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May 2024



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“The WikiLeaks investigation has really been unprecedented in its scope and its scale, and also its secrecy,” Carey Shenkman, a constitutional lawyer and an associate to WikiLeaks counsel Michael Ratner, said in a phone interview. “Creating ambiguity around the investigation has a chilling effect. It leaves open questions and I think it makes any publisher wonder if they will suffer a similar fate,” investigated for releasing classified information in a way the government finds unacceptable.

Trevor Timm, co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, argued in 2013 that “virtually every move made by the Justice Department against WikiLeaks has now also been deployed on mainstream US journalists.” For example, the Department of Justice tried to secretly subpoena information from the Twitter accounts of WikiLeaks staffers more than two years before the Associated Press found the same thing had been done to its phone records.

Manning’s arrest in the summer of 2010 coincided with the peak of the Obama administration’s use of the Espionage Act as a weapon against leakers. Reports at the time indicated the DOJ was looking to prove that Assange had been a “co-conspirator” in the leak, perhaps with the idea of also charging him under the Espionage Act. Several years later, Timm noted, the world learned that Fox News reporter James Rosen had also been labeled a co-conspirator in a search warrant in the Espionage Act case against Stephen Kim.

“I think the strategy is that in a certain way the DOJ can sort of build legal precedent for future activity by even traditional media organizations trying to compete in a digital environment,” Alexa O’Brien, an investigative journalist covering both Manning and WikiLeaks, said in a phone interview. O’Brien is involved in a lawsuit aiming to unseal a dozen more court orders and search warrants related to the WikiLeaks investigation.

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