Federal prosecutors charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with espionage for conspiring to reveal national security secrets in what they described as one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history, reports USA Today. Eighteen newly-disclosed charges against Assange include allegations that he aided former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning’s efforts to leak classified documents and committed a crime by publishing them on the internet. “This release made our adversaries stronger and more knowledgeable, and the United States less secure,” said assistant Attorney General John Demers. The charges are an escalation of the government’s efforts to combat leaks of its secrets, and raised the difficult question of whether to distinguish WikiLeaks from journalists who frequently publish information the government would rather keep secret.
They drew condemnation from advocates for press freedom. Bruce Brown of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said that “any government use of the Espionage Act to criminalize the receipt and publication of classified information poses a dire threat to journalists seeking to publish such information in the public interest.” Assange has argued that he should be immune from prosecution as a journalist. Authorities said he was charged for releasing a narrow class of documents that dealt with people who provided the U.S. with intelligence in war zones. “The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy, and we thank you for it. It is not and never has been the department’s policy to target them for reporting,” Demers said. “But Julian Assange is no journalist.” Barry Pollack, Assange’s lawyer, said it is unprecedented for the government to charge someone under the Espionage Act for encouraging sources to provide truthful information and then publishing it.