May 16, 2021

Assange, Back in News, Never Left U.S. Radar

But when “eight or nine” F.B.I. agents arrived in August, Mr. Jonasson said, he found that they were not investigating an imminent attack, but gathering material on WikiLeaks, the activist group that has been responsible for publishing millions of confidential documents over the past three years, and that has many operatives in Iceland.

Mr. Jonasson asked the agents to leave, he said, because they had misrepresented the purpose of their visit.

The operation in Iceland was part of a wide-ranging investigation into WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, for their roles in the release of American military and diplomatic documents in 2010. The investigation has been quietly gathering material since at least October 2010, six months after the arrest of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the army enlistee who is accused of providing the bulk of the leaks.

Until he re-emerged this week as an ally for Edward J. Snowden, the former computer contractor who leaked details of National Security Agency surveillance, Mr. Assange looked like a forgotten man. WikiLeaks had not had a major release of information in several years, its funds had dwindled and several senior architects of its systems left, citing internal disputes. Mr. Assange himself is holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he fled to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning on allegations of sexual abuse.

But the United States government had not forgotten about him. Interviews with government agents, prosecutors and others familiar with the WikiLeaks investigation, as well as an examination of court documents, suggest that Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks are being investigated by several government agencies, along with a grand jury that has subpoenaed witnesses.

Tens of thousands of pages of evidence have been gathered. And at least four other former members of WikiLeaks have had contact with the United States authorities seeking information on Mr. Assange, the former members said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a matter they were informed was confidential.

In response to recent questions from The New York Times and others, a Justice Department spokesman confirmed that it “has an investigation into matters involving WikiLeaks, and that investigation remains ongoing,” but he declined to offer any details.

The prosecution of WikiLeaks would put the administration into tricky legal territory. WikiLeaks is an international organization, and, unlike Private Manning and Mr. Snowden, Mr. Assange and the other members did not work for the United States government or its contractors and could not be charged with espionage.

WikiLeaks maintains it was functioning as a publisher by enabling the release of information in the public interest, and it has frequently been a partner with traditional news organizations, including The New York Times and The Guardian. If the government charged WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange as co-conspirators, it would be arguing that, unlike their partners, they are not journalists.

“Given the government’s aggression in the Snowden case, I would expect that the government will continue to move forward with the Assange case on a conspiracy theory, even though WikiLeaks would seem eligible for First Amendment protections,” said James C. Goodale, a First Amendment lawyer who previously worked for The Times and is the author of “Fighting for the Press.”

He added that no reporter had ever been successfully prosecuted on a conspiracy charge but that recent actions, like the investigation of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, was evidence that the  government was “moving toward criminalizing the reporting process.”

The Times has never been contacted as part of a WikiLeaks investigation said David E. McCraw, its assistant general counsel. “But I would note that the proposed shield law,” he said, describing new legislation that the administration says is an effort to shield journalists from prosecution, “tries to define Wiki-like publishers out of the definition of news organizations.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/25/world/europe/wikileaks-back-in-news-never-left-us-radar.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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