WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could be charged under US Espionage Act

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Washington, Nov 30 (ANI): Julian Assange, the founder of the whistleblower website 'WikiLeaks' that released thousands of US State Department's secret documents on Sunday, is under the scanner of investigators who are trying to figure out whether or not he had violated criminal laws, and could even be charged under the Espionage Act, according to sources familiar with the inquiry.

The Washington Post quoted Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. as saying that the Justice Department and Pentagon are conducting "an active, ongoing criminal investigation."

On being asked how the United States could prosecute Assange, who is an Australian citizen, Holder said: "Let me be very clear, it is not saber rattling. To the extent there are gaps in our laws. We will move to close those gaps, which is not to say . . . that anybody at this point, because of their citizenship or their residence, is not a target or a subject of an investigation that's ongoing."

Others familiar with the probe said that the FBI is examining everyone who came into possession of the documents, including those who gave the materials to 'WikiLeaks' and also the organization itself.

According to former prosecutors, prosecutions involving leaked classified information are difficult because the Espionage Act is a 1917 statute that preceded Supreme Court cases that expanded First Amendment protections. The government also would have to persuade another country to turn over Assange, who is outside the United States, the paper said.

However the sources have claimed that charges could be filed under the act, adding that the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, which in 2005 brought Espionage Act charges, is involved in the effort.

The Pentagon is leading the investigation and it remains unclear whether any additional charges would be brought in the military or civilian justice systems, the paper added.

Earlier this year, an Army intelligence analyst Professor Bradley Manning, who is suspected of being the source of the WikiLeaks documents, was arrested by the military. (ANI)

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