The Department of Justice on Thursday announced 17 new criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying he violated the Espionage Act by publishing classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010.
The new charges were part of an expanded indictment that says Assange unlawfully obtained and published the names of classified sources, and conspired with and assisted ex-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in getting access to classified information.
Assange was initially charged with conspiring with Manning to gain access to a government computer as part of a leak of hundreds of thousands of U.S. military reports and video from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Assange now faces a total of 18 criminal counts, and could face decades in prison if convicted.
Thursday's announcement raises serious First Amendment issues.
The ACLU said in a statement: “For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher for the publication of truthful information.
This is an extraordinary escalation of the Trump administration's attacks on journalism, and a direct assault on the First Amendment." The decision to charge Assange with espionage crimes is unusual.
Most cases involving the theft of classified information have targeted government employees, like Manning, and not the people who publish the information itself.
The Justice Department said that not only did Assange aid and encourage Manning with the theft of classified materials, he also jeopardized the lives of human sources abroad by publishing their identities.
Assange has been fighting extradition to the United States since he was arrested last month, after Ecuador revoked his seven-year asylum in the country’s London embassy.