The Department of Justice announced 17 new charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday, including a virtually unprecedented move to charge him with publishing classified material — a move that could pose challenges to First Amendment protections.
In a superseding indictment, a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, has accused Assange of breaking the law by inducing Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning to send him classified documents — and then publishing material that included the names of confidential sources who provided information to American diplomats.
The 17 counts were tacked on to a single count accusing Assange of conspiring with Manning to crack a Department of Defense password. Assange, who was taken out of the Equadorian embassy in London in April, is being held in a London jail for jumping bail on a sex charge and awaiting extradition to the United States.
The government says Manning provided Assange and WikiLeaks with databases containing about 90,000 Afghanistan War-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq War-related reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables.
The material, which began to be published in 2010, made headlines across the world and shed light on U.S. government activities.