Scott Horton Looks at Assange Espionage Indictment

He faces 170 years.

The indictment is garbage. It begins by citing public requests by Wikileaks for classified documents from a number of governments. As though this is different in kind from what any investigative reporter might do.

(Please assume the term “allegedly” throughout this Fisking. I’m taking the grand jury’s stated facts for granted for the sake of argument, but I don’t know that any of these specific claims about Assange are true.)

Then they say that Manning “responded to” Wikileaks’ Most Wanted Leaks list by attempting to find things on that list. Wowee, what an impressive case so far. …

Sidebar: Read the Iraq war logs, Afghan war logs, State Department Cables and Guantanamo Bay Files here.

After Manning turned over the stuff, Wikileaks took down one of its categories of wanted leaks. Oh my. The cause and effect outlined here is, again, no different in kind than what the DoJ could say about almost any national security beat reporter in the country.

(Side note: They remind us that Manning was talking to Assange for six months before getting caught, and that was only because she spilled her guts to a rat, family name Lamo, who turned her over to the FBI. Close enough for government work I guess.)

Again they cry that Assange “encouraged” Manning to liberate more documents. Again, this is nonsense. That’s no different from what any national security beat reporter would do.

Then they get to the attempted hacking of a password referred to in the original indictment. Again they admit that this would not have given Manning better access than she already had. It only would have helped to disguise her identity better. This is just simple journalistic trade craft stuff. No different than any other reporter would do.

They keep referring to Manning’s illegal — though heroic — acts in a way to imply that somehow those facts also implicate Assange, but they haven’t attempted to really make the case for the transitive property of responsibility.

Since Manning had already given Assange the Afghan War Logs, Assange must have known by then that the material in question was classified! Serious detective work went into this thing.

As in the previous indictment they bring up Manning saying she’s tapped out of info and Assange replying, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.” Again, encouraging a source is nothing that any reporter wouldn’t do.

Assange tells Manning the leaks are important also for inspiring new leakers in the world. Such espionage.

Manning liberated specific docs Wikileaks said they were looking for: Iraq War II rules of engagement cards and charts. Again the implication is that for a journalist to ask a source for something specific — to even have a list on a site of Most Wanted documents — amounts to criminal agreement to break the law with the government employee leaker.

This may be within the letter of Woodrow Wilson’s Espionage Act, but it has never been enforced against a journalist or recipient of a leak before, only leakers, and then almost entirely under Bush and Obama, mostly Obama.

But it’s no different than what any other investigative reporter might do.

More statements that Assange must have knows the leaker was military and that the documents were classified. In the case of any other reporter, so what? In this case, they want to pretend that this is somehow meaningful.

Then they go on to complain about Wikileaks’ branding as “the intelligence agency of the people” and its “shared objective,” with Manning, of obtaining classified material and publishing it.

I guess we’re now supposed to be hypnotized into nodding and clucking our tongues concluding that that means, “Aha! even Assange himself says he’s an ‘intelligence agency'”! so not a real journalist. I can hear the NBC hacks hacking away now.

They complain that Assange and his media partners redacted most names from the documents, they also released Afghan war cables that revealed the names of certain people cooperating with the occupation. But they don’t claim that anyone was hurt due to it. So what’s that, sloppy journalism? Even that’s assuming these things all amounted to doxing of private people rather than useful, reportable information.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the prosecutors at Manning’s court martial have conceded that no one was hurt by the leak.

They say Osama bin Laden had requested some Wikileaks files from his people. So, you see right there that … nothing.

Again, they weakly pretend that there’s a legal standard called “someone could have gotten hurt since you named a third party in that thing you published” that would somehow preclude a journalist from publishing whatever they wished. The indictment even quotes Assange saying he’s not obligated to protect the U.S. government’s sources, and goes on to say that some of those people were framing innocent others or selling information in a way that makes it perfectly reportable information. This exculpatory declaration is right in the indictment, paragraph 42.

Some or none may agree with the choice, but that’s beside the point. It’s within an argument about the ethics of journalism, not the difference between journalism and something else. Besides, again, they did redact the documents, but some got through was all…

But then they complain that Wikileaks published 250,000 unredacted cables. But that was only after some jerk from the Guardian published the password to files that had already been distributed. So the cat was out of the bag, and it wasn’t Assange’s doing.

They cry that they read in the newspaper that the Taliban were reading the files looking for spies. That’s it. That’s all. No follow up. No claims that anyone was hurt as though that mattered either way.

They quote Assange saying that “it is absolutely impossible that anything we ever publish will ever result in harm — we cannot say that” as though, what? This is supposed to be the distinction between Wikileaks and the Washington Post? If so, I’ve got some bad news for you.

Okay, finally they cut to the chase:

Count one: He obtained secret documents, he received and obtained secret documents, he communicated the documents (simple bait and switch, now Assange is Manning. Same difference, right?), he risked the lives of U.S. government informants.

Count two: they say Assange “caused” Manning to obtain Guantanamo documents. Uh huh. Remember, above, Wikileaks publicly called for docs. Assange asked for more when he got some. That’s no different than what any good journalist would do.

Count three: Same thing again only now the State Department cables.

Count four: Anyway. That’s it. They go on like that for a while, but all based on the above facts stipulated which — assuming their validity — don’t amount to anything different than what any good reporter would do.

That’s why the Obama DoJ, which prosecuted more, I think even double, Espionage Act cases against whistleblowers than all other previous presidents combined, refused to follow through with this indictment years ago.

They called it the New York Times problem. The case still has it.

The Times didn’t say anything when Assange was grabbed a few weeks ago on a “computer” crime charge, but at least now they’re saying something. They still attack Assange and throw him under the bus though. They only care about the right of David Sanger to lie about Iran.

But that’s the sum of it: people could have gotten hurt, he failed to help crack a code that wouldn’t have caused greater access to files, asking Manning to get some more somehow amounts to Assange doing the leaking rather than receiving it, so therefore he’s as “guilty” as Manning was for liberating the documents in the first place, which is nonsense.

It also cuts right to the core of the American tradition of free speech and free journalism. If this case goes through it’s going to change many things.

Update: Of course Manning continues to defend Assange from jail where she’s sitting for contempt for refusing to rat on him to the grand jury.

Author: Scott Horton

Scott Horton is editorial director of, director of the Libertarian Institute, host of Antiwar Radio on Pacifica, 90.7 FM KPFK in Los Angeles, California and podcasts the Scott Horton Show from He’s the author of the 2017 book, Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan and editor of The Great Ron Paul: The Scott Horton Show Interviews 2004–2019. He’s conducted more than 5,000 interviews since 2003. Scott lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, investigative reporter Larisa Alexandrovna Horton. He is a fan of, but no relation to the lawyer from Harper’s. Scott’s Twitter, YouTube, Patreon.

6 thoughts on “Scott Horton Looks at Assange Espionage Indictment”

  1. “Of course Manning continues to defend Assange from jail where she’s sitting for contempt for refusing to rat on him to the grand jury.”

    No question about it, Manning has guts. I’d like to see Bolton going to jail to protect a journalist, but then Bolton knows he will never go to jail, no matter how many millions of deaths he causes.

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