America

WikiLeaks' Assange May Be 'Talking Himself' Into Espionage Act Charges

Nov. 4, 2010, file photo of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The international uproar over WikiLeaks' disclosure this week of hundreds of thousands of cables and other messages sent in recent years by U.S. diplomats and intelligence operatives has the Justice Department saying that somebody may be prosecuted for revealing government secrets.

On Morning Edition, famed First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told host Renee Montagne that it's not The New York Times and other media outlets who face prosecution — it's WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (and whomever gave him the material) who could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917.

And Assange, an Australian, may be his own worst enemy if he ever is brought before a U.S. court, Abrams said: "He has gone a long way down the road of talking himself into a possible violation of the Espionage Act."

How?

Well, with comments such as this, reported by The New Yorker in its lengthy profile of Assange back in June:

"He has argued that a 'social movement' to expose secrets could 'bring down many administrations that rely on concealing reality — including the US administration.' "

The Espionage Act, Abrams told Renee, "is very broad." But among the crimes it details is unauthorized possession of — or control over — classified information, if you have reason to believe that disclosure of the information could cause harm to the U.S.

There's a copy of the Act posted here.

Here is the audio of Renee's conversation with Abrams:

Renee Montagne speaks with Floyd Abrams

According to the BBC, by the way, Ecuador has offered to give Assange asylum.

As for news about the WikiLeaks documents and related developments:

— Assange, in an e-mail, told ABC News that upcoming document dumps will take aim at "lying, corrupt and murderous leadership from Bahrain to Brazil."

— In another interview, Assange told Forbes that early in 2011 WikiLeaks will release thousands of internal documents from an American bank. The information, he said, will expose "regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest."

The New York Times says the documents released this week "depict U.S. haggling to find takers for detainees."

— The Guardian continues to live-blog. And among its latest headlines is this: "WikiLeaks Cables Reveal China 'Ready To Abandon North Korea.' "

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.