Early in the morning on April 11th, WikiLeaks co founder Julian Assange was arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in London by the London Metropolitan Police Service due to his ignoring bail conditions in December 2018. Now, Assange is currently in police custody and faces up to five years in prison for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. He will be sentenced in May.
Julian Assange’s organization WikiLeaks is dedicated to releasing secret information and classified media to the public, and it has been responsible for a number of leaks of classified government information; in 2016, Assange’s organization released Hillary Clinton’s emails, which had been stolen from Russian hackers.
Assange attempted to hack into the Pentagon computer system in 2010, and for a long time, Assange had been camping out in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in order to avoid being arrested by the UK police. However, Ecuador suspended his citizenship and kicked him out of the embassy earlier today, which led him to then be arrested by the Metropolitan Police. Assange did not go out without a fight — according to sources, he had to be “forcibly removed” by the police.
In true Trump fashion, the President has infuriatingly claimed that he knows nothing about WikiLeaks despite praising the organization in the past, especially during the 2016 campaign. Specifically, Trump has stated that WikiLeaks is “not my thing” and that he “knows nothing about WikiLeaks.” However, The Guardian reports that Trump brought up WikiLeaks “up to 145 times in the last month of his campaign alone.”
Despite Trump’s claims, the Trump administration has actually already charged Assange with one crime very discreetly, a move which the Obama administration chose not to do mainly for fear of affecting American journalism and publishing, and there has been some argument as to whether Assange’s arrest will have negative consequences for journalism in the US. Micah Lee on twitter wrote, “The indictment against Assange creates a dangerous precedent. If this sticks, what stops them from charging other journalists with “conspiracy” for deleting metadata and chat logs to protect sources, encouraging sources to leak documents, or using whistleblower submission systems?”
While it may be confusing that a journalist is being arrested, Assange is in fact being arrested for computer hacking and violating bail terms, rather than writing about classified information. However, some argue that the “real reason” he is being punished is in fact because he published information about the US government that they did not want out.
I’m not exactly sure what this means for US journalism, though just the fact that the Obama administration carefully decided not to pursue Assange, where as the Trump administration went full force with it is perhaps some indication of the possible consequences that the Obama administration did not want to risk.
Of course, if you’re not up to stressing about today’s what-if’s regarding Julian Assange and American journalism, you may want to check out Embassy Cat on Twitter, Julian Assange’s cat that he tried to take to the Ecuadorian Embassy with him. What does Embassy Cat have to say, anyway? Oh, just that he’s more interested in “counter-surveillance.”