A federal grand jury charged Julian Assange Thursday with 17 new counts of violating U.S. law in a sweeping indictment that raises profound issues of press freedom and threatens the 47-year-old founder of Wikileaks with decades in prison if he is convicted. The indictment adds to a charge of unauthorized computer intrusion revealed last month and adds a series of allegations that Assange conspired with Army intelligence analyst Pvt. Bradley Manning to obtain and disclose more than half a million documents classified as "SECRET" in violation of a century-old statute known as "the Espionage Act. " Until recently, Espionage Act prosecutions by the U.S. government have been almost exclusively limited to the realm of accused traitors and spies.
Last month, Assange was forcibly removed from the Ecuadoran Embassy in London where he sought asylum in July 2012 to avoid facing allegations of sexual assault in Sweden dating back to 2010. Assange is serving a 12-month sentence for violating the terms of his release and the U.S. government has started procedures to extradite him to face trial in federal court.
The indictment of Assange presents the specter of prosecuting a controversial activist who claims as a publisher, he should enjoy the same constitutional protections of the First Amendment as other, more mainstream publishers like the New York Times, which also printed excerpts of the leaked documents. The U.S. Department of Justice takes the opposite view. In a statement accompanying the indictment, the DoJ states the actions of Assange and Wikileaks risked "serious harm to U.S. national security" and posed a "grave and imminent danger" to those identified in the pages of the Wikileaks document trove.
Assange has long feared a reckoning with U.S. authorities whom he believed would charge him with espionage and send him to Guantanamo Bay if they ever apprehended him. If convicted of the latest charges, Assange could face a prison term of 175 years, though such a sentence would be unprecedented in recent history. Correspondent Steve Kroft first introduced Assange to the "60 Minutes" audience in January 2011 after two days of interviews in the English countryside at the estate of a supporter where he was staying under house arrest. That report is in the video player above.
You can read the indictment in its original form here.