Though it is still relatively early in the joint investigation between the FBI and the Army officials are saying they hope to build a case to prosecute international whistleblower organization WikiLeaks in effect for being an international whistleblower organization.
Officials say it would be up to the Justice Department to decide whether to bring charges, but that WikiLeaks in general and founder Julian Assange in particular could be charged with “encouraging theft of government property” for soliciting and then releasing classified data.
In 1971 the US Supreme Court ruled that media outlets are allowed to release classified data under the First Amendment to the Constitution. A case against WikiLeaks would therefore seem to be an uphill battle, though it appears officials are trying to sell the notion that WikiLeaks isn’t sufficiently media-like to get freedom of the press.
WikiLeaks has become an increasingly big target for the US since its leak earlier this year of the “Collateral Murder” video showing US troops killing Iraqi civilians, and even moreso after last month’s release of a massive cache of classified military documents in the Afghan War.
The release of the documents was instantly condemned by US officials as a threat to national security, but so far its impact appears to have been primarily to embarrass the military and reduce public support for the Afghan War. Despite claims from the military that Assange “has blood on his hands” officials have not been able to prove anyone was harmed by the release.
But even if they were, the Pentagon’s demands that WikiLeaks “unrelease” the documents appears unrealistic, and after a month available for public download it does not appear anything can make the documents disappear from the public record.
WikiLeaks is also based overseas, and its founder, Julian Assange, has been avoiding traveling to the US specifically out of fear of government reprisals against him. This would mean that silencing them could quickly become an international incident.