The Justice Department has decided not to charge Julian Assange for his role in exposing some of the CIA’s most secret spying tools, according to a U.S. official and two other people familiar with the case.
It’s a move that has surprised national security experts and some former officials, given prosecutors’ recent decision to aggressively go after the WikiLeaks founder on more controversial Espionage Act charges that some legal experts said would not hold up in court. The decision also means that Assange will not face punishment for publishing one of the CIA’s most potent arsenals of digital code used to hack devices, dubbed Vault 7. The leak — one of the most devastating in CIA history — not only essentially rendered those tools useless for the CIA, it gave foreign spies and rogue hackers access to them.
Prosecutors were stymied by several factors.
First, the government is facing a ticking clock in its efforts to extradite Assange to the United States from the United Kingdom, where he is being held. Extradition laws require the U.S. to bring any additional charges against Assange within 60 days of the first indictment, which prosecutors filed in March, accusing Assange of helping former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning hack into military computers.
Second, prosecutors were worried about the sensitivity of the Vault 7 materials, according to an official familiar with the deliberations over whether to charge Assange. Broaching such a classified subject in court risks exposing even more CIA secrets, legal experts said. The CIA has never officially confirmed the authenticity of the leaked documents, even though analysts widely believe them to be authentic.