Julian Assange has been indicted for recruiting and conspiring with computer hackers, including those affiliated with Anonymous and LulzSec, to benefit WikiLeaks, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on June 24. The new indictment accuses Assange of using hacking conference in the US and Europe to recruit hackers for WikiLeaks. This new indictment does not add additional counts to the May 2019 18-count indictment against Assange, but broadens the scope of conspiracy around other hacks Assange has been charged with. Previous allegations include the claim that Assange conspired with Army Intelligence Analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password hash to a classified U.S. Department of Defense computer.
According to the indictment, WikiLeaks solicited bulk databases and access to classified documents through its “Most Wanted Leaks” list. Furthermore, in early 2010, when Assange was allegedly working with Manning to get classified information, a 17-year-old teenager in a NATO country gave Assange data stolen from a bank. Assange asked this teenager to hack into computers of high ranking officials of this unidentified NATO country, including its members of parliament, to get more information including recordings of phone conversations.
‘Conspired with LulzSec, Anonymous’
According to the DOJ, Assange got unauthorised access to a government computer system of a NATO country in 2010. In 2012, he communicated with the leader of the hacking group LulzSec, “Sabu”, and provided them with a list of targets to hack. However, Sabu had been in June 11 and had started cooperating with the FBI.
Through various proxies, Assange also allegedly worked with the hacking groups Gnosis and AntiSec to solicit materials for WikiLeaks. AntiSec is an offshoot of LulzSec, and the two names are often used interchangeably.
Two hackers allegedly associated with Gnosis hacked an American cybersecurity company in 2011 and gave the code to WikiLeaks via the teenager. One of these hackers also gave WikiLeaks a list of about 200 passwords to US and state government email accounts.
What kind of information did Assange want for WikiLeaks? As per the DOJ, Assange had asked the LulzSec leader to get mail, documents, databases and PDFs for one target. He apparently also told the LulzSec head that materials from the CIA, the NSA or the New York Times would have the most impactful release.
- An Anonymous and LulzSec-affiliated hacker hacked into an American intelligence consulting company, and WikiLeaks published the hacked emails. The hacker allegedly said that Assange “indirectly” asked him to spam this company again.
Assange is currently being held at Belmarsh prison in London and has reportedly been unable to attend court hearings in his extradition case owing to poor health. His extradition hearing will now take place on September 7, primarily because of the impact of the pandemic. It was originally scheduled for May 18. Manning was released from jail in March where she had been held since May 2019 for refusing to testify before a grand jury.
If Assange is convicted on these 18 charges, he could be put in prison for a maximum of 10 years for each count except conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, for which he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.