Crumbling Case Against Assange Shows Weakness of "Hacking" Charges Related to Whistleblowing - 2020-09-30
By 2013, the Obama administration had concluded that it could not charge WikiLeaks or Julian Assange with crimes related to publishing classified documents — documents that showed, among other things, evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan — without criminalizing investigative journalism itself. President Barack Obama's Justice Department called this the "New York Times problem," because if WikiLeaks and Assange were criminals for publishing classified information, the New York Times would be just as guilty. Five years later, in 2018, the Trump administration indicted Assange anyway. But, rather than charging him with espionage for publishing classified information, they charged him with a computer crime, later adding 17 counts of espionage in a superseding May 2019 indictment.
The alleged hacking not only didn't happen, according to expert testimony, but it also couldn't have happened.
The computer charges claimed that, in 2010, Assange conspired with his source, Chelsea Manning, to crack an account on a Windows computer in her military base, and that the "primary purpose of the conspiracy was to facilitate Manning's acquisition and transmission of classified information." The account enabled internet file transfers using a protocol known as FTP. New testimony from the third week of Assange's extradition trial makes it increasingly clear that this hacking charge is incredibly flimsy. The alleged hacking not only didn't happen, according to expert testimony at Manning's court martial hearing in 2013 and again at Assange's extradition trial last week, but it also couldn't have happened. The new testimony, reported earlier this week by investigative news site Shadowproof, also shows that Manning already had authorized access to, and the ability to exfiltrate, all of the documents that she was accused of leaking — without receiving any technical help from WikiLeaks.