After years of hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may be facing arrest from the US.
The Department of Justice is reportedly considering criminal charges against the Australian national for his role in leaking sensitive military files, including the Iraq War Logs.
According to the Washington Post, potential charges against WikiLeaks will include conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act.
WikiLeaks began in 2006 as a website that published secret information and news leaks relating to governmental activities. It now describes itself as an international non-profit organisation and rose to fame when it releasing the Iraq War Logs in 2010 which revealed the US government’s activities in Iraq.
Amongst that Iraq leaks was video footage from an airstrike in Baghdad in which Iraqi journalists were killed by a US helicopter. US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was instrumental in leaking the information to WikiLeaks and sentenced to 35 years in prison on fraud and espionage charges, before having her sentence commuted by then-president Obama.
Last year, WikiLeaks was also instrumental in leaking emails belonging to the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, John Podesta, which is credited with turning the election in Donald Trump’s favour.
In a news conference on Thursday, the US attorney general Jeff Sessions says the US government is looking into the previous administration’s findings on Assange and WikiLeaks. As well as the 2010 leaks, the Trump administration will also investigate the so-called Vault 7 leaks that took place earlier this year which included secret CIA documents.
“We’re going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks. This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of,” he said.
Assange’s attorney, Barry J. Pollock told the Post that there is no legitimate basis for the Justice department to charge WikiLeaks and not pursue other news organisations.
“The fact of the matter is — however frustrating it might be to whoever looks bad when information is published — WikiLeaks is a publisher, and they are publishing truthful information that is in the public’s interest. Democracy thrives because there are independent journalists reporting on what it is that the government is doing,” said Pollock.
Assange is currently hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid arrest for a rape charge against him in Sweden. He is concerned that if he is extradited to Sweden, the Swedish government will send him to the US to face espionage charges.