WikiLeaks editor faces grand jury indictment?

Attorney for WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange says a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., is currently weighing criminal charges, probably under the Espionage Act.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
5 min read

In another sign that a U.S. indictment of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange may be imminent, his lawyer has said that a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., is currently weighing criminal charges.

"We have heard from the Swedish authorities that there has been a secretly impaneled grand jury in Alexandria," said Mark Stephens, an attorney at the London-based FSI law firm.

Stephens told Al-Jazeera over the weekend that he believes that there is "collusion" between the Swedish government, which has accused Assange of sexual assault, and the United States. "We understand [Swedish authorities] have said that if he comes to Sweden, they will defer their interest in him to the Americans," the attorney said.

While the U.S. Justice Department hasn't confirmed the existence of a grand jury, Attorney General Eric Holder said recently that a criminal probe into WikiLeaks is ongoing. A CNET analysis published today shows that Assange could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, which previously was used in the extraterritorial prosecution of a non-U.S. citizen, though he would likely claim the law is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

A State Department spokesman today declined to comment on questions about the grand jury. An extradition hearing on the charges from Sweden has been scheduled for tomorrow in a London courtroom.

Some of the more hawkish members of Congress have called for Assange to be prosecuted under the portion of the Espionage Act that, in some cases, prohibits the disclosure of "national defense" information. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the incoming head of the House Intelligence Committee, asked Holder to charge Assange under the Espionage Act, as did Senate Intelligence Committee heads Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kit Bond (R-Miss.). Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is publicly wondering why an indictment and extradition "hasn't happened yet."

Also today:

• A Reddit.com discussion thread saying--without any evidence--that the CIA set up a WikiLeaks mirror. The thread turned out to be a hoax. But Techdirt.com reported it as apparently true, as did BoingBoing, which deleted its original story and then ran a retraction.

• Speaking of Wiki-hoaxes, the U.K. Guardian's Declan Walsh in Islamabad has a report saying that two Pakistani newspapers admitted they were duped by a fake account of the WikiLeaks cables that portrayed Indian generals as vain, "geeky," and engaged in a "genocide" against Muslims in Kashmir. And a Twitter note purporting to be from an Australian member of Parliament calling for Assange to be "aggressively interrogated" also appears to be a hoax.

• There's a ballad of Julian Assange up on YouTube. And look for more WikiLeaks-based games soon.

• Here's a profile of Geoffrey Robertson, the Australian-born, London-based lawyer who stands between Assange and deportation.

• Netcraft.com has a list of sites hit by outages in the last 24 hours. At the top: warlogs.wikileaks.org, cablegate.wikileaks.org, anonops.net and anonops.eu (used by Anonymous), sarahpac.com, wikileaks.de, wikileaks.nl, marketplace.mastercard.com.

• Time magazine has closed its poll for Person of the Year. Assange came in first place, and the results will be announced Wednesday morning on the "Today" show.

• Australian journalists are backing WikiLeaks. A Washington Post editorial on Saturday called such Espionage Act prosecutions "a bad idea."

• The WikiLeaks.org domain name (Wikileaks.ch is now the primary one) is back online after EveryDNS yanked it about a week ago. WikiLeaks.org is now using San Mateo, Calif.-based Dynadot.com for DNS and is being hosted at Silicon Valley Web Hosting in San Jose. The site currently redirects to the WikiLeaks.info site, which is offshore, with hosting and DNS in Russia.

And this evening:

• The British government is bracing for attacks on its Web sites if Assange is extradited to Sweden. (Assange denies the charges.)

• Assange has provided a statement from Wandsworth Prison in London via his mother, Christine. It says: "My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have always expressed. These circumstances shall not shake them. If anything, this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct." (He also reportedly told his mother that there are closed-circuit TV cameras monitoring his cell because of fears he could be assassinated.)

• In another article posted by Australia's Sunshine Coast News, Christine Assange said: "This hearing is a forerunner for the U.S. to extradite him. If the U.S. get their hands on him he will be jailed forever or he will be killed...that's how serious this is."

• If the judge at Westminster magistrates court grants Assange bail, he may not be released immediately. That's because the U.K. prosecutors, representing the Swedish government, can appeal.

• Here's a look at an article that Assange wrote around the time WikiLeaks was founded. An excerpt: "Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial."

• A poll that CNN commissioned of 2,000 Britons found that, Reuters reports, "44 percent believed that the sex allegations against Assange were an excuse to get him into custody so the United States could prosecute him for releasing the secret papers."

• Not all Republicans are in Rep. King's camp. Jack Goldsmith, a former Bush Justice Department official, wrote that: "Whatever one thinks of what Assange is doing, the flailing U.S. government reaction has been self-defeating. It cannot stop the publication of the documents that have already leaked out, and it should stop trying, for doing so makes the United States look very weak and gives the documents a greater significance than they deserve." And the inimitable Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican, says: "Rather than worry about the disclosure of embarrassing secrets, we should focus on our delusional foreign policy. We are kidding ourselves when we believe spying, intrigue, and outright military intervention can maintain our international status as a superpower while our domestic economy crumbles in an orgy of debt and monetary debasement."

• The United Nations representative for freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, says Assange shouldn't be prosecuted: "In reference to what has been published in WikiLeaks, I think there is no criminal responsibility for being the medium."

Last updated 10:20 p.m. PT