US prosecutors have charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with conspiracy for agreeing to break a password to a classified US government computer with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.
According to court documents, unsealed on Thursday, the charge relates to Assange’s alleged role in one of the “largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States”, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement.
Assange, 47, was arrested by British police on Thursday, paving the way for possible extradition to the United States. He had been living in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, but Ecuador President Lenin Moreno said the government revoked Assange’s asylum because of his “discourteous and aggressive behaviour”.
According to British police, the Ecuadoran ambassador in London invited authorities into the embassy where they made the arrest on “behalf of US authorities”. They also said they were arresting Assange for breaching UK bail conditions.
The US indictment alleges that in March 2010, Assange engaged “in a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning” to assist Manning in “cracking a password” stored at the US Department of Defense computers connected with a US government network used for classified documents and communications.
Manning served seven years in prison for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.
“During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange,” the DOJ said in a statement.
“The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information,” the DOJ added. “During an exchange, Manning told Assange that ‘after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.’ To which Assange replied, ‘curious eyes never run dry in my experience.’”
If convicted, Assange faces up to five years in prison, the DOJ said in its statement.
Barry Pollack, Assange’s US-based lawyer, said Assange’s arrest means that “journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges”.
He added in a statement sent to Al Jazeera, “While the indictment against Julian Assange disclosed today charges conspiracy to commit computer crimes, the factual allegations against Mr Assange boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the (identity) of that source”.
Assange’s legal team also expressed disappointment over Ecuador’s decision to allow for the WikiLeaks founder’s arrest.
“Ecuador will be blackballed from international society for doing this,” Assange’s lawyer Geoffrey Robertson told BBC News that
“You can’t give someone asylum for seven years and then hand them over, which is what Ecuador has done,” he added. “It’s a breach of international law.”
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