Assange’s history of angering the US
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whose seven-year stay in the Ecuadorian embassy in London ended after his arrest on Thursday, has long claimed the US wanted him behind bars for sharing files the government didn’t want the world to see.
When the Justice Department finally unsealed the indictment against him Thursday, it contained a single charge alleging a conspiracy to help Chelsea Manning, the then-US Army intelligence officer who gave files to Assange in 2010, crack a password. Should Assange be extradited from the UK and convicted the maximum sentence he could serve is five years
A US official briefed on the matter told CNN that the Justice Department expect to bring additional charges. It’s not clear whether those charges would relate directly to WikiLeaks publishing classified material. The Obama administration had previously considered bringing such charges under the Espionage Act but decided against it, fearing that it would set precedent against more conventional news organizations when they published classified documents in their reporting.
Regardless of whatever other charges he may face, Assange and WikiLeaks have a long history of flummoxing the US government with its publications.
Chelsea Manning docs
In early 2010, after chatting with Assange for several months, Manning downloaded 750,000 pages of documents and war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq and gave them to WikiLeaks.
In April, WikiLeaks posted the signature video from Manning: showing Iraqi citizens and journalists being killed by a US Army helicopter in 2007. Doctors Without Borders said the video depicted a “war crime.”
Manning was arrested the next month, and eventually was found guilty on 20 charges. In January 2017, as Obama’s term neared its end, WikiLeaks tweeted an offer to have Assange extradited to the US if she received clemency.
Though President Barack Obama announced the next day that he would commute Manning’s sentence, Assange remained in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he had been granted asylum.
State department cables
Later in 2010, WikiLeaks began releasing large batches of US State Department cables, which documented correspondence from around 270 US embassies and consulates. They were particularly embarrassing for Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State at the time, who had to do substantial damage control in the aftermath.
In late December 2011, a group of self-proclaimed Anonymous hackers broke into Stratfor, an Austin-based private intelligence company that sold intelligence reports to the US Department of Defense, among other clients, and gave the files to WikiLeaks to publish.
The FBI cracked down on those hackers, most notably Jeremy Hammond, a Chicago-based political activist who received a 10-year prison sentence.
In 2015, the Obama administration was working frantically to convince 12 mostly Pacific nations to sign off on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a large and controversial trade deal that would have strengthened the US’s relative position against China. WikiLeaks obtained and then published draft chapters from the TPP, prompting considerable criticism. The three major presidential candidates at the time, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton all signaled their opposition to the deal, and Trump pulled out of the deal in 2017, with remaining countries signing a version of the deal without the US.
According to charges from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, Russian military intelligence officers hacked and began downloading files from the Democratic Party servers, and posed as a fictitious hacker named Guccifer 2.0 to release some of them during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
On July 6 2016, WikiLeaks messaged Guccifer 2.0, saying “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] says because the DNC is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.”
The two parties had difficulties transferring the files though and WikiLeaks eventually posted a database of Democrats’ emails on July 22nd.
Assange told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the email release was timed to coincide with the start of the Democratic National Convention.
The 20,000 emails published emails appeared to show the committee favoring Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, over Sanders during the US presidential primary.
Then in October, WikILeaks published tens of thousands of emails to and from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, stolen by some of the same Russian military intelligence officers.
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly referenced the emails WikiLeaks published, at times printing out some of its emails. At a stop in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, shortly after the Podesta release, he announced “WikiLeaks! I love WikiLeaks.”
Mueller charged 12 Russian spies with hacking and releasing those emails in July 2018, though none have been arrested and Russia does not extradite its citizens.
CIA Vault 7
Throughout much of 2017, WikiLeaks published classified CIA files, including details on a number of the agency’s electronic capabilities.
In June 2018, the Justice Department charged former CIA officer Josh Schulte with leaking national defense information after Schulte was targeted in a separate investigation for child pornography charges. Schulte pleaded not guilty and his case is ongoing.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen and Evan Perez contributed to this report.