The Justice Department has hit WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with Espionage Act charges, significantly escalating a legal fight against the high-profile activist.
DOJ had previously only indicted Assange on a single count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. Thursday’s revelation of the additional 18 charges, filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, means Assange could face significantly more prison time if found guilty.
The alleged Espionage Act violations relate to Assange’s complicity with Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army soldier who was convicted in July 2013 of violating the Espionage Act after he shuttled troves of classified government information to WikiLeaks. Traditionally the Espionage Act has been used against government officials, like Manning, who reveal such classified information, rather than foreign nationals — and journalists — who publish the information.
Assange’s legal case took off in April after Ecuador revoked its seven-year asylum, forcing him out of the embassy in London and paving the way for his extradition to the United States for one of the biggest ever leaks of classified information. Justice Department officials said they could not comment on how this might affect Assange’s extradition from the U.K. to the U.S.
Among the charges are three counts that Assange violated the Espionage Act, which prohibits the disclosure of national defense information. The Justice Department alleged that Assange published select State Department cables that contained the unredacted names of human sources in Iran, China and Syria. He also published Afghan activity reports and Iraq activity reports that endangered local Afghans and Iraqis, prosecutors alleged.