- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012.
- He is now facing possible extradition to the U.S. to face computer hacking charges related to his collaboration with Chelsea Manning.
- The case against him is shaping up to be major test of the principles of a free press in the U.S. vs. the government's legitimate need to keep security secrets.
London's Metropolitan Police arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in the British capital on Thursday. The arrest came after Ecuador dropped Assange's asylum status, effectively evicting him from their embassy.
Assange hadn't left the embassy since August 2012, fearing that if he stepped off Ecuador's diplomatic soil he would be arrested and extradited to the U.S. for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks.
The police said Assange was detained "on a warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates' Court on 29 June 2012, for failing to surrender to the court." They later confirmed he was also placed under arrest "on behalf" of U.S. law enforcement authorities, who had filed a formal extradition request. The Department of Justice unveiled its long-secret indictment against Assange later Thursday, which shows he's facing at least one computer hacking charge.
Video captured by Russian news agency Ruptly showed police removing Assange, 47, from the embassy on Thursday in handcuffs. His hair appeared to have grown significantly longer and whiter since his last appearance, and he had a long grey beard.
The police said they were "invited into the embassy by the Ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government's withdrawal of asylum." Ecuador's government said it had dropped it's protection of Assange, "for repeatedly violating international conventions and protocol of coexistence."
Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador in 2012 as he faced allegations of sex crimes in Sweden that he said were a guise to extradite him to the U.S. That case has been dropped, but he was still subject to arrest for dodging the warrant in the first place.
Assange guilty of bail breach
A British court found Assange guilty on Thursday afternoon of breaching the conditions of his bail, a relatively minor infraction that could bring up to a year-long prison sentence.
Judge Michael Snow quickly issued his verdict after Assange appeared in the courtroom where his supporters packed the public gallery. Assange faces a sentence of up to 12 months for the conviction, in addition to the more has serious charges pending in the United States.
The basis of Assange's defense was that he couldn't expect a fair trial in British courts as the U.K.'s purpose was to "secure his delivery" to the United States.
Britain's Press Association quoted a U.S. government representative who was in the court on Thursday, James Hines, as saying that police had testified that Assange, "barged past them, attempting to return to his private room" when they showed up to serve their arrest warrant at the embassy.
"He was eventually arrested at 10:15 a.m. He resisted that arrest, claiming 'this is unlawful' and he had to be restrained," the court was told, according to Hines. He said Assange had resisted throughout the arrest, shouting "this is unlawful, I'm not leaving."
U.S. unseals Assange indictment
The Justice Department's unsealed indictment shows that Assange has been charged with computer hacking crimes for trying to illegally access "secret" materials on a U.S. government computer. The charge is officially listed as "conspiracy to commit computer intrusion."
The indictment accuses Assange of trying to access the secret material "with reason to believe that such information so obtained could be used to the injury of the United States and the advantage of any foreign nation."
The charges relate to materials stolen by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was convicted in 2013 of leaking classified government and military documents to WikiLeaks. She had worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq and was arrested in 2010. Manning is transgender and at the time of her arrest, her name was Bradley.
Manning was jailed again last month for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton ordered Manning to jail for contempt of court in March after a brief hearing in which Manning confirmed she had no intention of testifying.
She served seven years of a 35-year military sentence for leaking the trove of documents to the anti-secrecy website before then-President Obama commuted her sentence in 2017 -- one of his final acts as president. In May that year, she was released from a Kansas military prison.
The indictment against Assange alleges that the "primary purpose of the conspiracy was to facilitate Manning's acquisition of classified information related to the national defense of the United States so that WikiLeaks could publicly disseminate the information on its website."
Assange faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Ecuador's leader calls Julian Assange a "spoiled brat"
At an event outside Ecuador's capital of Quito, President Lenin Moreno called Assange a "miserable hacker" and "spoiled brat" who was disrespectful to officials charged with taking care of him at the embassy. Moreno repeated allegations that Assange smeared his own fecal matter on the walls of the embassy building and said that was a sign of how he viewed Ecuador as an insignificant, third-rate country.
"When you're given shelter, cared for and provided food you don't denounce the owner of the house," said Moreno to applause. He added that Ecuador will "be more careful in giving asylum to people who are really worth it and not miserable hackers whose only goal is to destabilize governments."
In his words, "We are tolerant, calm people but we're not stupid." Moreno's government said tensions with Assange mounted in recent weeks.
Foreign Minister José Valencia told lawmakers what began as erratic behavior by Assange -- roller skating and playing soccer in embassy hallways and listening to loud music at all hours -- evolved in recent months into aggressive behavior toward embassy staff. Valencia said that Assange on occasions hit staff charged with guaranteeing his wellbeing and accused embassy officials of being U.S. spies looking to exchange information on WikiLeaks in exchange for debt relief for Ecuador.
Arrest follows court document's accidental publication
CBS News sought comment from U.S. law enforcement agencies following Assange's arrest, but the FBI and National Security Agency had little to say. At the White House, President Trump said he knew nothing about WikiLeaks.
"It's not my thing," the president said. "I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange. I've been seeing what's happened with Assange and that will be a determination, I would imagine, mostly by the attorney general, who's doing an excellent job. So, he'll be making a determination. I know nothing really about him. It's not my deal in life."
