The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a “priority” for the U.S. Justice Department, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who signaled his office is preparing charges against the head of the investigative journalistic group.
Sessions held a press conference Thursday, in which he discussed mounting efforts by his office to combat leaks of government documents.
Asked if Assange’s arrest is a priority and would be sought, Sessions gave an affirmative answer.
“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” he said. “We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious. Whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.”
It is believed Assange and fellow members of WikiLeaks could be charged with conspiracy, theft of government property and violations to the Espionage Act of 1917.
A computer programmer, hacker, journalist and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, Assange gained distinction in 2010 when he published hundreds of thousands of classified documents and diplomatic cables provided to WikiLeaks by former Army intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning.
The trove included the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary.
Under investigation by the U.S. since the 2010 publication of Manning’s offerings, Assange later was charged in Sweden with the rape of two women. Initially cleared of all charges, a Swedish prosecutor reopened the probe and Assange requested and received political asylum from Ecuador.
He has remained holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012.
Continuing to direct Wikileaks’ efforts from Ecuador’s London embassy, Assange drew the ire of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee through a series of cyber intrusions in which unknown hackers penetrated the private email accounts of several top DNC officials, including the candidate herself.
Unconfirmed rumors persist WikiLeaks had formed an informal partnership with Russia to undermine the 2016 Democratic nominee in favor of Republican Donald Trump. Assange denies any link to the Kremlin.
Last week, however, CIA Director Mike Pompeo blasted WikiLeaks for its disruptive role in American political affairs, accusing Assange of directing Manning to “to intercept specific secret information”.
“It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” Pompeo said in a speech in Washington.
Responding to the announcement, WikiLeaks tweeted an opinion-editorial piece authored by Assange and published in the Washington Post on April 11, in which he took a defensive stance.
“WikiLeaks’ sole interest is expressing constitutionally protected truths, which I remain convinced is the cornerstone of the United States’ remarkable liberty, success and greatness,” he wrote.
[CNN] [The Guardian] [BBC] [Photo courtesy Reuters via RT]