Assange Charged With Computer Hacking in US Following UK Arrest
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s nearly seven-year stay in the Ecuadorian embassy in London came to an abrupt end on Thursday morning when police entered the building and arrested him after Ecuador withdrew his asylum.
In a statement, London’s Metropolitan police said Assange had 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 US Justice Department promptly announced that Assange has been charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion of a classified federal government computer.
The charge, filed in March 2018, but only unsealed Thursday morning, stems from WikiLeaks’ 2010 release of classified government cables it received from former Army intelligence analyst then known as Bradley Manning, and today, as Chelsea Manning.
If he’s found guilty, Assange faces up to five years in prison.
The indictment alleges that in March 2010, Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Defense Department 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 as an intelligence analyst, then used 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 fake username. “Such a deceptive measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures,” the Justice Department said in a written statement.
During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange, prosecutors said.
They say the discussions show Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information.
During one exchange, Manning allegedly told Assange that “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.”
To which Assange is said to have replied, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.”
Assange, 47, has been living at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012.
Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said in a video posted to Twitter that he revoked Assange’s asylum because of his “discourteous and aggressive behavior”.
“The asylum of Mr Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable … after his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols,” Moreno said.
Ecuador’s president went on to say it was his nation’s sovereign right to terminate Assange’s asylum and that “Ecuador has fulfilled its obligations in the framework of international law.”
Moreno also revealed he’s asked British authorities to guarantee “Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty.”
Assange has been in the U.S. government’s legal crosshairs since the release of the Manning cache of documents regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and confidential cables sent by U.S. diplomats.
He came under further scrutiny during the 2016 presidential campaign after WikiLeaks released thousands of emails stolen from computers belonging to the Democratic National Committee and several prominent political figures.
The information is believed to have been stolen by Russian hackers, who then turned the material over to WikiLeaks.
Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy seven years ago to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that has since been dropped.
But that case is what came back to haunt him Thursday because while the sexual assault charges were dropped, a British arrest warrant related to the case remained open “for failing to surrender” to authorities.
Following his arrest Thursday morning Assange was taken before Westminster Magistrates Court later in the day to answer the charge dating from the outstanding warrant.
The judge hearing the case, called Assange’s behavior that “of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest.”
Declaring Assange guilty of ignoring the warrant, he sent the Wikileaks founder to second court for sentencing.
Assange could face up to 12 months in a British prison.
Following his arrest on Thursday, British authorities said regardless of what transpired in Westminster Magistrates Court, Assange would be detained in connection with an extradition warrant filed by the United States.
There is no word yet as to whether Assange will contest that extradition request in British court.
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