Julian Assange and the group he founded, WikiLeaks, have long been branded villains by the U.S. government.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON, SAYING (NOVEMBER 29, 2010): "It puts people's lives in danger." (SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER SAYING (NOVEMBER 29, 2010): "It puts at risk our national security." (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO, SAYING (APRIL 13, 2017): "It is time to call out Wikileaks for what it really is -- a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia." In 2010 Assange made global headlines when WikiLeaks disclosed classified U.S. military documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and diplomatic cables embarrassing to U.S. allies.
But when American prosecutors on Thursday demanded Assange be extradited to the U.S. to face justice, some were surprised to see he was indicted only on a single criminal charge.
Reuters legal correspondent Nathan Layne.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS LEGAL CORRESPONDENT NATHAN LAYNE, SAYING: "They're charging him with a conspiracy to hack into the computer systems to access classified information." It's not even clear whether the hacking was successful.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS LEGAL CORRESPONDENT NATHAN LAYNE, SAYING: "The indictment is a little bit wishy-washy on whether that conspiracy, or that hack actually led to receiving documents or not.
That's a little bit unclear.
But what is clear is that the main charge here is computer fraud charge." Former U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning provided Assange with reams of classified material.
But publishing classified material seemed is arguably an act of journalism and protected by the U.S. constitution.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) JULIAN ASSANGE'S LAWYER, JENNIFER ROBINSON, SAYING: "This sets a dangerous precedent for all media organizations and journalists in Europe and elsewhere around the world." Focusing on hacking may be a way for prosecutors to avoid the thorny issue of press freedoms. (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS LEGAL CORRESPONDENT NATHAN LAYNE, SAYING: "The charge is very narrowly defined.
Legal experts would generally agree, a journalist is not going to tell or help a source hack into their own computers to get that information.
That being said, there's all these sorts of important information that the public would not have known about if journalists had not accessed them somehow through sources.
Sources that may have got that information legally, or may have got that information illegally.
So I think that there's a grey area that's being addressed with this indictment." Assange is expected to fight the extradition request, a process that some legal experts say can take years to resolve.