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US reportedly mulls charges against WikiLeaks, Julian Assange

Charges could include conspiracy, theft of government property, or violating the Espionage Act, according to The Washington Post.

Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may face criminal charges related to espionage.

Carl Court/Getty Images

The US Justice Department is considering filing criminal charges against WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, in connection with the 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

The Justice Department is also looking at whether the group was responsible for releasing thousands of documents showing secret CIA hacking tools last month. Those documents could potentially reveal the agency's most important hacking techniques used to penetrate systems around the world.

Charges could include conspiracy, theft of government property, or violating the Espionage Act, according to the Post.

The Justice Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Over the past 11 years, the group claims to have released more than 10 million secret government documents through its website. The leaks range from a video showing an American Apache helicopter in the Iraq War shooting and killing two journalists to emails from the Democratic National Committee exposing alleged misconduct during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Justice Department under former President Barack Obama declined to press charges for revealing the sensitive secrets, concluding that WikiLeaks was working in a capacity akin to journalism. But the case was never formally closed, and the Justice Department under President Donald Trump has signaled a willingness to take another look at the case.

The ACLU said such prosecution would inevitably represent a threat to the press.

"Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public," Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement. "Any prosecution of Wikileaks for publishing government secrets would set a dangerous precedent that the Trump administration would surely use to target other news organizations."

Prosecuting Assange could prove tricky, though. He's been living in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 after Swedish investigators issued a European arrest warrant for Assange that required British police to detain and extradite him. He's trying to avoid extradition to Sweden out of fear he'd then be extradited to the US to face questioning related to the classified material published on WikiLeaks.

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