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19 Nov, 2013 17:58

No sealed indictment against Assange, but it's 'subject to change'

No sealed indictment against Assange, but it's 'subject to change'

An investigation into WikiLeaks is still active, a senior law enforcement official told the Washington Post this week, and the anti-secrecy group’s founder, Julian Assange, may soon be eligible for arrest if he enters the United States.

The remarks from the official — who spoke anonymously and was not identified by the Post — comes more than three years after WikiLeaks began releasing embarrassing US Department of State diplomatic cables pilfered by the soldier now known as Chelsea Manning, an action which prompted the arrest of the documents’ source and the beginning of a grand jury investigation into Assange and his associates.

But while the nameless official insisted that an investigation is still ongoing, the source added that US prosecutors do not have a sealed indictment against Assange at this time, much to the contrary of earlier media reports.

"Nothing has occurred so far," the Post’s Sari Horwitz originally quoted the police source as saying. "If Assange came to the US today, he would not be arrested. But I can't predict what's going to happen. He might be in six months."

Shortly after the Post published their report on Monday, the paper changed the second-half of the quote to remove the source’s assurance that Assange would not be arrested if he enters the US.

“Nothing has occurred so far,” the excerpt began once again, continuing this time, “But it’s subject to change. I can’t predict what’s going to happen. The investigation is ongoing.”

The 42-year-old founder of WikiLeaks has been detained within the walls of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over 1,000 days now while awaiting safe passage to South America, but British officials have been ordered to arrest Assange the moment he exits the facility on account of him being wanted in Sweden for questioning regarding unrelated allegations. Assange and his supporters largely believe that that extradition is merely a maneuver intended to transfer custody of the whistleblower to American officials, who may then charge him with espionage and perhaps even attempt to have him executed if found guilty. Now according to the Post, US officials indeed are still in the midst of an investigation, although remain hesitant to say what future they hope is in store for Mr. Assange.

“We will treat this news with skepticism short of an open, official, formal confirmation that the US government is not going to prosecute WikiLeaks,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesman for the group, told the Post. “It is quite obvious that you can shake up an indictment in a very short period of time.”

Hrafnsson said, adding, “Unfortunately, the US government has a track record of being deceptive and of choosing its words carefully on this issue and other issues as well.”

Upon publication of the article, the WikiLeaks Twitter account wrote, “Interesting to speculate about the latest move by anonymous DoJ officials vs WikiLeaks. Why now? Taking the pulse of responses or black PR?”

Interesting to speculate about the latest move by anonymous DoJ officials vs WikiLeaks. Why now? Taking the pulse of responses or black PR?

— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 18, 2013

And while the Post report is in fact the first indication in months that an investigation into Assange remains active, it also comes at a time when public interest in the whistleblower website has been particularly rekindled following the sentencing last week of Jeremy Hammond, a 28-year-old Chicago man who will now serve 10 years in prison for hacking private intelligence firm Stratfor as part of the hacktivist collective Anonymous. Hammond admitted in court previously that he broke into the Texas-based company’s computer to collect, among other items, millions of sensitive inner-office emails that were then handed over to WikiLeaks for publication.

Within the trove of correspondence collected by Hammond and his colleagues was an email from Stratfor Vice President Fred Burton, a former government official with strong ties to law enforcement, in which he insisted an indictment against Assange had already been finalized.

“We have a sealed indictment on Assange,” Burton wrote to an associate in January 2011, according to the hacked emails. “Pls protect.” Also among the emails are accusations that Stratfor investigated peaceful protestors within the Occupy Wall Street movement, activists with the group PETA, members of the non-violent civil disobedience movement US Day of Rage and many more.

Shortly after Hammond was sentenced on Friday, WikiLeaks released the remaining Stratfor emails to bring the total number of published correspondence to roughly 5 million. At roughly that same time, a Federal Bureau of Investigation memo began circulating in which the FBI accused Anonymous of installing back doors in computers belonging to the US Army and the Department of Energy, among others.

Just as WikiLeaks considered the possibility of the Post’s article being an example of black PR, the Twitter account for US Day of Rage said of new the new allegations involving Anonymous, “[T]he timing of this 'news' is interesting in light of Hammond sentencing.”

@apblake@subverzo the timing of this 'news' is interesting in light of Hammond sentencing..

— US Day Of Rage (@USDayofRage) November 15, 2013

“I'd say it just an attempt to further demonize hacktivists in the mind of the fearful uninformed masses,” the account added.

@anastasialie83@apblake@subverzo I'd say it just an attempt to further demonize hactivists in the mind of the fearful uninformed masses

— US Day Of Rage (@USDayofRage) November 16, 2013

With regards to any investigation into WikiLeaks, the Department of Justice has previously gone on the record to admit whether or not they were still interesting in probing the organization. On November 1, 2012, Judge Liam O’Grady of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York authorized a memo confirming that associates of WikiLeaks were still being investigation and documents pertaining to their case must remain protected because “unsealing of the documents at this time would damage an ongoing criminal investigation.” Judge O’Grady signed a near-identical on May 6 of this year in which he said the government would have to show just cause for the continued sealing of the documents in 180 days. That time-frame expired earlier this month, but a clerk for the Eastern District Court told RT on Tuesday that they could not confirm if O’Grady again authorized the files to remain protected from the public.

According to WikiLeaks, federal grand juries in the US cannot extend for more than three years, and indication that one exists — even from an anonymous law enforcement official — suggests the government’s probe has been “rolled over” into a new grand jury.

US grand juries go for a max of 3 years, which means that the WL grand jury, which started mid 2010 has been "rolled over" into a new WL GJ.

— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 18, 2013