Before the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was an international fugitive, he was running a little-noticed experiment in radical transparency. In the early 2000s, his then-obscure site WikiLeaks was mainly concerned with posting small batches of previously private documents ranging from Swiss bank documents to Sarah Palin’s emails.
Then, in 2010, WikiLeaks posted a graphic video depicting the killing of perhaps a dozen Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists, at the hands of the U.S. military. The video brought the organization acclaim from civil libertarians and transparency advocates, and infamy within the U.S. military and elsewhere. Soon after its release, WikiLeaks posted its largest-ever cache of leaked material: a set of diplomatic cables and Army documents, many of which concerned the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If WikiLeaks began as a mere internet curiosity when it was founded in 2006, within four years, national-security officials in the United States were publicly depicting it as a threat.
Now it looks as if the U.S. government is preparing its most direct action yet against Assange. On Thursday, an unrelated court filing referred to secret charges against Assange for unspecified crimes. Assange, who has been living in London’s Ecuadorian embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden in connection with an unrelated, now-dropped investigation of rape allegations, had long voiced the fear that the U.S. would seek to charge and possibly extradite him if he ever left the compound.