WikiLeaks releases top-secret CIA documents as US considers charges against Julian Assange

Caroline Mortimer
The CIA is reportedly investing the source of the leak: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

WikiLeaks has leaked what it calls a 31-page user manual for a device allegedly used by the CIA to spy on people from their televisions and smartphones.

The device, code named “Weeping Angel”, hit the headlines last month when WikiLeaks claimed the CIA had built the software to exploit vulnerabilities in Samsung products which would allow them to turn any phone or smart TV into a listening device. The group described the software as something out of George Orwell’s 1984.

The newly released CIA documents appear to corroborate the earlier claims about the capabilities of the system.

​WikiLeaks famously published 250,000 State Department cables and US military logs from Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010 which led to the arrest and imprisonment of Chelsea Manning, a US soldier who acted as a whistleblower.

Concerns have been raised about smart TVs' security. The microphone is always on and the device is always connected to the internet, making it easier for third parties to hack into and take them over as recording device.

Immediately prior to the release of the documents, CNN reported that US authorities were considering seeking the arrest of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange.

Mr Assange is currently in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition over accusations of rape in Sweden.

He claims the US government is using the allegations as a proxy and will immediate extradite him if he steps foot on Swedish soil.

The Obama administration declined to press charges against him on the grounds that as a journalist he was protected by the First Amendment and as an Australian citizen he cannot be guilty of treason against the US.

It reportedly concluded that prosecuting WikiLeaks would be the same as prosecuting a mainstream news organisation for publishing classified information but never formally closed the case.

But the Trump administration is willing to make a move and the possible charges being considered include conspiracy, theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act.

Any charges brought against Mr Assange would still need to be approved by high-ranking officials in the Justice Department and could come unstuck in the courts.

The UK or Sweden might not agree to Mr Assange's extradition to the US as they are both signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights which says a person cannot to be extradited to country where their alleged offence carries the death penalty.

CIA director Mike Pompeo last week denounced WikiLeaks as a "hostile intelligence service" and a threat to US national security.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters that Mr Assange's arrest was a priority as the Justice Department steps up efforts to prosecute people who leak classified information to the media.

"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," Mr Sessions said.

Their condemnation of WikiLeaks differed sharply from Donald Trump's past praise of the organisation.

Julian Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012 (Reuters)

Before last year's election, Mr Trump said he was happy to see WikiLeaks publish private, politically damaging emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta.

He was less thrilled about the release of CIA tactics, which the White House said was different because it involved information about national security tools.

Mr Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, said: "The Department of Justice should not be treating the publication of truthful information as a reason for a criminal investigation of the publisher.

"Democracy has always depended on journalists being able to inform the public of what their government is doing."

Additional reporting by AP

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