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The Justice Department decided not to charge Julian Assange for his role in exposing CIA’s most secret spying tools, according to a U.S. official and two other people familiar with the case.
Prosecutors were hindered by several factors.
First, the government is facing a clock in its efforts to extradite Assange to the United States from the United Kingdom, where he is being held. Extradition laws require the U.S. to bring additional charges against Assange within 60 days of the first indictment, which prosecutors accused Assange of helping former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning hack into military computers.
Second, prosecutors were worried about the sensitivity of the Vault 7 materials, according to an official with deliberations over whether to charge Assange. mentioning such a classified subject in court risks exposing even more CIA secrets.
“There is no question that there are leak cases that can’t be prosecuted against the leaker or the leakee because the information is so sensitive that, for your proof at trial, you would have to confirm it is authentic,” said Mary McCord, who was acting assistant attorney general for national security. “So the irony, often, is that the higher the classification of the leaked material, the harder it is to prosecute.”
Instead, the Justice Department will go after Assange on one count for allegedly assisting Manning and the 17-count Espionage Act indictment. There are no plans to bring any additional indictments.
Federal officials insist they have a strong case against Assange, stating Assange is not a journalist and intentionally published the names of confidential sources in war zones over the objections of national security officials.