Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report specifically implicates WikiLeaks’ founder — the now-jailed Julian Assange — in the direct cybertransfers of stolen Democratic Party documents from hackers in Russian military intelligence to his anti-secrecy group.
Mr. Mueller brought an indictment in July against Moscow’s elite cyberwarriors who conspired with WikiLeaks, but the federal prosecutor didn’t call out Mr. Assange by name and identified his operation only as “Organization One.”
Mr. Assange repeatedly denied receiving thousands of emails from Russia and suggested his source was a Democratic insider. The Mueller report accused him of lying by using such words as “dissembling” and “implied falsely.”
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Mueller’s implication of Mr. Assange is a sign that the Justice Department will bring Russia-related charges against the Australian computer programmer.
Right now, a U.S. criminal complaint against him is not for aiding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Assange is charged with helping former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning reach into secure computers and distribute thousands of classified diplomatic documents via WikiLeaks.
A hacker by trade, Mr. Assange had operated since 2012 under the diplomatic protection of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had wide access to computer networks. London police arrested him on April 11 on a U.S. warrant. He is fighting extradition.
The special counsel’s 448-page report confirms the Russia-WikiLeaks alliance in a narrative that suggests U.S. intelligence was intercepting Russian and Assange communications.
GRU, the acronym for Russian military intelligence, carried out months of hacking in early 2016 using a fairly rudimentary invasion method known as spear-phishing. Emails are disguised as being sent from someone known to the recipient. Opening an attachment releases malware that collects passwords, allowing hackers access to all sorts of data, including emails.
The Mueller report said Guccifer 2.0 is a Moscow-based GRU persona that sent the emails to WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks made its first dump of Hillary Clinton-Democratic Party emails on July 22, 2016, rattling the campaign with gossipy insider tales such as Mrs. Clinton’s bid to control the DNC.
The Clinton campaign immediately surmised that Russia stole the emails to hurt her and help Republican candidate Donald Trump. The intelligence community came to the same official conclusion before year’s end.
This is what happened, according to the Mueller report:
“On July 14, 2016, GRU officers use a Guccifer 2.0 email account to send WikiLeaks an email bearing the subject ‘big archive’ and the message, ‘new attempt.’ The email contained an encrypted attachment with the same ‘wk dec link1.txt.gpg.’ Using the Guccifer 2.0 Twitter account, GRU officers sent WikiLeaks an encrypted file and instructions on how to open it. On July 18, 2016, WikiLeaks confirmed in a direct message to Guccifer 2.0 account that it had ‘the 1Gp or so archive’ and would make a release of the stolen documents ‘this week.’ On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks released over 20,000 emails and other documents stolen from the DNC computer networks. The Democratic National Convention began three days later.”
The previous month, the Democrats’ cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike publicly reported that two Russian military units had penetrated DNC computers. The report prompted Guccifer 2.0 to release a smattering of Democratic documents, such as an opposition research paper on Mr. Trump. Analysts saw this as a ruse to detract attention from Russian intelligence.
WikiLeaks’ next significant releases, with more than 50,000 documents, targeted Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta on Oct. 7 and Nov. 8.
Here is how the Mueller report described this crime:
“An analysis of the metadata collected from the WikiLeaks site revealed that the stolen Podesta emails show a creation date of September 19, 2016. Based on information about Assange’s computer and its possible operating system, this date may be when the GRU staged the stolen Podesta emails for transfer to WikiLeaks (as the GRU had previously done in July 2016 for the DNC emails). The WikiLeaks site also released PDFs and other documents taken from Podesta that were attachments to emails in his account; these documents had a creation date of October 2, 2016, which appears to be the date the attachments were separately staged by WikiLeaks on its site.”
How the Mueller-FBI prosecutor team obtained its information is contained in this partially redacted paragraph:
“The Office was able to identify when the GRU (operating through its personas Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks) transferred some of the stolen documents to WikiLeaks through online archives set up by GRU. Assange had access to the internet from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, England.”
The next sentences are blacked out with the explanation “Investigative Technique.”
The Mueller team described some of these actions in a July 2018 indictment against 12 GRU hackers, who will likely never face trial.
The indictment didn’t name WikiLeaks and didn’t directly implicate or name Mr. Assange.
The current U.S. charge against Mr. Assange says he conspired with Ms. Manning to execute the release of more than 700,000 documents, the largest theft ever of classified data. The charge said he endeavored to help her crack a password in March 2010 on the Defense Department’s special network for highly secret data.
Edward J. McAndrew, a former federal prosecutor now with the global law firm DLA Piper, said that if the Justice Department wants to add charges, then “prosecutors will likely do so during the extradition process.”
Mr. McAndrew said this is because of a legal principle known as the “rule of speciality.”
The rule “will preclude the United States from adding new charges against Mr. Assange after he is extradited to the United States,” he said.
“There are exceptions to this rule, however, and U.S. courts are split on whether Mr. Assange would be permitted to challenge the addition of new charges after he arrives in the United States for prosecution,” said Mr. McAndrew, who won convictions against international hackers, cyberstalkers and cyberspace financial thieves.
A judge ordered Ms. Manning, a transgender person who was named Bradley, was jailed for refusing to testify before a grand jury. President Obama commuted her 35-year prison sentence as he left office in January 2017.
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