(Reuters) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has portrayed himself as a champion of a free press, but the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to charge him with conspiring to hack government computers limits his ability to mount a vigorous free speech defense, some legal experts said.
The charge unsealed in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia on Thursday said that in 2010 Assange agreed to help Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst then known as Bradley Manning, crack a password to a U.S. government network.
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At the time, Manning had already given WikiLeaks classified information about U.S. war activities in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Guantanamo Bay detainees, prosecutors said. The scheme would have allowed Manning to log in to the network anonymously and avoid detection, the indictment said.
Robert Chesney, a professor of national security law at the University of Texas, said that the case did not implicate free speech rights because it turned on the idea that Assange tried to hack a password.
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“The charge is extremely narrow and that’s by design,” said Chesney.
U.S. prosecutors could still add charges against Assange, legal experts said.
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The indictment, which was made secretly last year and released on Thursday, does not charge Assange for publishing classified material. WikiLeaks released the classified war information on its website in 2010 and 2011.
There is no mention in the indictment of WikiLeaks’ publication of emails damaging to 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that U.S. intelligence agencies have said were stolen by Russia in a bid to boost Republican Donald Trump’s candidacy.
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British police carried Assange out of Ecuador’s embassy in London on Thursday after his seven-year asylum there was revoked. The U.S. Department of Justice said Assange, 47, was arrested under an extradition treaty between the United States and Britain.
Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Assange, suggested in...
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