The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has charged the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, with a fresh indictment superseding the previous one on counts of planned conspiracy in compromising classified military and government information. The new indictment does not add additional counts to the previous 18-count indictment against Assange that was filed in May 2019. However, the DoJ says, “it does broaden the overall scope of conspiracy.”
In May last year, the DoJ charged Assange under the a 102-year-old U.S. Espionage Act, on 18 different counts of espionage against the country and sharing of classified information on a public platform in the year 2010. The earlier charges, however, only concentrated on the unlawful outcome and the data that was leaked but no one thought about how and why it was leaked. The DoJ seems to now cover that base as well in the new allegations.
As per the DoJ, in August 2009, Assange attended the “Hacking at Random” conference held in the Netherlands. It was here that he initially instigated hackers to search, steal and send classified information to WikiLeaks. He even conducted a separate session for those interested to work with WikiLeaks and explained how he exploited “a small vulnerability” in the document distribution system of the U.S. Congress to gain confidential data. He used this technique in many other conferences worldwide to woo and recruit potential hackers for working with WikiLeaks.
It is not certain whether Chelsea Manning, who was then working in the U.S. Department of Defense as an intelligence analyst, was also influenced or simply fell prey to these tactics, but it was proved that he did indeed leak the confidential files to Assange which he had access to with respect to his duties. The DoJ also confirmed that Assange assisted Manning to break a hashed password on one of the Department of Defense computers, which again is a clear case of conspiring against the nation’s security.
The indictment also accused Assange of intruding a government computer system of a NATO country in 2010, and publishing of emails from a data breach committed against a U.S. intelligence consulting company by a hacker affiliated with the “Anonymous” and “LulzSec” groups.
Assange is currently in a U.K. prison post his arrest in London in April 2019. The U.S. DoJ is trying hard to extradite him back to the U.S. where if convicted for all 18-counts, he could face a maximum sentence of 175 years of imprisonment.