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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested at Ecuador's London Embassy Thursday after the country withdrew its offer of asylum. The U.S. Department of Justice subsequently released its indictment of Assange — importantly focusing on his technical assistance helping Chelsea Manning hack State Department cables rather than on publishing leaks.

Why it matters: That the indictment focuses on Assange the hacker, not Assange the reporter, blunts a long held press freedom argument that he should not be charged with crimes. All journalists rely on leaks, and many relied on classified information publicized by WikiLeaks, making a river of journalists guilty of the same crimes for which Assange would be prosecuted.

The other side: If charges had been focused on being an intelligence asset of Russia by publishing leaks (they aren't), that'd be a blow to, well, me specifically. I directly received and reported on documents from Guccifer 2.0, the avatar of Russia's hacking efforts in the 2016 election.

The big picture: Assange's previously reported upon activities appear to have gone far beyond journalistic practice into what most reporters would consider criminality. He potentially:

  • Hacked a website of an anti-Trump PAC and shared the password with the Trump campaign.
  • Directed hackers to attack a specific target — transcripts show that a request was brought to those hackers by an intermediary they believed was sent by Assange.
  • Provided hackers with technical assistance in the form of a search algorithm to sift through hacked documents.

The bottom line: All of those things would appear to be illegal. No, it doesn't matter if the password on a website is easy to guess.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: U.S. ahead of pace on vaccines.
  2. Health: Lessons for trapping the next pandemic.
  3. Tech: "Fludemic" model accurately maps COVID hotspotsVirtual doctor's visits and digital health tools take off.
  4. Politics: Harris breaks tie as Senate proceeds with lengthy debate on COVID relief bill — Republican governor of West Virginia says there's no plan to lift mask mandate.
  5. World: Canada vaccine panel recommends 4 months between doses — In AstraZeneca spat, EU fights hard for a vaccine its hardly using.
Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

In AstraZeneca spat, EU fights hard for a vaccine it's hardly using

Macron, Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel (R) at a summit in October. Photo: Yves Herman/Pool/AFP via Getty

Italy on Thursday blocked the export of 250,000 AstraZeneca doses to Australia, becoming the first EU country to exercise an export ban due to a vaccine shortfall in the bloc.

Why it matters: The controversial step exposes multiple major challenges to distributing vaccines — even among the world’s richest countries.

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Global freedom continues steady decline: report

The global erosion of democracy has continued for a 15th consecutive year, according to an annual report from Freedom House.

Zoom in: The report calls particular attention to India, which slipped from “free” to “partly free” due to the government's “scapegoating of Muslims” and “crackdown on critics.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi is, according to the report, “driving India itself toward authoritarianism.”