Army Private Bradley Manning was convicted today of several violations of the Espionage Act by Judge Denise Lind, an Army colonel. Manning could face a term of life imprisonment for releasing over 700,000 military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks. Manning was only the second person to be convicted of violating the Espionage Act during President Obama’s administration.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has in turn found the President guilty of “national security extremism.”
Manning’s conviction increases the likelihood that Assange will likewise be targeted by the government. Prosecutors repeatedly asserted during the court martial that Manning had been acting under Assange’s direction and that Assange was therefore a co-conspirator.
Advocates of freedom of the press, such as Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, fear that this conviction is a furtherance of the Obama administration’s avid hunt for leakers, which will have a “chilling effect,” discouraging potential whistleblowers who might be motivated to make information on military and intelligence matters public as a means of exposing wrongdoing and stimulating public debate.
Manning was acquitted of charges of aiding the enemy, which was based on the fact that al-Qaeda was able to access classified material once it was posted by WikiLeaks.
In a Time Magazine article entitled “The Geeks Who Leak” (June 24, 2013), Manning, like Edward Snowden, were characterized as “hacktivists” that believe that seeking out and unveiling the inner workings of Pentagon and other government agencies is a form of civil disobedience. They are technophiles that regard transparency and personal privacy as the foundations of a free society, and consider secrecy and surveillance as despotism.
Assange is not only the founder but editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, who has made public appearances around the world speaking on the topics of freedom of the press and censorship. It is not surprising then, that Assange regards the President as a despot in matters of national security.
In 1995 he was accused of dozens of hacking activities. He plead guilty in an Australian court and was fined several thousand dollars, avoiding a prison term on the condition that he did not reoffend.
He began WikiLeaks in 2006 as a web-based “dead-letterbox” for would-be leakers. In July and October of 2010, WikiLeaks conducted a large-scale publication of classified US military documents on the Afghan and Iraq wars, and even released footage of a US helicopter shooting civilians in Iraq.
The website has gone on to divulge about five million confidential emails from the US-based intelligence company Stratfor.
There have been multiple attempts to shut WikiLeaks down. Amazon, which hosted its servers in the US, withdrew services on the grounds that the site was breaking its terms and conditions. Then EveryDNS, the domain name firm that allows the Wikileaks.org address to be translated into an IP address, withdrew its services. IP addresses are the raw information that internet routers use to find content.
WikiLeaks moved its operation to Europe, out of the reach of the US government, and created additional IP addresses. Within hours of having its .org address cut off, WikiLeaks moved to an address that pointed to an IP address in Sweden, with servers located in France. It now has some 14 DNS servers doing the same work as EveryDNS refused to do.
During the court martial, prosecutors portrayed Assange as an “information anarchist” who encouraged Manning to leak the classified documents. They asserted that WikiLeaks could not be considered a media organization publishing the leaked the information in the public interest. This argument is supported by dictum in the Manning decision that subjective motive for Manning’s actions was irrelevant.
While in England in 2010, Assange became subject to a European Arrest Warrant upon a request by Swedish police to question him in connection with a sexual assault investigation. Assange appealed the issuance of the warrant, which was ultimately dismissed by the UK Supreme Court in June of 2012. Assange then sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, and was granted political asylum by Ecuador in August of 2012. He has remained there since that time. The UK government has stated that it will not allow him safe passage out of the country in order to flee to Ecuador, and has expressed its intention to extradite Assange to Sweden under the arrest warrant once he leaves the embassy. Assange fears a subsequent extradition to the United States.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said a grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks is ongoing. However, no indictments have come to light, and it is uncertain whether Assange has been charged.
Upon receiving news of Manning’s conviction, Assange promptly found President Obama guilty of “national security extremism.”
By: Tom Ukinski