According to the US Department of Defence spokesman Geoff Morrell, the DoD is “hard at work building a case” against Julian Assange. Any case they do build will likely be based on a prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act.
There have been some passing comments recently from the likes of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and New York Times editor Bill Keller about whether or not Assange is a journalist or not. Far from idle debate, or just semantics, the definition could prove key to defending himself against the US. ABC’s The Drum blog has the full analysis.
Well, why does it matter whether Assange is a journalist or not? It certainly might matter to Assange, because under the US Espionage Act it’s an offence for anyone to disclose information pertaining to America’s national security and which he “has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States”.
A journalist, the courts by and large accept, has an occupational motive for disclosing information that comes his or her way, more or less regardless of consequences. But if Assange isn’t a journalist, what is his motive? If it could be shown that his specific purpose, in passing the cables to newspapers around the globe, or in posting them on WikiLeaks’s own websites, was to injure the United States, he might be caught by the act.