Can Julian Assange be charged under the Espionage Act?

Posted by: ST on November 30, 2010 at 11:26 am

The Associated Press reports that the DOJ and other government agencies are looking for ways to charge WikiLeaks punk Julian Assange over his leaks of massive amounts of classified and sensitive information to “news” outlets like the “Newspaper of Record”:

WASHINGTON — A senior defense official says lawyers from across government agencies are studying whether it might be possible to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act. 

The official says lawyers from the departments of Justice, State and Defense are among those looking into how to handle the leaking of a massive number of national security and diplomatic documents to the WikiLeaks website and the site’s action in then posting them on the Internet. 

The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday to be able to discuss internal deliberations. He said lawyers are trying to determine whether the Espionage Act applies in this case, what individuals it might apply to and whether it’s possible to use it against the WikiLeaks organization.

At least one prominent First Amendment lawyer thinks the Espionage Act would apply to Assange:

On [NPR’s] Morning Edition, famed First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told host Renee Montagne that it’s not The New York Times and other media outlets who face prosecution — it’s WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (and whomever gave him the material) who could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917.

And Assange, an Australian, may be his own worst enemy if he ever is brought before a U.S. court, Abrams said: “He has gone a long way down the road of talking himself into a possible violation of the Espionage Act.”


Well, with comments such as this, reported by The New Yorker in its lengthy profile of Assange back in June:

“He has argued that a ‘social movement’ to expose secrets could ‘bring down many administrations that rely on concealing reality — including the US administration.’ “

The Espionage Act, Abrams told Renee, “is very broad.” But among the crimes it details is unauthorized possession of — or control over — classified information, if you have reason to believe that disclosure of the information could cause harm to the U.S.

Click here to read the Espionage Act.

I’m not sure what law applies here – I just hope they get the b*stard, and all who are aiding him.


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12 Responses to “Can Julian Assange be charged under the Espionage Act?”


  1. Phineas says:

    Power Line identified other parts of the US Code that would be applicable; I think I linked to the post in another comment.

    As far as the NYT goes, they’re not immune in this, although the administration would never go after them. While the Pentagon Papers decision made it clear that the government could not suppress publication of classified documents, the part many people forget is that the court said the paper could still be held to account after publication.

    Again, going after a newspaper (or TV network) would be a very controversial move here for obvious reasons, but after years of the Times and other outlets leaking state secrets while hiding behind (and warping) the 1st Amendment, it’s time an administration played hardball to protect legitimate government secrets.

    That, I fear, will have to wait until 2013.

  2. Ralph says:

    Wait… an anonymous official talking to the press about leaks.

    I’ve finally found THE definition of irony.

  3. arcman46 says:

    I’d have to think, that if Bush were President still, or if we had a President Palin, Assange, and Wikileaks, would not be a problem.

  4. Chris in NC says:

    Rope, tree, Assange. Some assembly required. Personally I think the Russians will take him out. You can get away with threatening the wusses of Obama and his ilk. The dictators of the world will have no hesitation to poison, shoot, whatever his scrawny little ass.

  5. Great White Rat says:

    The usual suspects like the ACLU are probably already assembling a consitutional challenge to the Espionage Act. If DOJ does indict him (possible, but by no means definite) and he is apprehended and extradited (even less likely), then the leftist will mount an all-out assault on the act. They’ll probably argue that the Espionage Act is too broad, and as such is unenforceable.

    The really sad part is that if Assange were pirating MP3s instead of government documents, the Obama regime would have him in chains by now. Priorities, you know.

  6. Great White Rat says:

    Tangential to this discussion: according to Wikileaks, Obama thinks French president Sarkozy has ‘a thin-skinned and authoritarian personal style’ and is ‘an emporer with no clothes’.

    Funny….that’s exactly how I see Obama, except possibly as an empty suit instead of an emporer with no clothes.

  7. Jo says:

    I’m placing a bet that absolutely nothing will be done to him–by anyone and he will go on to retain asylum, sit on ahis lily white a-s and keep spilling dangerous beans all over the world. I say the disease of political correctness has even infested Russia.