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US threats to WikiLeaks

Banking Blockade

In 2010, following WikiLeaks’ publication of Iraq and Afghan War Logs and State Department diplomatic cables, several major financial institutions, including Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union, refused to process donations to WikiLeaks, cutting off 95% of its revenue. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has openly criticised the extra-legal financial blockade against WikiLeaks, as have the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

Grand Jury and Investigation

Julian Assange has been detained in the Ecuadorian Embassy since June 2012 having been granted asylum due to the “threat to his life, personal safety and freedom” by the US Government over his work with WikiLeaks.

The United States has had an ongoing, “multi-subject” investigation into WikiLeaks and Julian Assange over their work publishing classified documents since 2010.

Revealed in the Stratfor documents, published by WikiLeaks and allegedly provided by Courage beneficiary Jeremy Hammond, was the private intelligence firm’s Vice President Fred Burton’s belief that the US has a “sealed indictment on Assange.”

US warrants revealed the charges that Assange and WikiLeaks associates potentially face in the US: espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, theft or conversion of US government property, violation of the CFAA, and general conspiracy – charges which add up to 45 years imprisonment.

Various court submissions and official US statements have confirmed the investigation remains ongoing, the most recent being in December 2015, in which a court submission in the case of alleged WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning referenced a “sensitive, ongoing law enforcement proceeding into the Wikileaks matter.”

In August 2016, WikiLeaks lawyers sent a letter to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting that the investigation be closed.

Public Statements Against Assange and WikiLeaks

Multiple prominent public figures and officials have made comments against Assange and WikiLeaks, suggesting a climate open to prosecution — or worse.

Vice President Joe Biden and Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell have referred to Assange as a “high-tech terrorist,” with McConnell further stating that Assange “needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law… and if that becomes a problem, we need to change the law.”

After calling Julian Assange a “terrorist”, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said WikiLeaks should be “closed down permanently and decisively.”

In December 2010, when asked what he thought of the Justice Department not charging Julian Assange with “treason,” US Senator Joe Lieberman said:

I don’t understand why that hasn’t happened yet. We can go back to the earlier dump of classified documents mostly related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that occurred in July, and to me that was a violation of espionage as well.

Lieberman also suggested that the New York Times should be potentially investigated for abetting Assange by publishing the leaked documents. “To me the New York Times has committed at least an act of, at best, bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime is a matter of discussion for the Justice Department.

On Fox News, commentator Bob Beckel suggested the United States assassinate Assange:

A dead man can’t leak stuff. This guy’s a traitor, he’s treasonous, and he has broken every law of the United States. And I’m not for the death penalty, so … there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch.

Google Warrants

In January 2015, WikiLeaks revealed, “Investigations editor Sarah Harrison, Section Editor Joseph Farrell and senior journalist and spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson have received notice that Google had handed over all their emails and metadata to the United States government on the back of alleged ‘conspiracy’ and ‘espionage’ warrants carrying up to 45 years in prison.”

The crimes listed in the search warrant are:

  • Espionage: 18 U.S.C. § 793(d) – imprisonment up to 10 years
  • Conspiracy to commit espionage: 18 U.S.C. § 793(g) – imprisonment up to 10 years
  • The theft or conversion of property belonging to the United States government: 18 U.S.C. § 641 – imprisonment up to 10 years
  • Violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act: 18 U.S.C. § 1030 – imprisonment up to 10 years
  • (general) Conspiracy: 18 U.S.C. § 371 – imprisonment up to 5 years

In response, the late Michael Ratner, representing WikiLeaks, wrote a letter to Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt, demanding information about all materials Google provided to law enforcement, as well as an explanation for Google taking two and a half years to notify WikiLeaks of the search warrants or disclosure.

The Guardian reported, “When it notified the WikiLeaks employees last month, Google said it had been unable to say anything about the warrants earlier as a gag order had been imposed. Google said the non-disclosure orders had subsequently been lifted, though it did not specify when.”

DNC / Russia

In the latter months of the 2016 US presidential race, WikiLeaks began publishing emails from within the Democratic National Committee, revealing, among other things, efforts to ensure Hillary Clinton — and not Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — was the Democratic presidential nominee.  The information revealed within the documents led to the resignation of five senior DNC staff members.

In October 2016, US officials issued a statement suggesting that their investigations led them to believe Russian agents had a hand in hacking the emails provided to WikiLeaks. However, to this day no evidence has been provided by anyone to support this. The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has stated that intelligence agencies don’t have good insight on when or how WikiLeaks obtained the hacked emails.

Trump DOJ charges

In an April 2017 address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s delivered a tirade against WikiLeaks, in which he declared the organisation a “hostile intelligence service” and said, “we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”

Later that month, several media outlets reported that the Trump Department of Justice had prepared charges to prosecute WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and other staff members, each with differing only slightly as to what the charges might entail.

The Washington Post reported that US officials are “taking a second look at a 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents and investigating whether the group bears criminal responsibility for the more recent revelation of sensitive CIA cyber-tools, according to people familiar with the case.” During Manning’s court martial, the government’s lawyers attempted to prove that Assange “conspired” in the 2010 disclosures by “directing” Manning to leak certain documents. In her statement to the court explaining her actions, Manning directly rejected this claim, saying no one from WikiLeaks ever directed her, and the military judge acquitted her of “aiding the enemy.”

The Post also reported that prosecutors have been “drafting a memo possibly including conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act.” CNN reported that one of the key elements for investigators was related to WikiLeaks work assisting NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump praised WikiLeaks for publishing documents from the DNC, even saying, “I love WikiLeaks”, encouraging them to leak more documents, and publicizing DNC disclosures. In an interview with AP after the charge announcement, however, Trump said that “it’s OK with” him if Assange is arrested.