Exactly one year to the day after entering London’s Ecuadorian Embassy, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange lashed out at the Obama administration Wednesday over the White House’s ongoing pursuit of leakers.
Citing the prosecution of alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning and the recent case of Edward Snowden, Assange said President Barack Obama’s relentless efforts in office to hold Americans accountable for leaking state secrets is ravaging what remains of the reputation for a country once known for its vast press freedoms.
“We know from at least three national security reporters that their sources are hesitant to speak to them, and [they] explicitly cite the treatment of Bradley Manning as a reason as to why they are hesitant to disclose abuses by the United States government in the national security sector,” Assange told RT’s Andrew Blake in a conference call conducted from the embassy. “So already the Manning prosecution is harming the quality of Western democracy and the quality of reporting in the press.”
The conversation, conducted over the phone for around 90 minutes on Monday, afforded reporters the rare opportunity to discuss the highly contested cases against Manning, WikiLeaks and Snowden with some of the most knowledgeable experts on the subject of whistle-blowing. In additional to Assange, panelists included “Pentagon Papers” leaker Daniel Ellsberg and former National Security Agency analyst Thomas Drake, who was indicted in 2010 after complaining about surveillance practices within the NSA. Private Manning, a 25-year-old Army intelligence analyst, is accused of giving Assange and WikiLeaks classified documents that the Obama administration says harmed national security, and if convicted of the most serious of charges could spend the rest of his life in prison. He was detained in pretrial confinement for three years until his military court-martial began earlier this month.
“The broad case establishes a precedent that publishing national security related information about the United States is espionage,” Assange said.
“President Obama must do the right thing. He must immediately drop the immoral investigation against WikiLeaks, its staff and its sources,” he said.
Assange has yet to be formally indicted by a grand jury, but warned that other journalists and sources could suffer the same fate as either Manning or himself if they continue to expose state secrets, especially those critical of the current administration. The WikiLeaks founder has been attempting to get safe passage to Ecuador where he has been granted asylum, but the UK wants to extradite him to Sweden where he faces questioning over alleged sex crimes. According to Assange, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has a 42,135 page file on WikiLeaks and another 8,000 relating specifically to his organization’s alleged relationship with Manning. If sent to Sweden, Assange has cautioned, he will likely be shipped to America and put on trial.
Commenting on the case of Edward Snowden, Assange said the US government is likely to charge the NSA leaker with espionage as well, and that even the Guardian journalists who published his evidence of widespread surveillance of American’s phone and Internet habits should expect prosecution.
“It is clear to me at this stage that Mr. Snowden . . . is being very aggressively pursued by the US national security sector, and there’s an open question as to whether the journalists, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, will be in the same position that I will be in in a year’s time,” he said.