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  1. Sweden drops Julian Assange rape investigation after nine years Assange is in prison for skipping bail, and he faces hacking-conspiracy charge. Enlarge / Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador on May 19, 2017 in London, England. Getty Images | Jack Taylor Swedish prosecutors have dropped a nine-year-old rape investigation into Julian Assange, saying that "the evidence has weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question." "I would like to emphasize that the injured party has submitted a credible and reliable version of events," Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Eva-Marie Persson said, according to a BBC report today. "Her statements have been coherent, extensive and detailed; however, my overall assessment is that the evidential situation has been weakened to such an extent that there is no longer any reason to continue the investigation." Prosecutors said they interviewed seven witnesses before deciding to stop the investigation, according to the BBC. "Memories fade for natural reasons," Persson also said, according to The New York Times. The large amount of media coverage of the case over the past nine years apparently also affected the decision. "You have to consider how much the witnesses will have read and heard from the media," Persson said. Assange in prison, faces other charges Two women made sexual-assault accusations against Assange, including a rape allegation, in August 2010. He was granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012, allowing him to avoid extradition. In April 2019, British police arrested Assange after the Ecuadorian government invited the Metropolitan Police Service into the embassy to remove him. A British court later sentenced Assange to 50 weeks in prison for fleeing to the Ecuadorian embassy in London while on bail in 2012. Assange also faces an indictment in the US that charges him with conspiring with Chelsea Manning to crack a hashed password belonging to a Pentagon computer in 2010. If convicted, he could spend up to five years in a US prison. The statute of limitations on sexual-assault allegations against Assange expired in 2015, but the rape charge's statute of limitations doesn't expire until August 2020. Sweden dropped the rape investigation once before, in 2017, but didn't rule out the possibility of reopening the case. Swedish prosecutors reopened the rape investigation in May 2019 and conducted interviews over the past few months before announcing today that there isn't enough evidence to pursue it further. WikiLeaks, the document-publishing group that Assange founded, issued a statement after the Swedish prosecutor's announcement today. "Let us now focus on the threat Mr. Assange has been warning about for years: the belligerent prosecution of the United States and the threat it poses to the First Amendment," WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said, according to the BBC. Source: Sweden drops Julian Assange rape investigation after nine years (Ars Technica)
  2. Sajid Javid inks court papers for hearing tomorrow UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid revealed this morning that he has signed papers to have Julian Assange extradited to the US. Speaking on BBC radio earlier today, Javid said: "There's an extradition request from the US that is before the courts tomorrow but yesterday I signed the extradition order and certified it and that will be going in front of the courts tomorrow." Javid's certifying of the US extradition request lodged this week is the first formal step in having Assange sent across the pond. The next phase is tomorrow, when Belmarsh Magistrates' Court will set a date for a full extradition hearing. After that, assuming a district judge (full-time professional magistrate) OKs the extradition, Javid himself will make the final decision on whether or not to send the one-time chief WikiLeaker to America, as UK.gov's website explains. It is almost certain Assange will file an appeal to the High Court after the district judge's ruling, and again (as the law allows) after the Home Secretary's final decision. Avenging US government agents have long wanted Assange in their clutches because of his website WikiLeaks. As world+dog knows, WikiLeaks published classified material that mostly came from the US government, including the infamous "Collateral Murder" footage from gun cameras aboard American attack helicopters in the Middle East, depicting US pilots killing unarmed civilians. It also published thousands of entirely unredacted US diplomatic cables, exposing the nation's foreign policy workings and causing it severe embarrassment in the process. Sweden, which previously wanted Assange over allegations of sexual assault, abandoned its attempt to get its hands on the Australian national a week ago after a local court decided not to grant prosecutors an EU Arrest Warrant. That would have bypassed normal extradition protections in UK law. Assange's fans have always maintained that the Swedish proceedings were a front to have him extradited on to America. Assange is charged in the US with 18 counts including publishing classified material, collaborating with ex-US Army leaker Chelsea Manning, and various other crimes. In UK law, the Americans must promise only to try Assange on the charges they have published so far before he can be handed over – and the possibility of the death sentence would automatically bar his extradition. So far the WikiLeaker has not been charged with capital crimes. In his defence, Assange is understood to be claiming that he is a journalist and that the activities of WikiLeaks were journalism, rather than espionage as American prosecutors claim. In May, Assange was sentenced for jumping bail in the UK when he fled to London's Ecuadorian embassy, back in June 2012. He is currently serving 22 weeks in HM Prison Belmarsh in Woolwich, southeast London, with a theoretical release date of 2 October, well after the normal legal timescales for extradition hearings would be over. Source
  3. The decision surprised national security experts and some former officials, given prosecutors’ recent decision to go after the WikiLeaks founder on Espionage Act charges. The Justice Department has decided not to charge Julian Assange for his role in exposing some of the CIA’s most secret spying tools, according to a U.S. official and two other people familiar with the case. It’s a move that has surprised national security experts and some former officials, given prosecutors’ recent decision to aggressively go after the WikiLeaks founder on more controversial Espionage Act charges that some legal experts said would not hold up in court. The decision also means that Assange will not face punishment for publishing one of the CIA’s most potent arsenals of digital code used to hack devices, dubbed Vault 7. The leak — one of the most devastating in CIA history — not only essentially rendered those tools useless for the CIA, it gave foreign spies and rogue hackers access to them. Prosecutors were stymied by several factors. First, the government is facing a ticking clock in its efforts to extradite Assange to the United States from the United Kingdom, where he is being held. Extradition laws require the U.S. to bring any additional charges against Assange within 60 days of the first indictment, which prosecutors filed in March, accusing Assange of helping former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning hack into military computers. Second, prosecutors were worried about the sensitivity of the Vault 7 materials, according to an official familiar with the deliberations over whether to charge Assange. Broaching such a classified subject in court risks exposing even more CIA secrets, legal experts said. The CIA has never officially confirmed the authenticity of the leaked documents, even though analysts widely believe them to be authentic. “There is no question that there are leak cases that can’t be prosecuted against the leaker or the leakee because the information is so sensitive that, for your proof at trial, you would have to confirm it is authentic,” said Mary McCord, who was acting assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department until 2017. “So the irony, often, is that the higher the classification of the leaked material, the harder it is to prosecute.” So instead, the Justice Department will go after Assange on the one count for allegedly assisting Manning and the 17-count Espionage Act indictment. There are no plans to bring any additional indictments prior to his extradition. While the Manning leak indictment was an expected move, the Espionage Act charges startled the legal community as a potential precedent-setting action. Traditionally, the law has been used to punish government officials who reveal classified information, not the journalists or foreign nationals who publish the information. Press freedom activists immediately warned that the case could criminalize everyday journalistic behavior, such as soliciting sensitive information from government sources. Federal officials insist they have a strong case, arguing that Assange is not a journalist and intentionally published the names of confidential sources in war zones over the objections of national security officials. “There is a comfort level within the national security establishment of where the charges ended up,” the U.S. national security official told POLITICO. Still, just several months ago, numerous experts felt confident that prosecutors would also hit Assange with charges over Vault 7. Prominent national security journalist Marcy Wheeler predicted in February that DOJ would “very clearly go after Assange” for the Vault 7 disclosure, and that a sealed indictment against him in the Eastern District of Virginia was likely related to that leak — the CIA is, after all, headquartered in Virginia, as ABC noted. Assange himself reportedly expressed concern that prosecutors would charge him with crimes related to Vault 7. DOJ has charged one person in the Vault 7 theft. A former CIA employee, Joshua Schulte, was indicted for transmitting the Vault 7 documents to WikiLeaks. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is set for November. In April, prosecutors in his case asked the judge to keep the search warrants confidential because disseminating them could “impede ongoing investigations,” prompting more speculation over potential charges against Assange. “Going after Assange for the Vault 7 leak would seem to involve more serious misconduct and have fewer” press freedom implications, said Carl Tobias, the Williams Professor of Law at the University of Richmond Law School in Virginia. He noted that authorities have mechanisms, like redaction and judge reviews, to protect sensitive information. But prosecutors have not accused Assange of coaxing Schulte to release the CIA tools, as they allege Assange did with Manning. According to court documents, Assange asked Manning for specific classified documents and advised her on how to hack into a government computer. Manning is in jail over her refusal to testify before a grand jury in the Assange case. Her lawyers have argued that if the Justice Department does not intend to bring further charges against Assange, the previous need for her testimony should be rendered moot. “If indeed the government has concluded their investigation, then there is no further need to coerce her compliance with the grand jury, and thus, there can be no legitimate ongoing reason to hold her in contempt,” Moira Meltzer-Cohen, an attorney for Manning, told POLITICO. “If the investigation has ended, then Chelsea must be released." WikiLeaks began releasing the Vault 7 documents in April 2017, prompting then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo to slam the organization as a “hostile intelligence service.” The exposed documents describe how the CIA’s secretive Center for Cyber Intelligence developed malware, viruses and weaponized “zero-day” exploits, or flaws in technology like smartphones and internet-connected TVs that are not yet known to the manufacturer. Legally, the CIA can use these cyber weapons only against foreign targets, not against U.S. citizens. But WikiLeaks said at the time that it was given the documents by a former U.S. government hacker or contractor concerned about “whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers.” Assange’s release of the Vault 7 tools jeopardized a potential immunity deal that law enforcement officials had been weighing for him in early 2017 in exchange for his testimony about WikiLeaks’ ties to Russian intelligence officers, according to The New York Times. Source
  4. Obtaining, disclosing "National Defense Information" charges could trigger 1st Amendment battle. Enlarge / Supporters of Julian Assange protest outside the Ecuadorian embassy as the WikiLeaks founder awaits a High Court hearing to determine whether he will be extradited to Sweden on sexual charges. Now, new US charges have been added to a previous indictment: 17 counts of espionage. Amer Ghazzal / Barcroft Media via Getty Images Today, the Department of Justice filed a new indictment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia—adding 17 more charges atop the original hacking charge used to file for Assange's extradition from the United Kingdom. The new charges are all espionage-focused: conspiracy to receive, obtaining, and disclosure of "national defense information. Each of the 17 counts carries a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years. In a statement announcing the filing, a Justice Department spokesperson said, "The superseding indictment alleges that Assange was complicit with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the US Army, in unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defense." The new counts allege, among other things, that Assange conspired with Manning to steal "national defense information," obtained that information from Manning, and "aided and abetted her in obtaining classified information with reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of a foreign nation." In a Twitter post, a WikiLeaks spokesperson wrote, "This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the First Amendment." The charges will no doubt raise First Amendment arguments, as the laws they are based upon have been largely untested in court in cases against public disclosure. In the indictment delivered by the grand jury—the same grand jury that Chelsea Manning went to jail for refusing to testify before—the Justice Department asserted that "Assange and WikiLeaks have repeatedly sought, obtained, and disseminated information that the United States classified due to the serious risk that unauthorized disclosure could harm the national security of the United States. WikiLeaks' website explicitly solicited censored, otherwise restricted, and until September 2010, 'classified' materials." The indictment calls out Assange's repeated solicitations of specific sensitive data, including both unclassified but non-public sources and explicitly classified data. Assange's "Most Wanted Leaks" were cited, which included: Intellipedia—the intelligence community's shared database of open source intelligence maintained by the CIA Open Source Center; Other "Bulk Databases" of military and intelligence data Classified "Military and Intelligence" documents, including "Iraq and Afghanistan Rules of Engagement 2007-2009 (SECRET);" operating and interrogation procedures at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; documents relating to Guantanamo detainees; CIA detainee interrogation videos; and Information about certain weapons systems "Assange intended the 'Most Wanted Leaks' list to encourage and cause individuals to illegally obtain and disclose protected information, including classified information, to WikiLeaks contrary to law," the indictment states. The indictment asserts that Assange published classified documents that "contained the unredacted names of human sources who provided information to United States forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and to US State Department diplomats around the world," the Justice Department spokesperson said. "These human sources included local Afghans and Iraqis, journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents from repressive regimes." The indictment claims that Assange "created a grave and imminent risk that the innocent people he named would suffer serious physical harm and/or arbitrary detention." The indictment even links WikiLeaks to Osama bin Laden and noted that the Taliban used WikiLeaks documents to hunt down informants working for the US military and Afghan government. When US Navy SEALs raided bin Laden's compound on May 2, 2011, the indictment states: They collected a number of items of digital media, which included the following: (1) a letter from bin Laden to another member of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda in which bin Laden requested that the member gather the DoD material posted to WikiLeaks, (2) a letter from that same member of al-Qaeda to Bin Laden with information from the Afghanistan War Documents provided by Manning to WikiLeaks and released by WikiLeaks, and (3) Department of State information provided by Manning to WikiLeaks and released by WikiLeaks. Assange is currently jailed in London, serving a sentence for breaching his bail while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges. Swedish authorities have also begun to seek Assange's extradition on some of the rape charges. The new indictment comes before the US has formally filed for Assange's extradition—which the US must do by June 11. Source: New Assange indictment adds 17 espionage charges (Ars Technica)
  5. Charges announced by the Justice Department on Thursday against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange provide fresh insight into why federal prosecutors sought to question whistleblower Chelsea Manning last month before a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia. Photo: Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor of WikiLeaks, and barrister Jennifer Robinson speak to the media outside Westminster magistrates court where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was appearing in London, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Manning, convicted in 2013 of leaking classified U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks, was jailed in early March as a recalcitrant witness after refusing to answer the grand jury’s questions. After her arrest, she was held in solitary confinement in a Virginia jail for nearly a month before being moved into its general population—all in an attempt to coerce her into answering questions about conversations she allegedly had with Assange at the time of her illegal disclosures, according to court filings. Though Manning confessed to leaking more than 725,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks following her deployment to Iraq in 2009—including battlefield reports and five Guantanamo Bay detainee profiles—she was charged with leaking portions of only a couple hundred documents, including dozens of diplomatic cables that have since been declassified. British authorities on Thursday removed Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, his home for nearly seven years, following Ecuador’s decision to rescind his asylum. The U.S. government has requested that he be extradited to the United States to face a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer crimes. Until Thursday, the reasons were fuzzy as to why Manning had been called to testify at all. Prosecutors had privately hinted to her attorneys that they believed the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst had provided conflicting statements about her communications with the anti-secrecy organization. But as of late March, supporters working closely with her legal team said that no such accusation had been raised in court. Charges made public against Assange indicate that federal prosecutors sought to question her over online discussions in which Assange allegedly aided her in attempting to crack a password that would provide access to Defense Department network used to store classified documents and communications. While Manning already had access to the network, known as SIPRNet, the password would have enabled her to download additional material under a username that was not her own. As Gizmodo first reported Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has exempted all files related to Manning under the Freedom of Information Act, citing risk to ongoing criminal proceedings. Manning had signed a Privacy Act waiver last year to allow national security reporter Emma Best to the more than 8,000 pages of documents the bureau had amassed on Manning. Among the documents leaked by Manning were nearly 500,000 military field reports known as Significant Activities, or SIGACTS, which were housed in a database accessible through SIPRNet known as the Combined Information Data Network Exchange (CIDNE). During her trial, prosecutors said that Manning had downloaded roughly 24 percent of the SIGACT—none of which were classified above “secret.” CIDNE, as noted by Manning trial reporter Alexa O’Brien, was accessible by thousands of government employees, military personnel and contractors. “Almost all the information the military presents to the White House and Congress about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan originates in the CIDNE database,” O’Brien wrote. While CIDNE also contained records of intelligence sources and methods (HUMINT), Manning avoided disclosing any of this material to WikiLeaks. Ultimately, she was charged with leaking only portions of 227 classified documents, including many diplomatic cables that were later declassified. A damage assessment prepared by a review task force at the Defense Intelligence Agency on the nation security impacts of the redacted Iraq SIGACTs—which WikiLeaks calls the “Iraq War Logs”—concluded in October 2010 that the leaked information “was either dated, represented low-level opinions, or was commonly understood and known due to previous public disclosures.” Reuters likewise reported in January 2011 that internal U.S. government reviews found the leak of State Department cables caused only limited damage, or as one unnamed official put it: “embarrassing but not damaging.” Of the five Guantanamo detained profiles leaked by Manning, three related to British citizens known as the Tipton Three: Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, and Shafiq Rasul. The men were captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and held in extrajudicial detention by the U.S. government in Cuba until March 2004. After being released, they unsuccessfully sued the U.S. government, claiming they had been tortured while in custody, beaten, forcibly injected with drugs, and told they would be secretly executed. In 2009, the Tipton Three’s case was dismissed by a U.S. appeals court on the basis that U.S. officials were immune from being prosecuted and that their treatment at Guantanamo was not considered illegal at the time. The Supreme Court declined to take up the case. Other material illegally disclosed by Manning, but never published, included briefings on the 2009 U.S. cluster bombing of alleged Taliban defenses in the Bala Baluk district of Afghanistan’s Farah province. The strike reportedly killed more than 100 civilians. “It was like Judgement Day,” a health worker who witnessed the attack told Human Rights Watch. In 2011, journalist Kim Zetter reported for Wired on the alleged exchange between Assange and Manning that now appears to form the basis of the charges against the WikiLeaks founder. Manning made initial contact with WikiLeaks in February 2010, while on leave. After attempting unsuccessfully to disclose battlefield reports to the Washington Post, the New York Times, and her own hometown paper, she reached out to WikiLeaks on her laptop while inside a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Rockville, Maryland. The following month, according to her court-martial transcripts, Manning sought help from Assange in cracking the SIPRNet password. Chatlog allegedly shows Manning (“Nobody”) discussing password cracking with Assange (“Nathaniel Franks”) Source
  6. An attempt was made on Oct. 29 to break-in to the Ecuadorian embassy, where security has been removed and new surveillance devices installed, reports Joe Lauria. An attempted break-in at Julian Assange’s residence inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Oct. 29, and the absence of a security detail, have increased fears about the safety of the WikiLeak’s publisher. Lawyers for Assange have confirmed to activist and journalist Suzie Dawson that Assange was awoken in the early morning hours by the break-in attempt. They confirmed to Dawson that the attempt was to enter a front window of the embassy. A booby-trap Assange had set up woke him, the lawyers said. Scaffolding has appeared against the embassy building in the Knightsbridge section in London which “obscures the embassy’s security cameras,” the lawyers said. Scaffolding near balcony where Assange has appeared. On the scaffolding electronic devices, presumably to conduct surveillance, can be seen, just feet from the embassy windows. Later on the day of the break-in, Sean O’Brien, a lecturer at Yale University Law School and a cyber-security expert, was able to enter the embassy through the front door, which was left open. Inside he found no security present. Someone from the embassy emerged to tell him to send an email to set up an appointment with Assange. After emailing the embassy, personnel inside refused to check whether it had been received or not. One of the apparent surveillance devices. O’Brien then noticed more scaffolding being erected and observed the devices, which he photographed. Though a cyber-security expert, O’Brien said he could not identify what the devices are. “I’ve never seen devices quite like this, and I take photos of