Sources have disclosed to the media that federal prosecutors have started to consider pressing changes against Julian Assange and other members of WikiLeaks. The case against the whistleblowing organization spans all the way back to 2010 when it published “diplomatic cables and military documents” to present day when it published the CIA’s hacking operations in March.

The other day, officials told CBS News that the FBI and CIA have started an investigation into those leaks in March.

Former President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice chose not to pursue action against WikiLeaks because they concluded “that doing so would be akin to prosecuting a news organization for publishing classified information.” Plus, those officials decided they would face difficulties to bring about those charges since other organizations published the 2010 documents from U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley (Chelsea) Manning.

The prosecutors also found it difficult to determine “whether the First Amendment precluded the prosecution of Assange.”

Officials within the DOJ have started to draft “a memo that contemplates charges against members of the WikiLeaks organization, possibly including conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act.” However, those at the top of the DOJ will need to sign off on any charges against WikiLeaks like Attorney General Jeff Sessions. From CNN:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a news conference Thursday that Assange’s arrest is a “priority.”

“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” he said. “This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious. So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.

Assange

Assange remains in the Ecuador embassy in London to avoid arrest on rape charges in Sweden. But his attorney Barry J. Pollack has said that no one within the DOJ has spoken to them about an investigation. The Washington Post reported:

He said there was “no legitimate basis for the Department of Justice to treat WikiLeaks differently than it treats other journalists.”

“The fact of the matter is — however frustrating it might be to whoever looks bad when information is published — WikiLeaks is a publisher, and they are publishing truthful information that is in the public’s interest,” Pollack said. “Democracy thrives because there are independent journalists reporting on what it is that the government is doing.”

Pollack noted that the Obama administration was “no shrinking violet when it came to pursuing reporters and journalists,” a reference to the Obama Justice Department’s repeated attempts to prosecute leakers. Pollack said he hoped “this administration will be more respectful, not less respectful, of the First Amendment than the prior administration was.”

Assange penned an op-ed in WaPo on April 11 and compared Wikileaks to the publication along with The New York Times:

The truths we publish are inconvenient for those who seek to avoid one of the magnificent hallmarks of American life — public debate. Governments assert that WikiLeaks’ reporting harms security. Some claim that publishing facts about military and national security malfeasance is a greater problem than the malfeasance itself. Yet, as Eisenhower emphasized, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Quite simply, our motive is identical to that claimed by the New York Times and The Post — to publish newsworthy content. Consistent with the U.S. Constitution, we publish material that we can confirm to be true irrespective of whether sources came by that truth legally or have the right to release it to the media. And we strive to mitigate legitimate concerns, for example by using redaction to protect the identities of at-risk intelligence agents.

FBI and CIA

As I mentioned above, the FBI and CIA have started an investigation to find the person who handed over the CIA’s hacking operations to WikiLeaks. From CBS News:

Sources familiar with the investigation say it is looking for an insider — either a CIA employee or contractor — who had physical access to the material. The agency has not said publicly when the material was taken or how it was stolen.

Much of the material was classified and stored in a highly secure section of the intelligence agency, but sources say hundreds of people would have had access to the material. Investigators are going through those names.