastern District of Virginia (where reportedly a WikiLeaks Grand Jury has been convened) denied a motion to unseal documents because doing so ‘at this time would damage an ongoing criminal investigation’.

On pages 10 and 11 [pdf] a facsimile from the WikiLeaks Grand Jury refers to a decision to delay the unsealing of the indictment.

Australian government in the loop

Another government document from Australia states [pdf]:

  • “US officials have announced publicly that an investigation into Wikileaks has been underway” – (p14)
  • “On 29 November 2010 the US Attorney-General, Holder, said that there was an active ongoing criminal investigation with regard to this matter [the Wikileaks affair]” – (p17)
  • “The US investigation into possible criminal conduct by Mr Assange has been proceeding for more than a year” – (p39)

And the most likely charge?

In a 2013 affidavit, Assange stated:

In Alexandria, Virginia, a Grand Jury has been empanelled for the past three years to explore ways to prosecute WikiLeaks for its publishing work. It has identified seven civilians, including the ‘founders, owners or managers of WikiLeaks’. The Grand Jury’s case number is 10GJ3793.

The late Michael Ratner, Assange’s US lawyer, was certain about the most likely charge:

[T]he Grand Jury’s number is 10, standing for the year it began, GJ which is Grand Jury and then 3793. Three is the Conspiracy Statute in the United States. 793 is the Espionage Statute. So what they’re investigating is 3793: conspiracy to commit espionage.

It is unlikely that British authorities would refuse to co-operate with the US authorities in extraditing Assange. But such a move would be challenged in the British courts. There’s also a possibility that Assange could be tried in absentia.

In short, there may well be much more drama to come – and very soon. Unless, of course, Assange has an ace card up his sleeve in the form of sensitive information that could embarrass US authorities further.

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Featured image via Flickr Creative Commons

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