Julian Assange’s arrest and indictment should provide us with a moment of reflection. He is an awful man. He dumped American military secrets into the public domain without any regard for human life. He conspired with an American soldier to crack American security systems in the effort to deliver more secrets to the world public.
His co-conspirator, Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning, wasn’t a “whistleblower” — and neither was Assange. Manning didn’t carefully extract evidence of alleged wrongdoing from classified files and go to the press (a defensible, though still illegal, act). He just dumped hundreds of thousands of pages of classified files into Assange’s hands, and Assange posted them, en masse, on the Internet.
Any jihadist or enemy with Internet access could read the documents and not just learn about the identities of American allies on the ground (placing them at immediate, mortal risk) but also gain extraordinary insight into American military tactics and plans — including learning exactly how effective (or ineffective) their own weapons and tactics were.
Manning committed treason. Assange helped him. And there were Americans who celebrated both men. Manning got a Vogue profile. Assange was the object of admiration. Remember when Atlantic contributor David Samuels wrote that Assange had performed a “huge public service”?
Not since President Richard Nixon directed his minions to go after Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg and New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan — “a vicious antiwar type,” an enraged Nixon called him on the Watergate tapes — has a working journalist and his source been subjected to the kind of official intimidation and threats that have been directed at Assange and Manning by high-ranking members of the Obama administration.
Some even called Assange a “darling of the liberal left.” Republicans and mainstream liberals held a different view. The Obama administration condemned him, conservatives called him a traitor, and Donald Trump said WikiLeaks was “disgraceful,” adding that there should be the “death penalty or something” for its actions.