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Controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrested in London

Julian Assange, the controversial figure who founded anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, was arrested Thursday in London, seven years after taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy there. Assange was defiant while being carried out by police. The U.S. will seek his extradition on federal charges just unsealed, in connection with a leak of U.S. intelligence nearly a decade ago. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Julian Assange, the founder of the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, was arrested this morning in London, seven years after taking refuge in an embassy there.

    The United States will seek his extradition on federal charges unsealed this morning in connection with an enormous leak of American intelligence nearly a decade ago.

    Defiantly shouting at authorities, refusing to walk out on his own, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was carried out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after seven years of asylum and toward the justice system that has long pursued him.

    Assange was charged by British authorities for failing to appear in court on previous charges. But U.S. authorities have also requested he be extradited for a charge related to his role in the 2010 release of classified American material with then-Army Private Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning.

    The U.S. Department of Justice alleges that, in March 2010, Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the secure Internet Protocol Network.

    Back in 2012, Assange sought protection in Ecuador's London embassy, facing extradition to Sweden on rape and molestation charges.

  • Julian Assange:

    I thank President Correa for the courage he has shown in considering and in granting me political asylum.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But over the years, the controversy grew around Assange's role in WikiLeaks and their mission to expose government secrets around the globe. Relations between Assange and his hosts soured. Today, Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno said they'd had enough.

  • Lenin Moreno (through translator):

    The asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable. The patience of Ecuador has reached its limit on the behavior of Mr. Assange.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Assange's work has long been the subject of intense debate. To his supporters, the Australian hacker is a champion of free speech, to his critics, a national security threat. Those competing legacies stem from his involvement in one of the biggest government leaks in U.S. history.

    The 2010 leak by Assange and WikiLeaks released classified documents on U.S. activity in Afghanistan and in Iraq, including a graphic video of a U.S. army helicopter assault on suspected militants who turned out to be civilians. They also published more than 250,000 diplomatic cables, sending the Obama administration and foreign diplomats reeling.

    Those leaks put Manning in jail. Her sentence was commuted by President Obama. She was released in 2017, only to be reimprisoned in 2019. Assange also published on WikiLeaks top-secret information stolen by CIA contractor Edward Snowden about the scope of U.S. government surveillance. Snowden fled to Russia and was granted asylum himself.

    The 2016 presidential election put the spotlight back on Assange and WikiLeaks. They published damaging e-mails from the Democratic Party and Secretary Clinton's campaign, allegedly obtained by Russian hackers, prompting this reaction from then-candidate Donald Trump:

  • Donald Trump:

    WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In an interview that year with Judy Woodruff, Assange defended the move.

  • Julian Assange:

    Let's say that, personally, I loved Hillary Clinton, would WikiLeaks still publish this material? Of course it would. Otherwise, we would be censoring it. That's our mandate. It's actually interesting to think about what media organizations wouldn't publish such material if it was given to them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The Trump administration's view of Assange and WikiLeaks has evolved.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    We at the CIA find the celebration of entities like WikiLeaks to be both perplexing and deeply troubling, because while we do our best to quietly collect information on those who pose very real threats to our country, individuals such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden seek to use that information to make a name for themselves.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Today, at his first court appearance, Assange entered a plea of not guilty. His extradition hearing will take place on May 2.

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