LONDON -- Federal prosecutors in the United States unsealed a computer hacking indictment against Julian Assange on Thursday just hours after authorities in the United Kingdom arrested the WikiLeaks founder at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has lived for the past seven years.
The newly unsealed indictment, filed last year in the Eastern District of Virginia, targets Assange in an alleged conspiracy with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst turned whistleblower Chelsea Manning to hack into U.S. Department of Defense computers in March 2010, in "one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States."
"During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange," prosecutors said in a press release."The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information. During an exchange, Manning told Assange that “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.” To which Assange replied, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience,” the release said.
Prosecutors wrote that Assange was arrested pursuant to a U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty, but when or even if that would happen was unclear.
The dramatic arrest of Assange played out Thursday morning in London, when Metropolitan Police executed a warrant for Assange's arrest on behalf of Westminster Magistrates' Court. Police said they were invited into the Ecuadorian Embassy by Ambassador Carlos Abad Ortiz after the Ecuadorian government withdrew the WikiLeaks founder's asylum status.
During his initial court appearance on Thursday, Assange offered no evidence and was found guilty of breaching his bail. The judge described Assange as “a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests.”
He now faces up to 12 months in jail and will be sentenced at a later date. Until then, Assange will remain in custody.
The warrant for his "failure to appear” dates back to a now-closed rape inquiry in Sweden that had been active for the past seven years. The rape investigation was dropped by Swedish prosecutors in 2017 as they could not gain access to Assange while he was inside the Ecuadorean Embassy, but Swedish prosecutors announced Thursday their intention to re-open the rape investigation against Assange.
WikiLeaks advocates and Assange’s legal team leapt to his defense on Thursday morning, decrying his arrest and prospective extradition to the U.S.
Carlos Poveda, Assange's lawyer in Ecuador, claimed the arrest contravened international conventions on human rights. Barry Pollack, Assange's U.S.-based attorney, described the news as "bitterly disappointing."
Addressing reporters after his initial appearance, Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson vowed that his legal team would "be contesting and fighting extradition" and argued that Assange's arrest and indictment "sets dangerous precedent for all media organizations and journalists."
In a tweet, WikiLeaks wrote that “Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to dehumanise, delegitimize and imprison [Assange],” and Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who leaked details of a secret domestic data mining program, bemoaned the "weakness of the US charge against Assange."
The American actress Pamela Anderson, a confidante of Assange's in recent years, wrote on Twitter, "I am in shock ... how could you UK?"
Meanwhile, government officials in the U.K. and Ecuador applauded Assange’s arrest.
Sir Alan Duncan, the British government's Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, said in a statement that it was "absolutely right that Assange will face justice."
The U.K.'s Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, wrote in a tweet that "Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law.”
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno announced on Thursday that Assange's diplomatic asylum and immunity had been withdrawn for "repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocol.”
Assange, an Australian native, founded the website WikiLeaks in 2006 and drew attention over the next decade for releasing sensitive, and often classified, information.