‘5 years for ATTEMPT to crack a password?’ Journalists, whistleblowers slam US Assange charge
Journalists and whistleblowers have weighed in on the indictment brought by the US against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, calling the current password-cracking charge “weak,” but setting a dangerous precedent for press freedom.
A statement from the Department of Justice on Wednesday said Assange had been charged for engaging in a conspiracy to crack a password on a Department of Defense computer in order to release classified information. If found guilty, he could face up to five years in prison.
Fellow whistleblower and former CIA employee Edward Snowden said on Twitter that the “weakness of the US charge against Assange is shocking” in that the allegation that Assange and Manning had “tried” to crack the password had been public knowledge for “nearly a decade,” and that the Obama administration’s DOJ had concluded that prosecuting Assange would pose a threat to press freedom.
The weakness of the US charge against Assange is shocking. The allegation he tried (and failed?) to help crack a password during their world-famous reporting has been public for nearly a decade: it is the count Obama's DOJ refused to charge, saying it endangered journalism. https://t.co/xdTQ8xauB0— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) April 11, 2019
US media reported on the attempt in 2011. It is not known whether Manning and Assange actually managed to crack the password in question, but the wording of the DOJ statement could suggest that their attempts were unsuccessful.
The charge against Assange is that he "agreed to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Dept. of Defense computers." It looks like their alleged "password-cracking agreement" wasn't even successful. Assange faces 5 years in prison over it.(https://t.co/VMdLBc2r2E) pic.twitter.com/75kzSjpyV7— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) April 11, 2019
Journalist Glenn Greenwald also commented on the Obama-era decision, saying that Democrats who have spent two years “feigning concerns over press freedom” in relation to the Trump administration’s attacks on journalists, but who now support the Donald Trump DOJ’s indictment of Assange were “beneath contempt.”
Internet freedom activist Kim Dotcom also weighed in on the potential five-year prison sentence for trying to crack a password. “Is it still April Fool’s Day?” he tweeted, with the hashtag #FreeJulian.
In a further tweet, Dotcom said that the sentence was possibly a “tactic” to tempt Assange to consider swift extradition, but that more and heavier charges likely awaited. “DOJ may have a superseding indictment with more charges ready on arrival. I can tell you from experience DOJ is full of liars and tricksters,” he wrote.
The maximum 5 year sentence announced by US DOJ may be a tactic to tempt Assange to consider swift extradition.DOJ may have a superseding indictment with more charges ready on arrival. I can tell you from experience DOJ is full of liars and tricksters. #FreeJulian— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) April 11, 2019
Editor of the White House Watch website Dan Froomkin tweeted advice to journalists at mainstream news organizations, saying they should acknowledge that the indictment was a “ridiculous stretch” and was in relation to “the noblest of his leaks,” making it a “chilling” moment for journalism.
The indictment relates to 2010 releases of classified information on US war crimes in Iraq, including footage of a US Apache helicopter, which opened fire killing 12 people, including two Reuters reporters.
OK, major news organization reporters: You’ve had enough time to digest the unsealed Assange indictment to realize what a ridiculous stretch it is, how it relates to the noblest of his leaks, and how it’s chilling to journalism. Please say so.— Dan Froomkin (@froomkin) April 11, 2019
Ewen MacAskill, a defense and security correspondent for the Guardian, said that it would set a “terrible precedent” if a journalist or publisher could end up in a US jail for publishing Iraq war logs and US State Department cables.
US did not waste any time putting in extradition request for Assange. Terrible precedent if journalist/publisher ends up in US jail for Iraq war logs and state department cables.— Ewen MacAskill (@ewenmacaskill) April 11, 2019
Others, including former CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriakou and Transparency Ireland founder John Devitt, also weighed in, saying that a fair trial for Assange in the US was nearly “impossible” to imagine.
A fair trial in the Eastern District of Virginia, under Judge Leonie Brinkema, is utterly impossible. They don't call EDVA the "Espionage Court" for nothing. https://t.co/U6gVq2FpcB— John Kiriakou (@JohnKiriakou) April 11, 2019
I haven't always agreed with Assange or his methods but it's impossible to imagine him receiving a fair trial in the US after the treatment of @xychelsea, #realitywinner and many others @Thomas_Drake1@Snowden@JohnKiriakou@WendyMeer11. https://t.co/rh3WU71ad2— John Devitt (@jkdevitt) April 11, 2019
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