Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been charged with espionage, six years after he took refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition.
Assistant US Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer unintentionally revealed that the whistleblower is being prosecuted in a separate lawsuit, where he urged the judge to keep the criminal proceedings a secret.
Dwyer said in the filing that it would have to be kept out of public access ‘due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged’.
Assistant US Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer unintentionally revealed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal
In later correspondence Dwyer wrote the charges from the other case would ‘need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested’.
Washington Post reports that Eastern District of Virginia attorney’s office spokesperson Joshua Stueve confirmed the revelation was unintentional.
‘The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing,’ Stueve said.
The FBI declined to comment.
The Justice Department brought charges against Assange amid worsening relations with the country that granted him political asylum.
Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, fearing he will be extradited to the United States for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he leaves.
Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 but came to international attention in 2010 when WikiLeaks published classified US Government documents provided by Chelsea Manning
However last month, Ecuador’s foreign minister said the country no longer planned to intervene on Assange’s behalf in discussions with the British government about his asylum status and case.
The Wall Street Journal reported that that US prosecutors had discussed the type of charges they could bring against Assange as the chances of getting Ecuadorean officials to turn him over appear to be more likely.
In October, Assange sued Ecuador for violating his rights, alleging that authorities have tried to ‘summarily cut off’ his access to the outside world.
An indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller that portrayed WikiLeaks as a tool of Russian intelligence has made it more difficult for Assange to mount a defense as a journalist.
Ecqaudor’s new President Lenin Moreno (pictured) described Assange as a ‘stone in our shoe’
In July 2016 Wikileaks released nearly 20,000 emails from Democratic National Committee staffers.
They appear to show the committee favoring presumptive Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton over Bernie Sanders during the US presidential primary.
Prosecutors have considered publicly indicting Assange to try to trigger his removal from the embassy, the Wall Street Journal reported.
This is because a detailed explanation of the evidence against Assange could give Ecuadorean authorities a reason to turn him over.
The exact charges Justice Department might pursue remain unclear, but it is understood they may involve the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the disclosure of national defense-related information.
Head of the National Security Division John Demers had said ‘we’ll see’ when asked about the possibilty of prosecuting John Demers recently
When asked about the possibility of prosecuting Assange last week, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division John Demers said: ‘On that, I’ll just say, we’ll see’.
Ecuador has been looking to improve relations with the US, hosting Vice President Mike Pence in 2018 amid interest in increasing trade.
It is understood that Assange has clashed with his Ecuadorean hosts over internet access, visitors, his cat and other issues.
Last month, he sued Ecuador over the conditions of his confinement.
At a hearing last month, a judge rejected Assange’s claims and he said he expected to be forced out of the embassy soon.
Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Assange said he hadn’t received any correspondence about a potential prosecution.
Assange speaks on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy after Swedish authorities announced that they dropped their investigation into rape allegations against him
He told the Wall Street Journal: ‘We have heard nothing from authorities suggesting that a criminal case against Mr. Assange is imminent.
‘Prosecuting someone for publishing truthful information would set a terrible and dangerous precedent’.
Ecuador granted Assange citizenship in December and it was believed that he could potentially leave the embassy if he had diplomatic status.
However British government said having citizenship would not protect him from arrest if he left the building.
The Justice Department has investigated Assange for years after thousands of classified Afghan War reports and other material were made public by Wikileaks.
Former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was found guilty at a court-martial of leaking the documents.
Assange initially went into the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden on sex assault allegations.
The charges have been dropped but Assange fears he will be arrested by UK police for breaking bail conditions by entering the embassy in the first place.
He fears he could then be extradited to the US, where high-level officials have spoken about prosecuting him for stealing classified information.