Washington – The WikiLeaks founder attempted to recruit hackers into conferences in Europe and Asia to supply confidential information to his website, including military secrets, and conspired with members of hacker organizations to obtain government secrets, according to a new indictment announced by the Justice Department on Wednesday.
The new complaint, which replaces the previous one, does not contain additional charges to the 18 that the Justice Department issued last year. However, prosecutors say it highlights Assange’s efforts to obtain and disseminate confidential information, charges that represent the basis of the criminal charges against him.
In addition to recruiting hackers at conferences, the indictment accuses Assange of conspiring with the leader of LulzSec, a group of hackers, whom he requested to provide him with documents and databases. Prosecutors say Assange also posted emails obtained on his website from a hack to a consulting firm in the United States intelligence community by a member linked to LulzSec and “Anonymous,” another digital infiltration group.RELATED
Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, said in a statement that “the government’s relentless persecution of Julian Assange poses a serious threat to journalists everywhere and to the public’s right to know.”
“Although today’s indictment is a new chapter in the United States government’s attempt to persuade the public that its persecution of Julian Assange is based on more than just the publication of reliable news information, the formal complaint continues to accuse him of violate the Espionage Act based on WikiLeaks publications exposing war crimes committed by the United States government, “added Pollack.
Assange was arrested last year after being expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and is currently at the center of a dispute over whether or not he should be extradited to the United States.
The Justice Department accused him last year of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in one of the largest breaches of confidential information in United States history.
The agency claims that the WikiLeaks founder damaged national security by publishing hundreds of thousands of confidential documents, including diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which harmed the United States and its allies, and helped its adversaries.
Assange maintains that he carried out journalistic work protected by the First Amendment. His attorneys have argued that the federal charges of espionage and computer misuse have political undertones and constitute an abuse of authority.
Assange generated enormous attention during the 2016 presidential election, and in subsequent investigations, after WikiLeaks published emails that were stolen from Democrats and that authorities say were illegally obtained by Russian military intelligence officials.
A probe by special counsel Robert Mueller revealed how those close to the President Donald Trump campaign craved the spread of such emails, and one of Trump’s allies, Roger Stone, was found guilty last year of lying about the attempts by the current agent for obtaining internal information on the documents. However, Assange was never formally charged as a result of Mueller’s investigation.
The allegations in the new indictment focus on conferences held in 2009 in the Netherlands and Malaysia in which, according to the prosecution, Assange and one of his WikiLeaks partners attempted to recruit hackers who could access confidential information, including material from a list of “Most Wanted Leaks” published on the WikiLeaks website.
According to the new indictment, he told potential candidates that they were exempt from legal responsibility for their actions, unless they belonged to the United States Army.
During a conference in Malaysia, called the “Hack in the Box Security Conference,” Assange told attendees, “I was a famous teenage hacker in Australia, I’ve read emails from generals since I was 17 years old.”