Now that Julian Assange has been arrested in the U.K., his fight for the moment is to prevent extradition to Sweden, which wants to arrest him for questioning about allegations of sexual misconduct. But given the comparative laxity of any punitive measures Sweden might impose even in the worst case scenario, a more troubling concern is the possibility of extradition to the United States for criminal prosecution for espionage.
If that happens, however, he might have a pretty good shot at winning.
The Espionage Act of 1917, 18 USC §§792-799, is what he’d have to deal with (there are reports that the DOJ is already preparing these charges). Here are the parts that are most likely to apply:
§793(c) gets you up to 10 years in prison for receiving anything pertaining to U.S. national defense, if you did it while having “reason to believe” that it was illegally obtained, and that it would be used either to the injury of the U.S. or to the advantage of another country.
§793(e) gets you up to 10 years in prison if you’re in possession of such stuff, and you have “reason to believe” that it “could be used” either to the injury of the U.S. or to the advantage of another country, and you go ahead and disseminate it or cause it to be disseminated.
Well, wait, you say. Those sound pretty much exactly like what Assange freely admits to having done. A private in the U.S. Army apparently downloaded a whole bunch of confidential documents, and provided them to Wikileaks. Assange ordered the documents to be released, publicized what he was doing, and publicized that it would likely injure the United States. Forget all of Assange’s bluster about the harm being minimal. His actions seem to hit all the statutory elements. So how can he win?
As several have (more…)