WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by British police and carried out of the Ecuadorian Embassy on April 11 after his host country revoked his asylum, paving the way for his extradition to the United States.
The United States alleged Assange engaged in a 2010 conspiracy with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning), who served seven years in military prison for leaking classified data, and charged him with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, with a maximum penalty of five years.
Assange was caught on camera as he was carried head first out of the embassy shortly after 10 a.m. by seven men to a waiting police van.
“UK must resist. UK resist. Resist these attempts by the Trump administration. UK must resist,” he’s heard shouting in the video posted on social media.
Compared to pictures from two years ago, Assange looked noticeably aged on April 11, now with a full white beard. He flashed a wink and a thumbs-up, as well as the victory sign, through the van’s window.
He spent seven years in the few rooms provided to him at the embassy.
“The whole House will welcome the news this morning that the Metropolitan Police have arrested Julian Assange, arrested for breach of bail after nearly seven years in the Ecuadorean Embassy,” Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament to cheers and cries of “Hear, hear!” from lawmakers.
Police said they arrested Assange, 47, after being invited into the embassy following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum. Once brought to the police station, he was rearrested on an extradition request from the United States. He later appeared in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
The UK warrant stemmed from Assange’s skipping bail in a case in which a Swedish woman accused him of sexual assault. Swedish authorities dropped the charge in 2017, but the breach of bail warrant in the UK remained.
In the United States, Assange was indicted in March 2018 for conspiring with Manning to breach the Army’s computer system in 2010. Manning provided Assange with nearly 750,000 classified or sensitive military and diplomatic documents, which Assange then published on Wikileaks, the online disclosure platform he founded in 2006.
The indictment, released April 11, alleges that Assange encouraged Manning to steal more documents, saying that “curious eyes never run dry.” He also allegedly agreed to help Manning crack a password that would have allowed Manning to access the Army computer system under a different username, which “would have made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of disclosures of classified information.” The indictment doesn’t disclose if Assange was successful in cracking the password.
Manning was arrested in March and remains in custody for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating Wikileaks.
‘Hostile Intelligence Service’
Some journalists have come to Assange’s defense, saying the charge is an affront to journalistic freedom.
But the U.S. government has long drawn a distinction between Wikileaks and news media.
“It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is—a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” State Secretary Mike Pompeo, then-CIA director, said in April 2017.
“Assange and his ilk make common cause with dictators” and “do not care about the causes and people they claim to represent.
“If they did, they would focus instead on the autocratic regimes in this world that actually suppress free speech and dissent. Instead, they choose to exploit the legitimate secrets of democratic governments—which has, so far, proven to be a much safer approach than provoking a tyrant.”
Russian Hacking Link
On July 13, 2018, special counsel Robert Mueller filed charges against a group of Russian operatives for allegedly hacking files of the employees of the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The documents and emails were released through two fictional personas—DC Leaks and Guccifer 2.0—as well as a third entity not named in the indictment, though, based on the context, is likely Wikileaks.
Assange has denied all along that the DNC emails came from a Russian hack, instead, saying that it was a leak. He has also alluded that the source may have been Seth Rich, voter expansion data director for the DNC. In the early hours of July 10, 2016, Rich was gunned down about a block from his Washington home in what police called a possible robbery attempt. None of his valuables appeared to have been stolen and the police never identified a suspect.
New Zealand hacker Kim Dotcom also claimed Rich was the source, but provided no evidence aside from a claim that he, himself, was involved.
The Waldman Link
Adam Waldman, a lawyer to Assange in 2017, also represented Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, as well as interests of former British spy Christopher Steele. In early 2016, Steele appeared to be lobbying Justice Department official Bruce Ohr on Deripaska’s behalf and dropped Waldman’s name in the process. Later that year, he was paid by the DNC and the Clinton campaign to produce a dossier of unsubstantiated claims about Trump–Russia ties, which was then used by the FBI to obtain a spying warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The circumstances of surveilling the Trump campaign are now under investigation by the Justice Department.
Assange stayed at Ecuador’s London embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning in the sexual assault investigation.
A friend of his said the stay was hard to bear because of the solitude combined with, paradoxically, a lack of privacy.
“It was a miserable existence and I could see it was a strain on him, but a strain he managed rather well,” said Vaughan Smith, a friend who visited Assange. “The thing that was most difficult for Julian was the solitude.
“He was very tough, but the last year in particular was very difficult. He was constantly being surveilled and spied upon. There was no privacy for him.”
Reuters contributed to this report.Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab