WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange may face criminal charges in the US

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

The Department of Justice is reportedly considering criminal charges against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange for their roles in several leaks dating back to 2010, multiple news outlets reported on Thursday.

WikiLeaks was one of several publications that published sensitive military files obtained from a former US Army intelligence analyst several years ago — and more recently dumped thousands of documents that it said detailed the hacking tools and techniques used by the CIA for foreign espionage in what appeared to be the largest leak of CIA documents in history.

Potential charges against WikiLeaks include conspiracy, theft of government property, or violating the Espionage Act, according to The Washington Post and CNN.

15 PHOTOS
Julian Assange
See Gallery
Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, in central London, Britain February 5, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Files
A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holds a banner outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he marks three years since Assange claimed asylum in the embassy on June 19, 2015. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange clocks up three years inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London today, after claiming that Swedish prosecutors cancelled a landmark meeting in his case earlier this week. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holds banners outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he marks three years since Assange claimed asylum in the embassy on June 19, 2015. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange clocks up three years inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London today, after claiming that Swedish prosecutors cancelled a landmark meeting in his case earlier this week. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Julian Assange, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks speaks via video link during a press conference on the occasion of the ten year anniversary celebration of WikiLeaks in Berlin, Germany, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appears on screen via video link during his participation as a guest panelist in an International Seminar on the 60th anniversary of the college of Journalists of Chile in Santiago, Chile, July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido
File photo dated 05/02/16 of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who will publish more confidential documents on the US Central Intelligence Agency once a "key attack code" has been disarmed, he has revealed.
File photo dated 5/2/2016 of Julian Assange who has defended the release of emails by WikiLeaks about US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has been living for more than three years after the country granted him political asylum.
BERLIN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 4: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange participates via video link at a news conference marking the 10th anniversary of the secrecy-spilling group in Berlin, Germany on October 4, 2016. (Photo by Maurizio Gambarini/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
The Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet presents in Quito, Ecuador, on June 23, 2016 the Ecuador 's book " When Google found Wikileaks". Julian Assange made his appearance to the world in 2010 with the publication by WikiLeaks of thousands of secret documents revealing conspiracies , corruption, crimes , lies, and incriminate several governments and particularly the United States as the main actor illegalities. (Photo by Rafael Rodr�uez/ACGPHOTO/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange prepares to speak from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy where he continues to seek asylum following an extradition request from Sweden in 2012, on February 5, 2016 in London, England. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has insisted that Mr Assange's detention should be brought to an end. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: A panel of WikiLeaks representitives and press look on as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks at a press conference at the Frontline Club via video link from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on 5 February 2016 in London, England. Mr Assange's speech comes a day after it was announced that the UN panel ruled he was being unlawfully detained at the Ecuadorian Embassy. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Australian founder of whistleblowing website, 'WikiLeaks', Julian Assange speaks to media after giving a press conference in London on July 26, 2010. The founder of a website which published tens of thousands of leaked military files about the war in Afghanistan said Monday they showed that the 'course of the war needs to change'. In all, some 92,000 documents dating back to 2004 were released by the whistleblowers' website Wikileaks to the New York Times, Britain's Guardian newspaper, and Germany's Der Spiegel news weekly. Assange also used a press conference in London to dismiss the White House's furious reaction to the disclosures. AFP PHOTO/Leon Neal (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 21: (AUSTRALIA OUT) Wikileaks founder Julian Assange poses during a portrait shoot on May 21, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Chew/Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Assange is currently living out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London — avoiding arrest on a separate warrant for a rape charge in Sweden. Much to the US's chagrin, president-elect Lenín Moreno, who was recently confirmed the winner of Ecuador's presidential election after a recount, supports Assange and had no plans for his extradition.

It was unclear whether an official memo on the matter, still in the early stages, was drafted to pursue charges for the organization's role in leaks that damaged the Democratic Party during the 2016 presidential election.

In 2010, WikiLeaks made available to the public thousands of classified cables and documents from the military and the State Department. However, during President Barack Obama's tenure, the Justice Department decided against charging WikiLeaks, reasoning that it would be too difficult and similar to prosecuting a news organization that published classified information, The Post reported.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said prosecutors were taking another look at the previous administration's findings.

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

"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," Sessions continued. "So yes, it is a priority. We've already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail."

In the more recent leak in March, top-secret files were published — allegedly by way of a CIA employee or contractor who operated a tool normally used by the spy agency to infiltrate various electronic devices, from smartphones to smart televisions and computers.

Thousands of top-secret files were leaked after the infiltrator used an "attack code" — which could be used to break into products from companies like Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft — to "gain unauthorized access to computers and smartphones," especially if software updates meant to patch certain vulnerabilities weren't available. The breach has since been referred to as "Vault 7" by WikiLeaks.

CIA spokeswoman Heather Fritz Horniak delivered a stern rebuke against WikiLeaks for its part in Vault 7.

"The American public should be deeply troubled by any WikiLeaks disclosure designed to damage the intelligence community's ability to protect America against terrorists and other adversaries," Horniak said. "Such disclosures not only jeopardize US personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm.

The Justice Department's charges also coincides with the sharp rhetoric from CIA director Mike Pompeo earlier this month, who called WikiLeaks "a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia."

Representatives for WikiLeaks — who claim that the US Justice Department had not discussed the matters with them despite requests — remain steadfast in their belief that there is "no legitimate basis" for the Justice Department to treat their organization differently than other news outlets, The Post reported.

"The fact of the matter is — however frustrating it might be to whoever looks bad when information is published — WikiLeaks is a publisher, and they are publishing truthful information that is in the public's interest," said Barry J. Pollack, Assange's attorney. "Democracy thrives because there are independent journalists reporting on what it is that the government is doing."

Pollack also added that he wished the new administration would be "more respectful, not less respectful of the First Amendment than the prior administration was."

NOW WATCH: These are the small, agile new aircraft carriers meant to take F-35s into battle

See Also:

SEE ALSO: The CIA is hunting for an insider who gave top-secret files to WikiLeaks

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners

Man Is Horrified To Learn His Biological Father's Identity - But A Look In The Mirror Man Is Horrified To Learn His Biological Father's Identity - But A Look In The Mirror
12 Facts That Will Make You Smarter Than Your Friends 12 Facts That Will Make You Smarter Than Your Friends
Nature Gets Revenge On Safari Hunter Who Killed Elephants And Lions For Sport Nature Gets Revenge On Safari Hunter Who Killed Elephants And Lions For Sport