Kevin Breuninger, Dan Mangan
Daniel Leal-Olivas | AFP | Getty Images
Assange was charged with 17 new criminal counts, which included violations of the Espionage Act.
The charges, contained in an indictment issued in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, were revealed during a press conference held by Department of Justice officials in Washington.
Assange is currently in British custody after having been expelled from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he had lived for nearly seven years. Federal authorities want Assange to be extradited to the U.S. in order to face charges.
Julian Assange was “complicit” and “conspired with” Manning, an official said.
Officials said that Assange’s publication of the names of human sources in the Middle East “is alleged to have created imminent risks to the life and liberty” of those individuals.
Assange, the officials said, “knew the publication of these sources endangered them.”
The information could be seen by terror groups and countries hostile to the United States, and “documents related to this material was even found in the Osama bin Laden compound,” an official said.
Some press freedom groups have protested Assange’s treatment, arguing that his conduct constituted journalism and should not be punished.
“This strikes at the heart of the First Amendment and puts all journalists in extreme danger,” The Freedom of the Press Foundation said in a tweet Thursday afternoon.
But an official pushed back on that characterization.
“Assange is not a journalist,” the official told reporters. “No responsible actor, journalist or otherwise, would purposely publish names he or she knew to be confidential sources in warzones.”
The indictment alleges that Assange’s disclosures “risked serious harm” to U.S. national security “to the benefit of our adversaries.” By publishing the names of human sources without redactions, Assange put them “at a grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm,” prosecutors allege.
These human sources included “local Afghans and Iraqis, journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents,” the DOJ said in a press release.
A lawyer for Assange did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the superseding indictment.
Manning, meanwhile, is currently in jail for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury.
Asked if she had changed her stance, an official said: “Ms. Manning remains in jail.”
Assange was arrested on April 7 in London on a U.S.-lodged charge of conspiring to hack a U.S. government computer in 2010.
In that case, he was alleged to have conspired with Manning to crack passwords on government computers and to download large amounts of classified information with the intent on publishing them on WikiLeaks.
Those documents allegedly included approximately 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, a quarter-million State Department cables and 400,000 Iraq War-related reports.