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.
It’s more than a week after WikiLeaks began publishing secret US diplomatic cables but the organisation continues to occupy the headlines. Yesterday Reporters Without Borders claimed that the site had made an appeal for hosting help amid mounting cyber attacks, calling for support in creating mirror sites.
“WikiLeaks is currently under heavy attack,” the site said in a message posted yesterday. “In order to make it impossible to ever fully remove WikiLeaks from the Internet, we need your help. If you have a Unix-based server which is hosting a website on the internet and you want to give WikiLeaks some of your hosting resources, you can help!”
The appeal follows a decision by Amazon to stop hosting WikiLeaks’ site last week and EveryDNS.net to stop providing the organisation with its .org web address.
News also broke this week that the US is considering using US Espionage Act and other laws to prosecute WikiLeaks.
In a Reuters report, US Attorney General Eric Holder is said to have claimed that “there are other statutes, other tools at our disposal”.
The Espionage Act dates back to 1917 and was focused on making it illegal to obtain national defense information for the purpose of harming the United States. Holder described the law as “pretty old” and lawmakers are considering updating it in the wake of the leak.
Today WikiLeaks vowed, via its Twitter account, to continue to release more cables tonight despite the arrest of the whistleblower founder Julian Assange in London earlier today. According to a blog post on the Australian, Assange is also due to be writing exclusively for the paper tomorrow.