from the several-versions-of-truth-and-this-one-is-the-DOJ's dept
The government is still trying to get Julian Assange out of the UK so it can ring him up on a variety of charges related to obtaining and publishing a large number of sensitive documents. Most of the charges are still related to the documents obtained from Chelsea Manning. The DOJ wants to use the oft-abused CFAA to put Assange behind bars because he supposedly helped Manning hack a CIA database.
Another indictment [PDF] has been issued by the DOJ, making this its third attempt to throw the book at Assange. If the DOJ can prove Assange contributed to hacking attempts, it may end up with a case worth pursuing. But much of what the indictments deal with is normal journalism behavior: the cultivation of sources and the encouragement of sources to locate/leak newsworthy documents. The blurry line the DOJ is walking on is the same line the previous administration seemed to feel wasn’t worth crossing, no matter how much harm/embarrassment Assange had caused with the release of sensitive documents.
The latest indictment expands the government’s espionage theories. The government’s second superseding indictment deals with Assange’s alleged “unlawful overt acts:” the hacking attempts supposedly made targeting Defense Department computers, possibly with the aid of Chelsea Manning and other Wikileaks associates.
Much of this expanded narrative seems to rely on the input of FBI informants, including Sigurdur Thordarson, who was convicted twice for sex with minors after he began working for the FBI in 2011. Sketchy contributors aside, there are some major omissions in the government’s narrative.
First, as Dell Cameron points out for Gizmodo, the indictment casually ignores the government’s contribution to cyber attacks on American businesses located overseas, as well as some foreign government targets. But there is a significant omission in the new indictment. And the purpose of this crucial admission appears to be an attempt to link Assange to a data breach he never participated in.
A section of the indictment titled “Sabu, Hammond, and ASSANGE” begins on the date December 25, 2011, and refers to an attack on servers belonging to a private firm identified only as “Intelligence Consulting Company.” This is obviously Stratfor, the Austin-based private intelligence company whose millions of pilfered emails comprise the WikiLeaks drop known as the Global Intelligence Files.
DOJ omits several crucial details about the Stratfor hack in its attempts to name Assange as a conspirator in a breach that happened without his knowledge. Most notably, prosecutors exclude that the actual breach of Stratfor’s security, in late 2011, occurred 83 days prior to the events they describe, unknownst by anyone DOJ identifies as part of the conspiracy, including Assange.
Assange and Wikileaks may have helped distribute the documents obtained in the breach and there does appear to be evidence Assange provided the hackers with some tools for searching the stash of five million emails, but there’s nothing in the indictment that ties Assange to the underlying hacking. The only thing in the indictment is stuff the DOJ is generously calling “evidence.”
At best, these are copies of exchanges taken from chat rooms in which a user claims to be Assange, which is not likely to hold up in court.
To be sure, indictments are often a pile of helpful omissions designed to speedily initiate prosecutions. But the more the government adds to its accusations, the more glaring its omissions become. This case was already problematic — willing to walk right up to the First Amendment and dare it to do something about it. Now it’s become more farcical, with the government accusing someone of doing something it appears clear they didn’t do and bolstering it with half-truths about the FBI’s own involvement in malicious hacking efforts.