A statement by London's Metropolitan Police confirming that Assange had been "arrested in relation to an extradition warrant on behalf of the United States authorities" was the first official confirmation from either side of the Atlantic of an official extradition request.
A court document published in "error" last year, in an unrelated case in Virginia, suggested strongly that prosecutors had prepared charges against him under seal -- something sources would not deny to CBS News.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement that Assange was "no hero."
"He has hidden from the truth for years and years and it is right that his future should be decided in the British judicial system," Hunt said. "This will now be decided properly, independently by the British legal system respected throughout the world for its independence and integrity and that is the right outcome."
"We're not making any judgement about Julian Assange's innocence or guilt," Hunt added, "that is for the courts to decide. But what is not acceptable is for someone to escape facing justice and he has tried to do that for a very long time."
Could Swedish rape case reopen?
The lawyer for the woman who claims Assange raped her in Sweden in 2010 said in a tweet on Thursday that she and her team would "do everything we possibly can to get the Swedish police investigation re-opened so that Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted for rape. No rape victim should have to wait 9 years to see justice be served."
The case against Assange in Sweden was dropped by prosecutors in May 2017 -- not because of any conclusion about his guilt or innocence, but because they accepted there wasn't any reasonable chance of prosecuting him as he remained holed-up in London.
Lawyer Elisabeth Massi Fritz said it had, "understandably come as a shock to my client that what we have been waiting and hoping for since 2012 has now finally happened."
The woman has claimed Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep. In Sweden, having sex with an unconscious, drunk or sleeping person can lead to a rape conviction punishable by up to six years in prison.
A Swedish investigation into the crimes was launched, then dropped for lack of evidence, and then started again as prosecutors sought to question Assange, before it was officially shelved by the Swedish prosecution service in May 2017.
Assange, WikiLeaks and Russia
Last year, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared the arrest of Assange, for leaking confidential U.S. diplomatic cables, remained a priority for the Justice Department.
Special counsel Robert Mueller had also been investigating whether Trump campaign associates had advance knowledge of Democratic emails that were published by WikiLeaks in the weeks before the 2016 election and that U.S. authorities have said were hacked by Russia.
Assange's arrest, if he is brought to the U.S. to face charges, could represent a significant development for ongoing congressional investigations into the Trump campaign's actions.
WikiLeaks said it was never contacted from anyone who worked on the Mueller probe, which recently concluded and handed its report to the Justice Department. Democrats are still pushing to get the full report released by Attorney General William Barr.
WikiLeaks, the website that says its function is to "open governments," and entities linked to the Kremlin have a relationship that goes back further than the 2016 election.
Reports in 2017 said Donald Trump Jr. occasionally corresponded with WikiLeaks on Twitter, starting in September 2016. While it doesn't appear the president's son sent any messages after October 2016, WikiLeaks sent him messages through July 2017.
Those messages -- which Trump Jr. disclosed in November 2017 -- were turned over to congressional investigators as they investigated Russian election meddling.
According to the the widely circulated January 2017 U.S. intelligence report detailing interference in the 2016 election, U.S. intelligence officials believe with "high confidence" that there was a connection between Russian military intelligence and the entities Guccifer 2.0, DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks that resulted in the deluge of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's associates hitting the Internet in the weeks ahead of the election.
Pamela Anderson lashes out after Assange's arrest
Former "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson lashed out after Assange's arrest. Anderson visited Assange multiple times while he was holed up in the embassy.
"I am in shock," she tweeted Thursday. "... He looks very bad."
"How could you Equador ?" she said, seemingly referring to Ecuador. "(Because he exposed you). How could you UK. ?"
She added: "Of course - you are America's b---- and you need a diversion from your idiotic Brexit bulls---."
She also tweeted a link to a WikiLeaks donation page.
Edward Snowden calls arrest "a dark moment"
While Assange's leaking of classified U.S. diplomatic and security information has infuriated the U.S. government, his arrest has drawn loud cries from press freedom advocates who argue he provided the materials to journalists in the public's interest.
Edward Snowden, the U.S. intelligence contractor who leaked thousands of secret documents from the National Security Agency revealing the extent of the U.S. government's covert data gathering around the world, sent a tweet on Thursday noting that the United Nations has repeatedly called on the U.K. government to let Assange walk free, deeming his hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy an "arbitrary detention."
Snowden said Assange's arrest marked " a dark moment for press freedom."
The Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloir, said Thursday that, "Targeting Assange because of Wikileaks' provision of information to journalists that was in the public interest would be a punitive measure and would set a dangerous precedent for journalists or their sources that the US may wish to pursue in future."
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said Thursday in a statement released by the organization that "any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for Wikileaks' publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations."
The ACLU warned also that "prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public's interest."
Extradition to U.S.?
When questions were swirling about the former Australian hacker's legal fate in the U.S., Moreno, the Ecuadorian leader, said that Britain provided sufficient guarantees the WikiLeaks founder wouldn't be extradited to face the death penalty abroad.
A U.S. official told CBS News Washington correspondent Paula Reid recently that even with an official request filed with Britain, extradition is a lengthy process and the WikiLeaks boss wouldn't likely hit U.S. soil too quickly.
That said, Britain and the U.S. do have a fast-track extradition agreement, so the process should be easier than it would be with many other nations.