WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange charged with computer hacking

(Gray News) - British law enforcement reported Julian Assange has been arrested.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, police announced. / (Source: CNN VAN)

The WikiLeaks founder was arrested in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been holed up after being granted political asylum in 2012.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Virginia, said Assange was indicted on computer charges for allegedly conspiring with Chelsea Manning to break into a classified government computer in 2010.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Assange appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court, and was seen making a thumb’s up gesture on his way to court.

He entered an innocent plea to the UK charge of failing to surrender to authorities on a Swedish extradition request related to a sexual assault charge that has since been dropped. The judge quickly found him guilty on that charge, for which he faces a year’s sentence.

“Mr. Assange’s behavior is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests,” District Judge Michael Snow said. “He hasn’t come close to establishing ‘reasonable excuse.’”

Assange’s attorney Jen Robinson said he’s been arrested on a U.S. extradition request as well as for breaching UK bail conditions.

“This sets a dangerous precedent for all media organizations” that journalists can be prosecuted for telling the truth about the U.S., Robinson said. She said Assange’s legal team is fighting the extradition request.

“Mr. Assange’s behavior is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests,” District Judge Michael Snow said. “He hasn’t come close to establishing ‘reasonable excuse.’”

Assange’s attorney Jen Robinson said he’s been arrested on a U.S. extradition request as well as for breaching UK bail conditions.
“This sets a dangerous precedent for all media organizations” that journalists can be prosecuted for telling the truth about the U.S., Robinson said. She said Assange’s legal team is fighting the extradition request.

Metropolitan Police confirmed he was arrested at the request of the U.S. on an extradition warrant.

“He has been taken into custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as is possible,” the Metropolitan Police said.

The UK Home Office further clarified that “he is accused in the United States of America computer related offences.”

Assange is the Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks, an organization that facilitates anonymous online leaking of classified information.

Officials said the police were invited into the embassy after the Ecuadorian government withdrew asylum for Assange.

Ecuador’s president said the government withdrew Assange’s asylum status, citing international convention violations, the Associated Press reported.

Reuters said his relationship with his hosts deteriorated after they accused him of leaking information about Ecuador President Lenin Moreno’s personal life.

Moreno denounced Assange’s interference in the internal affairs of other states: "The most recent incident occurred in January 2019, when WikiLeaks leaked Vatican documents. This and other publications have confirmed the world’s suspicion that Mr Assange is still linked to WikiLeaks and therefore involved in interfering in internal affairs of other states.”

Assange reportedly gave away the cat he kept with him during his embassy say in November, Business Insider reported. Cat care and general cleanliness was among the other trouble spots in the relationship between Assange and the embassy.

It was speculated that U.S. prosecutors could bring charges against Assange related to WikiLeaks’ role in releasing stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign as part of the Russian government’s effort to meddle in the 2016 elections.

Special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly looked into WikiLeaks’ publication of the stolen emails as part of his investigation into Russian election meddling and any possible role the Trump campaign played.

WikiLeaks condemned on Twitter the arrest of Assange, saying “This man is a son, a father, a brother. He has won dozens of journalism awards. He’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize every year since 2010. Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to dehumanise, delegitimize and imprison him. #ProtectJulian”

Edward Snowden, who is in exile in Russia after leaking classified documents, said in a tweet that “the United Nations formally ruled his detention to be arbitrary, a violation of human rights. They have repeatedly issued statements calling for him to walk free - including very recently.”

Assange’s American lawyer called the arrest and “unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist.”

He founded WikiLeaks in 2006, and it was only a year later that the organization started to gain international infamy, starting with its release of a U.S. Army manual for handling prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

In September 2008, WikiLeaks posted emails from vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

But it was in 2010 that WikiLeaks made its first really big splash, when it posted a video of a U.S. military helicopter shooting to death two journalists and several Iraqi civilians. Later that year, the organization released 90,000 classified U.S. military documents about the war in Afghanistan and classified military documents on the Iraq War.

It was also in 2010 that Assange ran into significant legal trouble, when he was accused of sexually assaulting two female WikiLeaks volunteers.

After Swedish authorities issued an arrest for Assange, he turned himself into London authorities but was soon released on bail and put on house arrest.

As Assange’s lawyers fought an extradition request from Sweden, WikiLeaks continued releasing classified information, including documents describing the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables.

On June 19, 2012, Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to request political asylum, which was granted to him a month later. He’s been living there ever since.

But he stayed busy – and it was on July 22, 2016, that WikiLeaks released nearly 20,000 hacked emails from the DNC, which Assange admitted was timed to coincide with the Democratic National Convention.

On Oct. 7, 2016, WikiLeaks published 2,000 hacked emails from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Assange has denied that Russian hackers gave WikiLeaks the stolen emails, though in July 2018 the Justice Department announced indictments against 12 members of the Russian intelligence agency GRU for their alleged efforts in hacking Democratic party emails and computer networks during the 2016 election.

In April 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Department of Justice was preparing charges against Assange related to WikiLeaks’ publication of secret documents, saying that arresting Assange was a “priority.”

A month later, Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation into the rape allegations against Assange.

When reporters at the Oval Office asked President Donald Trump about Assange’s arrest, he claimed to “know nothing about WikiLeaks” despite praising the organization several times during the 2016 campaign.

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