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‘5 years for ATTEMPT to crack a password?’ Journalists, whistleblowers slam US Assange charge

‘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.

READ MORE: Every charge against Julian Assange, explained

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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