Arrest of WikiLeaks founder 'a US priority'

Julian Assange has sought refuge at the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012.
Julian Assange has sought refuge at the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012.

Justice Dept preparing charges against Assange after 'unprecedented' rash of leaks

WASHINGTON • The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a US priority, said Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, as media reports indicated that his office was preparing charges against the fugitive anti-hero.

"We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks," Mr Sessions said at a news conference.

The Justice Department chief said a rash of leaks of sensitive secrets appeared unprecedented.

"This is a matter that's gone beyond anything I'm aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious," he said. "Whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail."

Prosecutors in recent weeks have been drafting a memo that looks at charges against Assange and members of WikiLeaks that possibly include conspiracy, theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed US officials.

Assange, 45, has been holed up at the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden where he faces a rape allegation that he denies.

He fears Sweden would extradite him to the US to face trial for leaking hundreds of thousands of US military and diplomatic documents that gained attention in 2010.

Assange's case returned to the spotlight after WikiLeaks was accused of meddling in the US election last year by releasing a damaging trove of hacked e-mail messages from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic party.

US officials say the e-mail messages were hacked with the aid of the Russian government in its bid to influence the US election.

Critics say their release late in the race helped to tip the Nov 8 election to Republican Donald Trump.

Mr Trump and his administration have put heat on WikiLeaks after it embarrassed the Central Intelligence Agency last month by releasing a large number of files and computer code from the spy agency's top-secret hacking operations. The documents showed how the CIA exploits vulnerabilities in popular computer and networking hardware and software to gather intelligence. CIA director Mike Pompeo last week branded WikiLeaks a "hostile intelligence service", saying it threatens democratic nations and joins hands with dictators.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2017, with the headline 'Arrest of WikiLeaks founder 'a US priority''. Print Edition | Subscribe