WikiLeaks Julian Assange arrested, US charges with conspiracy to commit computer hacking

The Department of Justice on Thursday announced a criminal charge against WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, accusing him of conspiring to hack into a classified U.S. government computer.

“The charge relates to Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States,” the Justice Department said in a press release.

That alleged conspiracy involved Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who was jailed last month for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating Assange’s document-sharing organization.

The announcement followed an extradition request by the U.S. for Assange, 47, who on Thursday morning was arrested and removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has lived for nearly seven years.

Assange faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison if convicted, though his actual sentence would likely fall below the legal max.

The indictment, filed under seal in the Eastern District of Virginia in March 2018, states that he and Manning worked together in 2010 to crack passwords on government computers and download reams of information with the intent of publishing them on WikiLeaks.

The alleged conspiracy has no direct connection to the 2016 presidential election, where Assange’s whistleblowing organization became a main engine of controversy by publishing troves of Democratic National Committee officials’ internal emails. U.S. intelligence officials alleged in a January 2017 assessment of Russia’s election meddling that Kremlin military intelligence gained access to DNC networks and fed the hacked information to WikiLeaks.

Trump had praised WikiLeaks repeatedly in the late stages of the election, in which he ultimately defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.