"It may be that what Julian has done is a crime," said Clay Shirky, an Internet and technology consultant and author, referring to Assange's role in the dissemination of a massive cache of classified government files. "In that case, the right answer is to bring the case to a trial."
"The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us 'You went after Wikileaks' domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don't like the site,'" he said. Shirky's comment clearly suggests that governmental pressure may be behind the recent setbacks for Assange.
Attorney General Eric Holder has promised a vigorous investigation and prosecution of those involved with the Wikileaks leak. But Vladeck says the law under which Assange could most likely be tried -- the Espionage Act -- is "politically and legally fraught," explaining why government prosecutors have not yet laid out any charges.
"One of the flaws in the Espionage Act is that it draws no distinction between the leaker or the spy and the recipient of the information, no matter how far downstream the recipient is," Vladeck said. "So there's no difference in the statute between Assange and someone at home who opens up something that Assange has posted on his website knowing that it's classified. It's why this is such a problem."
Army Private Bradley Manning is alleged to have downloaded vast numbers of secret diplomatic cables and military documents while working as an intelligence analyst, committing the greatest security breach in U.S. history using little more than a memory stick and a Lady Gaga CD.
Wikileaks has pledged to release more than 250,000 documents, most, if not all of which, are believed to have been obtained by Manning. Already the site has published classified military records pertaining to the death toll in Iraq, and secret diplomatic cables about relations with foreign governments.
"In the entire history of the Espionage Act there's been exactly one case when the government went after someone other than the thief – and that prosecution fell apart," he said.