A new indictment announced by the US Department of Justice stated that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tried to hire criminals at conferences in Europe and Asia who could provide his anti-secrecy website with confidential information and colluded with members of hacking organizations.
The overriding indictment does not comprise additional charges beyond the 18 counts the Justice Department uncapped last year. But investigators say it underlines Assange’s efforts to obtain and release secret information, accusations that constitute the foundation of criminal charges he already encounters.
Apart from hiring hackers at conferences, the indictment blames Assange for colluding with members of hacking groups known as LulzSec and Anonymous. Investigators suggest that he also worked with a young hacker who provided him with information pilfered from a bank and asked the teenager to make off with additional things.
In a statement, Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, said that “the government’s relentless pursuit of Julian Assange poses a grave threat to journalists everywhere and to the public’s right to know.”
“While today’s superseding indictment is yet another chapter in the U.S. Government’s effort to persuade the public that its pursuit of Julian Assange is based on something other than his publication of newsworthy truthful information,” he added, “the indictment continues to charge him with violating the Espionage Act based on WikiLeaks publications exposing war crimes committed by the U.S. Government.”
Assange was apprehended last year after being expelled from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had asked for asylum to circumvent being sent to Sweden over accusations of rape and sexual attack.
He has already been charged by the Justice Department with conspiring with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in one of the largest negotiations of secret information in U.S. history by working in tandem to crack a password to a government computer.
Assange has reiterated that he was merely working as a journalist and was protected under the First Amendment. His lawyers have contended the U.S. allegations of spying and computer misuse were politically-driven and an exploitation of power.