WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange collaborated with hackers linked with "LulzSec" and "Anonymous" hacking groups in efforts to obtain classified government information, according to a new indictment by the US Justice Department (DOJ) unsealed on Wednesday.
The superseding indictment [pdf] does not include additional charges beyond the 18-count indictment by the Justice Department in May 2019. In that indictment, Assange was charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly releasing classified documents belonging to the Defense Department in 2010.
As per new indictment, Assange provided LulzSec's leader with a list of target organisations to hack in 2012. The hacker who received the list was an FBI informer at the time. He was allegedly told by Assange that the most significant release of hacked data would be from the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, or the New York Times.
As per the indictment, another hacker linked with Anonymous and LulzSec groups was able to steal emails after infiltrating systems of an American intelligence consulting firm. The stolen information was later published in WikiLeaks.
"Assange and others at WikiLeaks recruited and agreed with hackers to commit computer intrusions to benefit WikiLeaks," the DOJ said in a press release.
According to prosecutors, Assange and a WikiLeaks associate recruited hackers during conferences in the Netherlands and Malaysia in 2009.
"Since the early days of WikiLeaks, Assange has spoken at hacking conferences to tout his own history as a ‘famous teenage hacker in Australia' and to encourage others to hack to obtain information for WikiLeaks," the DOJ said.
The Justice Department has already charged Assange of conspiring with Army Intelligence Analyst Chelsea Manning to crack the password of a Defense Department's computer. The US prosecutors allege that Assange, in collaboration with Manning, stole documents from databases containing nearly 250,000 State Department cables, 400,000 Iraq war-related reports, and 90,000 Afghanistan war-related reports.
Prosecutors argue that Assange harmed national security by publishing thousands of classified documents.
However, Assange argues that he was acting as a journalist and was entitled to protections offered by the First Amendment. His lawyers state that the charges of spying and computer misuse by the US Justice Department were politically motivated.
Julian Assange was arrested by the Metropolitan Police in London in April 2019 under US extradition warrant following his expulsion from Embassy of Ecuador.
Assange's expulsion from the Embassy came after Ecuador revoked his diplomatic asylum request.
Before his arrest, Assange spent seven years closeted in the Embassy after being accused of sexual assault in Sweden in 2010. Assange claims that the charges were politically motivated.
If his extradition is approved, Assange will likely go directly to the US, rather than via Sweden.
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