surveillance equipment often,” O’Brien said. “There were curious plastic tubes with yellow-orange caps, zip-tied to the front. I have no idea what these are but they seem to have equipment inside them.” The devices are pointed towards the embassy, where all the blinds were open, and not the street, he said. “The surveillance devices in the photos reveals no manufacturer branding, serial numbers or visible device information,” Dawson said. “The combination of the obscuring of the street-facing surveillance cameras and the installation of surveillance equipment pointed into instead of away from the Embassy, is alarming.” The Ecuadorean government had to have given permission for the devices to be installed as they are flush up against the embassy walls on government sovereign territory, Dawson said. O’Brien said that previous visitors had described to him “closed and locked doors. Security guards manning the desk at all times. Privacy drapes, dark rooms with shuttered blinds. For such a reversal of position to have occurred, there is only one conclusion: the Ecuadorian Embassy is open for business. Wide open.” In May the Ecuadorian government of President Lenin Moreno shut off Assange’s electronic communications and denied him all visitors except his mother and his lawyers. Last month the government offered Assange a deal: his access to the world could be restored if he agreed not to comment on politics. Assange reportedly refused. On Thursday the government suddenly barred all access to Assange visitors, including his legal team until next Monday, raising fears that no witnesses could be present should there be an attempt to abduct Assange over the weekend. Another device. The break-in attempt occurred on the morning that Assange was due to testify via video-link to a court in Quito regarding Assange’s conditions of asylum. Technical problems interrupted Assange’s testimony. The court ruled against his lawyer’s petition for protections for Assange. The new Ecuadorian government indicated in the Spring that Assange would eventually have to leave the embassy. Assange fears that if leaves the British government will arrest him on a minor charge of skipping bail when he legally sought asylum inside the embassy in June of 2012. Assange and his lawyers fear that if he is detained by British authorities he would be extradited to the United States where they believe there is a sealed indictment against him possibly on espionage charges for simply publishing classified documents that he has not been accused of stealing. Source
  7. QUITO (Reuters) - - Ecuador does not plan to intervene with the British government on behalf of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in talks over his situation as an asylee in the South American country’s London embassy, Ecuador’s foreign minister said on Tuesday. Foreign Minister José Valencia said in an interview with Reuters that Ecuador’s only responsibility was looking after Assange’s wellbeing, after the Australian national sued the country over new conditions placed on his asylum in the London embassy. “Ecuador has no responsibility to take any further steps,” Valencia said. “We are not Mr. Assange’s lawyers, nor are we representatives of the British government. This is a matter to be resolved between Assange and Great Britain.” The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment after normal business hours. Greg Barns, an Australian lawyer advising Assange, said in an email that “developments in the case in recent times” showed the need for Australia’s government to intervene to assist “one of its citizens who faces real danger.” This position marks a departure from Ecuador’s previous practice of maintaining dialogue with British authorities over Assange’s situation since granting him asylum in 2012, when he took refuge in Ecuador’s London Embassy after British courts ordered his extradition to Sweden to face questioning in a sexual molestation case. That case has since been dropped, but friends and supporters have said that Assange now fears he could be arrested and eventually extradited to the United States if he leaves the embassy. WikiLeaks, which published U.S. diplomatic and military secrets when Assange ran the operation, faces a U.S. grand jury investigation. Valencia said he was “frustrated” by Assange’s decision to file suit in an Ecuadorean court last week over new terms of his asylum, which required him to pay for medical bills and telephone calls and to clean up after his pet cat. “There is no obligation in international agreements for Ecuador to pay for things like Mr. Assange’s laundry,” he said. Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno has said that asylum is not meant to be eternal, but he has expressed concern about the possibility that Assange may be extradited to the United States. Valencia said on Tuesday that he has not discussed Assange’s situation with the United States’ government. Last December, Ecuador granted Assange Ecuadorean citizenship and sought to name him as a member of the country’s diplomatic mission in Britain and Russia, which could have assured him safe passage to leave the embassy. Britain denied the request. Source
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