The US filed new charges Thursday against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, accusing him of placing the United States at risk of serious harm by publishing thousands of secret and classified documents, including the names of confidential sources for American armed forces. In an 18-count, superseding indictment, Justice Department prosecutors allege that Assange directed former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in one of the largest compromises of classified information in US history, the AP reports. The case presents immediate questions about media freedom, including whether the Justice Department is charging Assange for actions—such as soliciting and publishing classified information—that journalists do as a matter of course. Department officials said Thursday they believe Assange strayed far outside First Amendment protections.
"Julian Assange is no journalist," said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department's top national security official. "No responsible actor, journalist or otherwise, would purposely publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential sources, exposing them to the gravest of dangers." But a lawyer for Assange says the "unprecedented charges" against his client threaten all journalists looking to inform the public about actions taken by the American government. The new Espionage Act charges go far beyond an initial indictment against Assange made public last month that accused him of conspiring with Manning to crack a defense computer password. The new indictment says Assange conspired with Manning to obtain and disclose classified national defense documents, including State Department cables and reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assange, 47, is in custody in London after being evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in April. The US is seeking his extradition.
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