The Justice Department reportedly won’t indict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for his part in the release of the CIA’s Vault 7 hacking tools in part because it would require revealing top secret information that could compromise the intelligence community’s activities.
While the government’s recent decision to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act was both surprising and disturbing to experts, who decried the First Amendment implications and noted the difficult prosecutorial road ahead, eventual charges stemming from the exposure of the CIA’s secret hacking tools seemed to be a sure bet.
On March 7, 2017 WikiLeaks began dumping files nicked from an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Va., that a press release and analysis from the site said allegedly show the breadth of hacking tools at the CIA’s disposal, including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized “zero day” exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. Those documents were part of a larger assortment of Vault 7 files that the whistleblower site released over time in batches bearing names like “Grasshopper” and “Weeping Angel.”
The tools revealed in the release have been implicated in a number of cyberattacks, including Longhorn.
But prosecutors found themselves perilously close to a deadline imposed by extradition laws requiring them to charge Assange, who is in custody in London, on additional counts within 60 days of his original indictment, and concerned about exposing additional sensitive details about the CIA’s operations, according to a report in Politico based on input from an unnamed U.S. official and others.
“There is no question that there are leak cases that can’t be prosecuted against the leaker or the leakee because the information is so sensitive that, for your proof at trial, you would have to confirm it is authentic,” the report cited Mary McCord, the Justice Department’s acting assistant attorney general for national security until 2017, as saying. “So the irony, often, is that the higher the classification of the leaked material, the harder it is to prosecute.”