Since 2012, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, dodging a now-dismissed sexual assault charge in Sweden and potential extradition to the United States. Ecuador reportedly withdrew Assange's asylum protections last year, and he was arrested on a single charge of failing to surrender to the court and found guilty today.
And for years, the Department of Justice has mulled charging Assange with a multitude of offenses -- ranging from theft of government property to espionage -- relating to the release of U.S. intelligence documents. In the end, he's just been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.
So, what is the charge, and is Assange sure to be extradited?
Computer Conspiracy Charges
... having knowingly accessed a computer without authorization or exceeding authorized access, and by means of such conduct having obtained information that has been determined by the United States Government pursuant to an Executive order or statute to require protection against unauthorized disclosure for reasons of national defense or foreign relations, or any restricted data ... with reason to believe that such information so obtained could be used to the injury of the United States.
Specifically, the Justice Department believes Assange conspired with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers. Manning was allegedly using the computers to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks, and cracking the password would have allowed her to log on under a username, making it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the leaks.
While it is possible that more, different charges could be forthcoming against Assange, if he is found guilty of the computer intrusion charge he is facing up to five years in prison.
Assange faces up to 12 months behind bars in London on the failure to appear charge, but it is likely he will be extradited to the United States before then. The U.S. and United Kingdom signed an Extradition Treaty in 2003 under which both sides agreed to extradite to the other "persons sought by the authorities in the Requesting State for trial or punishment for extraditable offenses." Those "extraditable offenses" were defined as crimes punishable "by deprivation of liberty for a period of one year or more," so Assange's computer intrusion charge would certainly qualify.
While the treaty has been controversial, as has been Assange's targeting as a self-described "journalist," there's little reason to believe U.K. officials won't comply with a U.S. extradition request, and Assange will likely find himself on his way to America soon.