Published on Apr 12, 2019 on Forbes.com.
Julian Assange Can Expect The Full 5 Years In An American Jail—Here’s Why
Julian Assange should be prepared not only to be extradited but also to receive the maximum five years in prison for the hacking charge American prosecutors leveled at the Wikileaks founder on Thursday.
A look at previous cases suggests that the American government has shown its willingness to thoroughly punish those who don’t commit hacking offenses themselves but encourage others to do so. That’s according to Marina Medvin, a former counsel for Justin Liverman, who was given the maximum five years for his work with the Crackas With Attitude hacker crew. In the group’s most brazen attack, they broke into the AOL account of the then CIA director John Brennan. Liverman ended up passing files to Wikileaks. While he didn’t carry out any actual hacking, he pleaded guilty to being part of a conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to a protected computer. It’s the same charge that Assange is facing, though Liverman also admitted to two other offenses, those of conspiracy to commit identity theft and harassment via the telephone. He’s serving a five-year sentence in Fort Dix prison in New Jersey.
Like Liverman, Assange isn’t charged with actually hacking into American government networks. Instead, he’s accused of helping Chelsea Manning with password cracking tools and techniques. Specifically, the U.S. alleged that Assange spoke with Manning over the encrypted chat service Jabber, providing advice on how to crack passwords to access the Secret Internet Protocol Network. That’s where classified Department of Defense files were stored. Assange is accused of encouraging Manning to provide such documents. Manning, a former intelligence analyst, served seven years in jail for leaking sensitive diplomatic cables and military reports relating to U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay detainees.
“If a young boy can receive the maximum penalty in that same courthouse, what would a grown man with political enemies receive as penalty? I can guess it would be the same,” said Medvin. (Liverman was 25 when he was sentenced). “If you look to Liverman’s original charges, that is likely indicative of what the government will pile on when deciding how to fully charge Assange.”
Liverman, who recently described to Forbes a burgeoning friendship with pharma exec and uber troll Martin Shkreli, also detailed his feelings towards his sentencing. “My sentence was incredibly harsh considering the fact it was my first offense and were only conspiracy charges,” Liverman said of his case, speaking to Forbes from prison.
“I had three attorneys from three different law firms and Wikileaks’ support, but none of that made a difference. I feel like my sentence was to make an example for future hackers who want to embarrass the entire intelligence agency.”
Jay Liederman, Liverman’s current counsel, added: “Liverman’s punishment was way too harsh. Let’s see how absurd they try to get with Assange.”
A guaranteed extradition?
Before Assange faces American courts, he will appeal his extradition from the United Kingdom. The U.S. has 65 days to submit its full extradition request. Assange’s lawyer said the case set a “dangerous precedent” in which journalists could face U.S. charges for “publishing truthful information about the United States.”
The sitting Conservative government has been supportive of Assange’s arrest and of the move to have Assange shipped to the U.S., while the opposition Labour Party has been vocal about its opposition to extradition.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that because Assange’s leaks had exposed evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, his extradition should be opposed by the British government. But Jeremy Hunt, British foreign secretary, said Assange had hidden from the truth for too long. Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed Assange’s arrest too, adding that it showed in the U.K., “no one is above the law.”
The government of Assange’s homeland, Australia, has said it opposed any extradition that put the WikiLeaks cofounder in danger of the death penalty. The current charges don’t put him in danger of any such punishment.
But Medvin thinks more allegations could be in the pipeline. “Don’t for one minute assume that the current indictment is the last of his charges. More are sure to come.”