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WikiLeaks' Julian Assange charged with recruiting and conspiring with hackers

New Justice Department indictment charges the WikiLeaks founder with conspiring with LulzSec and Chelsea Manning to commit computer crimes.

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures from the window of a prison van as he is driven into Southwark Crown Court in London on May 1, 2019.

Daniel Leal-olivas / AFP/Getty Images

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged with a second superseding indictment for allegedly recruiting hackers and conspiring with them to commit computer crimes, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The new indictment doesn't add to the 18-count indictment filed against Assange last year under the Espionage Act, but it does "broaden the scope of the conspiracy surrounding alleged computer intrusions with which Assange was previously charged," the Justice Department said in a statement.

The WikiLeaks founder is facing potential extradition to the US after he was arrested last year in London on charges including unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents. The department called it "one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States."

Assange and WikiLeaks, which launched in 2006, have been under scrutiny since the highly publicized 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents.

In the first decade after its 2006 launch, WikiLeaks released -- by its own count -- more than 10 million secret documents. The leaks ranged from a video showing an American Apache helicopter in the Iraq War shooting and killing two journalists in 2007 to emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta during the 2016 presidential race.

In the latest indictment, Assange is charged with providing a list of hacking targets to the leader of LulzSec in 2012 to search for mail, documents, databases and PDFs. Assange also allegedly conspired with former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a classified Defense Department computer's password hash.

The Justice Department said that by 2012, the LulzSec leader Assange had contacted was already cooperating with the FBI.  

LulzSec came on the hacking scene in a big way in 2011, targeting Sony, the CIA, the US Senate and FBI, among many other groups. The group also targeted Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal, after they stopped allowing individuals to provide financial support to WikiLeaks. Just as suddenly as it appeared, the group announced in June that it was leaving the hacking world, saying that its time was up.

Manning was convicted of leaking confidential documents to WikiLeaks in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison, of which she served seven years before her sentence was commuted by outgoing President Barack Obama in 2017. She was jailed in March 2019 for contempt of court when she refused to testify in front of a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Manning was released from jail earlier this year after attempting suicide, her legal team said in a statement.

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